Odd Writers #6: Writing a Book with One Eyelid

With what has to be one of the most inspired titles ever, ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ is truly a book with a difference.

The author did not use his hands or feet to write it.

He didn’t use his mouth and tongue to dictate the words.

He used the only thing he could move in his entire body – his left eyelid! (Okay, I know I gave that away in the title, but it’s been a long day 😀 )

Jean-Dominique Bauby was editor-in-chief for French fashion mag ‘Elle’. He had everything a man could want. And he lost it all after suffering a severe stroke, including the use of his whole body. After waking from a 20-day coma, Jean-Dominique found that he couldn’t move but he could hear and understand everything going on around him. As you can imagine, it took a long time to communicate that he was still very much awake and functioning. And then it took a very long time for someone to realise he had an awful lot to say.

So, how on earth did he do it?


Bauby worked with a patient transcriber who went through the alphabet waiting for him to choose a letter by blinking an eyelid. One word typically took two minutes, and the book took about 200,000 blinks to write.

Huge respect to Bauby – he managed to write a cracker of a book about his experiences, full of poetry and emotion. ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’, so called to describe his the state of his fluttering mind trapped inside a lead coffin of a body, was also made into a brilliant film (PG-13). Both are seriously worth checking out.