This month I revisited a book I first read years ago when I was a student, a book by John Lee titled Writing from the Body.
The introduction of the book makes a bold declaration: Writer’s block begins in the body.
Lee goes on to discuss messages he received early in life that discouraged him from writing. He mentions things like the idea that little boys should be seen and not heard and that big boys and tough guys should hold in their emotions. He talks about being accused of being too sensitive and being told that writing isn’t productive.
I could relate to so many of the messages that Lee received. Girls are often told they are meant to be seen and not heard. We’re supposed to be pretty and be quiet. I was constantly told by friends, family, and even teachers that I was too sensitive. And while I was encouraged by my middle-school language arts teachers to write, my other teachers told me that if I really wanted to help people I should go into the sciences.
Lee writes, “These words went straight into our bodies. Such destructive messages take the physical form of stress and tension that lodges in our throats, our backs, and our bones.”
Lee says that oftentimes we can’t write until we break through these physical blocks.
I had a lot to say, so I wrote it down.
Ironically, these messages didn’t keep me from writing. They actually made me write more. Growing up I was quiet and shy around most people, but I had a lot to say. So, I wrote it down. I was so sensitive growing up that my big feelings were often too much for my little body to hold. So I wrote them down. And I knew I wanted to write and help people. So I decided when I was only 15 years old that I would study journalism.
Nevertheless, I have internalized these messages in my body and even in my soul. My inner critic knows these messages by heart and repeats them to me often. I have accomplished a lot in my writing life but there’s so much more I want to do that I haven’t simply because I’ve been getting in my own way.
Because these blocks dwell in the body, Lee says we need to get physical. He says we need to get up and move around to free energies of anger, grief, and frustration and to break through these blocks.
I feel creativity in my bones.
Years ago, I bought this book because I have almost always felt a link between the body and creativity. I feel creativity in my bones. My best ideas come to me during moments of movement – like taking a walk – or moments when I’m focused on my body – like taking a shower.
Likewise, when I have a great idea or write something that I’m really proud of, my body wants to celebrate. Sometimes, I wave my arms in the air as if I’m praising my muse or I walk quick laps around my house. Sometimes, I want to celebrate by kissing and hugging my husband.
If you’re facing writer’s block, begin with the body. Move your body in a way that makes you feel happy and makes you feel good. Pamper yourself with a bath. Lee recommends confronting those messages that have tried to silence you by writing them on pieces of paper, wadding them up, and throwing them in the trash.
If you’re a non-fiction writer like me and one who writes memoir or personal essays, writing from the body is imperative.
“To embrace our body’s truth is to embrace our past,” Lees writes. “There is no other way.”
What does writing from the body mean to you?