Eleanor Haglund

Hello Friends

photo-1458925140641-48569e57da75My novel, for the purposes of my thesis, will be done tomorrow. I will submit it to my advisor, who will submit it to the department head who will then send it on to the Dean’s office. I can’t believe it!

The last few months I have been working on editing, rewriting scenes and trying to fully define what I wrote so I can describe it when people ask that much-dreaded question “So what is your novel about?”

Now, I can safely answer, “I’m working on it.”

I am so thankful for the opportunity that Dietrich College gave me to write a novel. The time and the resources provided have given me the chance to prove to myself that I can do it. But more than that, it has shown me that I love long form fiction.

This time last year, I asked my friends who were finishing their theses what they had learned during the process. One friend, who had been working on a historical-fiction novel, candidly said, “That I don’t like novels.”

That response stuck with me. But for me, this experience has been the opposite. I have emerged from this year secure in my knowledge that I really enjoyed writing my novel and I can’t wait to write another one.

I am excited to share my work at Meeting of the Minds and with all of you who have supported me through this process.

Thank you!

Learn more about my project.

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.


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.

Big Bite: A Student’s First Novel

Creative writing major Eleanor Haglund has written plenty of short stories and even one novella before, but never tackled something as long and involved as a novel. Until now.

Haglund, a Humanities Scholars Program student with a psychology minor, has embarked on writing her very first novel. She spent the summer figuring out just how to do this as part of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Honors Fellowship. The fellowship allows students to get a head start on their Senior Honors Program thesis work.

eleanor presentationHaglund presented her work so far earlier this week – about how her story switched focus and how she made so much progress (100 pages written and counting!)

“My novel is a coming of age story about a girl in college,” Haglund said. “The girl is struggling with school and her family as she comes into her own. It’s totally fiction.”

Haglund was advised by English Professors Kevin González and Jane McCafferty not to outline as she began the writing process.

“But I love structure and schedules, so I freaked out,” Haglund admitted.

However, she said by not having a pre-determined path, so many doors opened for her.

“I would have focused on events and plots – and wouldn’t have focused on characters,” she said.

Haglund said that she needs to write every day, and even blogged about her quest to find the perfect location. But she’s writing and not looking back.

“It’s really hard to revise a large project as you’re going, so I plan on revising later,” Haglund said.

She plans on having a completed first draft by November.

“Then I will start with what Jane said, ‘re-envisioning what I’ve put down,’” she said.

Learn more about her novel.

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.


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.


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.

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.

The First Spark: Starting My Senior Thesis

Eleanor Haglund - My First Spark

Eleanor Haglund – My First Spark

Well, here we are. The start of something that I cannot yet imagine: My Senior Thesis. I have worked so hard to get here by studying hard in my classes and honing my work ethic. I am so excited to begin and so thankful for all of the people who are helping me. A special thanks to my advisors, Jane McCafferty and Kevin Gonzalez, and Dietrich College for supporting me in this opportunity.

A little bit about my project: I plan on completing a novel as my senior thesis. I will write it during the summer and the fall semester and editing and rewriting it during the spring semester. My novel will be about the wife of a wealthy industrialist in 1950s Pittsburgh who gets involved in social issues that oppose her husband’s business interests. I want to examine class issues that stem from industrial pursuits, political polarization and whether or not collaboration can be sustained in flourishing and competitive cities.

I look forward to going through the novel writing process for the first time and learning all that I can from my advisors. I know that the process will be long and difficult but I am ready for the challenge.

Read more about me and my project.