Author Alexandra Kleeman tackles writer’s block with Campers

  • Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, recently visited with Creative Writing students.

  • Kleeman answered questions, talked about writer's block, and ran through some exercises with the students during her visit.

Alexandra Kleeman, the New York-based author of the novel You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, visited the Creative Writing students this week to share her knowledge in a master class—and help break up some late-Camp cases of writer’s block.

“Writer’s block is like water,” Kleeman told the students after a show of hands revealed that 100 percent of students present had been affected by writer’s block at one point or another. “You may not like the taste of it, but you need a dose of it every day. Most of us have sampled every flavor of writer’s block.”

Kleeman—who also gave a public reading during her visit as part of the Interlochen Arts Festival—encouraged students to embrace and explore the “unknowns” in their writing that so often cause writer’s block. “All writing begins with things that are known, and things that are unknown,” she said. “If your whole career was just having a complete idea and writing it down, it would be like creating an Excel spreadsheet.”

Kleeman offered the young writers some practical advice on working with unknowns from her own experience with her latest novel. “What worked for me was to put myself in the emotional place of the character,” she advised. “I don’t think of any of that time as wasted time. It’s all a part of the discovery of the ultimate scene.”

She also encouraged writers not to get bogged down in difficult-to-write scenes. “When you find a tough scene, put it in parentheses and try it again,” she suggested. “Nothing is final until it’s printed and bound in a book—and even then, it can still be changed.”

Kleeman then read a segment from her short story “You, Disappearing” for the gathered students. “The idea for this scene came into my head after a normal phone call, like to American Airlines about my flight tickets,” she said with a laugh.

After writing the first scene of “You, Disappearing,” Kleeman went back and filled in the blanks by asking herself questions about the scene she had written, a technique she suggested to the students as a writer’s block buster. “You very rarely have your whole story pop into your head at one time,” she said. “A lot of times, you only know part of the story, but not the whole. You have to work on getting there. The unknown is generative.”

Continuing the discussion of writer’s block, Kleeman asked the students about some of their methods for renewing their creativity. “Write about writer’s block,” suggested one student. “Take a walk,” suggested another. “Procrastinate for months!” quipped the last student, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

“When you write a novel, you live a whole section of your life with it,” she said. “What surprises can you find in your story to keep yourself engaged?”

Kleeman then led the class in one of her own favorite solutions for writer’s block. Each student wrote the first paragraph of a scene of their choice, then passed their work to the writer on their right. Each writer then asked wrote two questions on their neighbor’s paper—questions that could help spark new ideas for the original author.

At the end of the session, Kleeman offered some advice on becoming a successful writer, emphasizing that the goal of writing is not necessarily to make a living.

“It’s something you should do for the love of doing it,” she said.

—Melissa Luby

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