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Camp Care Package #4: Can you feel your scenes?

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Author Leah Johnson is your Camp Counselor the second half of this week. Find all Camp Care Packages in Breaking News throughout the month of July, or learn more about Camp NaNoWriMo!

1) On writing and the body: 

On writing and the body: In a recent interview with The Stacks podcast, Kiese Laymon said something that really struck me. He was talking about when to choose to lean into the comedic in writing that tackles tough—and at times deeply traumatic—subject matter, and he referred to making the reader laugh as deciding “what to make the reader do with their body.” Whether that be making their heart beat a little faster, their hands sweat, or their stomach clench—the writer's job is to bend reactions, both physical and otherwise, to play alongside the text.

I find that this is helpful in working on early drafts. Even when we might not know what the piece is or what it will become, we can default to thinking about how a scene interacts with the body to know whether or not it’s working. Even if the prose isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be, can I feel this scene? Good writing should work more than just the brain. 

2) On writer's block:

When I’m feeling blocked, what I find to be helpful is the freedom that moving around offers. Disabuse yourself of the idea that a novel must be written chronologically. I write my books in pieces, as the scenes emerge for me naturally. If I’m feeling stuck on the denouement, I can hop to a background-building scene in the first act to get my wheels tuning again. If I can’t seem to pinpoint the moment that the protagonist should choose to accept the challenge that the second act brings, I can try writing the ending. When you follow your inspiration instead of your outline, it can open up all sorts of possibilities.

Writing Dare: Choose a physical sensation (sweaty palms, beating heart, clenching stomach, butterflies, etc.) and write a scene, either from your current project or something totally new, with the goal to make your reader feel that sensation. 

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Leah Johnson is a writer, editor and eternal Midwesterner, currently moonlighting as a New Yorker. She is a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow whose work has been published in BuzzFeed, Autostraddle, Catapult, and Electric Literature among others. Her bestselling debut YA novel, You Should See Me in a Crown was named one of Cosmo‘s 15 Best Young Adult Books of 2020, and was an Indies Introduce and Junior Library Guild selection. Her sophomore novel, Rise to the Sun is forthcoming from Scholastic in 2021. 

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