The Pain Scale Exercise
Try this writing exercise from Madeleine Watts: Sometimes the restrictions and limitations imposed by a given structure can help you more than complete creative freedom does.
—a novelist and essayist who I was so overwhelmingly impressed by it was often difficult to speak to her. I went to office hours because I was trying to write a very specific scene in what became my eventual novel—a failed IUD insertion. I had no idea how to go about it. I had tried a couple of different methods, and none of them seemed to quite work, none of them fit easily within the book I was writing. I asked the writer if she had any advice.
—it lends itself to those experiences! The pain scale structure forces you to write in fragments, and see what the enforced fragmentation does to your depiction of the experience.
—one for each level of the pain scale—which discuss an illness or experience of pain you’ve had in your life. You can move in any direction, forward or backward in time. Use the structure of the pain scale to give form to the experience you’re writing about, thinking about how the unit of the fragment can be used to tell a story of pain or illness. Revise and edit the fragments until they feel like they tell the story you want to tell.
If you enjoyed this prompt, check out Madeleine's upcoming workshop, Writing the Body, in which she shares more generative exercises that can help you explore different modes of writing and processing bodily experiences.
Madeleine Watts is a writer of fiction, stories, and essays. Her writing has been published in The Believer, The White Review, Literary Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, and Guernica, amongst others. Her debut novel, The Inland Sea, was published by Catapult in 2021. Madeleine grew up in Sydney, and sometimes Melbourne, but she has been based in New York since 2013.
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