Bringing the Whole Body to Your Blank Page

By: Kathy Catmull in Book Writing
on March 25th, 2019

Ever struggled to keep a resolution—to eat better, to meditate, to not kiss that guy quite yet? If so, you know that your busy little monkey-mind is not steering this ship. Your wordless, mysterious human body—which stores your trauma and fears, your pleasure and pain—goes where it will and takes your chattering ego with it. You may get up early thinking oatmeal and fruit, but your body craves Nutella on toast, and there you are fifteen minutes later, hunched over the sink and tearing into white bread and chocolate.

What does that have to do with writing? Oh, believe us: everything. At RTC, we know the power of the body at every stage of the writing process.

Let’s start with the part of the writing process you know best: ever noticed that you read with your body? Well, you do. When the writing’s good, your heart pounds away with excitement, or your eyes fill up with grief, or adrenaline zings through your blood. You’re engaged in the story body, mind, and heart.

So, how does writing get that good—good enough to get your heart and nerves on full, engaged alert? It happens when the writer writes to your body, feeding it the sights and sounds and tastes, the inner feelings from queasiness or desire, that are its only language.

RTC came to this understanding via Gestalt psychology, a method that asks you to stay focused on what you’re experiencing in your body now, even if you’re talking about the past or future. Focus on what and how, Gestalt says; focus on what your body is telling you in this moment.

Your chattering monkey-mind may panic a bit at this. It will feel left out: “But what about analyzing and interpreting and understanding?” it will say.

No worries, my monkey friend. Interpretations and analysis have their place—later. First, you must let your body sing you its song, show you what you’re feeling in its own language.

Listening to the body’s song actually begins even before we put pen to paper: in the interviewing process. When we listen to our clients—when we listen to you, let’s say—we listen with our whole bodies. Analysis and judgment are set aside. We pay attention to the way our own bodies react to what you say—because our bodies speak your body’s language. That’s why you might hear us say, “When you said that about your father, I felt my breath catch.” Or “I felt so uneasy when you talked about meeting with your boss—why is that?” Or “When you talked about how you finally made that decision, I felt my whole self relax.” We listen to these clues so we can feel where readers will connect with your story. We listen to our bodies so we know where your story sings brightest. And then we ask those questions to help you go deeper into those moments.

Then when we sit down to write, we listen to our own bodies. Fingers on the keyboard, we stay alert for the phrase or the word that jolts us or makes our eyes sting. We stay present in the moment and write while paying attention to our body right now. We may be writing about something that happened to you five years ago, but what does that mean for us now? Where do we feel the punch in the gut, the fizzle of anger under the skin? We use that as a clue and dive right into those high-intensity moments. We write so your story crackles on the page.

You can write that way, too: by paying attention to where your body nudges you and makes you react. When you listen close enough, your body leapfrogs right over your rational mind that’s saying, “You probably shouldn’t say THAT,” and goes straight for the jugular. When you pay attention to your body, you’ll find it doesn’t lie. It tells you, “This is where the magic is.”

And when readers pick up your story that’s written with your whole body? They’ll feel the hairs stand up on the back of their necks, the heat in their chests, the catch in their throats.

We may think of writing as dry, distant, intellectual, all happening in the mind’s white towers. But real writers know the secret: when you invite the whole, physical body to the page, you get the spark of real story, which draws forth real emotions.

That’s the whole circle of how we work at RTC: we listen to you with our whole selves—body, mind, and heart; we write your story the same way; and all that makes it possible for your readers to engage their whole selves with your story—body, mind, and heart.