Interview: How SLC Writer’s Block Inspires Creative Community

Something strange is afoot at Sarah Lawrence: a sense of community seems to be on the rise. One contributing organization is SLC Writer’s Block, a collective where students help one another better their writing. Co-founders Emerson Henry, Jacqueline Muir, and Aiden Greninger tell us more:

When did you start Writer’s Block?

Emerson: For me, Writer’s Block started when I attended a graduate reading and saw how well-attended it was.  That got me thinking about undergrad events, most of which didn’t work with my schedule last year, and how I felt that I was missing out on my community.  Last year, Brian Morton (the director of the Writing Program) was running open writing hours, but on Friday afternoons, and I couldn’t make those, either. I decided to start a group that would respond to that gap in programming for undergrad writers.  Around the same time, I read an article in the Phoenix about Jacque’s idea to start an undergrad tutoring program and approached her about combining the group.  We started organizing last year, but this is the first
year we’re really holding events.

Jacque: I had the idea of started it right before I started my first year. I already had worked at a peer-based writing center and after learning that SLC didn’t have one I figured I could try it out on my own. The idea kinda laid dormant for a little while, but then in the Spring I asked my don about it, and he gave me a lot of encouragement. My roommate Emmeline Kaser came up with the name, and designed the logo for me in return for sushi. I started the Facebook group to see just how many people would be interested and it kinda exploded. But it really started happening the last week of classes when Emerson approached me and we decided to combine our ideas or writing center and fiction community. From there we collaborated a lot about every
aspect of the group. Then Aiden joined us and everything really began to stick together.

 Why the name, given that writer’s block has generally negative associations?

Emerson: The name was Jacque’s–I was going to call my group Writer’s Collective or something Sarah Lawrence-y like that.  I think it’s kind of funny though–I think of the ‘block’ like ‘Bloc,’ like a group of people or countries rather than that annoying wall.  And, I mean, we want people to think of us and our group when they’re having trouble. That’s what we’re here for–to provide a community to get unstuck in.

Jacque: The name was cute, and I liked the idea that we were a community, or block, of writers. It also just felt right, and had a good sound to it. But it really works when you consider that our main goal is to support writers who have all sorts of writing woes, such as writer’s block.

When did you realize the need for an organization like Writer’s Block?

Aiden: For me, the need for an organization like Writer’s Block was readily apparent. Sarah Lawrence is full of writers of all different varieties and all different genres and I think that we very rarely come together. If someone is not in a workshop, there is very little opportunity for peer review and collaboration. I think this campus needs a designated space for students to explore, workshop, and grow together as writers.

Who runs your tumblr, and how do you find your inspiring quotes?

Emerson: I run the Tumblr–it’s slow going right now with everything else going on, but eventually I hope for it to be a place we can share members’ works, or post writing prompts.  I find things to post by searching the ‘writing’ tags (‘poetry,’ ‘books,’ ‘fiction,’ stuff like that) or just reblogging things I come across in my personal Tumbling time.

How will you train peer consultants?

For training, we’re bringing in a professional writing coordinator/tutor.  She runs the Writing Center at Bard High School
Early College – Manhattan, which is where I went to high school, so she’s coming in as a personal favor to me to help us establish our program.  That’s where I was trained as a peer tutor, in my early college days.  Jacque was trained at a community college where she lives, but Illinois is kind of far to bring in someone to do our training.

Our training will focus on ‘big net’ issues like organization, structure, theses, and ‘small net’ issues like sentence construction, grammar, citation styles and how to use/format them.  A lot of peer tutoring is being able to quickly assess the issues in the paper you’re given and figure out how you’re going to address them in a short amount of time.  We’ll also be focusing on accountability and plagiarism, so tutors will be trained in trying to divine where the various ideas in the paper are coming from, and pushing students to cite these ideas when they’re not their own.  Tutors are actually a great resource for this, because most of the time they have not read the materials you have, so when they’re reading a paper, they should
be able to tell from your paper who said what and who posited this idea.  If they can’t, you have some editing to do–and your professor will appreciate that.

Where are your open writing hours?

Jacque: The Black Squirrel! We wanted the tutees to feel comfortable, and give them a place to hang out and talk to a peer tutor in a chill way.

Adrien: Our tutoring sessions will take place on Sundays from 1-3pm, Tuesdays from 1-3pm, and Thursdays from 6-8pm. Anyone seeking to make a tutoring appointment can do so by going to tinyurl.com/writersblockappt and selecting the day and time that works best for them.

Our open writing hours will be every Wednesday from 8-10pm in the MacCracken Meeting room. Writer’s of all genres are welcome. We will be playing games and doing writing prompts for the first hour and having silent writing time for the second.

What feeling do you hope to instill in those who attend Writer’s Block?

Emerson: My goal for Writer’s Block is help people make connections.  I want to enable writers to meet other writers who work in the same genre or form, so they can collaborate.  Students who are currently taking a workshop have a community, but those who are not, for whatever reason, are still writers and they still need resources.  Hopefully this group will be that resource for them, whether they’re purely academic writers, creative writers by trade, or just like to dabble every once in a while.  We’re creating this group to address that space, and we want to change based on feedback.  These ideas are trying to address the problems we’ve noticed–but if they’re not the right solutions, then we’ll make the necessary changes.

Jacque: I want the people who leave the tutoring hours or the fiction hours feeling like they have a better understanding of their writing, and be able to see themselves as an impassioned Sarah Lawrence writer.

Adrien: Our primary goal is to foster a supportive writing community at Sarah Lawrence.  With that in mind, I hope that whether people attend our tutoring sessions or our open writing hours, people can walk away from Writer’s Block feeling more confident about their writing.

Ella Riley-Adams (Founder, Editor-in-chief) comes from a small town in Southern Oregon. She enjoys champagne, soccer and swimming in ponds. When not immersed in Sarah Lawrence affairs, Ella works for NYC marketing and tech blog The New York Egotist and The Faster Times. Follow her on twitter @ellarileyadams.

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