Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo

Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo

by Grant Faulkner
Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo

Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo

by Grant Faulkner


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Every writer knows that as rewarding as the creative process is, it can often be a bumpy road. Have hope and keep at it! Designed to kick-start creativity, this handsome handbook from the executive director of National Novel Writing Month gathers a wide range of insights and advice for writers at any stage of their career. From tips about how to finally start that story to helpful ideas about what to do when the words just aren't quite coming out right, Pep Talks for Writers provides motivation, encouragement, and helpful exercises for writers of all stripes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452161082
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 577,722
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Grant Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month. His stories and essays have appeared in dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer's Digest, and the Berkeley Review. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Read an Excerpt



Each year, I talk to hundreds of people who have perfected a peculiar and disturbing art: the art of telling themselves why they can't jump in and write the novel of their dreams.

"I've never taken any classes. I don't have an MFA."

"I have a lot of ideas for stories, but I'm not a real writer."

Or, worst of all, they say, "I'm not a creative type."

I call this the other syndrome — as in "other people do this, but not me." We've all been there, right? We open up the pages of a magazine, and we read a profile of a magnificently cloaked and coiffed artistic being — a twirling scarf, moody eyes, locks of hair falling over a pensive brow. We read the witticisms and wisdom the celebrated artistic being dispenses while drinking a bottle of wine with a reporter one afternoon in a charming hamlet in Italy. The artistic being tells of creative challenges and victories achieved, and then drops in an anecdote or two about a conversation with a famous author, a good friend. There's a joke about a movie deal that fell through, and then an aside about the one that won an Oscar. There's talk about a recently published book, which called to them and gave them artistic fulfillment like no other book ever has.

And, as we sit in our house that is so very far from Italy, and we look across the kitchen, over the dishes on the counter, to the cheap bottle of wine from Safeway, and the phone rings with a call from a telemarketer, just as a bill slides off the stack of bills, we tell ourselves, "Other people are writers. Other people get the good fortune to have been born with a twirling scarf around their neck. Other people get to traipse through Italy to find a fantastic novel calling them. Other people get to be who they want to be — whether it's through family connections, blessed luck, or natural talent. But that's not me. That's other people."

And you know what, we're right. The life of an artist is for others — because we just said so, and in saying so, we make it true.

But here's the rub. Even after negating our creative potential, we're bound to wake up the next day to a tickle of an idea dancing in a far corner of our mind, a memory that is trying to push a door open, a strange other world that is calling us. We wash those dishes, we pay that stack of bills, we drink that cheap bottle of wine, but we know there's something else — we know there's something more.

And there is something more. There's the creative life. You don't need a certificate for it; you don't need to apply to do it; you don't even need to ask permission to do it. You just have to claim it. You might not wear scarves in Italy, but you can make your own version of the artistic life, no matter where you live or what demands of life you face.

It's not always easy, of course. There will be naysayers, those people who think it's silly or trivial to be a "creative type," those who think it's audacious and pretentious for you to write a novel, those who think you can't do it because you lack the qualifications. You've decided to escape the mire of your creative slough, and sometimes that threatens others. But you're not embracing your creativity because it's an easy path. You're doing it because you have something to say. And no one gets to tell you that what you have to say doesn't matter, because it matters to you.

The arts don't belong to a chosen few. Quite the opposite: every one of us is chosen to be a creator by virtue of being human. If you're not convinced of this, just step into any preschool and observe the unbridled creative energy of kids as they immerse themselves in finger painting, telling wild stories, banging on drums, and dancing just for the sake of dancing. They're creative types because they breathe.

And you're a writer because you write. There's no other definition. Don't fall into the common trap of hesitating to call yourself a writer if you haven't published a book. It can easily happen. Agatha Christie said that even after she'd written ten books, she didn't really consider herself a "bona fide author." You earn your bona fides each time you pick up a pen and write your story. So start by telling yourself you're a writer. Then tell the world. Don't mumble it, be proud of it, because to be a writer takes moxie and verve.

Your task as a human being and as an artist is to find that maker within, to decide that you're not "other," you're a creator. Honor the impetus that bids you to write — revere it, bow to it, hug it, bathe in it, nurture it. That impetus is what makes life meaningful. It's what makes you, you.



Despite the plethora of how-to-write books that promise surefire recipes for writing success, there is no right way to write. The way a person creates is a mysterious thing, similar to a person's favorite color. Why do some people like a certain color and not another one? Blue has been my favorite color for as long as I can imagine. Yet some people like red, others prefer periwinkle, and then there are those who like fulvous (a brownish yellow). Why? It just is. And it's a good thing, right? We need the world to be painted a variety of colors. We need to walk through rooms with different hues, to feel life as a celebration of color in its many forms, to make life, well, colorful.

When I begin a story, I sit down with an itch of a story idea stirring in my mind, and I write a sentence, without too much thought, without any maps of logic, and then I write another sentence, and then another, one thing leading to the next, writing in pursuit of faint inklings and distant whispers, writing to discover, writing just to write. It's as if I'm lost in a foreign city, and I'm trying to find my way home, but I can only follow hunches, scents in the air, touches of memory. I'll eventually find my way home, or I believe I will, but I know I'll take wrong turns and end up in places I might not know how to get out of. I know there will be moments I'm scared or frustrated or desperate, but I also know I'll wander into magical places I couldn't have possibly found in any guidebook.

It's a fun way to write — to write as a quest. I get to walk through a dark forest and discover something new each time I write. No one tells me where to go. If I get a sudden and impulsive idea, then I can indulge that story line and explore all its tentacles and tributaries. If I want to include a character's diary entries to add a layer of characterization — yes, why not?

The downside to this approach is that I tend to explore my characters' worlds and meander down their highways and byways more than I stitch everything together into a tight and suspenseful plot. I'm not especially adept at writing the kind of novel where everything is there for a well-considered reason, where one thing leads to the next and the dramatic trajectory is always rising with taut tension. In some ways, I tend to plot after the novel has been written.

So my constant question has been whether I should abandon my loosey-goosey ways and buckle down and outline my novel ahead of time. And not just with a sketchy outline, but a tightly orchestrated game plan. I wonder this when I begin every novel, and then I wonder it more and more as I proceed.

Here's the thing, though. I have outlined stories and novels. While it's fun for me to think through a narrative arc and plot it out, if I write with an outline — with so much of the story already formed in my brain — the joy and meaning of writing is diminished. With an outline, I write to determine, not to explore. Instead of walking through a foreign city without a map and looking all around to find my way, I look at the map more than I look at the world around me. For me, planning a novel — at least in any deep and meticulous way — violates the very spirit of why I write.

Now I'm not arrogant enough to assert that my way is the right way. I often question it myself — even now, I wonder if I don't outline because of a character flaw or a lack of discipline. I deeply respect writers who use outlines, spreadsheets, Post-it notes, and white boards to delineate their stories. But I also know that every writer creates in a different and mysterious way, so I try not to chastise myself too much.

I often think of "The Hedgehog and the Fox," an essay by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin that addresses different creative types. The title is a reference to a phrase attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who wrote, "A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." Berlin used this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea, and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences, and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. I write like a fox. Others write like a hedgehog. And then others write like another animal, let's say an anteater, and whatever defining characteristic an anteater has guides them to create their stories in their way.

There's no such thing as the way to create good work; you just have to find your way.

There's no such thing as the way to create good work; you just have to find your way. Ann Beattie's favorite hours to write are from midnight to three in the morning. James Baldwin liked to rise before dawn, before there were sounds of anyone in the house. Legend has it that Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin before she began her day's writing because a foretaste of the grave was supposed to inspire her macabre sensibility. Some writers thrive in solitude, while others seek to write with others. Some writers are vitalized by background noise, while others are horribly distracted by it. The most creative people often contain contradictory extremes, inhabiting a multitudinous personality.

I did NaNoWriMo the first time because I'm such a slow, plodding writer and wanted to experience my imagination at a different pace. I'm an early morning writer, but sometimes on a Saturday night, I'll make a pot of coffee at 10 and plan to write into the dark silence of the night. I might just write my next novel on note cards, as Vladimir Nabokov did. And I'll never quit dallying with different types of outlines (and chastising myself for pantsing [winging it] anyway).

So find your way, embrace your way, but don't become too rigid. Experimenting with your process is a way to open yourself up to new possibilities.



Inspiration is a funny thing. It's powerful enough to move mountains. When it strikes, it carries an author forward like the rushing torrents of a flooded river. And yet, if you wait for it, nothing happens.

The irony is that so much is actually created — mountains moved, sagas written, grand murals painted — by those who might not even describe themselves as particularly inspired. Instead, they show up every day and put their hands on the keyboard, their pen to paper, and they move their stories forward, bit by bit, word by word, perhaps not even recognizing that inspiration is striking in hundreds of tiny, microscopic ways as they push through another sentence, another page, another chapter.

"I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me every day," said William Faulkner. This is the principle way writers finish 50,000 words of a novel each year during National Novel Writing Month — by showing up — and it applies to being creative the rest of the year as well.

Inspiration is often characterized as a thunderbolt — a brilliant flash that strikes from the heavens, a eureka moment, and that metaphor certainly holds truth, because inspiration can be a sudden igniting force, random and illuminating and otherworldly (and even a bit dangerous). Yet I think of inspiration, at least the big, gobsmacking moments of inspiration, as more like Bigfoot. Sightings of Bigfoot are rare, and he's so elusive that he can't be captured physically, or even truly on film, so his very existence is in question. It's wonderful to believe he exists, because it's nice to think of the world as strange and beautiful enough to spawn such a creature, but if you go out into the woods and look for Bigfoot, you're not likely to find him, just as you can't force sweeping gusts of inspiration to appear on any given day.

The muse of Greek mythology — that creature depicted in a beautiful flowing gown, playing a harp — was invoked by authors to sing stories into their ears, but I'd like to recast this muse. The muse doesn't sing the words of a story to you; the muse is conjured in the telling — in overcoming those lulls that strike with willpower, grit, and as much caffeine as it takes. I see the muse as hundreds of invisible sprites that sleep in the whispery spaces between each word. These sprites are enlivened only by the breath of a churning imagination, by the stirrings of a story moving forward.

The muse of inspiration appears when you plop your heart onto the beautiful blank page that awaits your words.

Such a muse is ineffable, so miniature that she often goes unnoticed, yet an author must trust that the responsibility for bringing those story sprites to life resides in creating a spool of words that spins onto the page. "A writer is either compelled to write or not," said Toni Morrison. "If I waited for inspiration I wouldn't really be a writer." The urge to wait for inspiration has killed many a wonderful story.

Now, of course, you'll have lulls. Your willpower will face the crippling doldrums of self-doubt. You'll tell yourself no one wants to read your story. You'll tell yourself your characters are clichés, your plot unremarkable. And you — you! — are not a writer. You are a person with silly dreams who should know better, and you should just return to a life where you sit and simply be entertained by other people's imaginative creations. A life of binge-watching TV series isn't all bad, is it?

Here's what you must know: Every single creator throughout history has experienced such moments. Keep trusting that the muse of inspiration appears when you plop your heart onto the beautiful blank page that awaits your words. The words you create every day are each fruit-bearing ker- nels of inspiration. Each word wants more and more words to follow. And you are the all-powerful God that sends those words — those story-igniting lightning bolts — into a world that's coming to life before your own eyes. You are your own muse. Let the blank page be a spigot for all of the dramatic, ornery, lyrical, and shocking thoughts in your head that are eager to come out.



So much of our emphasis in life is to be the one who knows. When we embark seriously on any new endeavor, we look up to the masters and gurus and yearn to match their expertise someday. They're the ones who have it all figured out, after all. When they walk into rooms, people tilt their heads up in admiration. People ask them questions and hang on their every word. The experts move through life with surety, certainty, and maybe even a good paycheck, or so it seems from the outside. They dash off novels, speak with aplomb, and take exotic vacations.

When you're a beginner, it's easy to feel awkward and clumsy. We want to be graceful; we want it all to be effortless; or we just want to move. Paradoxically, though, it can be more exciting to be the one who doesn't know — the one who is beginning the search, the one immersed in the pursuit of answers, the one who has the humility to be open to learning all possibilities.

When my son was learning to walk, I paused one afternoon to simply watch his attempts. We're accustomed to think that falling causes frustration, but Jules didn't furrow his brow or cry out as he plopped on his behind again and again. He got up, swaying back and forth, wrestling with gravity, noticing the tenuous shifts coursing throughout his body, and he worked on his strength to stay steady, as if putting the pieces of a puzzle together. As I watched him, I listed the lessons of his practice:

1. He didn't care if anyone was watching.

2. He approached every attempt in a spirit of inquiry.

3. He didn't mind failure.

4. He took pleasure in each new step/milestone.

5. He didn't imitate another person's walk; he was just intent on finding his own way.

He was quite naturally immersed in shoshin, or beginner's mind, a notion from Zen Buddhism that emphasizes the benefits of being open to whatever occurs and being observant and curious in each effort. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few," said the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki. The idea is that in the beginner's mind there are no considerations of that very confining box called achievement, because the true beginner is always learning. A beginner's mind is innocent of preconceptions, expectations, judgments, and prejudices. Devise a way to stay in the mindset of a beginner, to be naïve and wholly open to the world.


Excerpted from "Pep Talks for Writers"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Grant Faulkner.
Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Creative Manifesto, 8,
1 You Don't Need Permission to Be a Creator, 12,
2 How Do You Create?, 16,
3 Finding Your Muse, 21,
4 Be a Beginner, 25,
5 Make Your Creativity into a Routine, 30,
6 Goal + Deadline = Magic, 34,
7 Embrace Constraints, 39,
8 The Art of Boredom, 43,
9 Getting Ideas: A Writing Rorschach Test, 48,
10 Building a Creative Community, 52,
11 An Artistic Apprenticeship, 56,
12 Getting Feedback, 60,
13 Channel Your Super Heroic Observational Powers, 65,
14 Cavort Wander Play, 70,
15 Using Your Life in Your Story, 74,
16 Overcoming Creativity Wounds, 79,
17 Make Your Inner Editor Work for You, 84,
18 Accept the Mess, 89,
19 Pull Yourself Out of the Comparison Trap, 93,
20 Put Your Life Struggles in Perspective, 98,
21 Treating Impostor Syndrome, 103,
22 Embrace Vulnerability, 108,
23 Fail Often Fail Better, 114,
24 Creativity as an Act of Defiance, 118,
25 You Are What You Wear, 123,
26 Where You Work Matters, 126,
27 Artistic Thievery, or the Art of Remixing, 130,
28 Take a Story Field Trip, 135,
29 Looking through Your Character Kaleidoscope, 139,
30 On Finding Creative Flow, 144,
31 Say, "Yes, and ...": The Secrets of Improve, 149,
32 Think Fast to Outpace Writer's Block, 154,
33 An Exercise in Extreme Writing, 158,
34 Sleep, Sleeplessness, and Creativity, 162,
35 Be Deluded Be Grand, 166,
36 Nurturing Awe through Darkness, Solitude, and Silence, 169,
37 New Experiences = New Thoughts, 174,
38 The Magical Sprites of Creativity: Distractions, 179,
39 Trusting in The Absurd, 184,
40 Move Differently to Think Differently, 188,
41 Specialize (but Not Too Much), 192,
42 The Art of Melancholy, 196,
43 Thank Your Muse, 201,
44 Writing with a Persona, 205,
45 Persisting through Rejection, 210,
46 Know Thyself, 215,
47 Make Irritants into a Symphony, 220,
48 Hold Things Lightly, 224,
49 Intuition versus Logic, 227,
50 Vanquishing Fear with Curiosity, 232,
51 Logging the Hours: Mastery Equals Perseverance, 236,
52 What Is "Success"?, 241,
In Review, 246,

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