By Beth Roberts
I was originally going to title this piece “Writing the Body” – a reference to Jeanette Winterson’s 1992 novel Written on the Body. Then I realised that the definite article turned the “body” into something illusive and all-encompassing. What is the body? Who does it belong to? I switched to the possessive second-person pronoun “your” because this blog post will explore some of the ways we can use our own bodies – what they tell us, how they make us feel, where they fit into our identity – in our writing. It can be scary to take on the task of embodying your own body in your writing, but don’t worry! Come along with us and we’ll explore many paths you can take to bring your body to life on the page.
During last year’s Surrey New Writers Festival, our wonderful headliner Elise Valmorbida took us through some helpful steps for contextualising ourselves within the world. Elise led us through a small mediative session where we closed our eyes and zoned in on what we could hear and only what we could hear. We were to push all external thoughts out of our minds and simply home in on all the sounds surrounding us. This is a great place to start when trying to place your body. Our senses are so integral to how we experience the world and help shape how we move within it. I particularly like the concept of Elise’s activity: shutting off all other thoughts and focusing on just one specific stimulus.
We can take this idea and apply it to our exploration of the ways our bodies make us feel. Here is one meditative way we can understand our bodies:
- Find a quiet place – this could be a room or a place outside. Make sure you won’t be disturbed while you do this activity.
- Sit down comfortably. Ensure that there are no external factors that may either distract you or make you hyper-fixate on something other than your body.
- Close your eyes.
- Take five deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and feeling the full expansion and contraction of your lungs as you work through each breath.
- Work through your body from bottom to top, isolating each body part. Start with your toes – give them a wiggle. Think about how the movement makes you feel. Does it bring any memories or emotions to the surface?
- When you have gone through each body part, return to your five deep breaths.
- Open your eyes and bring yourself back into the world around you.
Activities like this can help us isolate the connections between our bodies, their movements, and our emotional responses. Ask yourselves why certain parts of your body make you feel a certain way. Does it hurt when you wiggle your fingers because you have arthritis? Does it feel good when you move your shoulders because you’ve been sat at a desk all day and they needed the mobility? Does it sting when you purse your lips because they’ve gone dry? There are so many different feelings our bodies can express and recognising these links can help us become better writers.
After breaking down the individual feelings and emotions you associate with the different parts of your body, think about how you would describe these feelings to other people. The best way to do so may be through the use of metaphor. For example, I recently sought out a metaphor whilst trying to explain the infuriating feeling of menstrual pain. I landed on describing it as feeling like someone had jammed their fist in my stomach and started churning my guts like a food processor, whilst also jabbing at my organs with a thousand tiny, little knives. Not my best metaphor, granted, but it did the job of describing a very specific pain.
This is where our bodies can help us be creative with our expressions. We each experience physical feelings uniquely. Whether it be something as innocuous as a paper cut or something as warming as a crushing hug from a loved one, we will all understand these feelings differently. Coming up with detailed descriptions of these feelings allows us to push ourselves to describe things that others may never experience. My dad will never experience the sheer irritation of menstrual pain, but he sure as hell knows how much it sucks because of the way I’ve described it. This is what we can do as writers – use our words to convey things that other people may never experience, encouraging people to open their minds and be empathetic towards others.
If you’re completely new to writing about your body, why not try a simple poem template? Here’s one to give a go:
My body is (adjective).
My fingertips are like (nouns).
I feel (adjective) when I close my eyes.
Yesterday, the tips of my toes were (simile).
(Same simile), like (body part).
My body is (adjective).
An example poem could read:
My body is alive.
My fingertips are like fire ants.
I feel overwhelmed when I close my eyes.
Yesterday, tips of my toes were as sore as a tired dove’s wings.
As sore as a tired dove’s wings, like the right side of my brain.
My body is live.
Of course, I’m sure that you will all branch off and create much more interesting and conceptual poetry and prose than the example above, but, hopefully, it allows you to really think about your body, all its parts and how it makes you feel. You never know – expressing something specific about your own body could help someone else come to terms with some of the feelings and emotions spurred on by theirs!
We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the ways we as writers can truly embody our bodies! What do you struggle to describe about your body and its unique feelings? Do you think moments of meditation will help you get in touch with your body? How often does your body (or the body) appear in your writing? Let us know and don’t forget to post your poem in the comments below!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth Roberts (she/her) is a PhD student at the University of Surrey researching historiographic metadrama and contemporary American feminist playwrights. She is particularly interested in the works of Lauren Gunderson and Jaclyn Backhaus, on whom her thesis is focused. Beth is also a writer of historical fiction in the form of short stories, novels and plays. Her short story ‘Her Last Temptation’ was published in MTP’s August 2020 Anthology and her article ‘Fragmentation as Methodology: Subjectivity, Objectivity and Romantic Love in Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight (2010)’ will be published in Feminist Encounters’ special edition on ‘Situated Knowledges of Gender and Love’.