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Write towards the discomfort

A very simple act of reversal: conventionally we might begin a writing exercise with a prompt given to us and write from there- I want to do something slightly different.

We write best when we’re uncomfortable (a notion I much prefer to that idea that you have to be unhappy to write well, which is nonsense). This could mean something as simple as pushing yourself to write in a form you’re uncomfortable with, or using a strict rhyme structure when you’re used to writing with more freedom. That discomfort you feel gives the writing a new energy, a tension that makes the words vibrate on the page.

The way I measure my own work is, if I’ve written something that I know I wouldn’t want to show my mum then I must be on to something, I must be approaching that zone of discomfort which I think can be so fruitful.

But it’s too simple to make that discomfort the subject of your work, to give yourself an uncomfortable title or prompt and write from there.

So: Get a blank piece of paper, sit yourself down wherever it is you normally write- think the thought that makes you uncomfortable, about yourself, about someone else, about your writing, about your life, the thing that lodges itself at the back of your brain, and holds fast there, at 1am or 2am or sometimes all through the night. We all have that thing, and if it’s there all the time it seems to me to be worth confronting it.

(n.b: as I said before, this thing that makes you uncomfortable needn’t be some shocking confession, it might just be that writing a pantoum would make you uncomfortable…)

So, sit yourself down, and whatever the thing is that you’ve conjured up, write it on the very bottom of your blank piece of paper. Now, write towards it. Not about it, not reimagining it, not confronting it but, holding that word or phrase at the very bottom of your page, write towards the discomfort, and trust yourself enough to let the writing go where it wants to.

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