How to Deal With Performance Anxiety

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I've been blocked today.

In the last two weeks, the Write Practice has grown by 50%. I've dreamed of this place as a community of writers based around practice, and I'm thrilled and a bit humbled that so many are seeing the potential for such a community for their own writing.

But it also makes me nervous. There are a lot of new readers today. What if I screw it up?

Boy With Stage Fright

Photo by Randy Faris

Every writer has this fear. You've probably had this fear before. You get a little success, and all of a sudden the fear stops you dead in your path.

Writer's block arises almost universally from performance anxiety, the fear that what you've made isn't good enough, the fear that who you are isn't good enough.

To conquer anxiety, we try to be perfect. We try to write something that we know everyone will like. We brag and we use big words and we sensationalize. The problem is, it doesn't work, and it's a stupid way to deal with writer's block for two reasons.

1. You will never be perfect.

Perfect doesn't exist for the writer, and aiming for perfection will only make you more anxious.

2. It does nothing for your reader.

I've fallen in love with this quote from Robert McKee's Story:

When talented people write badly, it's generally for one of two reasons: Either they're blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they're driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They're moved by a desire to touch the audience.

When you load yourself with the weight of perfection, you become blinded by the idea of Yourself, this godlike creator that must be praised. Gods do not make good storytellers. Storytellers are born when they come down to the level of their audience and attempt to speak to those vulnerabilities that lie hidden inside all of us.

So if you are blocked today, give up perfection. Be vulnerable. Say to yourself, “I am only a writer. I am not a god. I can only put words on a page. Someone else will have to give them life.”

PRACTICE

Write about a novelist struggling with the weight of his own perfectionism. What does he do to distract himself from his impossible task?

Write for fifteen minutes. Post your practice in the comments when your finished.

And please, no perfect posts!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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53 Comments

  1. Jim Woods

    Joe, this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see how much this great community grows and evolves.

    Please keep up the good work-Joe, Liz and the rest of the writers sharing their work here.

    Reply
  2. Jim Woods

    Joe, this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see how much this great community grows and evolves.

    Please keep up the good work-Joe, Liz and the rest of the writers sharing their work here.

    Reply
  3. joco

    I guess it has something with being a man, but just the thought of performance anxiety makes me anxious!

    I’m thinking about tattooing McKee’s quote on my right arm and your last quote on my left.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Haha I would love to hold your hand while you get that one, Tom.

      Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I guess it has something with being a man, but just the thought of performance anxiety makes me anxious!

    I’m thinking about tattooing McKee’s quote on my right arm and your last quote on my left.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Haha I would love to hold your hand while you get that one, Tom.

      Reply
  5. Elaine

    Susan rolled over. The bedclothes twisted around her as she tried to get comfortable. It’s like…it’s like…lying in a bed of marshmallows, she said aloud. Then, no, no, no. It’s like trying to swim through a toxic slough.
    Hell. She pushed herself to the edge of the bed, swinging her legs over and then standing unsteadily. Words, she said. Why can’t I find some right words? Whose idea was it to be a famous writer? Oh yeah. Mine.
    Her eyes took in her fawn-colored bedroom, but her mind didn’t want to focus, to see the luxurious settings her best-selling mystery novel had brought her. Twenty-two weeks on the New York Times list. But now Jake, her agent, was on her for more. He wanted lightning to strike twice, Susan thought. He thinks I’m a genius crossed with an automatic pencil, someone who can sit down and create deathless prose by flipping a switch.
    Again, hell. She knew she couldn’t write today. Too much champagne at her book-signing last night. She slipped her feet into her rabbit-fur mules and shuffled to the door. Bernice, the maid, oops, domestic help, would have her whole-grain English muffin ready to slide into the toaster as soon as she heard Susan’s footfall on the stairs.
    Christ, Susan thought as she looked down the sweeping staircase with its long curved holly-bedecked bannister. This place is a pimped-up barn. What am I doing here? I’m a tricked-up pony who can’t perform to save my own life. My life! Is this what I meant to do back when I was a tyke?
    I’ll stop the drama now, she said out loud. I have to get out to the studio and work on the new book. In the library with the candlestick…? Maybe that’s where the actual murder should happen. How can I, a writer who can’t write, ever get this thing done?
    The smell of toasting English muffin wafted through the kitchen doorway as Susan descended the stairs. English muffin and coffee. The breakfast of a writing champion. Bernice thinks I’m a star, Susan thought. I can’t let on to her that it’s not true.
    Hi Bernice—I think I’ll take my muffin to go today. I’ve got a book to write!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Elaine. Thanks for joining us 🙂

      I like how you start this. The laziness of the blocked writer. I like how she switches back and forth between the bed being comfortable and torturous. That’s definitely how I feel when I “take to the bed” uninspired.

      One thing to watch out for, when you’re deep into a characters head like this, “Her eyes took in her fawn-colored bedroom, but her mind didn’t want to focus,” try not to describe her state of mind or where her eyes are. No one actually looks at something and thinks, “my eyes are taking this in,” you know? It ends up distancing the reader from the character.

      Same with this, “She knew she couldn’t write today.” Just take out the “she knew.”

      As a whole though, I think you switch back and forth between her inner monologue and what she’s doing quite well. The piece has a nice flow to it. It’s very readable.

      The character is very interesting, the self-hating star with a domestic servant. I’m not sure I like that too-peppy ending though. Still, all in all I think it’s a very nice piece.

      Reply
  6. Elaine

    Susan rolled over. The bedclothes twisted around her as she tried to get comfortable. It’s like…it’s like…lying in a bed of marshmallows, she said aloud. Then, no, no, no. It’s like trying to swim through a toxic slough.
    Hell. She pushed herself to the edge of the bed, swinging her legs over and then standing unsteadily. Words, she said. Why can’t I find some right words? Whose idea was it to be a famous writer? Oh yeah. Mine.
    Her eyes took in her fawn-colored bedroom, but her mind didn’t want to focus, to see the luxurious settings her best-selling mystery novel had brought her. Twenty-two weeks on the New York Times list. But now Jake, her agent, was on her for more. He wanted lightning to strike twice, Susan thought. He thinks I’m a genius crossed with an automatic pencil, someone who can sit down and create deathless prose by flipping a switch.
    Again, hell. She knew she couldn’t write today. Too much champagne at her book-signing last night. She slipped her feet into her rabbit-fur mules and shuffled to the door. Bernice, the maid, oops, domestic help, would have her whole-grain English muffin ready to slide into the toaster as soon as she heard Susan’s footfall on the stairs.
    Christ, Susan thought as she looked down the sweeping staircase with its long curved holly-bedecked bannister. This place is a pimped-up barn. What am I doing here? I’m a tricked-up pony who can’t perform to save my own life. My life! Is this what I meant to do back when I was a tyke?
    I’ll stop the drama now, she said out loud. I have to get out to the studio and work on the new book. In the library with the candlestick…? Maybe that’s where the actual murder should happen. How can I, a writer who can’t write, ever get this thing done?
    The smell of toasting English muffin wafted through the kitchen doorway as Susan descended the stairs. English muffin and coffee. The breakfast of a writing champion. Bernice thinks I’m a star, Susan thought. I can’t let on to her that it’s not true.
    Hi Bernice—I think I’ll take my muffin to go today. I’ve got a book to write!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Elaine. Thanks for joining us 🙂

      I like how you start this. The laziness of the blocked writer. I like how she switches back and forth between the bed being comfortable and torturous. That’s definitely how I feel when I “take to the bed” uninspired.

      One thing to watch out for, when you’re deep into a characters head like this, “Her eyes took in her fawn-colored bedroom, but her mind didn’t want to focus,” try not to describe her state of mind or where her eyes are. No one actually looks at something and thinks, “my eyes are taking this in,” you know? It ends up distancing the reader from the character.

      Same with this, “She knew she couldn’t write today.” Just take out the “she knew.”

      As a whole though, I think you switch back and forth between her inner monologue and what she’s doing quite well. The piece has a nice flow to it. It’s very readable.

      The character is very interesting, the self-hating star with a domestic servant. I’m not sure I like that too-peppy ending though. Still, all in all I think it’s a very nice piece.

      Reply
  7. Guest

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open the coffin only to discover…to discover…the body was missing his head!

    “NO, NO, NO!” Duke pounded his fist on the desk.

    …to discover the body was not there.

    “What an idiot!” Duke ripped the paper from his old Remington.

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open a can of beanie weanies. Jjvi4q0vh 8y-c jxaj?!#

    “Shit, what nonsense!” Duke got up from his desk to avoid throwing his vintage typewriter out the window of his ninth floor apartment. He paced the small living room for a few moments before realizing nothing was going to get done until he got some fresh air. He grabbed his jacket and his French bulldog, Ace and headed to the dog park.

    As Ace greeted and sniffed his fellow canine comrades, Duke sat quietly on the park bench watching his fellow New Yorkers. He deliberately soaked in the sights, sounds and smells of his beloved Madison Park.

    He watched a couple of young lovers sharing a kiss and a burger at the Shake Shack, oblivious of the squirrel stealing a French fry. He heard the distant sound of an ambulance siren heading towards NYU medical center. He smelled the hint of fresh dog poo attempting to invade the aroma of the flower garden. He felt the rumble of the N train traveling underneath his feet.

    Duke quickly jumped up, grabbed Ace and headed back to his apartment, forgetting to pick up the lunch he had just ordered.

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open the coffin only to discover the body of her dead husband’s lover lying cold next to his.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love how you start this, Tom. I laughed at the part where she pries open the can of weenies. I think you capture a certain melodramatic hilarity that happens with every writer. At some point in their manuscript they stop believing in their characters, their plot, their tone, and their whole writing lives and everything becomes ridiculous.

      I like this line, how you immediately pull us into the park, “As Ace greeted and sniffed his fellow canine comrades, Duke sat quietly on the park bench watching his fellow New Yorkers.” But I would take out the “as” at the beginning. Side note: one reason New York is used so much in fiction is that we all have a visual of NYC. You can put us there in two lines, whereas if I wrote about Central Park in Des Moine, Iowa, we’d be totally lost.

      I like how the walk brings back his creativity. It always does that to mine.

      And wonderful ending, Tom. You’ve really entered this character and this scene. I’m impressed.

      Reply
  8. Anonymous

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open the coffin only to discover…to discover…the body was missing his head!

    “NO, NO, NO!” Duke pounded his fist on the desk.

    …to discover the body was not there.

    “What an idiot!” Duke ripped the paper from his old Remington.

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open a can of beanie weanies. Jjvi4q0vh 8y-c jxaj?!#

    “Shit, what nonsense!” Duke got up from his desk to avoid throwing his vintage typewriter out the window of his ninth floor apartment. He paced the small living room for a few moments before realizing nothing was going to get done until he got some fresh air. He grabbed his jacket and his French bulldog, Ace and headed to the dog park.

    As Ace greeted and sniffed his fellow canine comrades, Duke sat quietly on the park bench watching his fellow New Yorkers. He deliberately soaked in the sights, sounds and smells of his beloved Madison Park.

    He watched a couple of young lovers sharing a kiss and a burger at the Shake Shack, oblivious of the squirrel stealing a French fry. He heard the distant sound of an ambulance siren heading towards NYU medical center. He smelled the hint of fresh dog poo attempting to invade the aroma of the flower garden. He felt the rumble of the N train traveling underneath his feet.

    Duke quickly jumped up, grabbed Ace and headed back to his apartment, forgetting to pick up the lunch he had just ordered.

    The grief over took Janet’s senses. She pried open the coffin only to discover the body of her dead husband’s lover lying cold next to his.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love how you start this, Tom. I laughed at the part where she pries open the can of weenies. I think you capture a certain melodramatic hilarity that happens with every writer. At some point in their manuscript they stop believing in their characters, their plot, their tone, and their whole writing lives and everything becomes ridiculous.

      I like this line, how you immediately pull us into the park, “As Ace greeted and sniffed his fellow canine comrades, Duke sat quietly on the park bench watching his fellow New Yorkers.” But I would take out the “as” at the beginning. Side note: one reason New York is used so much in fiction is that we all have a visual of NYC. You can put us there in two lines, whereas if I wrote about Central Park in Des Moine, Iowa, we’d be totally lost.

      I like how the walk brings back his creativity. It always does that to mine.

      And wonderful ending, Tom. You’ve really entered this character and this scene. I’m impressed.

      Reply
  9. Katie Axelson

    The keys clicked again before stopping abruptly. She let out a sight.

    “Awe, honey, it can’t be that bad,” he said. This had been happening for hours. She would type and stop. Type and stop. Mixed in there would be colorful language, grunts, and groans.

    “It really IS that bad,” Lillian said. “Where’s the phone? I have to call Eric and quit.”

    “Woah, let’s not get all melodramatic here. I’m sure this isn’t worth quitting over,” said Ray.

    “It is!”

    “Let me see what you’ve got so far. Maybe I can help bounce around ideas.” He put down his book and walked over to where she was working.

    “No!” She held her hands over the computer monitor as if that could hide the white screen from his view.

    “Oh, honey,” he said. “Let’s work together. Pull up the document you’ve been working on so diligently all afternoon.”

    She took her hands off the screen to wipe the tears from her face. “I quit.”

    “Don’t quit, Honey, you’re a great writer.”

    He put his left hand on her back and his right on the mouse scrolling upwards from the blank page trying to find her work.

    “Did you close it?”

    She shook her head.

    “Then where’d it go?”

    Again she shook her head.

    “Lillian, what happened to everything you’ve been typing for the last six hours? Where’d it go?”

    “I deleted it,” she whispered. Then she continued and a normal volume level, “It was awful! Call Eric! I quit.”

    Ray repeatedly hit the undo button and words flashed back and forth on the screen, never more than a line or two at a time.

    “I quit.”

    “Lillian, look at me.”

    She glanced at his face and looked down again.

    “Lillian.” he said. He gently took her chin in his hand and pulled it up until their eyes met. Hers darted away but he kept his firm. “Repeat after me.”

    She pulled away. “No! That never works.”

    “‘I Lillian…'” He paused. She said nothing. He cleared this throat. “‘I Lillian.'”

    “I Lillian,” she mumbled.

    “Am a great writer,” he said.

    “Am a horrible writer,” she repeated.

    He made a buzzer noise. “Am a skilled writer.”

    “Am a pathetic excuse for a writer.”

    “Am a beautiful very talented writer,” he spoke for her. “I have a way with words. And I will never quit. My husband loves me very much and he drives me crazy.”

    “Well, that last part is true,” she said with a smile.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Katie! Nice practice here. You seem to have run with it. I didn’t start out liking the characters, but those last two lines hooked me.

      One thing, in general, it’s best to avoid starting a scene with dialogue. And you don’t, but your description doesn’t quite bring me to the point where I know what’s going on. I can’t decide whether it works or not.

      This part’s cute: “He gently took her chin in his hand and pulled it up until their eyes met. Hers darted away but he kept his firm. “Repeat after me.””

      I think your characters are good, people we could go a long way with. They kind of remind me of the husband and wife in that movie Julie and Julia.

      Reply
  10. Katie Axelson

    The keys clicked again before stopping abruptly. She let out a sight.

    “Awe, honey, it can’t be that bad,” he said. This had been happening for hours. She would type and stop. Type and stop. Mixed in there would be colorful language, grunts, and groans.

    “It really IS that bad,” Lillian said. “Where’s the phone? I have to call Eric and quit.”

    “Woah, let’s not get all melodramatic here. I’m sure this isn’t worth quitting over,” said Ray.

    “It is!”

    “Let me see what you’ve got so far. Maybe I can help bounce around ideas.” He put down his book and walked over to where she was working.

    “No!” She held her hands over the computer monitor as if that could hide the white screen from his view.

    “Oh, honey,” he said. “Let’s work together. Pull up the document you’ve been working on so diligently all afternoon.”

    She took her hands off the screen to wipe the tears from her face. “I quit.”

    “Don’t quit, Honey, you’re a great writer.”

    He put his left hand on her back and his right on the mouse scrolling upwards from the blank page trying to find her work.

    “Did you close it?”

    She shook her head.

    “Then where’d it go?”

    Again she shook her head.

    “Lillian, what happened to everything you’ve been typing for the last six hours? Where’d it go?”

    “I deleted it,” she whispered. Then she continued and a normal volume level, “It was awful! Call Eric! I quit.”

    Ray repeatedly hit the undo button and words flashed back and forth on the screen, never more than a line or two at a time.

    “I quit.”

    “Lillian, look at me.”

    She glanced at his face and looked down again.

    “Lillian.” he said. He gently took her chin in his hand and pulled it up until their eyes met. Hers darted away but he kept his firm. “Repeat after me.”

    She pulled away. “No! That never works.”

    “‘I Lillian…'” He paused. She said nothing. He cleared this throat. “‘I Lillian.'”

    “I Lillian,” she mumbled.

    “Am a great writer,” he said.

    “Am a horrible writer,” she repeated.

    He made a buzzer noise. “Am a skilled writer.”

    “Am a pathetic excuse for a writer.”

    “Am a beautiful very talented writer,” he spoke for her. “I have a way with words. And I will never quit. My husband loves me very much and he drives me crazy.”

    “Well, that last part is true,” she said with a smile.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Katie! Nice practice here. You seem to have run with it. I didn’t start out liking the characters, but those last two lines hooked me.

      One thing, in general, it’s best to avoid starting a scene with dialogue. And you don’t, but your description doesn’t quite bring me to the point where I know what’s going on. I can’t decide whether it works or not.

      This part’s cute: “He gently took her chin in his hand and pulled it up until their eyes met. Hers darted away but he kept his firm. “Repeat after me.””

      I think your characters are good, people we could go a long way with. They kind of remind me of the husband and wife in that movie Julie and Julia.

      Reply
  11. Jen Schwab

    “If you can’t do it well, don’t do it at all.” Right? Right. Practice, schmactice. I’ll start writing for fifteen minutes a day when I have something good to say. I shouldn’t clutter up people’s inboxes with my purposeless chatter. Right? Right.

    I’ll go out to dinner instead. Yes, that’s it! I’ll take that manuscript with me that I’m supposed to read, and then I will look very important and thoughtful. Perfectly thoughtful, and smart. I’ll have a nice little meal and have a perfect evening reading someone else’s work. I can write down notes of how their writing is, well, just about there.

    I am never going to write this well. Ever. Why even bother to think of bothering? But this chicken is fantastic.

    “Hi, Jorge.”

    “Hi, Jen. What’s that you’ve got there?”

    “Oh, it’s a book that a friend is writing and I’m reading it for him.”

    “What’s it about?”

    How on earth do I explain this book to him? It’s a Christian book, but I don’t know if he’s into that sort of thing. Do I nonchalantly throw it out there? Like, “You know, it’s about going on spiritual pilgrimages for Jesus.” That’s cool, right? Or do I let him know that I don’t want to offend him by not talking about offending him? – “It’s hard to sum up, and I’m just getting into it.” Or do I just stick it to him and give him the raised “whatchu gonna do ‘bout it?” eyebrow?


    “Ummm, well, it’s about traveling…and seeing the world, to understand what God is really about.”

    There! You said it! You used the word “God” in New England. Five gold crowns in heaven!

    “Cool. What do you think about…”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Jen. Thanks for practicing!

      First off, I liked what he said here, “I will look very important and thoughtful.” Perfectionism is all about looks, and you’ve captured that quite well here.

      Ha! “I am never going to write this well. Ever. Why even bother to think of bothering? But this chicken is fantastic. ” Great view into his head. Nice repetition. I like how he switches back and forth between being upbeat and downtrodden and back again.

      Nice ellipses 🙂

      You do a good job getting into this character’s head and imitate his voice. You should check out George Saunders’ story “Adams.” He’s the contemporary master of voice:

      http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/09/040809fi_fiction?currentPage=all

      Nicely done, Jen 🙂

      Reply
      • kati

        joe, i love all your resources. your brain must be bulging with all the links you have to offer us here 🙂

        Reply
  12. Jen Schwab

    “If you can’t do it well, don’t do it at all.” Right? Right. Practice, schmactice. I’ll start writing for fifteen minutes a day when I have something good to say. I shouldn’t clutter up people’s inboxes with my purposeless chatter. Right? Right.

    I’ll go out to dinner instead. Yes, that’s it! I’ll take that manuscript with me that I’m supposed to read, and then I will look very important and thoughtful. Perfectly thoughtful, and smart. I’ll have a nice little meal and have a perfect evening reading someone else’s work. I can write down notes of how their writing is, well, just about there.

    I am never going to write this well. Ever. Why even bother to think of bothering? But this chicken is fantastic.

    “Hi, Jorge.”

    “Hi, Jen. What’s that you’ve got there?”

    “Oh, it’s a book that a friend is writing and I’m reading it for him.”

    “What’s it about?”

    How on earth do I explain this book to him? It’s a Christian book, but I don’t know if he’s into that sort of thing. Do I nonchalantly throw it out there? Like, “You know, it’s about going on spiritual pilgrimages for Jesus.” That’s cool, right? Or do I let him know that I don’t want to offend him by not talking about offending him? – “It’s hard to sum up, and I’m just getting into it.” Or do I just stick it to him and give him the raised “whatchu gonna do ‘bout it?” eyebrow?


    “Ummm, well, it’s about traveling…and seeing the world, to understand what God is really about.”

    There! You said it! You used the word “God” in New England. Five gold crowns in heaven!

    “Cool. What do you think about…”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Jen. Thanks for practicing!

      First off, I liked what he said here, “I will look very important and thoughtful.” Perfectionism is all about looks, and you’ve captured that quite well here.

      Ha! “I am never going to write this well. Ever. Why even bother to think of bothering? But this chicken is fantastic. ” Great view into his head. Nice repetition. I like how he switches back and forth between being upbeat and downtrodden and back again.

      Nice ellipses 🙂

      You do a good job getting into this character’s head and imitate his voice. You should check out George Saunders’ story “Adams.” He’s the contemporary master of voice:

      http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/09/040809fi_fiction?currentPage=all

      Nicely done, Jen 🙂

      Reply
      • kati

        joe, i love all your resources. your brain must be bulging with all the links you have to offer us here 🙂

        Reply
  13. Lida

    On the bright Monday morning, I looked at an old door. I observed the door design, is made from wood. The handle made from black iron. I amaze on the dust on the glasses. I think this door has become bystander of conversation, love story, weather changes, emotions and could be a war.

    I still stared on the door. At a glance, I move my eyes to the window. It’s an old apartment. I imagine this apartment quite classic and full of Victorian style furniture. I am curious how the people inside live. How’s their personality? Do they nice people?

    A door always unravels a story of my life. It’s like an embodiment of my life. I am skeptic to move to something new. I am leery. I want to be comfortable all the time.

    “Don’t just stare on the door,” My husband said.
    “I enjoy watched the door,” I said softly.
    “We need to go inside if we want to rent it,” My husband reminds me.
    “We have no key dear.”
    “Then let’s get the key now.”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Lida. Thanks for practicing 🙂

      I don’t know why but somehow you make looking at a door very interesting. I mean I like your profound realization that the door is a kind of witness, but the description of the door itself is fascinating.

      I love that bit of dialogue between husband and wife. “Then let’s get the key now.” It hints at something very profound going on under the surface.

      Reply
    • Ryan J Riehl

      Hi Lida. I agree with Joe. I love how you use the door to hint at deeper activity in the characters and the plot.

      Reply
  14. Lida

    On the bright Monday morning, I looked at an old door. I observed the door design, is made from wood. The handle made from black iron. I amaze on the dust on the glasses. I think this door has become bystander of conversation, love story, weather changes, emotions and could be a war.

    I still stared on the door. At a glance, I move my eyes to the window. It’s an old apartment. I imagine this apartment quite classic and full of Victorian style furniture. I am curious how the people inside live. How’s their personality? Do they nice people?

    A door always unravels a story of my life. It’s like an embodiment of my life. I am skeptic to move to something new. I am leery. I want to be comfortable all the time.

    “Don’t just stare on the door,” My husband said.
    “I enjoy watched the door,” I said softly.
    “We need to go inside if we want to rent it,” My husband reminds me.
    “We have no key dear.”
    “Then let’s get the key now.”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Lida. Thanks for practicing 🙂

      I don’t know why but somehow you make looking at a door very interesting. I mean I like your profound realization that the door is a kind of witness, but the description of the door itself is fascinating.

      I love that bit of dialogue between husband and wife. “Then let’s get the key now.” It hints at something very profound going on under the surface.

      Reply
    • Ryan J Riehl

      Hi Lida. I agree with Joe. I love how you use the door to hint at deeper activity in the characters and the plot.

      Reply
  15. Elisa Michelle

    Okay so this is a little long… sorry. I type fast and I’ve never done this type of prompt before, ever. Hope it’s not too crappy!

    ***

    Amy looked at her notebook for the thousandth time that minute. There were only three paragraphs. Three. She needed to get this novel finished, and it needed to be great. Her editor needed to love it, but no. No. She chewed her pen’s cap, bite marks already creating cracks in the surface. This wasn’t going to work.

    For the thousandth time that day, she got up from her desk and went to the kitchen. Arms crossed, fingers drumming against her upper arm. She poured herself another glass of iced tea and went back to the desk. She started tapping the pen against that desk to the beat of her favorite song. Three paragraphs needed to become four, four needed to become five, and five needed to become two hundred pages.

    This was ridiculous. Jonathan would be home in an hour, with the kids, no doubt expecting the kitchen to be spotless, the clothes to be folded nice and neat in their dresser drawers. Shit. She tapped her pen harder, the beat speeding up. What if the main character had to rescue a dog from a freezing pond first? That would get her through a few more paragraphs. Yeah.

    The dog was wet — wait, of course it was wet. What kind of sentence is that? She erased the erroneous words with black, uneven scribbles, until that entire section was black, top of the line to bottom. Besides, saving a dog from a pond was boring. There needed to be something mystical about the pond. Maybe throw in a water sprite or a ghoul. Paranormal was in right now, the editor would like her initiative. The pen flew.

    As she saved the dog — no, Corgi; everyone loves Corgis — from the water, a phantom appeared from the water, and its transparent tendrils reached out to her very soul. She looked at her sentence and groaned. Better, but only by a little. She went back to the kitchen for another glass of tea, ignoring the fact that her glass was still half full. Or half empty, really. Yeah. Half empty.

    The ghoul attacks, the main character nearly loses the Corgi, because people hate the thought of losing such an adorable dog. Paragraphs turned to pages, pages to chapters. The inspiration hit her, and hit her hard. At this rate, she’d be done with the book within… three months? The deadline was two. She’d have to get it done in a month so she could edit the manuscript before sending it off, nevermind transcribing it to the computer. Oh, why was this so hard? Why was she such a perfectionist?

    Jonathan came home, as usual, right at four thirty-two. For some reason he was always ever-so off his four thirty promise. The kids burst in and demanded a snack, so Amy obliged. Maybe getting the manuscript out of her head would help.

    “You look stressed.” Her husband could always tell when her OCD kicked her in the butt. Hard.

    “I’m just trying to meet the deadline, you know that.”

    “Then screw the notebook and write on the computer first. Skip a step.”

    “Skip…” Amy laughed. “But it’ll suck.”

    “How do you know? Have you ever tried to step outside the bounds of your perfect little routine?”

    Ouch. “No.”

    “Okay then.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, carted her to her laptop, plopped her down in her chair, and smiled. “Try something new.”

    She sighed. “Right.”

    “And stop worrying. Nothing is perfect, none of your books have been so far,” he held up his hand before Amy could erupt, “not that they’re bad. They’re just imperfect. It’s not so bad. I’ll make them food, you try this out.” Jonathan left after kissing her on the cheek.

    It took her a moment to absorb what he said. No, okay, she wasn’t absorbing it. Instead, she just let her fingers fly, hoping that, as the minutes flew by, she’d have an imperfect — but finished — manuscript.

    ***

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Elisa. Thanks for trying something new, then 🙂 It wasn’t too crappy at all. In fact, I think you do a good job narrating the reader through your character’s head to the action to what’s going on in her story. I think watching your character compose is very fun.

      Do you write YA fiction? Because the writing reads fairly young, just because of the amount of time you spend in her head. The major difference between YA lit and adult literature is that YA is more focused on inner monologue and adult literature tends to stay out of the head, or else convey what’s going on emotionally and internally another way.

      It’s funny, Katie wrote about a husband who fixed his wife’s writing process too. You girls like guys that are going to be your creative savior 🙂

      I’m pretty impressed you got such a developed scene out in 15 minutes. You ARE a fast typer. Geez.

      Reply
      • Elisa Michelle

        Thank you! Honestly, I’ve never looked at the difference between YA and adult fiction, but now that you mention it, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t want my work to sound like YA though. How can I change that?

        Haha, or maybe we’re both married. Lord knows my husband keeps me from flipping out about my writing, or at least helps.

        I appreciate that you consider it a developed scene. I type around 60-80 words per minute, depending. And for some reason that prompt really inspired me, being a little perfectionist. These prompts in general are really great, I’ll have to start joining in more often! =D

        Reply
        • Joe Bunting

          To not sound too YA try to show emotion and inner monologue through what the character observes. Let’s say she’s observing the full moon and she’s never seen something so blue and everything around is darkness and quite. What emotion does that convey? Maybe loneliness, sadness.

          Glad this one inspired you 🙂 Yes, I hope you join in lots!

          Reply
        • Ryan J Riehl

          Don’t worry too much, Elisa. Joe’s been trying to get me to sound less YA since the summer.

          Reply
  16. Elisa Michelle

    Okay so this is a little long… sorry. I type fast and I’ve never done this type of prompt before, ever. Hope it’s not too crappy!

    ***

    Amy looked at her notebook for the thousandth time that minute. There were only three paragraphs. Three. She needed to get this novel finished, and it needed to be great. Her editor needed to love it, but no. No. She chewed her pen’s cap, bite marks already creating cracks in the surface. This wasn’t going to work.

    For the thousandth time that day, she got up from her desk and went to the kitchen. Arms crossed, fingers drumming against her upper arm. She poured herself another glass of iced tea and went back to the desk. She started tapping the pen against that desk to the beat of her favorite song. Three paragraphs needed to become four, four needed to become five, and five needed to become two hundred pages.

    This was ridiculous. Jonathan would be home in an hour, with the kids, no doubt expecting the kitchen to be spotless, the clothes to be folded nice and neat in their dresser drawers. Shit. She tapped her pen harder, the beat speeding up. What if the main character had to rescue a dog from a freezing pond first? That would get her through a few more paragraphs. Yeah.

    The dog was wet — wait, of course it was wet. What kind of sentence is that? She erased the erroneous words with black, uneven scribbles, until that entire section was black, top of the line to bottom. Besides, saving a dog from a pond was boring. There needed to be something mystical about the pond. Maybe throw in a water sprite or a ghoul. Paranormal was in right now, the editor would like her initiative. The pen flew.

    As she saved the dog — no, Corgi; everyone loves Corgis — from the water, a phantom appeared from the water, and its transparent tendrils reached out to her very soul. She looked at her sentence and groaned. Better, but only by a little. She went back to the kitchen for another glass of tea, ignoring the fact that her glass was still half full. Or half empty, really. Yeah. Half empty.

    The ghoul attacks, the main character nearly loses the Corgi, because people hate the thought of losing such an adorable dog. Paragraphs turned to pages, pages to chapters. The inspiration hit her, and hit her hard. At this rate, she’d be done with the book within… three months? The deadline was two. She’d have to get it done in a month so she could edit the manuscript before sending it off, nevermind transcribing it to the computer. Oh, why was this so hard? Why was she such a perfectionist?

    Jonathan came home, as usual, right at four thirty-two. For some reason he was always ever-so off his four thirty promise. The kids burst in and demanded a snack, so Amy obliged. Maybe getting the manuscript out of her head would help.

    “You look stressed.” Her husband could always tell when her OCD kicked her in the butt. Hard.

    “I’m just trying to meet the deadline, you know that.”

    “Then screw the notebook and write on the computer first. Skip a step.”

    “Skip…” Amy laughed. “But it’ll suck.”

    “How do you know? Have you ever tried to step outside the bounds of your perfect little routine?”

    Ouch. “No.”

    “Okay then.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, carted her to her laptop, plopped her down in her chair, and smiled. “Try something new.”

    She sighed. “Right.”

    “And stop worrying. Nothing is perfect, none of your books have been so far,” he held up his hand before Amy could erupt, “not that they’re bad. They’re just imperfect. It’s not so bad. I’ll make them food, you try this out.” Jonathan left after kissing her on the cheek.

    It took her a moment to absorb what he said. No, okay, she wasn’t absorbing it. Instead, she just let her fingers fly, hoping that, as the minutes flew by, she’d have an imperfect — but finished — manuscript.

    ***

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Elisa. Thanks for trying something new, then 🙂 It wasn’t too crappy at all. In fact, I think you do a good job narrating the reader through your character’s head to the action to what’s going on in her story. I think watching your character compose is very fun.

      Do you write YA fiction? Because the writing reads fairly young, just because of the amount of time you spend in her head. The major difference between YA lit and adult literature is that YA is more focused on inner monologue and adult literature tends to stay out of the head, or else convey what’s going on emotionally and internally another way.

      It’s funny, Katie wrote about a husband who fixed his wife’s writing process too. You girls like guys that are going to be your creative savior 🙂

      I’m pretty impressed you got such a developed scene out in 15 minutes. You ARE a fast typer. Geez.

      Reply
      • Elisa Michelle

        Thank you! Honestly, I’ve never looked at the difference between YA and adult fiction, but now that you mention it, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t want my work to sound like YA though. How can I change that?

        Haha, or maybe we’re both married. Lord knows my husband keeps me from flipping out about my writing, or at least helps.

        I appreciate that you consider it a developed scene. I type around 60-80 words per minute, depending. And for some reason that prompt really inspired me, being a little perfectionist. These prompts in general are really great, I’ll have to start joining in more often! =D

        Reply
        • Joe Bunting

          To not sound too YA try to show emotion and inner monologue through what the character observes. Let’s say she’s observing the full moon and she’s never seen something so blue and everything around is darkness and quite. What emotion does that convey? Maybe loneliness, sadness.

          Glad this one inspired you 🙂 Yes, I hope you join in lots!

          Reply
        • Ryan J Riehl

          Don’t worry too much, Elisa. Joe’s been trying to get me to sound less YA since the summer.

          Reply
  17. Casey

    I’m new here. Just found this site today (thank God). And this looked like a good post to begin with, as perfectionism is something I struggle with. I hope I”m not posting this too late.

    He sat there staring at the blinking cursor, unsure of what he should be writing. It didn’t help that he had read an entire article praising his success, or at least the success of his book. That wasn’t his success, but everyone else thought it was. And that made him nervous. He didn’t know what had moved him to write that book. The entire time that he had written it he felt as if he had taken a leave of absence and someone else had snuck in to take over his shift.

    And yet, there it was. There was the book. A hardcover book with a glossy book jacket, and letters that spelled his name.

    That book was sitting there across the room from his, taunting, that perhaps he would not be able to perform such a feat again. After all, where was that ghostwriter now, the one that had really been the brain behind the book? Jay wasn’t sure.

    He wasn’t liking this. Two hands poised above the keyboard and that pretty book smiling at him. He’d like to burn it, perhaps.

    He looked at the monitor again. Blink. Blink. Blink. Even the computer was waiting for him now. The book. The computer. He looked at the wall. It was blank, mercifully so. The carpet below him had an old tea stain made during that feverish stupor that had created the first book. The same teacup was sitting to the right of him, filled with a new brew to get him past this beginning.

    “Beginnings are hard,” he thought to himself.

    “Yes, they are,” the book said to him.

    He glanced up at the book. It was still perched in the corner of the room on a pile of other books. It hadn’t moved.

    “Who was I then?” he wondered, contemplating the garish yellow spine. “Who was I?”

    The book was silent now. It wasn’t going to answer him if he looked at it.

    “Who was I? Who was with me?”

    He could hear the hum of the kettle simmering on the hot plate, the creak of the stairs as his wife went about her morning routine. The neighbor was outside with the hose on his car, and a talk show blaring on the radio, the swoosh of a car as it drove by in the street below.

    How was he going to start this novel with the previous one looking over him?Why had he signed a contract in the first place? That fucking book was mocking him now, teasing him about a greatness that hadn’t bubbled forth from his own spring. How could he ever write something that even compared to his first work? Everyone who had fawned over that first one would be expecting greatness in the second, and he was not going to be able to deliver.

    He knew what he would do then. He walked across the floor of the room and picked up the book before he gave himself a chance to think about what he was going to do. He hurried down the stairs and into the garage where ten more books waited in an unpacked box. He hefted the box and the book and took them to the fire pit in the backyard.

    Sure, it was only eight o’clock on a Friday morning, but it was a good day for a barbeque. It would be a quick one though. No need for the bag of briquettes. Jay tossed the book into the it, and then ripped the packing tape off the box of the ten other books, upended it, spilling those new books on top of the first. Using the lighter he drew from his pocket, he touched a flame to the corners of the books, allowing them to catch fire. The flame licked eagerly at the paper. He lit a cigarette as he watched the fire eat their way through those books. The heat they produced was too intense for the warm summer morning, and he stepped back, but did not leave. He was going to watch this conflagration. This was the thing that he needed to do.

    “Jay, hon, what are you doing?” his wife asked, leaning over the deck railing. “Those aren’t your books are they?”

    Jay looked up at her and winked. “No, love, they aren’t mine,” he assured her.

    She looked at him, not sure what he was up to, said goodbye, and left.

    After the fire had died down, and the books reduced to a gray shifting pile of ash, Jay went back upstairs to his room. He poured himself another cup of tea, sat before his computer screen, and began to write.

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      This takes an interesting turn. I love it when the book speaks.

      Reply
  18. Anonymous

    I’m new here. Just found this site today (thank God). And this looked like a good post to begin with, as perfectionism is something I struggle with. I hope I”m not posting this too late.

    He sat there staring at the blinking cursor, unsure of what he should be writing. It didn’t help that he had read an entire article praising his success, or at least the success of his book. That wasn’t his success, but everyone else thought it was. And that made him nervous. He didn’t know what had moved him to write that book. The entire time that he had written it he felt as if he had taken a leave of absence and someone else had snuck in to take over his shift.

    And yet, there it was. There was the book. A hardcover book with a glossy book jacket, and letters that spelled his name.

    That book was sitting there across the room from his, taunting, that perhaps he would not be able to perform such a feat again. After all, where was that ghostwriter now, the one that had really been the brain behind the book? Jay wasn’t sure.

    He wasn’t liking this. Two hands poised above the keyboard and that pretty book smiling at him. He’d like to burn it, perhaps.

    He looked at the monitor again. Blink. Blink. Blink. Even the computer was waiting for him now. The book. The computer. He looked at the wall. It was blank, mercifully so. The carpet below him had an old tea stain made during that feverish stupor that had created the first book. The same teacup was sitting to the right of him, filled with a new brew to get him past this beginning.

    “Beginnings are hard,” he thought to himself.

    “Yes, they are,” the book said to him.

    He glanced up at the book. It was still perched in the corner of the room on a pile of other books. It hadn’t moved.

    “Who was I then?” he wondered, contemplating the garish yellow spine. “Who was I?”

    The book was silent now. It wasn’t going to answer him if he looked at it.

    “Who was I? Who was with me?”

    He could hear the hum of the kettle simmering on the hot plate, the creak of the stairs as his wife went about her morning routine. The neighbor was outside with the hose on his car, and a talk show blaring on the radio, the swoosh of a car as it drove by in the street below.

    How was he going to start this novel with the previous one looking over him?Why had he signed a contract in the first place? That fucking book was mocking him now, teasing him about a greatness that hadn’t bubbled forth from his own spring. How could he ever write something that even compared to his first work? Everyone who had fawned over that first one would be expecting greatness in the second, and he was not going to be able to deliver.

    He knew what he would do then. He walked across the floor of the room and picked up the book before he gave himself a chance to think about what he was going to do. He hurried down the stairs and into the garage where ten more books waited in an unpacked box. He hefted the box and the book and took them to the fire pit in the backyard.

    Sure, it was only eight o’clock on a Friday morning, but it was a good day for a barbeque. It would be a quick one though. No need for the bag of briquettes. Jay tossed the book into the it, and then ripped the packing tape off the box of the ten other books, upended it, spilling those new books on top of the first. Using the lighter he drew from his pocket, he touched a flame to the corners of the books, allowing them to catch fire. The flame licked eagerly at the paper. He lit a cigarette as he watched the fire eat their way through those books. The heat they produced was too intense for the warm summer morning, and he stepped back, but did not leave. He was going to watch this conflagration. This was the thing that he needed to do.

    “Jay, hon, what are you doing?” his wife asked, leaning over the deck railing. “Those aren’t your books are they?”

    Jay looked up at her and winked. “No, love, they aren’t mine,” he assured her.

    She looked at him, not sure what he was up to, said goodbye, and left.

    After the fire had died down, and the books reduced to a gray shifting pile of ash, Jay went back upstairs to his room. He poured himself another cup of tea, sat before his computer screen, and began to write.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      This takes an interesting turn. I love it when the book speaks.

      Reply
  19. Shaun Loftus

    Writing makes me miserable. Especially writing on spec, for money, stories that don’t really belong to me. The screwed up thing is that I am a GOOD writer… and people keep trying to pay me to write. They see my writing, they ask – “hey, could you maybe have a go at this, do a rewrite for me, work on this project with me… I’ll pay you good money…”

    Of course the writing they see, the writing they love – well, I’ve usually just done it when I had something I needed to say… or as a gift or favor because I thought maybe I could help them out… THEN they turn around and screw it up by offering me money. Which makes me tense, anxious, miserable. It makes me want to cry when I have to write. Because the operative is now I “HAVE” to.

    I never had any aspiration to be a professional writer / blogger / scriptwriter. I like putting words on page – especially when I am doing it as self therapy or political discourse or because something wants to be out of my head and needs to be purged through my fingers and out of my brain and onto some piece of paper or a computer screen…. Or I see a friends Bio or Resume or whatever, and I think… wow… messy. I can make that better!

    I am currently sitting at the last few scenes of a screenplay. I have 10 minutes left of this movie. My co-writer / lover / best friend – he NEEDS me. Its not my story. I don’t even like the Genre. But now, I am buried in this (deleted expletive) up to my neck. The piece is already options, millions of other peoples money are riding on it. Its already, in its rough form, been selected for a prestigious festival. Now, if I were a professional writer with aspirations of greatness, well… wouldn’t THIS all be inspiring? The world is full of wanna-be writers with great talents who would KILL to be in this position. I AM NOT ONE OF THEM. I DO NOT WANT TO BE A WRITER.

    So, this morning I sit, avoiding the script. Which is in its second year of writing, in its upteenth revision…. near the very end of a complete rewrite of the third act. A sane person would say “almost there, I know what happens now… all I got to do is get it on paper” – but my stomach is knotted in fear, I want to throw up, run away, burst into tears… because I KNOW it’s never done. I KNOW that whatever I get on the page ain’t good enough… that the rest of my life is going to be spent making revision after revision after revision ad infinitum and that there will never ever be an end to this project – that a story that isn’t even my own story is my own hell.

    And walking away isn’t even an option. I wrote these characters. They belong to me, even if the story does not. I have to see them to the end. Abandoning them would be unfair, abandoning my partner would be unthinkable, and not presenting a GOOD final draft to all the producers and co-producers waiting waiting waiting would be the end of my partners career.

    So now, I go shower. Maybe I will even throw up. Maybe I will get through today’s section of writing without crying. But I doubt it.

    Reply
  20. Shaun Loftus

    Writing makes me miserable. Especially writing on spec, for money, stories that don’t really belong to me. The screwed up thing is that I am a GOOD writer… and people keep trying to pay me to write. They see my writing, they ask – “hey, could you maybe have a go at this, do a rewrite for me, work on this project with me… I’ll pay you good money…”

    Of course the writing they see, the writing they love – well, I’ve usually just done it when I had something I needed to say… or as a gift or favor because I thought maybe I could help them out… THEN they turn around and screw it up by offering me money. Which makes me tense, anxious, miserable. It makes me want to cry when I have to write. Because the operative is now I “HAVE” to.

    I never had any aspiration to be a professional writer / blogger / scriptwriter. I like putting words on page – especially when I am doing it as self therapy or political discourse or because something wants to be out of my head and needs to be purged through my fingers and out of my brain and onto some piece of paper or a computer screen…. Or I see a friends Bio or Resume or whatever, and I think… wow… messy. I can make that better!

    I am currently sitting at the last few scenes of a screenplay. I have 10 minutes left of this movie. My co-writer / lover / best friend – he NEEDS me. Its not my story. I don’t even like the Genre. But now, I am buried in this (deleted expletive) up to my neck. The piece is already options, millions of other peoples money are riding on it. Its already, in its rough form, been selected for a prestigious festival. Now, if I were a professional writer with aspirations of greatness, well… wouldn’t THIS all be inspiring? The world is full of wanna-be writers with great talents who would KILL to be in this position. I AM NOT ONE OF THEM. I DO NOT WANT TO BE A WRITER.

    So, this morning I sit, avoiding the script. Which is in its second year of writing, in its upteenth revision…. near the very end of a complete rewrite of the third act. A sane person would say “almost there, I know what happens now… all I got to do is get it on paper” – but my stomach is knotted in fear, I want to throw up, run away, burst into tears… because I KNOW it’s never done. I KNOW that whatever I get on the page ain’t good enough… that the rest of my life is going to be spent making revision after revision after revision ad infinitum and that there will never ever be an end to this project – that a story that isn’t even my own story is my own hell.

    And walking away isn’t even an option. I wrote these characters. They belong to me, even if the story does not. I have to see them to the end. Abandoning them would be unfair, abandoning my partner would be unthinkable, and not presenting a GOOD final draft to all the producers and co-producers waiting waiting waiting would be the end of my partners career.

    So now, I go shower. Maybe I will even throw up. Maybe I will get through today’s section of writing without crying. But I doubt it.

    Reply
  21. CarnieCreek

    I pretty new to here too and I find the 15 minute practices very helpful. But I’m still having trouble getting the confidence to actually post my practices.

    Also, I have a problem with endings. I hate to write endings because I’ve read so many books that have been great, then the endings have been disappointing. I feel like I can’t find the perfect ending so I’d rather just not finish my stories.. which obviously is very annoying.

    Reply
  22. CarnieCreek

    I pretty new to here too and I find the 15 minute practices very helpful. But I’m still having trouble getting the confidence to actually post my practices.

    Also, I have a problem with endings. I hate to write endings because I’ve read so many books that have been great, then the endings have been disappointing. I feel like I can’t find the perfect ending so I’d rather just not finish my stories.. which obviously is very annoying.

    Reply
  23. Joana Pitt

    This is a wonderful post. Extremely honest and accurate.

    Reply

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