Writing Out Loud: How to Write When Your Body Refuses - Nia Centre for the Arts

Writing Out Loud: How to Write When Your Body Refuses

By Nia Centre, p
Posted on April 9, 2021

The following post was originally published in Cry Magazine in partnership with Nia Centre. Through the mentorship of Author and Ghostwriter Kern Carter, emerging writers in Creative Connect learned how to effectively pitch their story ideas and creatively expressed themselves through the power of writing. Selected participants were commissioned by Cry Magazine and got their article published on their site.

By Ashley Tiffany Gittens

My birth as a writer happened when I was very young. I turned to writing every time I felt overwhelmed with emotion and needed to say things I felt would be wrong to say out loud. It was a silent practice for me and for many years I held it close to the chest. My writing started as entries in Sailor Moon diaries, then to angsty poems typed hectically into a word doc after an argument, to a growing list of story ideas and dialogue in my mobile notes app. As the years progressed, I started to build out these ideas into short stories and personal essays. Yet still, I kept my writing a silent and secret practice, only occasionally choosing to share with friends or feeling moved to submit a piece to a publication.

When I won an award for my writing late last year after taking a risk submitting to an exhibition, I realized I owed it to myself to share my work more and be more consistent with my writing practice. I started attending writing workshops multiple days a week, I had daily 3 hour-long writing sessions with friends and I was reading more than I ever had in the past five years. I felt motivated, validated, and supported in my practice. I was falling completely into my art as the soft landing it had always been for me and feeling confident in my talent.

Just as my identity as a writer entered this new evolution, I was reminded that I was disabled. A little short of a year ago, my right wrist stopped working. It had been hurting for about a week before I felt a pop when fluffing my sheets before bed. The next morning, I woke up to find my wrist refusing to move and in excruciating pain. After months of specialist visits, occupational therapy, and anti-inflammatory prescriptions, my wrist felt good enough to return to most of my daily tasks, including writing.

Just a month into my new journey, my wrist made the choice to remind me that it was not at all in the place that I thought it was in. It was good enough to write the piece that won me my award, but it was not good enough to keep up with my vigorous writing schedule. I went back to see my wrist surgeon about the worsening of my symptoms, and she told me it was time to consider speech-to-text software. The continuous strain I was putting on my wrist through typing and writing every day was too much for it. Considering that we still didn’t have a clear understanding of what actually went wrong with my wrist in the first place, it was in my best interest to slow down.

So, the next day I attempted to write using Google Docs voice typing. It was terrible. After years of keeping my writing silent and secret, I felt uncomfortable speaking my thoughts out loud. I felt like I was betraying my past selves who turned to writing as an escape and as a way to process our internal lives. As I sat down trying to understand why this new process stirred up so many intense emotions for me, I realized that there has been a stark division between my thoughts and my speech for years.

My inner world is vast and complex and I spend a lot of time there. I have really intense emotions and I experience things really deeply, so I take a lot of time away to process things. At times, this is something I really value about myself — especially, as it translates into my writing. However, Because my emotions and thoughts tend to be complicated, I’m really selective with who I share them with when they are still in a processing stage for fear of being misunderstood. When they translate into my writing, I try really hard to make them clear. However, this clarity happens only when I can formulate it as a thought first and then slowly send them to the page through manual writing or typing. When I’m being forced to speak my thoughts out, they become jumbled and don’t properly reflect my thoughtfulness.

Take for example this piece. I’ve been writing it for about a week now using Google Doc’s voice typing. I don’t consider myself a fast writer, but I do know that normally this wouldn’t have taken me so long. When it came to this piece, I knew what I was trying to process and share, but having to speak it onto the page was incredibly difficult. There are five nonsensical paragraphs below this piece on the doc that will never see the light of day.

I have to admit, this new challenge has been a hit to my confidence as a writer. I like my writing to be emotional; taking intense feelings and situations and teasing them out so that I and my readers can understand the layers to them. Now that I’m struggling to do the exact thing that I hope to translate in my writing, my identity as a writer feels fragile and I’m not sure what to do to ground it.

With my writing practice taking a turn I couldn’t have anticipated, I’m forced to rework my thoughts around writing for my art to continue. How do I transition my manual writing into talking? Is my writing even still considered writing if I’m speaking it? Does the answer lie in how I approach my thoughts or how I approach the page? I feel stuck but dedicated to figuring out the next evolution of my writing identity. As well as bettering my enunciation.

About Ashley Tiffany Gittens

Ashley Tiffany Gittens is an educator and emerging writer. Her work consists of prose, short stories, and personal essays. Her current body of work focuses on community building and fostering empathy through vulnerability. Her Afro- and Indo-Caribbean background weave into her work.

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