While many St. Olaf students spent November writing term papers or preparing for exams, students Bethany Jacobson 06, Pamela Sersen 06 and Sarah Lawver 04 each attempted to write their own 50,000-word novel as part of an event sponsored by www.NaNoWriMo.org, in commemoration of National Novel Writing Month.
"Its really been an amazing experience. I havent really ever progressed this far in a novel before. For me it was really amazing how, when I actually sat down and wrote a novel working from start to finish. I found that the story actually kind of covered itself and the characters actually were a lot better when I just let things happen to them rather then sitting down and trying to carefully develop the story. I think its really helped me as a writer," said Sersen, whose science fiction and fantasy novel about a servant with magical powers finished with 50,257 words.
For Jacobson, who is working on three unfinished novels, this project gave her an opportunity to finally finish one of them.
"I found this website last year in the middle of November and I really wanted to do it but I couldnt," said Jacobson, "So this year I kind of looked at it and it looked like fun, and I thought I might have the time, so I figured why not, I can prove to myself that I can actually finish a novel."
While Jacobsons previous work has dealt mostly with Science Fiction, this experience has her writing in a new genre.
"My novel right now is realistic fiction," she said, "I really wanted to do it because I always keep wanting to make pop culture references in my fantasy writing, and obviously you cant do that. So I figured here I could be really gratuitous and throw in, you know, Socrates and Plato and Hamlet."
Jacobsons novel follows the lives of a few male college students, but her story also asks a deeper philosophical question.
"My novel is ostencibly about the meaning of life. What ended up happening is that three of the characters got themselves killed in a car crash, and nobody knows why. Its suddenly become this really strange half-psychological study of one of the characters who died, and half this weird thing on does life have meaning or not, you know, is [life] in any way meaningful?" Jacobson said.
While Jacobsons novel deals with philosophical questions, Lawvers book, "Ashes," asks a hypothetical question. Her novel was inspired by a newsgroup posting that she read online about a year and a half ago.
"[The message] was basically wondering what it would be like if the people who posted on the group got together and formed their own village. It just was really poetic, and it posed this hypothetical question that I thought would be really interesting as a basis for a novel," said Lawver.
While Lawver has written short stories since her youth, this project marked her first attempt at a full-length novel. She admits that it was indeed difficult to achieve the 50,000-word mark.
"I used to think that three pages was a good day's work. [For this project] I was doing a steady 2,000 [words/day] then I didn't write for a week then and I wrote 3,000 words for two days, then I think 21,000 on the last day," said Lawver.
Sersen agreed and said that her academic commitments sometimes made it difficult to complete the project.
"School really has made it a challenge at some times, especially with tests and things like that," Sersen said. "I would say the most challenging thing is not getting discouraged when things dont go well and just making yourself keep pushing through it," said Sersen.
Although the prospect of writing a 50,000-word novel can be daunting, Lawver encourages students to participate in such an event, because the project not only inspires individuals to write a full-length novel, but it also builds confidence in their academic writing.
"Go for it. It will help you get your homework done. When you are writing 2,000 words a day, every day, that 2,500 word final essay seems like nothing," Lawver said.