Relax Better, Write Better

by Joe Bunting | 43 comments

In the spring of 1965, Bob Dylan was finished.

Dylan wanted nothing more to do with the music business. He had just finished an exhausting six month tour. He never wanted to play any of the songs he had become famous for again—songs like “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a Changing.”

He told his manager he was buying a cabin in upstate New York, was quitting the music business, and was “going to become a painter and a novelist.”

Blue Sky

He was only there for a few days when he met what he called the “Ghost.” An “uncontrollable urge” to write came over him, and he basically word vomited into his notebook.

Four weeks later, he and his band were in the recording studio, and after four takes they recorded “Like a Rolling Stone,” the song that would change Rock and Roll forever.

All Because of a Cabin

Personally, I can relate to Dylan's experience. Can't you?

As I've mentioned, I've been struggling to finish a short story. For weeks, I've been wrestling with this story and not getting very far. It didn't feel as much like writer's block as life block.

And then Jeff told me this story, and said the secret of creativity is to relax. If you relax better, you'll write better.

Oh, is that all?

I gave it a shot, and as the words came easily, I realized I had been trying to hard. I was striving when I needed to do the opposite. I need to relax.

Sometimes, we writers just needed to sit in our stories and play.

And in two days, I had finished the draft.

Today, Relax

Today, stop beating your head against the desk trying to finish your writing.

Today, sit in your story and play.

Today, give yourself permission to enjoy your writing.

Today, don't rush to finish, to meet your word count goal, to pound out stories.

Instead, enjoy the process. Relax. Take a deep breath. Let your words be like the ocean, lapping the shores of a yellowsanded beach, the blue sky above.

Do have an experience like Bob Dylan's where you were completely exhausted, and as soon as you relaxed, you became inspired?

PRACTICE

Free write for fifteen minutes. Don't think to hard about it. Just relax and enjoy it.

Post your free write here in the comments section. And if you post, please comment on a few other pieces.

For more amazing stories and insights into creativity, check out Jonah Lehrer's book, Imagine.

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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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43 Comments

    • Pjreece

      Touche!

  1. Nona King

    Time and again I have found this to be true, the importance of relaxing into the joy of creativity. Recalling, again, why the passion to write drives us forward into challenge after struggle after bittersweet completion. I would love it if I could take a writer’s retreat every year. Unfortunately, I have only been able to [deliberately] take one in my entire 20+ years of writing. BEST TIME EVER

    Of course, the not-so-deliberate retreats – camping trips, extended road trips – have resulted in some fantastic refreshments for my heart and soul as well. In college, my family and I took a 10-day road trip around the western part of the US. I must have written 200 pages of a new romance and conceptualized another (this one a suspense). All while traveling in the back of my parents’ fifth-wheel trailer! :o) Fond memories, those.

    It is so important to close our eyes to the rules and requirements every now and again to simply write. To forget everything but how much we love to do that little (or not so little) task. It’s amazing how much it refreshes the heart.

    Reply
  2. Pjreece

    The hands certainly are willing to dance around the keyboard.  After all we reward them with a jolt of coffee now and then; we file our nails (don’t we guys!) and I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a pleasure to see the fingers tickling the keys.  I mean, is there a more miraculous pastime than to tap into inner wisdom and fantasy by sitting in a comfortable chair and letting the mysteries pour through the body into physical form in an instant.  Is this why we write?  Because it’s such a miracle?  Getting it all out.  Think about it for a minute.  Inner becomes outer becomes something Tweetable for gods sake.  (I don’t Tweet much but perhaps I should in order to make an inner impulse move even farther and hence even more of a miracle.)  (By the way, I’m not even going to reread this exercise before I nail it into the blogosphere, so be easy on me.)   It’s a testimony to the very idea of this “relaxed” mode writing that I would decide to do it, what with all the writing I have to do today.  But, Joe, you’re right, blathering on is something enjoyable, editor left well behind, editor downstairs somewhere, doesn’t even know I’m at my post, editor not really caring less what I do in this relaxed mode.  Editor not even going to see this.  All right. thanks for the text-dance, Joe.  Now to finish up a blog post on “Before I die…”  I’m sure my editor will have a thing or two to say about it… unless I can finish it quick.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      That’s the beset thing I’ve read by you PJ.  It’s like you are here at my dining room table in Virginia with me making me laugh.  I’m going to do the same. To hell with the editor today.  Thanks and I hope the editor lets us out again tomorrow.  

    • Pjreece

      Dammit… I was hoping nobody would say they liked this writing.  So why do I take such pains to…? 

    • Joe Bunting

      Don’t worry, PJ. I thought it sucked.

      🙂

    • Pjreece

      Oh, thank goodness.

    • Mhvest

      I know, I know. My best is usually what I think is off the cuff drivel and then other people wind up liking it. It beats me. Your remark made me laugh out loud.

  3. Suzie Gallagher

    Living vicariously through her characters, she was content. The outside world was too painful to be in, so she sat in semi-darkness with the blinds almost closed, laptop on knee playing the same role playing game she had been playing for over a year.
    She met people on line from all over the world and chatted to them in real-time whilst their characters either fought or quested together. She was dying but she didn’t want to focus on that. Of course if she got up and went out into the pinpricking world she wouldn’t be dying as much and could reverse the process. She couldn’t do that, all she could do was breathe in and breathe out, any movement more than that was too much. She had a catheter and a colostomy bag so she had no need to move. Once a day a carer came in and removed rubbish, replenished supplies, dusted around her, and changed the bags. Once a week a cleaner came in and vacuumed around her, opened the windows, lifted the blinds and cooked her a meal. Her body violently reacted to “real” food but she still ate it. The rest of the time her food was made up of aerosol cheese, corn chips, tortillas and dips, biscuits, crackers, gallons and gallons of soda. Cigarettes and wine finished each meal, each meal finished the previous meal, a vicious circle of eating, drinking, smoking, chatting and playing, it had no end.
    Her heart did it’s best to keep a steady rhythm, her lungs did their best to inflate and deflate regularly. Her kidneys did their best to flush the bad bits out, her liver sat like a beached whale getting flabbier and less able to do it’s job. Each part of her intricately designed body craved oxygen, exercise, vitamins, minerals and everything needed to live. She lived vicariously through her characters as she bounded toward death.

    Reply
    • Suzie Gallagher

      I was seven when I read my first Orwell essay, about working in a bookshop so maybe it seeped in. I spent my childhood in the essays of Orwell and Isherwood and other people you won’t of heard of. 
      My teenage years in Orwell’s and likes fiction feeding my paranoia of the world ending, nuclear bombs, cold war etc. I remember I read Fay Weldon’s back catalogue over a few weeks in my twenties (before her separation and change in style) Her first writing job out of college was greeting card singy-songy rhymes and I always felt I heard that in her writing. When I tried to write at that time I was very rhythmic and singsong. It felt like I was copying.

      What I find really hard writing now is tapping into the pain of a child force educated beyond her years in every area when I am so full of (am I allowed to say freaking) joy that I bounce around on little pillows of air. But who wants to hear about my joy. Pain is what people know and what they feel and what they want to read.

      (Bonus 15 min post!!! 😉

    • Marianne

      I like how he says that the people who want to be more artistic are the more narcissistic. 

    • Suzie Gallagher

      because as writers we have to note everything, like having a shadow or a film crew with us. So we have to look inside ourselves (why did I feel x when y happened) We have to understand motivation in order to give our characters motivation. It isn’t narcissism exactly because we are a warts and all bunch of people, it is more true reflection than Snow White’s mirror on the wall

    • Marianne

      Oh Suzie.  That is sad, a very clear picture of a depressed person.  Are you going to them in a story?  I love the description of the food and the vicious cycle of eating, drinking, smoking, etc. and the body underneath tying to keep a rhythm without being given the tools to do it with.  I think I need to get outside today myself.  

    • Suzie Gallagher

      I met my friend today, “I’ve decluttered” she says. “Now you need to do it again” I say. No it really is done she continued. 
      “What about your clothes”
      “Well…I must go, lots to do”
      A big fat huge wodge of denial – I poured it into this as she is just Miss D. Niall.
      I love her to bits but can’t help her. 

    • Marianne

      She might be a great character for a story though.  That thing about the body running under the mind (bad mind in this case)  is great.  I have to admit.  I thought it might be you and I was so sad because your writing is so vibrant and strong.  

      I did go outside and found the lavender that I just planted wilting in the 100 degree heat so I turned the hose on it but the hose got away and wound up in the holly. It was fun.  The hose made a good villain too.  

    • Suzie Gallagher

      No way – I couldn’t do that to the temple of my Lord. I write about (I admit) anorexia with jealousy and over eating with relief! I then imagine what would it be like how dehumanising would it be. Vivid imagination!!!

    • JB Lacaden

      “She lived vicariously through her characters as she bounded toward death.”
      Beautiful writing Suzie. The last sentence is great. The entire story is summarized in that sentence. Glad you posted this. 

    • Suzie Gallagher

      thanks ever so much JB. I learned vicariously this year and have been itching to use it

  4. Tom Wideman

    The heaviness in his chest felt as if his heart was attempting to break free from his ribcage. He was having a heart attack, or perhaps it was just the burrito from lunch; either way, he was having way too much difficulty breathing. Warm liquid began pooling in his left eye, exacerbating his anxiety and making his breathing even more labored.

     

    “What’s happening to me? Is this the end?” he thought to himself. He lay motionless on the floor of his study. His first thought was how angry his wife was going to be if he got blood on the new carpet, but he couldn’t seem to do anything about it. That’s when the blood started filling the socket of his other eye. Where was this blood coming from and why wasn’t anyone coming to help?

     

    When help finally arrived, he curiously felt the release from the weight on his chest, even though the medic seemed to be putting his entire weight into each compression. The warm sensation he had felt from the pooling blood in his eye sockets was now surging throughout his entire body. He felt as if he had just returned to his mother’s womb; so warm and enveloping.

     

    As he suspended between reality and eternity, he realized the anxiety was completely gone. There was only peace. His writing deadline no longer mattered; it no longer existed. As he closed his eyes for the last time, a faint smile formed on his bloody face. Beating his head against his desk had indeed helped him finally relax.

    Reply
    • JB Lacaden

      This is just funny. Love the writing! Remind me not to hit my head against the desk.

    • Marianne

      That was great!  The writing is so fluid and the story is funny (although you do seem to have a penchant for humor).  I’m going to try this exercise.  

    • John Fisher

      Great!  I love your sense of humor in the midst of the serious.

    • John Fisher

      Wait, hold up, I just read this again and realized I didn’t get it the first time!  That last sentence is a great punch line!

    • Suzie Gallagher

      big cheesy grin at you Tom. love it and as I read the last sentence the smile just got broader and broader. Well done

  5. JB Lacaden

    Sir Galahad ran across the battlements, shouting commands at the archers and the knights and the men at the catapults. Galahad felt the thick fear amongst his men. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t feeling a touch of fear as well. The dragon was immense in size—as large as the castle probably. High above, Galahad saw it coming.

    It passed over the castle, half of the castle being drowned by the shadow of its body.

    “Here it is! Archers ready! You men! Load the catapults!” Galahad drew his greatsword, Slayer, as he eyed the great beast.

    It was circling as it descended. Its long neck was bent down and its eyes were locked on them. Galahad raised his fist. “On my command!” He shouted. The great knight waited as the dragon drew closer.

    The dragon opened its mouth, ready to spit out its consuming flame—it was the opportunity to strike. “NOW!” Galahad’s voice echoed along the battlements. The air was filled with the sound of arrows piercing the wind and catapults being released. Arrows and boulders flew.

    Some missed, but a great deal of them landed. The dragon roared in pain as its wings and body was hit. It stopped its spiraling and darted up the sky—but not before it released its fire. Out of its mouth, a blue fireball came out. It landed on the stables, exploding. “Put out that flame!” Galahad’s eyes never left the dragon as he gave his orders.

    The dragon turned around and was flying towards them, like one giant arrow—its body straight, its wings folded, its mouth wide open.

    “Arrows ready! Load the catapults!”

    Closer and closer the dragon came. About five feet away from the castle, before Galahad was able to give the command, it stopped and spread its wings—releasing a strong gust of wind. Galahad and the others were thrown back. Galahad saw the mouth opening. He knew what was coming. He quickly dropped flat on his belly as the dragon released a stream of blue flame. Galahad felt the heat on his armored back.

    When the dragon’s attack had subsided, Galahad stood up. The smell of burning flesh and the screaming of dying men filled the air. Galahad watched as his castle was consumed by blue flame. He watched as the dragon charged at them for another attack—the finishing blow. Galahad lifted his sword.

    “No more,” he said under his breath. “No more!”

    The dragon drew close. Galahad ran, stepping off the battlements, leaping towards the sky, greatsword raised with both hands.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      That was great writing.  You are always good but I think the descriptions  of the dragon moving through the air are like cinematic.  I like it when he feels the heat on his armored back.  I felt like I was there. 

    • JB Lacaden

      Thanks Marianne. I’m glad I was able to pull off the scenes nicely.
      It’s great that you liked it.

      Oh, by the way, I just posted my practice for your guest post. Sorry if I posted late. 

  6. M.S.

    Hello, First time poster here and very new to writing but I really enjoy reading your posts. This is a scene from a dream that I had this morning and I would usually have put it straight into my dream journal as is, but after reading this post today I thought I would turn it into a story instead. Would love any sort of feedback 🙂 Here goes…..

    The room was bright. She handed the binder over to me. “There is something going on here she said. I’ve sent you an email and if you just click on the link, it will log you straight onto their server, no password required.” She smiled.I looked down at the binder wondering whether I should go ahead with it. Of course I would, but I still couldn’t understand why she had given it to me. She looked at me expectantly, waiting for a response. Something about her eyes made me uneasy. As if there were more that she wasn’t telling me. “Ok”, I replied to her unspoken question.A look of relief swept across her face. “Good luck” she said, then she turned and walked out.There was no resisting this kind of information though. It was important, powerful and potentially damaging. The temptation to look was far greater than any hesitance I was feeling. Walking over to the desktop computer in the far right corner of the room, I sat down on the chair and put the binder down next to the keyboard. I flipped it open and noticed a microchip embedded into the first divider page. This can’t be good, I thought to myself but pressed on with opening up the email.Just as she’d said, the link logged me straight into their server. This is almost too easy I thought. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. What I’d suspected was true. The company was orchestrating shady transactions between the two countries. And now I had the proof. I printed the documents I needed and carefully filed them away in the binder.Aware of how dangerously long I’d been searching through the database, I quickly logged off and shut the computer down. Rising up from the chair and turning, I was startled to find her standing behind me. Too close, I thought.She had the same look on her face, her eyes revealing more than her words. “Did you get what you needed?””I did. Thanks.” I said warily.”So what will you do with it now?””I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet.” And it was true. I needed time to think, strategize. I needed a plan. A good one. I had so many questions that I needed answers for first. “Why are you helping me?” I said, revealing my distrust for her.She smiled that coy smile again. “Let’s just say that you aren’t the only one that would benefit from bringing these assholes down.” Before I could question her any further, the sound of a large commotion erupted from the direction of the foyer. We both whipped our heads around to the door and then again back to face each other. She was clearly worried. “Quick, put the binder up on that shelf over there”, she ordered as she pointed to area above the desk I had been sitting at.I nodded and rushed over to the shelf. We were almost out of time as we heard the rush of footsteps round the corridor outside the room. I swiftly slotted the binder between two others, doing my best to make the shelf look tidy and undisturbed. Meanwhile, Elizabeth had sat down at her desk, trying to look busy reading the draft of a new piece on her screen. I went to stand behind her chair to give the impression that I was helping her with something. They were almost at the door.I glanced quickly at the place where I’d shelved the binder and my heart sank. Crap! It was upside down. But it was too late to fix it. They were here.

    Reply
    • M.S.

      Sorry, all the paragraphs seem to have merged. Didn’t look like that before I posted….

    • Beck Gambill

       Do you always dream like that? 🙂 That would be exhausting. I thought you had good flow and detail. I was sucked into the story and wanted to know what happened!

    • M.S.

      Ha ha, no, I don’t often dream like that. 🙂 This was a particularly vivid one and so I felt compelled to write it down. Thank you for the feedback!

  7. Yvette Carol

    Yippee! You’re here. I came online hoping you’d be here today. Hi Joe! Great, really great post. You’re the second person to mention Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: how creativity works. Boy it must be a good book…

    I absolutely love that message to drop everything and just play in the sandbox. You are so right and I really appreciate you for saying it. This week I started turning off the social media after lunch and spending the rest of the day writing. And I am flying high, alive with the thrill of the chase again. The happy place that is the stuff of my stories. It’s wonderful!!

    Has everyone here seen Andrew Stanton’s youtube talk on Story? If not, make sure you see it like yesterday!! That was a pivotal part of my week too! 🙂

    I got inspired. So I also shared some of my illustrations from my early readers and picture books on ‘writing for children’ on WANA

    WANATribe
    http://wanatribe.com/main/authorization/
    WANATribe is a social network1 of 1Choose a ThumbnailNo Thumbnail

    Reply
  8. Yvette Carol

    ‘Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.’ ‘The best stories infuse wonder. Can you instill wonder?’ Andrew Stanton. ‘storytelling has guidelines not hard & fast rules.’

    Reply
    • John Fisher

      Yes.   Great post!  says so much in so few words.

  9. John Fisher

    It’s a warm night, a night for heavy eyelids after an active day.  Walked the woods again this morning where Granpa and other old ones speak in the songs of the birds in the thick and fragrant trees.  I determined again, I will have a steel guitar once again.  I know selling the old one seemed right when we were struggling so hard, but I still want to kick myself for ever parting with that beautiful old instrument, heavy as it was to lug around, especially coming up the front steps at one in the morning after the show.  Was all that real?  Yeah.  A member of the house band for that show where all those kids would sing, fifteen, twenty different acts each time, we backed each and every one of ’em. And the wife, those were good times, I miss her, the diabetes took her too soon.  But I’m happy tonight, I have two meetings tomorrow and I’ll get things done and it’s going to be another great day.  Renewal, regeneration occasioned by willingness to find new and better ways.  It’s never too late.  He sang that old, old song and it just felt so good to fill in the lines behind his voice, a steel guitar does that like no other instrument. Its voice almost human, that’s what drew me in the first place, back when nobody else thought it was cool at all.  That VFW hall in Garland! — we’d leave at the end of a night with like eight dollars apiece because the gate was so small, but those were good people, an appreciative audience and we had a lot of fun and played some darn good music in my opinion.  What ever happened to Bobby? I hope he’s still just as big a smart-aleck as he was then.  When he sang “The Other Woman” I could weave all sorts of cool stuff around his voice, and while I was playing the instrumental break he’d walk over and slap me on the back and holler, “SON!!”

    Reply
    • Suzie Gallagher

      I like this John, the allusion to meetings, it goes back in time to happy times and forward to present happy times and there is a whole pile from the middle that e are left to fill!!!

    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Katie,

      I didn’t! I’m annoyed with myself. I only got 12.5K. I did finish a short story, though.

    • Katie Axelson

      Congratulations on finishing a short story! Well done! So close on your goal word count. Don’t beat yourself up. This week is a new week. 😉

      Katie

    • Joe Bunting

      I did beat myself up, Katie. Too late. I have a black eye and two broken ribs. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

    • Katie Axelson

      Oh, no, Joe! I’m so sorry!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Stop Creating - [...] Bob Dylan wrote the cho­rus for “Like a Rolling Story” after he quit music. Hemingway wouldn’t allow him­self to…
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  5. 12 Thoughts About NaNoWriMo - […] In fact, focus can actively hinder your creativity. You are most creative when you’re relaxed, unfocused, and able to make serendipitous…

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