Author: eleanorhaglund

Still Life of Girl with Computer

eleanor1One year ago, I boarded a plane and left the Pembroke College National-Writing Academy of Writing Summer Programme. I did so with a heavy heart, sad to be leaving the community and shared knowledge that my peers and I had created. I knew I would miss my friends. I knew I would miss my work-shopping group and the practicing authors that we met every week. I knew that even if I tried to come back the following year, I could never recreate the same experience.

What I did not know was that things would just get better. I did not know I would have the opportunity to workshop with an incredible fiction class upon returning to school. I did not know that the friends that I made in Cambridge and I would stay in touch, supporting each other as writers from our remote locations. And I certainly did not know that my pipe dream of writing a novel would become a reality.

This summer was a dream – and not in the terribly cliché the-character-was-asleep-the-whole-time sense. Working on my novel this summer was everything I wanted it to be. I have been trying to test my skills in a big way and I have proved to myself that I am capable of this kind of writing. Furthermore, I have really enjoyed it (although I am convinced that the first five minutes of sitting down to write does not get easier).

When I left Cambridge a year ago, I had four short stories in my pocket. I was proud of one of them. And looking back, that one still needs work. I am sure in five or ten years, I will look back on my novel and think the same thing. As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “An author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” I am trying my best to listen for the echo, but what is important to me is that the next novel, or the novel after that will be progress on progress and that I will get better with each word that I put down on the page.

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I am not where I want to be yet and I am really enjoying the journey. The first short story I wrote, when I was five, was about two princesses protecting their castle from an evil witch (original, right?). I used an Illustory, a kit for children to write and illustrate stories, to publish it in hard cover. Today, I’m halfway through my first novel. I have grown so much from that first princess story, and even more so in the last year.

This summer my fellowship has shown me that I can write, that I can write a novel, that I can balance many other things in my daily routine. It has shown me what free time means and taught me to relax in it. I have learned to be kind to myself on days when writing is hard and to push forward through creative challenges. This time spent writing my thesis was a gift that I am so thankful for. I wish it would go on forever…but then, what would I write about?

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The Three Little Pigs

“Have you thought of an ending?”

“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”

“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”

“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”

“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello friends,

As I near the final pages of my first draft, I have been wrestling with the issue of endings. I often feel like I view my ideas for an ending with the personas of the three little pigs; this one is too happy, this one too sad, this one too cliché. None are just right. I know what my ending should not be, but I lack the knowledge of what it should be. Two-hundred plus pages into my novel, I wished I knew exactly how the story would end.

I realize that in my fear of writing something so important, the ending to my first novel, I reverted back to doing what I do best, planning and focusing on plot. It wasn’t working because I had been using an entirely different style for writing the rest of the novel. I had to put my faith back in the characters and the world that I have spent the last half of the year building, brick by brick.

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Inspiration came from an unexpected place. I recently had the opportunity to see The Moth at the Rex Theatre. The Moth is an NPR sponsored event of slam stories. I had a wonderful time listening to the participants’ experiences and how they related to the theme of the month “Guts.” Reflecting on the stories I saw there, I have decided on two things that I will use to guide my characters to the end of this particular story.

The first thing I have realized is that the main character must have agency in the ending. She must be the one to cause the events that end the story or it will feel unrealistic. The second thing that I realized was that the main character has to grow internally as a result of the rest of the story. Regardless of the plot in the story, the thing that would make the story satisfying at the end was whether or not the character had changed in order to overcome the situations she experienced

With that in mind, I am ready to charge forward in the creation of an ending to my novel. I hope it will be just right.

Listening to the Music of the Words

haglundI am more than a third of the way done with the first draft of my novel! I am so excited to be continuing to make progress.

This week, I have been experimenting with sound in my novel. Of course, including all of the senses in my work is important, so I have started trying to think of how the main character would smell, hear and feel the world around her. But specifically, I have been working on how my work sounds when read out loud. This interest was sparked when I decided to do a reading as part of my final presentation for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship Program. I read it to myself and out loud. I wanted to make my work appealing to read silently, but also out loud.

I was also inspired by my recent attendance of the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective’s slam poetry event at Capri Pizzeria in East Liberty. Listening to the poets play with the sound and meaning of the words they employed in their poems was exhilarating. They used every word’s full potential and had them working together to create an almost musical event.

Because of how much easier it was to hear when the writing was clunky, as opposed to see it on the page, I started placing more weight on saying my work out loud. For a couple of passages, I even started speaking while I was typing to try out how a sentence would sound before I put it down. Of course, I only did this when I was writing at home. I would have received a lot of strange looks if I had done this in the silent section of the library!

I have enjoyed experimenting with sound in my writing, as it is a new tool that I had been ignoring. I look forward to utilizing it more in my future writing.

Learn more about my project.

How do you find Inspiration? You stop trying.

haglund1Hello!

I’m back after my vacation on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver city. During my time there, I went hiking, surfing, caving and, of course, did some eating. At the beginning, I thought I would write during this time, just a few hours in the morning. But after the first few days, I realized that what I was trying to accomplish was both impractical and not conducive to my writing.

So, I decided to take a real vacation. I stopped trying to cram writing time into the mornings and let go. And suddenly, I was flooded with ideas. Each new experience brought me a new narrative, begging to be told. Inspiration flowed in from the peace of being below ground, seeing a chance sculpture on a walk, being pummeled by cold ocean waves and listening to the stories of the people who call Vancouver their home.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

My mind is now filled with scenes, characters and themes from the short time I spent in Vancouver. I did not make much, if any, progress in my novel, but writing is so much easier now that I have been refreshed with all of the incredible experiences I had.

Side note:

One of the really cool things about Vancouver is that it is where Ruth Ozeki, one of my favorite authors, lives for part of the year. It is also where she chose to set her novel A Tale for the Time Being. Experiencing the natural beauty of British Columbia that she describes was breathtaking. I also found the name of A Tale for the Time Being’s main character, Nao, carved into a board on a bridge I was walking across. It has absolutely no relation to the book, as the name beside it is Mike, but it was a fun coincidence.

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Learn more about my project.

Alternatives to the Guidebook

Another few weeks have passed and I’m almost to 75 pages! Which is almost to 100, which is almost to 150! Yes. Let’s go with that. Stay motivated.

I feel like my time has been flying by this summer. On one hand, I like that, because I can see that the writing I do everyday is coming together and building up. On the other hand, I want it to slow down so I can enjoy my experiences and savor the summer before I go out into the unknown world. The jump from the safety of college to the freedom (but also confusion) of the real world is a big transition for myself and for many of my fellow students.

Something I really appreciate about the fellowship is that it gives Dietrich students, students who don’t necessarily have a straight and narrow guidebook to what we will do after college, the opportunity to create a project that we are interested in and give it our all. This gives us the chance to figure out whether or not we want to be doing something similar once we graduate.

I really appreciate that I have been given the chance, within the safety of college, to attempt novel writing and see how I like it. One of my friends wrote a novel for her thesis last year and she came out of it knowing that she never wanted to write a novel again. College is the time to discover these things and learn about ourselves.

So far, I have loved the novel writing process. I have enjoyed sitting down, every morning, dreaming up new scenes and immersing myself in the world of my characters. It is a dream come true to be able to write my first novel and I hope to be doing it for many years to come.

Read more about my project.

Goals, Update and Books. Oh my!

notebookHello friends!

I have so much to share with you.

Firstly, I have forgotten to update you on my change in novel topic. My first novel topic, about Pittsburgh during it’s industrial boom, required far more research and time in order to do the topic and the city justice, and I do not think I will be able provide that during my senior year. Therefore, I have decided to write my novel on a different subject. My novel is currently shaping up to be a coming of age story of a girl starting college. I have centered her world on college Emergency Medical Services (EMS) because I have some experience with that community and culture. We will have to see if I do it justice.

ems

I was receiving the dispatch for my first EMS call. Obviously, I was terrified.

This week is very exciting. My goal for the summer is to have written 150 pages of the first draft. This means I will have more than half of the first draft finished by the start of the school year and will leave me ample time to revise the draft when I am done. I have reached my first milestone. I have completed 50 pages of my first draft, which means I have accomplished a third of my goal!

I have one last thing to share with you today: my reading list. These are books that my thesis advisor recommended I read in order to get inspiration and learn from the masters.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Bobcat by Rebecca Lee

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Matthis

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

So far, I have read Birds of America, Bobcat, and Prep. I hope to start the Twelve Tribes of Hattie and Drinking Coffee Elsewhere soon. Each book I have read has inspired me or taught me something new about writing (but honestly, they were fun to read too).

The overall process has ups and downs, little joys and hiccups but it has so far been an enjoyable experience. I am happy to be moving forward with the novel.

Read more about my project.

The Quest for the Right Location

Carnegie Library

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

I was always told that having a designated spot, in which to do my homework, was a necessary part of the academic process. I never understood this, as my on-the-go lifestyle prohibited me from always doing my homework in one quiet, well-lit place. I was always working with what I had at that moment, whether it was a noisy common room or the hallway outside of a class that was about to begin.

I think that I have reformed my views because of the magnitude of this project. Writing a novel seems to me like such an enormous mountain to climb that I am now ready to listen to any advice I can receive.

As I was starting out, I planned on working at my kitchen table, or at a café, or outside at the benches. I was relying on my past habits. It was recommended to me that I find a quiet space, somewhere that I would work on my thesis and stay completely focused. I relented and thought I would give it a try.

I chose the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, a stately building that speaks of the echoes of the Carnegies and the Mellons of Pittsburgh’s first glory days. I knew when I saw it that it was where I had to write. I walked into the library and discovered that International Poetry Room. It was a quiet room and I would be surrounded by the radiant words of those who had written before me, the true masters. I was sold.

I love writing in this room and I am so thankful I found it. Working in the library has made my writing time more productive and focused. I think this aspect of the writing process will remain with me as I continue to write in the future.