National Writing Project

On the Experience of Writing Felt Sense: Writing with the Body

By: Sondra Perl
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 3
Date: 2004

Summary: Sondra Perl recounts the experience of creating the CD for her book, Felt Sense: Writing with the Body.


See the related book review by Sheridan Blau.

Editors' note: The Quarterly editors asked Sondra Perl to write a few words about the experience of writing and publishing a book.

Writing this book was fun: I've taught about felt sense for years, shown teachers how to use the "Guidelines for Composing" since 1980, use them myself constantly. But making a CD? That was new—and scary.

I tell my kids, three teens, that I'm driving to New Hampshire because my publisher wants me to record a CD for my book. "Wow, Mom," they say, "that's really cool." I can tell they are impressed.

The next day, I meet the production team. They set me up in a soundproof room, hand me some heavy-duty headphones, place me in front of a microphone, and close the door. "Signal us when you are ready to begin," they say as they observe me through a glass window.

I begin to sweat. Breathe in, I tell myself. Feel your feet on the floor. Just pretend you are in a classroom. I begin: "My name is Sondra Perl. . . . I'm a writer and a teacher of writing. . . ." My voice sounds scratchy. I hate it. The team signals me to keep going. I pause. Take a sip of water. Give them a quizzical look.

"You're doing fine," they say.

It starts to get easier. When I stumble on a word, they stop me. I take another breath and repeat the jumbled line. About a third of the way through, I start to relax. It's a lot like writing, I realize. If you trust your body, the flow will come. By the time we finish, nearly three hours later, I'm exhausted. They give me a thumbs-up.

A few weeks later, the demo arrives in the mail. I'm scared to listen to it, having never liked the sound of my voice. But when I finally do listen, I'm relieved. The recording sounds smooth, gentle, and professional—just the way I want it. The producers did a fine job.

The kids come in to listen. "But, Mom," they ask, "where's the music?"

"There isn't any," I explain. They look at me oddly.

"You made a CD without music?"

"Um-hmm," I respond, crestfallen.

"That's okay," they say, noticing my face. "Really, Mom, we still think you're cool."

About the Author Sondra Perl, a professor of English at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of CUNY, cofounded the New York City Writing Project with Richard Sterling in 1978. She will be leading a Felt Sense: Writing with the Body Workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, April 3–8, 2005. SUNY Press will publish her teaching memoir, On Austrian Soil: Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate, in March 2005.

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