Question: How do you manage to write such vivid descriptions in your books as a blind author?
I’ve been asked that question so many times over the last few years that it seemed like I should write a blog post about it to point new inquiries to. It isn’t that I mind answering or find the question offensive or upsetting in any way; it’s only that the places where this question generally comes up (e.g. on Twitter) don’t lend themselves to thorough or satisfying responses. So, for the record, here is the best answer I can give.
First, I didn’t lose my vision until I was six-years-old, giving me a strong foundation of what the visual world is like. I won’t deny this has helped tremendously, but it is not the main or only reason I write the way I do. I think anyone can write compelling visual descriptions; some have more of a knack for it than others. Plenty of bestselling authors can spin great stories without being very good at visual descriptions at all—Robert J. Sawyer comes to mind. Other authors thrive on describing the world they are building in rich detail, like Anne Rice.
Second, you’ll notice that in the paragraph above I was very specific about visual descriptions. The fact is, descriptions should be wholly immersive for your reader. There are at least five senses you can pull from, and all should be used in your writing at appropriate times to “draw” a picture of the setting you’re creating. Many readers won’t even realize that you’re doing this if you’ve snared them with your story. A character noting the smell of a flower might conjure the image of a rose in your reader’s mind; the feel of the steam upon their face will make them “see” the rich dark brown of the coffee. The point is, don’t get hung up worrying about the visuals. They should be there, but play to your strengths when you need to.
I credit a lot of my style of descriptive prose to Anne Rice, who is often praised for her ability to place the reader into preternatural situations and making them feel like they’ve actually lived them. She is the master of exploiting all the senses and drawing pictures, not just with words, but with experiences.
Next, I’ve always been a particularly visual person in general. Everything I touch, hear, smell, or taste acquires a color, texture, or picture in my mind. When i use an app on a computing device, I build a visual map of its interface in my mind. This is something that happens naturally for me, but it’s also a technique that can be learned. Build “pictures” in your mind as you experience the world around you. If those pictures need to be more tactile than visual, that’s fine. Imagine the sun as a (very hot) basketball, or the moon as a buttery croissant. (Damn, now I’m hungry.)
Looking back at the initial question, I can’t help wondering if I really answered it. I certainly can point to signposts along the road that have led me to where I am as a writer, but, as many writers will tell you, we mostly don’t know how we do what we do. So much of the creative process feels like magic as it’s happening.
If you’re an aspiring author who happens to be visually impaired, the best advice I can give you is to read as much as you can and, most important of all, just keep writing.