Why Are You Really Procrastinating?

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I'm in the middle of a writing project with a tight deadline, but despite the looming due date, I've been struggling to work on it. I keep opening up the document, reading a few lines, and then shooting off to do Facebook for fifteen minutes. I feel ashamed with myself.

Where's my discipline? Why can't I stop procrastinating and get my work done?

I realized yesterday that I am afraid of my project. I'm afraid of how terrible it is, how much work it requires, how long it will take to finish.

I'm afraid of how messy it is.

Ironically, the book is about being okay with the mess in your creative life.

Reveling in the Mess

Photo by Chris Willis

Reveling in the Slow and Messy

Betsy Cañas Gorman says this:

“You can’t check off the slow and messy. You deny yourself and your process if you deny slow and messy.”

In my perfectionism, I've been trying to control my process so that the slow, messiness of it all stays hidden and forgotten.

Instead, I would like to embrace messy. I would like to revel in it like a child revels in the touch of finger paint, like a sculptor revels in a half-finished gargoyle, like a body builder revels in soreness.

It takes a certain amount of trust to experience this kind of revelry when facing the mess in your writing projects. It's not really trust that your project will turn out well, because sometimes it won't. It's not trust that you have the skills and knowledge required to achieve your goals, because you probably don't.

No, you have to trust that immersing yourself in the mess of your project is good, that the process is good, even if the result isn't.

Discipline Is Not Your Problem

Do you have faith in your process? Or are you an insecure wreck until the project is finished and looking pretty?

Even more, do you love your process? Do you revel in it?

Until you do, you will procrastinate, and no amount of discipline will get you to move forward.

Today, enjoy the mess, enjoy the slowness, enjoy your process. Because eventually you will want to say, as most great writers have, that even if you never achieve fame, the writing itself would be enough.

PRACTICE

Spend some time either free writing or working on your work in progress.

As you write, meditate on the experience: your fingers tapping the keys, your eyes scanning over the words, the deep breath in your lungs. See if you can't enjoy it.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished post your practice in the comments, along with a little blurb about whether you enjoyed it or not.

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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84 Comments

  1. Patrick Ross

    Oh my, this is speaking to me right now. I keep stalling on a freelance project that’s due in a few days. It’s a bit different than I usually do, and it’s for a new client, so I want it to rock. And here I am, on your blog instead of working on it! OK, I’ll remind myself it doesn’t have to be perfect and return to it.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Isn’t it always when we have the highest hopes for our work that it becomes hardest to actually do the work? Good luck, Patrick. I’m sure it will be great, and even if it’s not, I hope you enjoy the process.

      Reply
  2. PJ Reece

    Joe…yes! I’ve just finished an eBook project in which I was quite “messed” up deep in the middle. I thought I might go insane because I couldn’t get it right. But there in the deep middle, I had this feeling that if I just kept coming at my subject from a different angle — ignoring how long it took — that this idea of mine would sharpen, sharpen, sharpen. I was visited by this feeling that being lost in the middle of my cloud would prove to have a silver lining (messed up metaphor). I’m late at the finishing line but happy with the work as it turned out. Good post!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love that, PJ, both your stick-to-itiveness and your metaphor of being lost in a cloud with a silver lining. Wonderful.

      Reply
      • Yvettecarol

        Yeah me too. Awesome response PJ

        Reply
  3. Allie Lousch

    This morning, I hand wrote a blog about how messy life is and then stumbled over this good post. Thanks Joe!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      You’re the second person who has told me they’ve been writing about messiness, Allie. Isn’t that funny!

      Reply
  4. Brett Henley

    Man … just having this exact conversation with my wife.

    Fear causes all types of poor/destructive behaviors for writers. Fear generally leads to overanalyzing, which leads to paralysis, and so on.

    Time to just move. I say it all the time, even when I’m lousy at applying to my own work.

    I think Jeff gets this better than most Joe … best advice he ever gave me was to stop planning, turn off my brain and just do the work.

    I generally suck at that, but I’m working on it 🙂

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Great advice, but how do you turn off your brain? I’d like to find the switch so I can turn it on and off at will. Usually what I have to do is grieve the mess, embrace the pain of it, and try to find some kind of joy in its midst.

      Reply
      • Brett Henley

        Yeah man, I have no idea where the off switch is. For me, I’d have to wade through the NYC-sized circus first.

        If I can get started and not contemplate every angle before I do … then I’m good.

        Reply
        • Joe Bunting

          HA! Great analogy, an NYC-sized circus!

          Reply
  5. Heidi

    Good word, Mr. Bunting.

    Reply
  6. Sherrey Meyer

    Joe, your words are knocking at my door! Raised by a mom I could never please, I was always striving for bigger, better, perfect — and yes, I still do. I’ve been wondering what’s standing in my way of getting down to business on my project. I’m going to answer that knock at the door, and I’ll just learn to deal with the messiness and the mistakes and the slowness. Ah, sigh . . . . . .

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I feel for you, Sherrey. Remember your process is not a performance. As Julia Cameron said, “It is impossible to get *better and look good at the same time**.”**
      *

      Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      I empathise too Sherrey! Except in my case it was my dad who could never just look at my work and say, ‘Well done!’ So I kept trying harder & harder, all to no avail. For gals like you and I the challenge is to “let go”. I struggle with this all the time. It’s a work in progress, shall we say. Take heart, there are others who feel exactly the same way 🙂

      Reply
    • JB Lacaden

      In my case, it isn’t a mom or a dad that I can’t seem to please, it’s myself.

      Reply
  7. rmullns

    I did enjoy the thought of the exercise you propose Joe. Hoever, being a procratochist, I’m rather enjoying the idea of simply ignoring the exercise until tomorrow – or never!

    Love your empire here, Joe …

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      HA!

      And my empire? What empire is that?

      Reply
  8. appans

    Procrastination is unacceptable. Project must be completed in time. I must be disciplined. This project must be the beginning of my path with a heart.

    We put so many demands on ourselves. The hope, the direction, and the destination are all ideal. We taste victory by projection of mind. We are moving perfectly and sooner as the proverbial rabbit we rest. In the disguise of searching enriching ideas to augment our project we move into Facebook or Pinterest or the latest.

    Our mind has become smarter than us. Mind is ancient. It has seen all this happen before. Mind knows that it is being pulled on an endless journey of ambition. Mind needs a break to renew and revitalize. It rests for a while.

    Krishna Kumar

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      This was a really interesting exploration, Krishna. I thought this was particularly good, “Mind knows that it is being pulled on an endless journey of ambition.” I wonder if the mind minds the journey?

      Reply
      • Casey

        I think my mind craves the journey, but not while it is actually on it. It also likes looking back on the journey, but not the struggle it took to get there.

        Reply
      • appans

        If your mind is allowed to be smarter, it will not mind. I am of the opinion that it helps to be friendly with our minds. Mind may revolt against too much discipline.

        Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      Most interesting comment Krishna. I agree with Joe, I was drawn to the ‘mind being pulled by ambition’ part. I think this is the biggest obstacle to true creativity, is that our ego gets caught up in wanting gratification instead of enjoying the moment. “I want to get this book published” becomes the greater voice rather than the authentic voice that belongs to “this is the fulfillment of my inner drive for meaning”. I loved what John Marsden (Australian writer) said once, that he never hurries a book, he doesn’t push himself to write more than a page a day, because he “likes to savour the process”….

      Reply
      • appans

        Thank you for your appreciation. I agree with Mr. Marsden’s way of writing in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. What we write is fully our’s only when we are writing it. We must relish it at that very moment.Once it is published, it belongs to the world.

        Krishna.

        Reply
  9. Vanessa

    Wow your words really speak to me. It’s the same conversation I’ve been having with my boyfriend lately. I tend to get overwhelmed by the process instead of diving in and enjoying it, no matter how long it takes. I’m told, and I know it’s true, nothing is stopping me from fulfilling my goals but me. Very timely post. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Igor Putina

    Oh how sweet is procrastination – like those few minutes of sleep in between alarm snoozes on a cold morning.

    Reply
  11. Casey

    I have to unplug the internet connection and turn off the wireless to avoid procrastinating when I’m writing.

    Last night was really difficult, because I wasn’t sure where my story was going to go next, or how to get there. I had to write through it, and it was excruciating, but I did get to the other side. After about a thousand words of drivel, I can probably use about two hundred of them towards the actual finished project. It’s still two hundred more words than the story had the night before though.

    I might post a part of what I work on later tonight. Right now I’ve got roaring children. :0

    Reply
    • MarianneVest

      I know what you mean about it being excruciating and getting to “the other side”, and if I got 200 good words out of 1,000 I’d be happy. You can do it Casey. I gave up for a long time when my child was young and I really regret that now. How many little lions do you have?

      Reply
      • Casey

        Four. Almost-2 to 10. They are great fun, except when I’m trying to write.

        Reply
        • MarianneVest

          Bless your heart! Four, that’s a lot, a whole lot./

          Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      My roaring children have gone to school. But my head is still echoing!

      Reply
  12. Themagicviolinist

    I’m eleven (almost twelve) and I’m working on a story. It’s a post-apocalyptic story sort of like “The Hunger Games” and I could use some advice from people older and more experienced than I am. Here’s the first chapter. Let me know what you think! 😀

    Chapter 1

    I live in a sexist country.
    It is a place where girls do all the working, men do whatever they please, and girls get sent to jail for the rest of their life for the tiniest thing.
    But that’s not the worst of it.
    Each year, President Hunter has a competition called The Maze of Doom. It’s been going on for twenty years. Let me tell you about it.
    The Maze of Doom is a huge maze filled with dangers. Ten different girls ranging from the age of twelve to eighteen race to the end of the maze. Their prize is a single wish. But no girl has survived yet. Girls are allowed one weapon each, provided by President Hunter. Girls can make temporary alliances, but they can also kill each other. It’s a gruesome maze.
    Some, if they are in the maze, plan to wish for riches or fame. Others plan to wish for their sisters to get out of jail for not polishing their boss’s shoes exactly right.
    I have a different wish.
    I have been randomly chosen by the country’s leader to be entered in The Maze of Doom.
    Our country’s leader is revolting. He made The Maze of Doom for entertainment. He likes the idea of girls killing each other. For him, it’s just one less worker to pay.
    But I have to survive the maze to make my wish. As I said, no girl has survived yet. I plan to change that, too.

    Today is the day I say goodbye to my family and leave for “Maze Training”. Really, it’s to see how good each girl is so the country can place their bets to see who will survive the longest.
    My mom starts to cry as I pull on my boots. My dad puts his arm around her. He tries to comfort her, but the tears keep on coming.
    “Don’t cry, Mom,” I say. “I’ll be fine.” But even I can’t promise that.
    My mom hugs me and bawls. Dots appear on my shirt’s sleeve.
    “Carrie, she’ll be fine,” My dad straightens his glasses and tries to hide his watering eyes. “You know our Clelia. She’s one tough cookie.”
    My mom attempts to talk as my dad hugs her again.
    “My daughter!” she cries. “My only daughter! In The Maze! She’s only fourteen.”
    “I know,” He says. “I know.”
    I hug each of them again.
    “I love you guys,” I say in a faltering voice. “But when I come back, everything will be better.”
    I hear a knock on the door. My dad goes to answer it.
    “Hello,” I hear him say. “Won’t you come in?”
    “Actually, I’m here for Clelia,” A female voice answers. No surprise there. All of President Hunter’s employees are female.
    I hug my mom one last time and walk into the kitchen. It only took a few steps to get from the living room to the kitchen.
    “Ah,” The young woman standing in the doorway gestures for me to come outside with her. “There she is. Come.”
    I hug my dad, look around our single floor house (or hut, as I like to call it) one last time, and walk outside. My mom won’t stop crying.
    “Mom,” I say. “Please don’t worry about me. Besides, you won’t have to keep wondering what’s going on. You can read the whole thing in The Mazeazines.”
    The Mazeazines are magazines all about The Maze. Once The Maze of Doom starts, the entire thing will be watched and typed for the whole country to read. They don’t help much though, since the reporters make everything more dramatic. Even though we can never see what’s going on, I can tell that that’s not what’s actually happening.
    “Clelia!” The woman stands by her car, tapping her foot impatiently.
    “I love you,” I say before walking to the menacing, black, car.
    The woman opens the car door. I get inside and wave at my parents until they disappear from view completely.
    I remain silent the entire trip to President Hunter’s main building.
    An hour later, the black car pulls up to a towering skyscraper.
    “Here we are,” The woman says in a bored voice. “Follow me.”
    The tone of her voice makes it obvious that she has done this same routine for quite some time.
    I followed her down the hall and into the elevator. I gasped. There were 70 different buttons. The woman had to go onto her toes to reach the 30 button.
    The elevator went up and made a ding noise.
    The woman entered the big, circular, room. I followed her and saw five different people. I recognized four of them from previous Mazes. They were the trainers. The strength, agility, climbing, and weaponry trainers. The other I knew just from living in this country. President Hunter. The evil leader that started this maze.
    “Good,” He said. “You finally arrived. As you know, the contestants aren’t allowed to see each other until the maze begins, so you will be privately trained in this room. The reporter should be here any second now.”
    As if on cue, the elevator dinged again, and two women appeared. One carried a camera to take pictures, the other, a notebook and pen.
    “If everyone is ready, the training shall begin!” President Hunter stepped back. The camerawoman started snapping pictures and the reporter started scribbling furiously.
    There were four sections of the room I could go to. Each section had its own equipment. I decided to start with the worst and work my way up. I’m terrible at physical activities, like climbing, and lifting weights, but I’m good at running and using small weapons like daggers for hunting or building things.
    I started at the strength training.
    “Hi,” The female strength trainer said. “My name’s Candace. Nice to meet you.” Her leg and arm muscles were very visible. You could tell she stayed in shape. And besides looking strong, she seemed like she could be decently nice, even friendly, unlike most workers here. I don’t blame most of them for being un-friendly, the way they get paid.
    I took her hand and shook it.
    “So,” Candace said. “Would you like to start with the weights, the sit-ups and push-ups, or bag carrying?”
    I selected the bag carrying.
    “Come on, Clelia!” Candace encouraged me. “You can do it!”
    I had carried six bags of bricks across the room on my shoulders already. Four more to go.
    “Almost done,” Candace kept yelling. “Two more! Just two more!”
    It was nice that Candace was helping me, but it was a little annoying.
    “That’s it! One last one! And, you’re done!”
    I wiped the sweat off my forehead and walked back over to Candace.
    “That was really good,” She said handing me a towel for my sweat. “Do you need some water?”
    I nodded my head gratefully, still gasping for breath. I took the bottled water from Candace and gulped down almost half.
    “Let’s move on to the weights.”
    Candace handed me two weights. They must’ve both weighed at least twenty pounds.
    “I want you to lift one at a time. So raise the right one first with your arm locked, then do the same thing with your left arm. Then lift them both at the same time. Got that?”
    I nodded my head again. I’m a girl of many words.
    I continued with my strength training. I thanked Candace and moved on to climbing. The trainer wasn’t nearly as nice as Candace was. But it didn’t matter since all she had me do was climb a rock wall about fifty times over. I did horribly. I kept slipping on rocks and I took forever to get up once. Strength and climbing? Not very good at all.
    I moved on to agility. I ran a treadmill for ten minutes at a good, steady pace, and then jumped rope for a while. All in all, not bad.
    It was time for weaponry.
    I had to use each weapon they had and try them out. At the end of the training, I would get to select a weapon for the maze. I had to choose carefully, because once I chose, I couldn’t change my mind.
    “Welcome to weaponry,” The female trainer said in a bored voice. “I’m Teresa and I’ll be you’re trainer. Remember never to use your weapon for anything except what you’re told to do, blah, blah, blah. Let’s get started. Choose your weapon.”
    There were many different choices; A bow and arrow, a sword, a spear, a mace, a whip, and a dagger.
    I chose the bow and arrow.
    “Do you know how to use a bow and arrow?” Teresa asked. I nodded. I had used one before, but I was rusty.
    “Then try to shoot this target.” Teresa walked over to the wall and pointed at the target. I pulled back the arrow and shot, but I shot way off course. Teresa had to duck her head to avoid getting hit. It struck the wall and stuck there.
    “Guess you’re not going to be using that in the maze,” She said. “Try something else.”
    I took the spear. Again, she had me throw it at the target. I threw, but not hard enough. I tried again and again, but it would drop on the ground three feet away from me. Again, I am not very strong at all.
    I tried the sword, the mace, and the whip, but every single one was a failure.
    I took the last weapon. A dagger complete with a small sheath.
    “Ah ha ha!” Teresa started laughing. “That is the wimpiest weapon I have ever-!”
    I threw the dagger hard at the target. It flew and hit the bull’s eye.
    Teresa’s mouth hung open.
    “W-would you like to choose the dagger f-for your w-weapon?” She stuttered.
    I turned away from Teresa and walked to the target. I pulled my dagger out, and sheathed it around my pants.
    I knew everyone was going to hear about my “rage and fury at the weapon trainer”. I knew they would read about me throwing the dagger. But they wouldn’t know anything. They wouldn’t know that I imagined President Hunter’s face on that bull’s eye as I threw the dagger.

    Reply
    • Casey

      You’ve got a very good start here. I’m impressed. Contests with incredible odds against the contestants make for suspenseful reading. So why do the boys get the easy life? What is it that makes those in authority not like girls, and why does the society accept it?

      I’ve never read “The Hunger Games,” but this does remind me of some short stories by Stephen King.

      Reply
      • Themagicviolinist

        Thank you! 😀 The president thinks boys are stronger, smarter, and more capable then girls and, in general, is just a cruel person. Nobody can do anything about it because the president has too much power.

        Reply
        • Claire Vorster

          …which I think will resonate deeply with your readers, because most presidents have too much power. Good job!

          Reply
    • MarianneVest

      I think it’s good so far. I’m going to point out some places that could use work and I’m not doing it because I don’t like your work, but because I think it’s really good and I’m willing to use my time to go over it and offer my opinions.

      There are a few things you might want to look out for like making pronoun references very clear.

      “I pulled back the arrow and shot, but I shot way off course. Teresa had to duck her head to avoid getting hit. It struck the wall and stuck there.” – For a moment I thought Teresa’s head struck the wall etc. Of course on reading it again I see what you mean.

      Also you might want to slow down a little and describe how things look, feel, smell etc. The weapons, how do a few of them look? Celia’s father, does he smell like aftershave when she hugs him? Things like that. It means slowing down but if you are one of us who needs to write the story out quickly, to keep your writing pace up, you can always go back and add description.

      I like the dialogue. It sounds very natural for the most part, and dialogue is hard for most of us.

      I wonder why the Celia and her father try to tell the mother that the daughter will be all right, when we’ve already been told that all of the girls who go into the maze don’t make it out alive. You have a complicated story so you need to be very consistent.

      You are off to a good start I think. You write better than many adults and I really mean that. Keep at it! Very well done!!!

      Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      Kudos to you magic violinist! You’re a writer that’s for sure.
      For a start, keep going, and don’t give up!
      My advice to you would be to take a notebook and write some notes on everything; your characters, their likes, dislikes, hobbies, fears; your setting, where is it, when, what time of year is it, what does it look like; your plotline, what happens, and do you have subplots?
      It’s not that all these types of details will necessarily become part of your story but that in you knowing them, your story will gather depth and meaning.
      Good luck and stay in love with what you do!

      Reply
  13. MarianneVest

    This is for a contest and I really do want to know what you all think. I did enjoy working on it this morning, but last night I hated it. I am using fountain pens with colored ink and that is really helping me feel better about writing. I can sit anywhere and I can draw little things in the margins when I’m thinking. The ink itself has been very messy, and when I play cards with the ladies with green, turquoise and red ink all over my fingers I feel a little odd but artistic at the same time. They don’t care, they think it’s funny.

    Bruno T. Beast knew that Manny wasn’t any hallucination, wasn’t the result of brain damage or some kind of mental illness like schizophrenia or manic-depression. Bruno’s mind was as clear as it had ever been. Manny was a ghost, a haunt, a curse, and that was a fact. Bruno’s wife, Dawn, his manager, Roy and all the rest of them thought that on the night when Bruno hit Manny’s face with an overhand right, smashed Manny’s skull into his brain, leaving him dead on the mat before the doctor could get to him, on that very night they thought Bruno had lost his mind, but Bruno knew that Manny was real. He knew because he’d looked at Manny lying on his back in the ring and in the middle of Manny’s punched in face was one eye, and that eye had winked twice at Bruno. Slowly it had looked right into Bruno’s eyes and shut and then opened again and then shut and then opened. It was a shiny mean eye and it wasn’t going to let Bruno forget what he’d done.

    Bruno shivered.

    “Are you cold?” asked Dawn who was sitting beside him reading about Angelina in People Magazine. She loved Angelina, thought she looked like her.

    “No,” was all Bruno would say. He was mad at her, at Roy, at all of them.

    The office smelled musty like a dirty aquarium.

    “Maybe we could get something to eat after we finish up here,” said Dawn.

    “Not hungry,” said Manny.

    Reply
    • Casey

      Is Bruno a boxer?

      I like this so far, although I had to read that second sentence twice to make sure I read it right. It was a little long, with a few people to keep straight. 🙂 I enjoy stories where the characters are haunted in some way.

      And I like the thought of you with stained fingers. It’s things like that that justify the label “artist.”

      Reply
      • MarianneVest

        Thanks Casey. I was worried about that sentence. I guess I’m not Faulkner yet ; )

        I do like the colored inks!!!

        Reply
      • MarianneVest

        Oh I forgot Bruno is a boxer. That’s part of the prompt. It has to be about a boxer who has a person whom he’s killed come back when the protagonist is in the ring. Fortunately my husband knows about sports so I said “overhand right” instead of “right overhand.” This would not be a topic I would choose but in a way I like that.

        Reply
    • Steph

      Cool idea. It reminded me of a Lawrence Block novel I read about boxing. The ghost will be a great medium (pun intended) to reveal inner conflict for Bruno. I liked your characterization of Dawn. I feel like I know her already!

      What about starting a new paragraph after “that was a fact.”? (Tee-hee, grammar lady on this blog, did I do those quotes right?)

      Reply
      • MarianneVest

        Thanks Steph. I really appreciate your reading and commenting. I do think a new paragraph would be good there. Thanks for your ideas. I enjoy Lawrence Block, especially to listen to when i’m driving long distances. He has such a good sense of humor.

        Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      Omg Marianne! That was some powerful writing right there. It gave me goosebumps. That ‘shiny mean eye’ wasn’t going to let him forget…. Brrr! How did you get that idea, to use the ghost as a metaphor for his conscience? It’s genius.

      Reply
      • MarianneVest

        Thanks so much Yvettecarol! I didn’t really think up the ghost though. The prompt was to have a boxer think that a man whom he’d accidentally killed was in the ring with him. I’m really glad you like the ‘shiny mean eye’ Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it.

        Reply
  14. Allyhawkins

    One of the things I learned while writing my YA novel and having to meet a deadline with my writing coach was, just write the bones of the chapter. That’s what the rough draft is about anyway. Revision is where the story evolves into what you envisioned it to be.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Yeah, I like deadlines because it forces me to confront the mess.

      Reply
  15. Afia Lee

    Joe, this is so true. How freeing to get completely filthy in the process of creating without worrying, too much, about how you look in the end. Like the photo illustrates, to get so immersed in your project that it is seeping into your pours and mouth is a great place to be. Maybe it will all be a complete mess in the end, but maybe it won’t.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Totally! And even if it is a mess, Afia, it might still be art.

      Reply
      • Afia Lee

        You are so right! My Jackson Pollock masterpiece may look like a 4 year-old’s art project to you.

        Reply
  16. Yvettecarol

    ‘I’d just settled into my easy chair, ah, an old fella needs a good chair to sit down in and sleep in but ssh, don’t tell the little ones that. They laugh enough at old grandpa as it is. I skooch down and find the sweet spot in my chair and then listen. Just listen. The crickets sing their sweet goodnight songs, the faint hoot of night-calling birds drifts up over the banks and the shush of the sea behind that, more distant, lulls me to sleep.’

    Gosh Joe, that was interesting!

    A really good experiment. I found, first of all that writing that way, caused me to fade out all over the place — my mind wandered to every imaginable avenue of jobs needing doing, outstanding bills, etc — and yet when I did come back to the writing I was still relaxed. And second, I wrote in new ways. I would never have “thought” of some of those turns of phrase normally.

    Reply
    • MarianneVest

      I love that first sentence. It’s hard to use exclamations and have the fit or work. I think the rhythm is what makes it work so well, and helps catch the atmosphere of a calm sleepy moment.

      Reply
      • Yvettecarol

        Thanks Marianne! Funny how we think we have to sweat over everything. I’ve been worrying about starting off my grandpa piece for at least a month now, so haven’t gone near it. Yet when Joe suggested this exercise I thought well, why not try it on this quandary and see if I can get it rolling? By relaxing and breathing (almost daydreaming) it simply happened by itself. I kind of needed some back-up on it though, so thanks again.

        Reply
  17. Jeanne Moran

    It’s like Christopher Vogler said in “The Writer’s Journey.” Trust the path.

    Reply
  18. Katya

    WOW! I’ve been following you for a while but this is probably the best blog post I’ve read on this blog!!

    I did enjoy writing today (wrote a bit over 15 mins), but it’s likely due to the fact that I’ve had a good day and I’m not rushing anywhere right now.

    Excerpt from today’s writing:

    Rahul pulled the hood over his head and secured it with a pin under his chin. His black shroud loosely wrapped his body. He was sweating profusely.
    Come on, I’ve done this before.
    Some distance behind him, fifty men stood hiding behind a huge rock. This operation was anything but safe. If they were going to walk away from this place with the right manuscripts, he needed as many of them alive as possible.
    He looked back and made sure they were all a safe distance away.
    “Well, here we go,” he muttered.
    Then he lit the fuse.

    A shrouded figure appeared in the entrance, hurried in, and then stopped, apparently noticing Idan.
    “Ah, great, we have company” the man’s voice bellowed in the cave. More Shads piled in right behind him, unsheathing their swords.
    “Tell you what, you guys can just turn around, and go home, and I promise you nobody gets hurt,” Idan said, loud and clear.
    The Shad laughed, “Brave chicken they got here!” His eyes glistened bright red. “Get him, guys.”

    The boy heard the commotion long before he saw the light from their torches. The sound of metal clinging against metal. Muffled voices. A familiar voice yelped, “Don’t you touch that!”
    Idan?

    (I’m trying to write one big story from the perspective of multiple people who are involved in it… Thus the breaks in the story)

    Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      This is great Katya. Is this for a short story or a novel? I think the pace is excellent and keeps you reading. There are certain little clues like the black cloth ‘shrouding’ him, and the fifty men ‘hiding’ that increase the tension. Well done.

      Reply
      • Katya

        Thank you 🙂 It’s for a novel. My goal is to write a high-paced adventure novel that would appeal to someone like my 11-year-old brother who thinks reading is boring. He is one of my primary motivations.

        Reply
        • Yvettecarol

          Katya bless you a thousand times over. You’ve just switched on a light for me!! My brother has never ever read a book for pleasure. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of using him as a motivator before. But this fits in nicely with my own secret wish to entice boys in to reading as well. I have always thought it such a shame that most boys will not read a book unless forced to for school. My brother really struggled with English at school, writing, reading the whole gamut. I am filled with renewed fervour. Squeeeeee!!!!

          Reply
    • MarianneVest

      That was interesting. You do get the feeling of lots of action, stop and go type stuff. You got a lot done in fifteen minutes

      Reply
  19. Sarah-Rachael Murdoch

    I loved this. I haven’t really written as I should in a long while. I write a bit everyday, but calm, relaxing writing is what I really needed. I needed to sit with good music playing and a beautiful image in mind and the steady stream of keystrokes to push me forward. I am certainly grateful for the kick start. Thanks!

    She stood at the window, holding the mug and curling her arms against her chest. She curled in on herself as if to hide from the world and the light streaming through the dusty window pane. I need to clean that sometime. She ventured a finger against the glass. She pulled back with a fingerprint of dust and dirt. Some of it crawled under her nail. She bit her lip and wiped her hand on her jeans.

    “What are you doing?”

    His voice rolled out from behind her like a fresh bed sheet. Her anxiety melted at the sound of his voice, dipped in sleep and drying with his movements. She smiled, turning her head just slightly so he could get a glimpse of her mouth.

    He loved when she did that. He sat up in bed and held his breath, held his breath as if that would keep her frozen in that pose forever. The slight lift of her lips, the roundness of her cheek, the way she never really looked at him but at the air scintillating around his naked body. Her figure, so much like an exceptional portrait of a soft model, entranced him like a steadily swinging watch. Side to side. Side to side. Side to side. Early morning sunlight caressed her silver. Sunlight with his dusky hair and amber eyes wrapped his fingers around her smooth, unassuming edges and cradled her there with the look of someone who understood the idea that he held all of time in his hand. The sunlight touched her like a master and servant, both protecting and supporting that beautiful figure and that sweet slip of a smile.

    “Just thinking.”

    Her mouth shaped perfectly around the words, taken aback at the sharp clicks of the consonants. Though he heard and listened to her, he most enjoy watching how her mouth acted during her voice’s diverse monologues. He pressed his hands into the bed, into the blankets and pillows and sheets and love they had made just a few hours ago. His shoulders came forward a little. His stomach creased ever so slightly, and the covers fell from his golden skin.

    The breath caught in her breast when he sat up. How many times had she watched him do that after a night of loving and whispering? Yet she still found her heart beating faster when he did it. She never could quite name what it was that affected her so when he sat up in bed, but now she felt that she had time to try. Was it the way his hands disappeared in the blankets? Was it how his muscles stirred just enough to move him? Was it the way his freckled shoulders rolled forward and forced his head up from their embrace? Was it that subtle crease in his stomach when he hunched like that? Or was it the way he never once slipped and tumbled down? Of all the times she had seen him sit up in bed, she had never witnessed a misplaced hand or blanket. He was sturdy and confident and easy when he pushed himself up to look at her better. The bed never let him fall. She lay beneath him like a hushed lover. She put her hands on him and lifted him into the sky. He was her greatest treasure no matter what the Bible said about storing up treasures on earth. She would hold him dear for as long as she lived. She would wrap her arms around him and hold him up with the strength of one who knows how much they are needed even if the other person does not want to admit it. The bed remained strong and silent beneath his weight and movement.

    “May I join you?”

    She smiled again and nodded.

    He climbed out of bed.

    The morning sunlight brushed his bare skin. He put his arms around her and lifted her into his arms. She laughed and put her cup on the window sill.

    The light ran among the dust on the window.

    Reply
  20. JB Lacaden

    Thank you Joe. In one of your previous posts, we had to list down obstacles we find in our writing. Lack of discipline is one of mine. But you just revealed to me that it isn’t really the lack of discipline that is the problem it is the fear of the messiness of my work. I have to admit, this hit me spot on. I want to produce a great story so much that it the pressure slowly takes away the fun in writing.

    Thanks again for this post!

    I’ll post my exercise later today. 🙂

    Reply
    • Casey

      Call me silly, but it took me a long time to realize that writers didn’t just type up a perfect first draft. I really did think that what came out on the first try was indicative of whether one’s writing was any good or not. Mine was not, and it scared me away from writing for a long time. It was very messy. Now I realize that it’s supposed to be. And it’s comforting to know that other writers experience the same thing.

      As I procrastinate…

      Reply
      • Claire Vorster

        Writing, making it good, takes a little time. But it is always worth the wait 🙂

        Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I do remember that, JB 🙂 I was surprised so many people wrote that, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote this post (besides the fact that I was struggling with the same problem). Too many people think they have a discipline problem when their problem is really something else.

      Reply
  21. Steph

    I used this practice to wrap up a short story for another flash fiction challenge that closes tomorrow. I didn’t really know where my story was going and was going to just scrap it, but I went with it as per your advice and enjoyed the writing (for better or worse!) and finished. In rereading it, I realized that I had written the exact opposite of the directions. Oh well! Process, right? (-;

    I’ll just post a link since I went way over the 15 minutes.

    http://writex3.blogspot.com/2012/02/unmaking-sandwich.html

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I’m so happy this helped you finish something, Steph. That’s huge! Even if you didn’t follow the directions 🙂

      Reply
    • Marianne

      Steph – another wonderful story from you. I’ve left comments at your site. Thanks

      Reply
  22. Casey

    “These are personnel files,” Morgan said, as she rifled through them. “Except this last one.”

    She handed the manila folder to Shane. Inside were memos and newspaper clippings, and copies from internet news sources. He skimmed the headlines. Nothing looked familiar to him, nothing that she had mentioned and he knew about. But then, he didn’t even know why Darla had them, or why he had taken them with him.

    “I should have brought the phone rather than these,” he said, laying the folder down on the table beside his empty plate.

    “ I don’t know,” Morgan said, still reading over the contents of one of the folders. “Do you know why she would have personal files on the firm’s employees?” Shane shook his head.

    “We haven’t talked much over the last few weeks,” Shane said. He cleared his throat. Morgan watched him above the file she held open.

    “I can imagine.” She set the files down, stacking them so that the tabs were arranged in order. He had forgotten that about her. “Look, Shane. Why don’t you go lay down on the couch and sleep for a while. I’ve got a couple of errands to run and I need to think about this.” He must have looked incredulous, because she added, “No one lives here but me, and that dumb dog. I’ll leave him outside.”

    She left him in the kitchen while she went to find a blanket and pillow for him to use. The couch was a hide-a-bed. She pulled it out, and made the bed for him. Then she turned to him.

    “Shane, do me a favor. Please, please, don’t smoke in my house.”

    “I won’t smoke in your house,” he said. He didn’t tell her that when he was grabbing the things he needed as he left his home, he’d not put in the ten-bag of weed that lay next to his cash. After the fresh smell of recently smoked marijuana in that apartment, and Darla’s body in the bathtub, he was pretty certain that he wasn’t going to want to smoke for a long, long time.

    *********

    The blurb: The first part of the writing was uncomfortable for me, because I didn’t know where I was going with this story when I picked up where I left off. I just kept punching the keys, albeit with a bit of hesitation. After about 500 words or so I felt like I was beginning to loosen up and the words came freely. That was about the point that I began to enjoy it. This is the last page I wrote before baby woke up (and a few extra words). It’s pretty raw.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Hey Casey – That was interesting. Of course now I want to know what’s going on and what will happen. I hope you post some more as you work on this. Thanks.

      Reply
    • Claire Vorster

      This story got me right at the first line. And the last is so good. Want more. You go girl!

      Reply
  23. JB Lacaden

    As promised earlier, here’s my practice for today.

    I had so much fun writing about Baavla that I decided to expand his story. Read and enjoy!

    *******

    “How do you do it?” Layka asked.

    Baavla looked at the little girl with tired eyes. He smiled—making the wrinkles on his face grow much deeper. “Magic,” he simply said.

    Layka held her gaze on the face of the old snake charmer. “You lie,” she suddenly said, “magic isn’t real.”

    “Stupid girl,” Baavla said. The old man stretched his hands out. “How can you say magic is not real when it is all around you?”

    Layka looked around her and then back to the snake charmer. “Fine. If you don’t want to share your secret then I guess I’ll just have to figure it out myself,” the girl said, her face determined, “I’m good at figuring things out you know. You just wait.”

    “Stupid girl,” Baavla repeated. “Go pick up Asi. The people are leaving and so should we.”

    The Southern marketplace was almost empty of people. The only ones left were the merchants who were closing down their stalls. Layka bent down and grabbed hold of the wicker basket. She then picked it up and embraced it to her chest. Snake charmer and little girl both made their way across the dusty street of Agara.

    “Will you teach me later how to play the flute?” Layka asked as she tried to keep up with the old man.

    Baavla remained silent. In his right hand, he held tight on his white colored flute. The two of them turned around a corner and into a narrow alleyway.

    “Hey old man,” Layka said. “Will you teach me or not?”

    “You’re not ready yet,” Baavla answered.

    “You don’t know that,” Layka stubbornly answered back. She stopped walking for a bit and adjusted her hold on the huge basket.

    Baavla stopped. He turned around and looked at her. “Your little body and little mind is not yet ready to give orders to Asi,” he said. “Now hurry up. The sun is almost asleep and darkness will come.” Baavla then resumed his walk.

    Layka stuck out her pink tongue at the back of the Baavla. She then walked in a hurried pace to catch up with her new master. She felt Asi stirring inside the basket with each hurried step that she took. The alleyways of Agara were silent—as if they too were preparing for the night. The only sound came from the brisk walk of the young Layka—her barefoot hitting the ground. Layka didn’t notice a small sharp rock. She accidentally stepped on it and tripped. The wicker basket was tossed in the air.
    Baavla quickly turned around upon hearing the basket hit the ground. He saw Asi slither out of her cage. A few feet away from the basket, Layka was sitting, holding her wounded foot. “Stupid girl,” Baavla hissed.

    The snake raised its body and looked at Baavla, then at Layka. Asi then slithered on the ground towards the helpless little girl. With mouth opened, and body recoiled to attack, a strange sound started to linger in the air. The snake stopped in its tracks.

    Layka looked at the snake charmer—lips blowing life to the flute and fingers nimbly moving from hole to hole. She knew her life had just been saved.

    Reply
    • Yvettecarol

      JB, you’re onto something here! If you’re drawn to a subject there must be a reason and you have the story flowing so well, I’d say just keep going. You never know, you may have a winning short story here or even a book. It’s great!

      Reply
    • MarianneVest

      JB – That was good. The little girl, Layka, was just irritating enough for me to feel a sympathetic to Baavla, and he moved from being an old grouch to a hero. I enjoyed that very much. Thank you.

      Reply
  24. Andy Mort

    You’re so right. It’s such a hard thing to push through. I think about it a lot – the fact that art is all about process, with the things that we create as mere posts that mark the journey. If we don’t enjoy the struggle of the process (travelling can often be frustrating and it painful on the backside – but it’s when you see the most beautiful things and the revelation of what is to come), then we aren’t being truthful to ourselves about what it is we are doing/what we are doing it for.

    I wrote a post about the momentum that takes us from project to project and the way that each one is a marker in the bigger creative picture. Momentum can take us uphill if we compliment it by pushing ourselves and one another. http://atlumschema.com/atlumschema/where-is-the-momentum-taking-you/

    Reply
  25. Claire Vorster

    A few thoughts from your life coach

    Hey Joe,

    Good and honest post. It is always worth writing an obstacle down just as you have done, firstly because by committing our puzzles to paper we are placing them at arm’s length, secondly because as we write, we allow our beloved brains time to figure out how to solve them.

    When we are honest about our obstacles or fears, rather than avoiding or sedating them, we take the first step towards defeating them. And in this spirit of honesty, let me be candid with you. I am writing about fear. I just wrote a post with a smattering of irony– 3 Minutes To A Better Life – all about what to do when fear bites. At the same time, I am working on fears related to the current obstacles in my life.

    But here is ancient wisdom on the subject,

    “To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction” from the Bhagavad Gita

    When we stop focusing on the fruits of action and free our minds from asking,

    “Is what I am doing any good?”
    “Am I any good?”

    Then we free ourselves to concentrate on the task at hand. In short, we just do it. What a relief.

    For the record, you are any good. From reading your blog, I can tell this much about you:

    You are a talented writer.
    You aim to please, but not at the expense of what you hold dear.
    You have clearly defined goals and you are working diligently to achieve them.
    You like to help other people reach their goals.
    You know when to stop.

    That’s all. We are all in it together, whatever ‘it’ may be! Have a good writing day Joe.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      This was very touching and encouraging, Claire. Thank you so much.

      Reply
      • Claire Vorster

        Keep on keeping on 🙂

        Reply
    • Yvette Carol

      Hear hear! This advice helps all of us Claire. Why don’t you stop in more often??
      🙂

      Reply
  26. Themagicviolinist

    Thanks for the feedback everybody! 😀 All of your writing is really good. I’ll take everything you said into account to make my story better.

    Reply
  27. LKWatts

    If you want to use your time effectively, first you must realise that what you produce initially is unlikely to be perfect.

    I don’t know who said this or if I’ve just made the whole thing up, but I think it’s a pretty good phrase to keep in mind.

    Reply
  28. Lisa Buie-Collard

    Rough draft on my WIP, but yes, I liked doing it. I’d been stewing on this scene for TWO days!! Ridiculous I know. But I read your post and it, like with the others commenting here it seems, hit a cord. Thank you for getting me off to a good start!

    “Are you finished?” Celia’s abductor nodded at the untouched steaming tea on the table. She shook her head, then picked it up and sipped it. He took up her empty sandwich wrappings and threw them away.
    “You are a neat freak,” she commented.
    “Get some rest. We’ll leave right after dark.”
    “Are we going to be up all night like last night?”
    He hesitated. “Yes.” Then he lay down on the couch, crossed his arms and closed his eyes.
    Celia sighed, finished her tea and threw away her empty cup. She went into the bedroom and lay on the bed, and even though she was positive he wouldn’t come in till it was time to leave, she left the light on.
    A strong sense of being watched woke her. She sat up fast and found him standing just inside the doorway. “Is it time?” she asked as she swung her feet to the floor and started to rise.
    “No.” He didn’t move. He didn’t say anything more, but his face radiated cold again, dark and glacial, like a snowstorm. He stayed there staring at her so long goose bumps broke out all over her body, a premonition, a warning. She stood and faced him. What else could she do? She had no defense, nothing to fight him off with if he’d changed his mind about what he would do to, or with, her. All she had were her gut-linked wits.
    “Have you changed your mind?”
    He frowned and glared at her. “About what?”
    “You know. About me. Let me go. Tie me up and leave me somewhere I won’t be found until after you’re safe. I can stall them even, if you want.”
    His face showed no emotion, no inkling that he’d heard one word she’d said. “Please. I don’t want to die.” She didn’t dare look away or bow her head as she wanted to. She prayed the lock on their gaze would keep him from rash behavior, willed him to accept her compromise. For now she understood while he’d been out he had reevaluated her drain on his safety, what a drag she was on his ability to move in stealth mode. “What happened out there to change your mind?”
    That got a reaction. Just a flicker across his forehead, but she’d seen the flash of it before he could hide it. “Please, I don’t want to die,” she whispered. Her throat closed in on familiar fear and slid her right into that other hell. “Please, oh please let me go.”

    Reply
  29. Candance

    Wow. You wrote this for me. I NEEDED to read this today, just as I NEED to stop typing this comment and start working on my big project.

    Reply

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