writing a novel

Starting My Novel

For my senior thesis I’m exploring the concept of narrative identity, basically the idea that we form our identities through stories we tell ourselves about our lives and the world, by writing a novel. I’m currently taking summer classes and volunteering at the Jubilee Soup Kitchen, so my allotted time this summer to work on my thesis doesn’t begin until July 1st, but that hasn’t stopped me from laying out the groundwork for my project.

I’ve decided my novel will be set at a large tech company (not exactly sure what sort yet) in Silicon Valley. Having attended Gunn High School in Palo Alto, I’m very familiar with the area and its culture, and have set a few of my short stories there in the past. The novel will center around a few intelligent slackers who manage to get by without doing much by falling through the cracks at the large company they all work at. This will of course backfire for them later on in the story, but I want to introduce my characters in a somewhat tranquil setting before I plunge them into conflict. I have a lot of ideas for where the novel will go, but some of them are mutually exclusive, so I don’t really want to put them on this blog yet. As of now, I’ve done a lot more work generating choices for where the story can go than actually deciding between these choices, so once I make more decisions, I will have more to report back on.

Outside of class, volunteering, and writing, I’ve been doing some reading and have been watching some films and television. I just finished reading The Magus by John Fowles and am about to read The Sellout by Paul Beatty and The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. As far as films and television, I’ve adapted this William Faulkner quote to guide my viewing: “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” Though I suppose I should read more terrible books, shoddy films are much less of an investment of my time and I often find I’m more inspired by a bad film than a good one. To this end, I’ve been making my way through the Fast and Furious series. Though most of the dialogue is terrible and much of the acting is flat or overdone, there is something really human about these sorts of mistakes that I just love. As far as more critically acclaimed films, I recently saw Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal and Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and have been rewatching some of my favorite David Lynch films, as well as catching up on the reboot of Twin Peaks. No matter whether I love or hate something Lynch makes, I always feel challenged by it, and his work is a well of inspiration I can always draw something new from.

It’s been exciting going from nothing to the foundations of a novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the coming weeks and months.

Learn more about my project.

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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.

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.

haglund2

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.