By Naina Purushothaman
The Seven Hills School — Writing an entire novel is a difficult feat, but this challenge did not stop students in the first-semester Creative Writing elective from accomplishing it in only four months. In the first few weeks of the third quarter, these students have just finished holding “Books for Lunch” for their own novels, where they and teachers who have read their work discuss the plots and themes of their stories. Canvass sat down with seniors Jenny Hu and Maya Martinez to talk about their writing processes and the inspiration behind their novels.
Martinez’s novel is a retelling of the Jewish myth of Lilith, the first woman. “The original story is one infused with patriarchal fear and misogyny,” Martinez said. “I wanted to recreate that story, where the women are crafted as complex and powerful, beautiful within their independence and intelligence, rather than vilified.” The novel, written entirely in verse, follows one storyline split into two parts. The primary part is Lilith telling her life story in the past tense, while the other is Lilith speaking from the present day after her life was changed.
Martinez’s inspiration came from a summer camp last year, where she learned about Lilith’s original story. “I remember being appalled and unsatisfied at the ‘message’ that was conveyed. I wanted to rewrite it to fit the way I view a woman’s power,” she said. Hu’s inspiration for her novel, which is contemporary fiction, came from her life and the lives of people close to her. Hu said, “My favorite part [about the writing process] was discovering new things about my characters and their world as I wrote.”
All the creative writing students worked through various activities in class, focused on structuring their novels. For example, they did several brainstorming exercises at the start of the semester. They worked on different styles and types of writing and structure, how to write dialogue, and how to build a coherent plotline. The students also had writing deadlines to help them stay on pace. However, both Hu and Martinez had unique experiences in their writing processes.
Martinez said, “Because I chose to write my novel in verse, there was a very emotional aspect to the energy required for me to write it. I find that writing poetry requires a certain level of emotional availability, given that, at least for me, poetry really engages and interacts with the notion of humanity and the general spectrum of human emotion as a whole. And because of this, as I was writing, I felt myself falling in and out of certain emotional states or emotional availabilities that allowed me to either tap into different aspects of the novel or, conversely, shut me out of others at certain times.”
Hu said that she did not plan her novel much beforehand. “I kind of just wrote and ran with it,” she said. “I was writing about an hour or so for homework every class, and then I crammed in a lot more hours near the due date to finish it.”
When asked what they would want readers to walk away with after reading their novels, Martinez said, “I’d hope that they would take away an understanding of my inspiration for writing it. That the power and independence, and intelligence of women isn’t something to fear or hate. It’s something to cherish, be inspired by, and encourage.”
Hu said, “I’d want them to walk away with empathy, if not support or agreement, for my characters, and to see the world in a more vivid, colorful way like my protagonist does.”
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