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Community Novel an outlet for all creative writers

On March 19, 2014

On a bulletin board in the basement of the Ray B. West Building hangs a blue notebook filled with different sections written by anonymous authors, all of which build off each other’s stories. It’s known as the Community Novel.

“The Community Novel is about community involvement, and it doesn’t have a real purpose other than to invite people in,” said Millie Tullis, president of The Bull Pen, USU’s creative writing club. “Anyone that is interested in it is totally welcome to it because every piece that gets added to it makes it unique and a group project. The short little segments build up the story, changing it all the time.”

USU’s creative writing club got the idea from a similar project on campus.

“Last semester, we learned of a student who had hid a novel among the stacks in the Merrill Library,” said Jennifer Sinor, a USU professor and faculty advisor for The Bull Pen. “And through backdoor information, you could go and find it and write in it, and I thought it was a really good idea, but I didn’t like that it was so exclusive.”

The Bull Pen wanted to make a novel like that, but more accessible. When the group redesigned its bulletin board at the start of the semester, they started the Community Novel.

“It started as an opportunity to have students kind of collaborate on a writing project,” Sinor said. “It’s meant to be the process and experience of writing for the students. It’s just some place to play and be creative and to do something jointly and together.”

Trevor Grant, vice president of The Bull Pen, said they were always thinking of little things to do around the big events of the creative writing club. Grant said the Community Novel is a little thing anyone can participate in.

“This is for everybody,” Grant said. “Anybody is welcome to join. It’s open to the community, and anyone can feel involved. It’s a good outlet for people who want to write prose or want to have fun writing little bits of a story, and we wanted something that anybody could jump into. It’s really fun and totally changing with every entry. It may start with a mad scientist, and by chapter two it’s about a woman walking down the street. It’s a jumbled, disjointed, haphazard way of writing that only a community of writers could come up with.”

Sinor said all writing is collaborative.

“Even when you think you’re writing by yourself, you’ve been informed by multiple conversations, multiple things you’ve read, experiences you’ve had,” Sinor said. “The way you put words on the page has been influenced by all these thoughts and ideas that have gone before you, so all writing is a communal act.”

She said she hopes the project continues to grow.

“What we’re trying to do is highlight the fact that we write together and that we can challenge ourselves artistically by doing something that’s anonymous and communal instead of something that’s private and singular,” Sinor said.

Tullis said anyone who walks past the notebook notices it, and that’s all the invite students need. She said the fact that it is anonymous creates a free and open atmosphere.

“People are free to write whatever they want and don’t have to worry about being judged,” Grant said. “Sometimes it’s hard to be honest when your name is attached to something. It’s important that people not worry about the response and focus on what they’re saying. If it’s anonymous, it frees up people’s focus on the craft instead of the response. I just wanted to set the stage and then let it happen.”

One thing Sinor said she especially likes about the project is how “old school” it is.

“This is pen and paper,” Sinor said. “This takes effort. Everything is so digital now, but this, you can’t just flip open your phone for this. It’s tactile and a physical object, and there’s value in that kind of writing. It’s different than what students are typically doing everyday. It’s outside the boundaries of a class or a website, and the only boundaries are what you can do on this physical piece of paper.”

Tullis said the novel will continue until it naturally ends, either by filling up the notebook or by someone ending the story.

“We might publish it online or just keep it in the club,” Grant said. “It’d be cool, though, if someone were reading this and thought that people at Utah State wrote this.”

Whether or not it is published, Grant wants to see the story keep going through fall semester.

“You can add a line, you can add a page, but the idea is to just keep it moving forward,” Sinor said.

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