As someone who spends most of her time in her head and has to consciously make a decision to move, to be active, to stretch my body, embodied writing seems like an oxymoron at first glance. Embodied writing, however, is a practice that can help you connect more deeply to your practice of expression through the senses (did you know there are more than five?).
Let’s look first at the word “embodiment.” It is most commonly defined as a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling. In other words, embodiment is bringing an intangible quality into sharp reality so that we can know it as something we can feel and touch. So, embodied writing is writing that is able to make the intangible tangible.
Writing is naturally intangible, even if you’re describing something in real life. When you write you are creating a picture or an idea in your reader’s mind. Bringing the details into sharp relief and clarity will create a more vivid picture for them to grasp.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, particularly one who is writing for the benefit of your business, It can be incredibly easy to get lost in telling people how to, or what to do. This usually means that you’re missing out on the chance to engage their senses and speak to them in a way that makes them feel what you are saying, instead of just intellectualize what you are saying.
Like any good marketer knows, the heartstrings are attached to the purse strings (to put it so coarsely). If you want to move people to act, you need to help them feel and connect to what you are saying on a physical and emotional level – not just a mental level. Helping your reader feel emotions and sensations in their bodies through your writing is will not only help them understand what you’re sharing, but will move or inspire them to take action should you so desire.
For example, if I wanted you to understand what it was like to try seafood for the first time as a young child, I could write the following:
One of my earliest memories is of sitting around a table with my parents. We live in Spain and my father has come home with a bag of berberechos, these tiny little clams that are no bigger than the size of a dime. You can get them by the pound down by the ocean for very cheap, and he has cooked the clams in butter, wine and garlic. Now my mother and I join him at the table to eat clams and fresh-baked bread.
Not bad. But now let’s consider this:
One of my earliest memories is of sitting around a table with my parents. We live in Spain and my father has come home with a bag of berberechos, these tiny little clams that are no bigger than the size of a dime. You can get them by the pound down by the wharf for very cheap, and when he opens them to show me I can smell the brine of the ocean clinging to the shells. Although the afternoon heat lingers in the living room, he decides to cook them over the hot stove. Soon I can hear the hiss of garlic as it fries and smell the wine and butter as they mingle in the heat of the pan. Now my mother and I join him at the table to eat clams, ruby-red tomatoes, and fresh-baked bread, fingers slippery as we pry apart the half-opened shells and slurp down the salty-sweet gold inside.
You’ll notice that I called in sensorial experiences: smell, feel, sight, sound, and taste. The scene feels entirely different to you, no? While the first paragraph isn’t bad, it’s only when I read the second paragraph that I actually experience the moment with my family.
The best way to practice this is to write as you normally would. Then when you start to revise you work, find areas where you can add a sensory experience to the words you are sharing with your reader. Make sure you avoid overloading the paragraph, however. Nothing should be added that will actually drag down the rest of your prose – add it only if it creates the picture for your reader and helps move the story along.