post banner. Natural Writer Coaching. Sitting with Discomfort. Exercises in White Responsibility in Writing. Part 2: Getting to Know You and Your How

Sitting with Discomfort Pt 2: Getting to Know You and Your How

Today’s post is to carry on from the last-ish post, the post in which I talked about ar-tic’s message to feel your discomfort. You can read the post here, and you can see the videos that sparked the inspiration for this blog series topic here.  I strongly encourage you to start with watching that video first before going on.

The journal prompts will be found in the homework section of this post, and like Part 1 of the Sitting with Discomfort Series, I’ll leave a list of resources for you to check out afterward. Again, I do encourage you to check them out first.

Today, as promised, will be journal prompts to help you get in touch with yourself, to help you understand what your discomforts are telling you. However, I first want to clarify how and why.

How vs. Why

When examining why we’re uncomfortable, we might struggle. Sometimes we just feel something, and we know that it doesn’t feel good, but we struggle to get to the bottom of it to answer why it is that we’re uncomfortable.

You might think that these two words are essentially the same.

A Frank Example

To explore this, let’s use the example of a perception that dogs are dangerous (for the record—I do not believe dogs are dangerous. As I write this, I have two dogs and live on a farm with ten other dogs other than my own. Also, this example is inspired by an event on the farm regarding a visitor and the dogs).

“How can Frank think dogs are dangerous?” can sound very similar in meaning to “Why does Frank think dogs are dangerous?”

Reason why: Frank thinks dogs are dangerous because one bit him.

Why addresses a more superficial level. Frank was bit by a dog, therefore, he believes that dogs have the potential to be dangerous, thus, dogs are dangerous.

But that isn’t really enough, is it? I, personally, have been bitten twice by a dog, and once drew blood. As I’ve mentioned, I do not think dogs are dangerous.

Frank’s How

Evil neighbor dog from Rocko’s Modern Life

The How might look something like this: Frank’s parents did not like animals, and thus, Frank never grew up with pets in the house. Because of this, he never learned how to be around animals. His mother was afraid of the neighbor dog which was big and barked at everything that got close to the property, so Frank was never introduced to that dog to discover that the dog was all bark and no bite. To top it off, Frank’s favorite childhood show was Rocko’s Modern Life, in which Rocko had a neighbor who had a vicious dog that would attack Rocko.

While in high school, Frank got a job as a newspaper boy, and would ride his bike throwing papers. Dogs would run at him barking as he passed by. Once, one got out and chased his bike, the way one would chase a car, which scared him. He crashed his bike, and the dog was about to reach him, but then the owner called the dog back.

While Frank was in college studying to become a nurse, he was in the park and witnessed a woman walking her dog. She fell over and didn’t get back up. Frank rushed to the woman to help, the dog saw him rushing at its fallen person and but Frank to protect the woman.

All of these things accumulated to make up the how of Frank’s belief that dogs are dangerous.

To me, this is the distinction. It’s a combination of experience and environment. Had his mother not been afraid of dogs and thus unintentionally instilled that into Frank, along with the reinforcement of the cartoon, Frank might not have had that foundation to build his assumption that dogs are dangerous.

Why is a motive. How is the reason the motive developed and is someway justified.

How This Is Applicable to Your Writing

While I hope that the reason you’re doing this work is to better understand yourself and the world around you, I know that as writers, you’ll want to know the benefits of this for your writing. So, here is your explanation.

You’ll hear me talk about understanding the villain or antagonist a lot, to the point where you could almost write that antagonist’s side of the story in a compassionate light. Those are the antagonists which challenge our thinking, and challenge our judgements of people. A beautiful job of this is done in Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eye, in which  (HEADS UP—POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING AND DEFINITELY SPOILER ALERT) the backstory of Cholly, who impregnates his 11-year-old daughter. The backstory doesn’t make the vastly horrific act alright, but it gives understanding to it, which is conflicting to the reader. It shows how an act like this could have happened, and forces the reader to examine the how of the world that supported this, rather than the why regarding Cholly.

The focus of this week is looking at ourselves and asking how we got to be as we are, and how the world got to be as it is, rather than the why.

Your Homework

As mentioned, your homework are the journal-writing prompts. Spend time with these prompts and really work to be honest with yourself.

It’s best if you spend some time just generally writing for ten minutes or so before you start these questions. This will help get any of those nagging thoughts out of your head so you can focus on the questions rather than “What should I cook for dinner tonight? I need to remember to get toothpaste when I’m at the store later” etc.

You’re ready? Clear minded? Here they are.

  1. What topics of discussion make me uncomfortable?
  2. What are the reasons for that discomfort?
  3. What are the reasons for those reasons?

Dig deep. Think about the Frank example with dogs. The second question is addressing the why, but the third question is addressing the how. See if you can really dig deep into this.

It helps if you set a timer for at least ten minutes, preferably more, to spend on each question. If you have the ability, write out your answers by hand. You can connect better to yourself this way. If you can’t write by hand, try recording yourself talking. The key through doing this is not to stop writing/talking. Articulate through the length of the timer, and longer if you feel the call. If you don’t know what to write/say, then repeat “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say…” until you do.

The other thing I would like to invite you to do is check out the following resources. Try to make it your goal to read at least one book on the topic, as well as three articles. Look into some of the trainings. If doing any of this makes you uncomfortable, refer to questions 2 and 3 of the journal writing prompts.



Ar-tic Instagram: @ar_tic_org

Ar-tic website:


Ar-tic trainingss:



Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge
7 Casually Racist Things That White Authors Do” by Mya Nunnally
White as the Default” by Marissa Rei Sebastian
“Definition of Cultural Appropriation: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Avoid it,” by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

Non-Fiction Books

Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

I Know Why the Caged Bird Singsby Maya Angelou
Writing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison
Race by Toni Morrison
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward
Killing Rage: Ending Racism, by bell hooks
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks
Plantation Memories by Grada Kilomba


Recitatif by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Writing Excuses Related Episodes

15:12 Writing the Other—Being an Ally
14:31 Cultural Setting as Conflict
14:21 Writing the Other—Yes You Can!
14:12 Writing the Other—Latinx Representation
7.4 Writing the Other
6.15 Writing Other Cultures

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Nicola Thompson

Born and raised in the Pacific North West (Washington State to be specific), I'm currently living on a farm, raising chickens, and writing in North Yorkshire. A former editor of Durham University's online magazine, The Bubble, I also write for the magazine Carpe Nocturne, and have several short stories published in a variety of anthologies.

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