CRAFT: Writing The Body by Nicole Breit

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“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves.”

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Writer, if you’re anything like me you spend a lot of time in your head—daydreaming, remembering, crafting lines for your next poem, essay, or story.

Is it any wonder, given the amount of time we spend in the space between our ears that writing can feel a bit, well, disembodied at times?

Writing into our experiences from the body’s point of view can immediately improve a draft—just by shifting our awareness to sensation.

When we pay close attention to the body as we write, we bring our readers in close,  allowing them to feel an experience intimately, in their hearts, muscles, and bones.

Curated from my online workshop on writing the body, the suggestions and exercises that follow can help you evoke a deeper, sympathetic, visceral response to your stories.

Position your voice

Rosemarie Anderson observes that embodied writing “positions the writerly voice inside the body as it lives, letting the body’s perceptual matrix guide the words, impulse by impulse, sensation by sensation.”

This re-positioning of voice asks us to approach our writing very differently than we may be used to.

Rather than thinking of story as a series of external events or experiences—the stuff that happens “out there” —we focus on the story that is happening inside our bodies, paying close to attention to what our bodies know, attuning to how we feel.

Incorporate imagery

Sensory imagery that is clear and concrete is key for bringing a story to life, describing the narrator’s perceptions—what it was, specifically, that they saw, heard, smelled, touched or tasted.

In Lyndsay Knowles’ Scars: A Photo Essay, notice how the author turns her full attention to the body, moment by moment, describing the physical manifestations of injury in vivid detail:

“…how the washcloth and the soap burned as my grandmother removed the pieces of gravel from my knee, how I picked at the edges of the scab when the wound started to heal, how the green pus leaked out around the edges, how the scab stuck to the band-aid and peeled away, leaving freshly wounded skin.”

Let’s look at some writing exercises now, to help you draft new stories from the body’s point of view.

Before you write into the body

Please remember: self-care, first.

If there’s a risk of re-trigging trauma, be sure you have the support of a trusted professional.

If memories come up you don’t feel ready to work with, honour your inner knowing.

Pre-writing exercise

Choose a part of the body to free-write about as you answer the question:

What does your ______ know? What does your ______ remember?

What do your hands know? What do your hands remember?

As you write, attune to the body’s point of view: how it knew what it knew, what it sensed, experienced, and felt.

This prompt can be used again and again to uncover material by focusing on different parts of the body.

Tip: You may want to narrow your focus by choosing a specific period of time (e.g. early childhood, school-aged, adolescence, young parenthood, etc.).

Corporeal story prompts

As with the previous exercise, do a free-write inspired by these prompts to uncover the stories your body has to tell.

  • The time my body surprised me, by doing something I didn’t know it could do
  • How my body underwent a healing transformation—or experienced some kind of loss (i.e. injury, ability, etc.).
  • I challenged myself physically so that I could ______________, and this is what happened.
  • An unforgettable moment of transcendence—how the body has experienced euphoric joy, a sense of oneness, or perfect clarity
  • The time you knew something in your gut and were right.
  • A story about:
    – birth
    – survival
    – aging
    – muscle memory
    – mortality

Recommended resources

Corporeal Writing Online workshop series by Lydia Yuknavitch

Embodied Writing and Reflections on Embodiment” by Rosemarie Anderson

“The Body of Memory” from Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola

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