Great Writers Provoke Us

Provoke Badge

This is Day 12 in the Great Writers series. Follow along on Facebook for more updates.

Writing is an art. And all good art pushes buttons. It pokes and prods, makes people uncomfortable.

This is why we need art, why writing makes a difference. But that’s not to say that makes it any easier.

Listen: You need to quit screwing around. Stop playing it safe and provoke us, already.

If you’re going to be a great writer, you’re going to have to shake things up. Maybe even break a few rules. Here are some ideas:

  • Tell the ugly truth.
  • Pick a fight with something that’s wrong with the world.
  • Call yourself out.
  • Make a giant confession.
  • Take a risk.
  • Write something dangerous (something you’ve never written before).

Are you ready? No more prompting, no more practice. Write something that gets under our skin, that tests our nerves. Provoke us. Not for the sake of being being contentious or intentionally provocative, but for the sake of being honest.

Why do we do this?

  • Because we live in a world of lies. Of false flattery and exaggeration. And we need you, the artist, to tell the truth. To help us get out of our comfort zones. After all, that’s the only place we grow.
  • Because this sets others free. To do the same. To live freely and honestly. So get in our faces; tell us the truth. And watch the ripple effect.

The challenge

You already know what you need to do. Take a risk. Write something provocative and stand by it. Yes, you may make a few people mad, but you’ll also liberate those locked in self-doubt and fear.

Write something bold, something that moves us. Then share it. If it helps, here’s something along these lines that I wrote awhile back: We Cannot Grow Numb to the World’s Pain.

What did you write? How did people respond? Tell us about it in the comments. If you’re blogging through the series, link up here.

148 thoughts on “Great Writers Provoke Us

  1. “Pick a fight with something that’s wrong with the world.”  

    I did a short series a few months ago called “This is NOT ok – The Global Orphan Crisis.”  Did a ton of research, and learned a lot about why there are 153 MILLION orphans in the world.  Talk about something wrong with the world!

    Response was underwhelming.  I wanted everyone else to get as fired up about this as I am, to read the series, get angry, tell everyone and get involved in some way….but I have a lot of room to grow in how I connect and motivate.

    Constructive feedback, y’all?  Especially on the “Why Care?” post…that was probably the hardest one.  What could I have done differently?

    1. Christine, people can’t wrap their minds around those kind of numbers. They go numb. But if you tell the story of one child, people can wrap their hearts around that one small child. We’re hardwired for story. It blows past our filters.  Then, there’s what you want your readers to do. There’s nothing worse than having all that compassion and not being able to express it.  What’s your call to one small action you want them to take. It’s like the story of the one small starfish that you throw back into the sea. You make a difference.

      1. Bob, I think you’re right.  Huge miss on my part!  I’m thinking now about a story post or two that can weave some of the data and call to action in more effecctively…
        Thanks SO much for sharing this insight.  

        1. I like this and am glad I read the whole thread.  I too have a story about one child  whom I’ve taken under my wing from afar because of a mission trip connection – so I’m not sure what I’d be asking others to do with their compassion.  But I’m sure if I pray about it God will give me an answer.  Better to think it through then to post and leave ’em hanging.  The narrower the better, you’re right Bob.

          1. it’s funny…I was told at the time that narrower is better, but I still fought really hard to keep it wide.  I don’t regret posting it, but after some time to sit and hearing the feedback here, I would (will?) make it a longer series, more story-centric–maybe each story aimed at a different call to action.  

            Great input, thanks!  As for you, God will definitely guide you.  Just might take longer or a different form than you expect!  He is funny like that…

        2. Christine, just visited your site…God bless you for what you are trying to do. I agree with Bob about the numbers and his suggestion for just one little child’s story, but I think you also have to come out and ask what you want for that child…Parents? Physical or monetary help?
          I would cry, but other than some monitary help I couldn’t do anything because I am old, have already 4 children and 9 grandchildren all of whom count a great deal on me, and many physical limitations. For years we had …financially adopted a child…That we could do again.
          This does not mean that you should get discouraged.  Even if only one person or couple decide to adopt, you have accomplished a lot!

          1. Thanks, Katina.  I struggled with call to action…I did a whole post in the series about “what can I do” exactly because there are so many ways to engage, and the answer is different for everyone.  Some people can write checks, some people can volunteer help a foster or adoptive family run errands or babysit, some people are called to adopt.  In the end, I really want people to do *something* beyond thinking they’re making a difference in the world by clicking “like.”

    2. I just read this blog, and want to reinforce Bob Holmes’ comment.

      The path to change starts with awareness, but must move through sympathy to empathy, and ultimately compassion. Compassion is not only feeling the depth of another’s pain, but being moved to to action to remedy their suffering.

      Even spirit-filled humans are overwhelmed and compassion-fatigued. We have our walls up. We don’t want any more pain.

      And if you want to take on this type of work, you need to inflict pain. Make us feel the hurt of those orphans.

    3. Lots of good feedback here from the community, but I’ll throw my two cents in. Something that I think you could do more of, Christine, is tell your story. It’s so interesting. You’re not just someone getting up on a soapbox, talking about orphans. You’re actually LIVING the change you want to see in other people. That’s powerful.

      1. Thanks, Jeff.  I don’t often think of my own story as “interesting” or “powerful” to other people…to me, it’s just life!  Talking about myself feels narcissistic sometimes.  Gotta get over that, I guess!  😉

    4. Christine, love the constructive feedback you have received.  I am taking note…for myself as well.  I have written several blogs already on the orphan and human trafficking situation as well, but plan to go deeper.  I “messaged” you through your facebook page, but not sure if you received it (last week).  I would love to keep in touch, perhaps via email, with you, as we seem to have the same interests.  My husband’s and my heart are for the fatherless/motherless and your blog definitely keeps my attention.  Keep writing!  People are seeing it – even if they don’t respond, it is making a difference!!
      Jeff….this challenge…”challenges” me to do more blogs focused on the orphan/human trafficking situation.  Thanks for “being right in my face” again!  Am loving these 15 days!!

      1. I’m so glad you said something, Debby…I didn’t see any messages in Facebook, but it’s been acting squirrelly on both my phones.  If you want to email me, you can:  christine[at]riverofthoughts[dot]com or leave a comment on my blog. And where’s your blog??

    5.  Christine you’ve done a great job from what you describe in your post but I’m sure Bob is right. We as humans do tend to respond to the more personal story. It really does blow past our filters. I’m from the UK and in past years we would watch footage on the TV from Northern Ireland and feel so sad yet what could we do we asked ourselves. It tended to wash over us for the most part. There were many terrible atrocities going on there every day yet watching in England I guess we were somehow remote from it all.

      Then one day I met and became close to someone from Belfast who shared with me some personal experiences and it broke my heart and changed how I felt forever.

      I think Jeff has suggested a very good idea in that you might write about your own experiences connected with this excellent cause you are so involved with. I too used to sponsor children  but am a pensioner now and can no longer afford to. Keep your chin up Christine xx

      1. That’s a perfect example Leila, thanks for sharing it.  The situation in N. Ireland was heartbreaking, but still very much felt like “something that was happening somewhere else.”

    6. Christine, as an adoptive mom this is one area of frustration. Unfortunately, unless people “see” with their own eyes they do not recognize the needs of the forgotten. Oh sure they care, but they are not moved to action because they are content and comfortable.

      If you are passionate about it, keep writing. Someone will hear, and sometimes it just takes one person to be touched by your message and that person will change the life of an orphan.

      I will go look at your post.

    7. I looked at your posts and you did a great job at bringing attention to the orphan crisis. Did you have a call to action in some way? Maybe what is lacking is a personal experience? What if you interviews adoptive parents and asked what it was like for them to be in the orphanages and see all the orphans? To describe their children’s condition when they first brought them home? That would make the message personal.

      1. Ellen, Thanks for stopping by and commenting…I replied there, too.  The call to action was the final post of the series, but I admit I could have done a far better job of connecting readers emotionally to each post.  

        I love your idea of an interview.  You volunteering??  🙂

      1. I know what its like, sometimes you just can’t see something yourself! Then someone else picks it up, or you only realise after you published it on the blog!

  2. I’ve been “calling myself out” publicly as I blog through this entire series.

    I publicly, gently, dope-slapped myself in today’s post “Too Safe”.

    I break into a terrified sweat each time I click the “publish” button.

    I think I’ve reached the limits of my nerve for now, but I will take your exhortation into the world with me today, and see what happens.

  3. You have no idea how much this speaks to me right now.  Your encouragement helped me to already start a book on being a woman leader in the church (not popular in some circles) and this post encourages me to keep going.  

  4. It seems amazing how I keep getting the same message from different angles.
    I’m following the 40 Day Soul Fast alongside 15 Habits.
    Yesterday was declutter – a message I’ve been getting all along on Soul Fast.
    Today, ‘Provoke us. Not for the sake of being being contentious or intentionally provocative, but for the sake of being honest’. I’d already written in my Soul Fast Journal under strengths, ‘not afraid to go against the flow, but I’m NOT being different for the sake of being different’.
    I stuck my neck out earlier this year with posts about the same-sex marriage debate. I continue with one of my mottoes to speak the truth in love.
    Thanks, Jeff. Today’s post encourages me to continue doing just that.

  5. I kinda picked a fight today in response to something a reader wrote on my FB wall… I’m interested to see the response I get and hope it causes people to ponder.

  6. My very young blog is also very SAFE. Ugh, I need this challenge. I have to rein in some of my indignation about certain issues and write. Just write them down instead of calling or texting a friend and hashing them out with her. Right after I read today’s challenge, I saw the Churchill quote “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” 

    Okay, okay, I get it. Slapped up side the head from two different directions. Quit being scared and dive into the scary full force. That’s my decision for the day. Wish me luck!

    1. I think hashing it out can be a good thing, too. Sorting our true thoughts from our knee-jerks can make our writing stronger. It’s what friends are for.

  7. I have noticed that honest writing exposing the writer’s vulnerability draws a response. Two of my pieces come to mind: a recent post on suffering – and a short poem referencing my miscarriage –

      1. Lisa and Lisa, read your poem and post! Beautifully written, loaded with emotions! I feel exactly how both of  you feel because I have walked in your shoes. I miscarried my first one and my daughter lost her second in the 8-month stage.  I also have written something but I never showed it to anyone. Do I dare bring it out?  All of the sudden, I need to share it.  Could I guest post it on either of your sites?
        God bless you both!

  8. I think I did this…in a article soon to be published as a guest post. It is about the Parthenon sculptures that were stolen by Elgin and are now in London. It is a scream and a plea I send out to the world to help get them back where they belong. To Greece!

    I am not good with arguments or poking at people. I have to think what else I can do.

  9. If we write what we are convicted and passionate about we are bound to make a few enemies.  I addressed in a blog post a few months ago a tweeter who took offense to one of my tweets.  I’ve  also written and posted a free eBook on my blog where I talk about my mistakes and failures in life.  I did that for the reason you said above…”Because this sets others free. To do the same. To live freely and honestly.”   That is what I am passionate about spreading.

  10. “Pick a fight with something that’s wrong with the world.”  I so much like the line and it makes me want to blow up. We fold our arms to events that aren’t worthwhile – I’ll start provoking people with truth, no mercy.

  11. So I’ve been doing this for a week! The last five posts on my blog have been about inappropriate content in the media!

  12. I’ve been doing this. I blog about worship and how often it’s no more than a musical high on Sunday morning. I try to stay honest, share my struggles, confess my own shortcomings, and  make some bold statements. I think I can try harder at being more “provocative” and not worrying about ticking people off though.
    Here’s an example of one of my posts:

  13. How did you know I went to bed angry?
    I just made myself a writer page on Facebook (big step) and so I posted my challenge for today in a note there:

    If you note sarcasm there, yeah, there might be a little.
    If you don’t want to read it all, here’s the last line–Whoever
    heard of a list of 9? So it is quirky, as friends are imperfect and have their
    quirks. Stop lurking so that friends can actually see yours and remember why
    they became friends with you in the first place!

  14. Thanks so much for this post!
    Just yesterday I received the slap-in-the-face type of recoil reaction from one blogger who ranted for 3 long, cursing replies and then continued to an entire new, long, cursing post about something I said. Wow. So much fun.
    I must be some kind of awesome, provoking, great writer, eh?
    I know, since all this was in reply to a simple congratulations comment to her post, and I like her writings and always write kind things on her site, that her reaction must stem from writings at my place, to which she subscribes.
    Just yesterday I tried to be unafraid as I posted the following about one more way we are destroying our children, and our society:

    It must be something I said. Hope so.
    Thanks, again, for having the insight to show me the greater picture.

      1. That reply does soften it some. Pretty sure I’m losing a fun friend there.
        Thanks for the encouragement.

  15. I’ve only recently begun being honest and open with the world and I find it quite freeing.  I spent too long playing it safe and keeping things to myself.   Someone out there needs to hear our stories, though sometimes it may be painful. 

    Recently, I felt the need to write about abuse I suffered as a child.  But I didn’t think going into detail was appropriate.  My aim was to share the emotion and the sense of it.  So, I decided to put the experience to poetry.  

    I didn’t get many responses, but the important thing for me is that I put it to print.  I honestly and openly laid it out.  That is what I hope to do more of in the future. 

  16. Gosh, this day’s challenge is challening.  My interest lies in disabilities; I’m focusing on your ideas for “tell the ugly truth” and “pick a fight.” So often emotional appeal is used to motivate a call of action. When I think of ways to provoke the path still leads me to creating “inspiration porn” ** and I do not want that. I have failed today’s challenge, but I shall try again another day.
    **A story or image of an individual or group with a disability that emotionally moves or inspires others (usually non-disabled individuals) due to the perceived achievement or perseverence of the disabled individual over the obstacle of continuing to live each day.

  17. Here’s my provocative thought for the day: I’m tired of people equating “telling the truth” or “telling it like it is” with “saying negative things to make people mad”.

    Are there negative or ugly things in the world that we’re afraid to confront or speak up about? Sure. But I dislike the assumption that real honesty is always going to mean talking about something bad.

    There are also many beautiful, positive truths we’re afraid to say. Sometimes it’s a radical act just to say, “I really believe that the world is a wonderful place.”

    It takes courage to suggest a peaceful resolution to a conflict. It requires a challenging level of honesty to acknowledge and honor the positive traits in the public figure you most despise. It is a risk to tell someone you admire that you’d really like to become their friend.

    The internet has enough shoot-from-the-hip cynics picking fights and arguing about things over which they have no control. Do we really need more sound and fury for its own sake?

    This question of honesty always reminds me of the scene in “The Neverending Story” where Atreyu the warrior has to look into the mirror that will show him his true self, and prove that he is strong enough to accept that truth. He looks in the mirror and sees that his true self is lonely, pale, awkward, fearful, shy Bastian– not the warrior he thinks of himself as. But Bastian is looking in that mirror too, and he sees his true self as well– Atreyu– and it is every bit as hard for him to accept the truth that he’s noble, brave, and strong.

    1. Rebecca. I agree. What you’re describing I call “being contentious for contentiousness’ sake.” It’s not productive and doesn’t help anyone. That said, holy cow — I love your Neverending Story analogy. That was a childhood favorite. Well done! You should blog about that. (If you do, send me the link!)

    2. I read the opening statement on this and immediately thought, “You are my new best friend.” So many times I’ve stepped up and spoke the truth about something or simply told it like was and was instantly labeled negative or contentious.

      Many people are scared. Intimidated. Afraid of raw honesty that can potentially challenge their way of life or their thinking. They live in bubbles and cannot handle it when someone tells it like it is. Sometimes, things just need to be said in order to encourage change for the better.

      On the flip side, the people who do it just to be rude and obnoxious? Generally not worth listening to. Those people; in my opinion, are bitter and miserable individuals who never have a nice thing to say. Their entire lives revolve around anger, misery, and picking fights for no real reason.

      And like Jeff, I love your “Neverending Story” analogy. I have not watched that movie in years but clearly remember that scene where Atreyu and Bastian learn their true selves.

  18. Provoking and debating are not two of my strong suits. I tend to think of myself as a peacemaker. That being said, starting my blog and this challenge has been freeing for me as a writer as I’ve felt like I’ve been able to share things I’ve shared with very few people. One of those things has been my miscarriage story.

    The other thing that I have tried to do is place my blog link somewhere where people who I haven’t been able to share with could possibly find it.  I haven’t had the courage to do so yet, but I am going to try my best to do it today. I’ve also had a request from someone to guest post. (Thanks Katina!) I will let you know how both of them go.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I love you how guys (what should we call you, “15 Habiters”?) are connecting with each other. Keep up the good work, and continue moving forward.

  19. Funny. I’ve been working on a somewhat bitter post on being a woman of faith. Ok. I’ll finish it up and post it today. Uffda.

  20. Definitely takes Raw Courage…I have written a few blog posts that have exposed a lot of mistakes and failures…but I feel another one coming on…thanks to your provocative post:) Thanks Jeff…needed that reminder today!

    1.  I’ve just read this Jim and let’s face it…many people all over the world have their quality of life ruined by drugs. Some even die. You’ve written a very gripping story on a very important topic and for me the test was….do I want to read on from here? Yes I did! Look forward to the next installment.

  21. Really good material, Jeff.  🙂  I recently shared with a group that, ” There are people whose writing is navigated by the fear of
    what people might think.   My writing is driven
    by the fear that most people have forgotten how to think and I must help them!”  

    For example, one of my most recent blogs is titled, “AN OVERWEIGHT NEIGHBOR TOLD MY DRUG ADDICT COUSIN THAT A FRIEND, WHILE FILING
    GAY PEOPLE.”  (Yep, that whole thing is the title.)  

     What is the underlying theme of the blog?  Everybody has somebody who is against them, doesn’t agree with them, or is offended by them.  (I once had a lady blow her top because I suggested having cake and ice-cream for breakfast on my fan page???)  

    You’ve offered a good reminder today to write from the heart without worry of offending someone.  Thanks for the info!          

  22. I’ve been pushing buttons since day 1…and I’ve only gotten mouthier since then. I’ve had several people (usually those who seem to hate thinking beyond “What’s for dinner tonight?”) end up disliking me because I challenged their thinking and dared to provoke someone or something to stand up for what’s right or stand up for the underdog.

  23. I notice Nicholas (below) said, “This gonna hurt!,” and it does.  I recently started a second blog, Letters to Mama (, in which I’m giving the child I was a voice against verbal and emotional abuses from my mother.  It is raw, and I’ve only posted three times, but feel free to take a look and let me know if this is what you mean.  I’m getting a little good feedback from others writing memoir, so I’m hoping to be on the right track.  Soon, I plan to add a tab in that blog for small excerpts from the memoir I’m writing.  Thanks, Jeff, for the inspiration this series has brought to me.

    1. That was beautiful, Sherrey. I couldn’t even get through the second paragraph without crying. Granted, I am a little emotional today. But I think it’s worthy not only because it’s hopefully healing to you, but because for a parent, it’s a reminder that our kids will remember things after we’re gone. It’s a blessing that they forget some of the thoughtless things we do, but for some children, there is serious damage being done. I could go on and on, but I’ll let you do that. Loved it.

  24. So true! I have found that I enjoy certain authors with whom I disagree, simply because they cause me to think more deeply about my beliefs. I find myself going back time and again to their writings, not to agree, but to be “provoked” (which is the perfect term for it). They encourage me in my writing to not be outlandish, but to simply be honest and hopefully cause people to want to interact with my writing.

  25. How do you gauge the difference between authenticity and self-indulgence? I agree that if writing’s going to be worthwhile, it needs to actually SAY something and at least attempt to tackle some aspect of real life without wimping out. But I also know I can get stuck in my head and, in the very act of trying to be self-revelatory and honest, actually create drama (not the good kind) and pain at the worst, and at least indulge in exaggeration or downplaying just as badly as if I didn’t say anything at all.

  26. For many years, I’ve had heartburn over the conflict between my world view and that of one of my favorite musicians, lyricists and authors – Rush’s Neil Peart. I completed today’s challenge by writing an open letter to him. I tweaked it a good bit after posting but hopefully without removing its context. Here it is.
    Thoughts and comments are welcome and appreciated. 

  27. I’m doing it! I’ve been challenging writers to get serious about the business side of writing over on my blog ( as well as telling the scary truth about what we are doing to our kids with our over-protectedness, etc. on my other blog ( Kids need to play. We aren’t letting them play and they are getting fat as well as depressed. So far the response has been pretty positive, actually. I like that. It took some courage to step up and jump in, but I’m glad I’ve done it. Things really open up when you let go of the fear.

    Thanks, Jeff. I think we all have some important truth to tell–go shake up the world!! It’s our duty.

  28. I’ve written things before that I thought were risky. But amazingly, those posts have been the ones that have taken off and helped a lot of people.

  29. I just wrote something like that.  I called myself out.  We all tend to do it at one time or another, though.  I took someone for granted.  Not all together, but I didn’t spend as much time with him as much as I wanted.  And then the time was gone.  I wrote about it in a Father’s Day letter to my dad here:

    I hope it lights a fire under some other butts to get up and show the people they love so dearly just how much they love them before the time is gone. 

  30. Jeff.
    I take the challenge.
    I am writing about being sexually abused when I was eight. I haven’t written about it on my blog. I want it to be a book.
    Haven’t decided how to approach it. 
    Blog the book as segments, or write it in private and publish it.
    I am writing it.

  31. I needed to hear this!

    I’m preparing to launch a web site encouraging men to never give up. Many of the blog posts I have in mind are very scary but I also know I have things to say that will help.

  32. It’s funny you say this. I just wrote a piece this weekend that could be a bit controversial to some, mostly people I know. I wrote it for a contest but missed the deadline.

    As well, my novel Dream Weaver is about a rape. I entered it in a contest and the response was that did I want to write about such a sensitive subject. But I’ve done the research. I know the stats on the subject. And besides that it was something I believed in my heart that I needed to write.

    I’ve attached the short story I wrote, entitled Summer Girls, if anyone is interested. 

    Summer Girls
    By Su Williams
    Word count 1512 First draft

        Summer was finally here. Finally hot enough to go to the lake and enjoy the solar waves and watch sunrays scatter across the water like a million shooting stars. Winter lasted forever this year. I thought it’d never go away. So now, I lay basking in the sun like lizard, thawing my insides from the long winter’s chill. My fingers probe the cubes of ice in my cup, bringing one to my lips every few minutes as the last melts on my tongue. I scan the beach for familiar faces, regulars who come to this lake every year, some who live here year round in quaint little cottages within walking distance to the shore.
        Some faces are familiar. A year older, a little less bronzed at the beginning of the season. I watch from a distance, sequestered behind my sunglasses, watching the pretty, thin girls with unnaturally blonde hair talking and laughing together. But I don’t call out or join them. They’re not really my type, not that I really know what my type is, now that I know myself a little better. And I’d really just prefer to keep to myself for now.
        Yes. That’s what I’ve decided–but then she walks by. Already golden, as though she spent the summer in the South Pacific. Her hair is coppery brown, with streaks of gold like the rays of the sun itself. Her suit, a tankini I think they call it, is modest and hugs the curves of her slight frame. She is beautiful. In that natural homespun kind of way.
         But I only watch her from a distance, as she smears suntan lotion on her long thin arms and legs. I wonder if she might need some help with her back, but I’m not brave enough to ask. Someone else is though. A wanna-be golden boy with platinum hair squats beside her lounger, grinning with pearly teeth. She scowls back at him and shakes her head. Shunned. She’s sent him away with a frown. Would she send me away as well?
        I watch her until the sun begins to slide behind the mountains. Watch her as she reads a book, sips on a soda, takes an elegant dive into the water. She emerges, sparkling with the diamonds of water droplets clinging to skin. Another boy offers her a towel, but he, too is shunned and walks away dejected as she shakes her head and retrieves her own towel. And again I wonder if she would turn me away as easily as she did these others.
        I pack up my towel and folding lounger and trudge back to the cabin up a windy dirt road that my parents rented for the summer. They’re too busy drinking cocktails and playing volleyball in the backyard with their friends to notice that I’m home. So I climb the steps to the yard, then the steps to the porch, then higher still to the loft that is my home for the next nine weeks.
        The loft overlooks the lake, but I can’t see the resort from here. Though the girl is no longer there, I gaze that direction, remembering the breeze that tug at her hair and brought the smell of her lotion enticingly to my nose. Tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow, I will be brave enough to say hello, to introduce myself to her.
        But what if she rejects me like she did the others? What then? And even if she doesn’t will she accept me for who I am? I wonder if she’ll think I’m cute; cute enough to spend her time with. Or maybe she’ll just want to be friends. But what is it I really want from her? Maybe all I really need is a friend. Someone who won’t pass judgments. But how do I know I can trust her not to? What if I’m not cute enough, smart enough? What if I’m not her type?
        It seems to take hours for the chirping crickets and croaking frogs to lull my mind to sleep. I sleep in fits and starts. First dreaming that the beautiful bronzed girl shares my affections, sending my heart into overdrive and a flush of warmth through my veins. Then the images morph and she scowls bitterly at me, rejecting even my hand of friendship, and slaps my stricken face leaving my cheek stinging with fire.
        I remember all of this the next day, as I’m watching her set up her things. One moment I feel the courage to speak to her and the next I’m shivering with fear like the summer heat will never be hot enough to thaw me. More boys make advances and each is turned away, especially the guy who is obviously in his thirties and way too old to be hooking up with a teenage girl. I want to leap up and attack him, the perv, but she handles him and sends him packing like the rest. The other girls on the beach are smug, snubbing her in envy because all the boys want the golden girl with sunlight in her hair.
        Again the sun dives behind the mountain, and I’m no closer to meeting her than I was before. Although, when I walked past her on my way home she gave me a tantalizing coy smile. My heart skipped a beat and my mouth fell open in shock. I’m sure I made a lasting impression: as the biggest dork that ever walked the face of the earth.
        And again my sleep comes in fits, and I dream the same dreams as before. When I awaken at dawn with a starling chattering at my window, I can’t sleep any longer. I feel sick. Summer sick. Or maybe just sick from the nervousness that has sent my body reeling too often. I shamble to the resort after breakfast, sure I look every bit the zombie I feel like. Oh well, it was a nice fantasy while it lasted.
        After a refreshing swim, I towel off and plop unceremoniously into my chair. The sun bakes my skin and leaves me drowsy. Soon I succumb to the draw of sleep.
        Some time later, I’m not sure how long, but the sun has moved several degrees across the sky, a shadow falls over my face and awakens me. All I can see is a thin silhouette towering over me like a giant. I raise my hand to shield my eyes from the penumbra of light that’s blinding me, but it doesn’t help. I flail in my chair and am only stilled be a quiet sound.
        “Oh!” a golden voice exclaims, and then the figure drops to my side and I can see her more clearly. Though I wonder if maybe I’m still asleep and dreaming. This can’t possibly be. The golden girl is kneeling by my side in the gritty sand, staring at me. “I’m sorry,” she says, her voice like honey. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just, I think you fell asleep in the sun and I was afraid you would get burned.”
        “Uh. Thanks.” It’s all I can manage to say.
        “Sure thing,” she says.
        A zillion thoughts race through my head like an Indy race at the finish line. She’s here. She’s talking to me. How can she talk to me? She’s this perfect creature who could have any guy she wanted. But she’s talking to me. What if I open my mouth and say something stupid? What if I do manage to say something intelligent but she still rejects me? I know who I am and what I want, but what if that scares her away?
        “I just–I don’t know anybody here and I noticed you’ve been alone all week,” her voice stroked my heart and calmed the raging beast clawing at my insides.
        “Uh, yeah. The girls around here are not really very friendly. But the boys seem to like you,” I say, then feel stupid for pointing out that I’ve been watching her.
        “There is that. But I’m not really interested.”
        I watch her eyes, find the gleam of honesty in them. Something like hope thrums in my chest. She wasn’t interested in the boys. Where does that leave me? Well, at least she talking to me. I imagine the summer sharing the sand with her, absorbing the sun into our skin, plunging into the cold lake water that leaves our skin cool and slippery.
        “By the way,” she holds her hand out to me, “my name is Celeste.”
        I can’t imagine a more perfect name for this girl, the golden girl that rules the sky.
        I take her hand in mine and give it a gentle squeeze. Her hand lingers in mine, her thumb strokes my wrist. I shiver at her touch and hope she doesn’t notice.
        “Hello Celeste. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Amy.”
        Her eyes twinkle in the sun, bright and coy, she cups my hand in both of hers, and suddenly this long dull summer at the beach seems rife with possibilities.

  33. I need help. I do NOT like this assignment. 🙂

    I wrote “Karma’s Not a Witch, She’s Just Selfish” only I didn’t say witch.

    I’m too afraid to publish it.

    In the post I ask the reader to consider their motivation behind doing “good deeds.” Is it out of the desire that good things will come back their direction? Or is it out of genuine love for others?

    I share a personal story about my experience with spiritual warfare. About a time I stepped out in a big way to help people in need and came under massive attack.

    Problem: I don’t want to offend my friends who believe in karma. And a lot of my closest friends and family do believe wholeheartedly in the concept. My blog is secular and its purpose is to encourage, not provoke. I don’t like picking fights. But I do think the world has it wrong and I’m sick of hearing everyone say “karma’s a witch.” 

    Ok, 15-habiters, what do you think? Anyone willing to take a look at the draft?

  34. I need help. I do NOT like this assignment. 🙂

    I wrote “Karma’s Not a Witch, She’s Just Selfish” only I didn’t say witch.

    I’m too afraid to publish it.

    In the post I ask the reader to consider their motivation behind doing “good deeds.” Is it out of the desire that good things will come back their direction? Or is it out of genuine love for others?

    I share a personal story about my experience with spiritual warfare. About a time I stepped out in a big way to help people in need and came under massive attack.

    Problem: I don’t want to offend my friends who believe in karma. And a lot of my closest friends and family do believe wholeheartedly in the concept. My blog is secular and its purpose is to encourage, not provoke. I don’t like picking fights. But I do think the world has it wrong and I’m sick of hearing everyone say “karma’s a witch.” 

    Ok, 15-habiters, what do you think? Anyone willing to take a look at the draft?

    1. Tracy – I think struggling with posting something that “provokes” is indirectly part of the challenge here. Actually, Jeff has brilliantly managed via this challenge not only to get us to provoke others, but ourselves as well. By attempting to arouse others, we find areas within ourselves that need digging and investigating further. Your struggle is understandable given what you’ve described about your family and friends. I’ve found that so long as you put it in the context of a personal story, using “I” language and not “you,” people are more responsive and less offended. This is simply your experience, your opinion, and your understanding of karma. I once heard Marianne Williamson say to an audience member who disagreed with another member – “There’s no ‘I don’t agree.’ That was simply not your experience.” 

      You can always at the end of the post leave it open for others to share their views – something like, ‘what about you? what do you think karma is?’ 

      Hope this helped! 🙂

    1. I read the post and replied on your blog… but wanted to say it here as well – beautiful post James. I loved this part: “So instead of treating God like a quick fix and expecting everything to suddenly be sorted, let’s enter into a process, a journey with Him.” I, too, have had my ups and downs in my relationship with God… feeling completely connected one day and disconnected the next. This process, in my opinion, makes for a deeper, richer faith. Thanks for ‘provoking’ 🙂

      1. Thanks so much for your response Anokina, and for commenting too. Really appreciate it, and glad what I wrote encouraged and ‘provoked’ you. 

        Thanks, JP.

  35. Well, this is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time.  After feeling offended and self-righteous, I had my own “Gotcha” moment.  Sometimes our uncontrollable reactions rule our lives.

  36. One of the supporting characters in my YA fantasy novel is a bisexual female. I know that my religious family is not going to be happy about this when they read the book, but that is just who the character IS and I think that it provides a voice for YAs who identify with that sexuality, a voice that has not really been explored in the YA fantasy genre to my knowledge.

    1. You got it all wrong.  It’s a quad-venti-three-pump hazelnut latte.  Half-caf if it’s afternoon.  Check your facts, man.  😉

      But for the record…I agree with you.  Excellent and succinct.  Great job.

    1. Hi there – loved your ‘sunrise’ post! What a beautiful message about artists vs normal people. And I also love the Code. So clever. Is Blaine your real name?

  37. Love this challenge! I actually wrote a post exactly like this in May titled, “Confessions of a Confused Girl.” Have no idea where it came from, but I needed to get some honest things out. The post is here: 

    I also wrote another ‘provoking’ post the same month about the “myth” of college. I HAVE to share how one person in particular responded! I got a call a few days later from my uncle, who told me he recently came across my blog and after reading a few posts, was worried about me as I sounded “frustrated” and had a lot of “negative language” in my writing (his words). Long story short – he spent 45 minutes on the phone with me sharing his concerns and how I needed to turn to God instead of writing. Being a Christian and a writer, I immediately became offended as faith is very important to me, but both faith and writing have their places in my life. One does not replace the other. Goes to show how people interpret honest confessions as “negative.” Needless to say – it ironically gave me a new-found urge and enthusiasm to continue writing, not to mention courage. You could say my own uncle was my first ‘hater.’ 🙂

  38. Today I provoked my father about his weight and gave him some encouragement to work on his health.  I challenged him and we talked about my weight loss journey.  I shared about confronting my dad on my blog and had some great comments by my readers.

  39. Yeah, just wrote about how people instead of looking everywhere for people and churches that relate to them and just receive, instead they should be seeking for people unlike them in order to serve and give from their own unique gifts.  Not as many RTs as some others, but I don’t want to hold back the unique point I have to say even if it’s not popular.

  40. I love this….you’ve challenged me.  I just wrote a new blog post with your challenge in mind. I write on church leadership and try to address the unhealth that is prevalent in so many of our churches.  I’d love any insight and constructive criticism you might be willing to offer.

  41. This is an old poem – but it was a bold one. Maybe my boldest yet.

    The Space to Hold It AllDecember 21, 2010 Breathe in the chaosThat surrounds you,Inhale the stale airFilled with voices of broken spiritsAnd the scent of failed attempts            And breathe out a symmetry            Of wholeness. Hold your palms openAnd carry the weightOf humanity’s brutality.Feel the shame drip betweenThe spaces of your fingersFeel the sharp cornersTearing your skin            Touch its harsh exterior            Until it softens into peace. Rest the burden of lost soulsIn search of themselvesAnd every passion abandonedOn your exhausted shoulders            And walk forward, even            If you are on your knees. Look unswervinglyInto the eyes of yesterdayAnd all the promises it did not keepAll the hearts it left in piecesThat now lie scattered on your path            Plant them in virgin soil            Nourish them with holy water. In the midst of the madnessConsuming, pervasiveBecome the space to hold it all.

  42. I am wowed and humbled by some of the stories and links I have read below.  My own ‘provocation’ seems minuscule in comparison, but it seemed big to me at the time.  I wrote a big rant about women disowning the ‘feminist’ label, because they now supposedly have it all.  That was a couple of years ago and I never had the courage to publish it on my ‘professional’ blog.  So yesterday I searched for it, with the firm intention I would revise it and publish it on my creative blog.  Alas, hours of searching later, I have to admit defeat.  It’s lost!  I will have to write a new (and perhaps better) version of that now.

  43. I did. I wrote it. I wrote what I’d been feeling and putting off for a while – a piece of my memoir story that’s ugly, embarrassing, and probably offensive to some readers. They’re not going to believe that I experienced that experience and thought those thoughts (because my public image is a nice, generous, classy harpist). It’s raw, scary and very earthy.

    I won’t share details in mixed company here, and the piece isn’t ready to share with strangers, but I’m going to show my writer friend Ann Rosenquist Fee, erotica writer extraordinaire ( – in the interest of sharing) and get her opinion. I can’t wait to hear what she says.

  44. I’m crying about Day 12.   I’m the one I’m trying to liberate from self-doubt and fear; incapable of liberating anyone else…. yet.
    Divorce at 60? Who does that and where are my role models?

    I’m cowardly.  The leap of faith needed to believe that I will land on my feet is huge.
    Wiith thirty dollars in my pocket, I am going to put one foot in front of the other and see if the steps rise up to meet me and tell me “where to step” next.
    I don’t know what else to do: I’m clueless today.

    With fear and tears, I am going to trudge forward anyway.
    And, ask for the courage I so desperately need.

  45. Ha, what a good provoker I am – my provocative comments did not even materialise as a comment for some reason (maybe the thunderstorms raging past).  Just wanted to say that I had a heartfelt but rather controversial piece on feminism that I had written about 2-3 years ago that I would have liked to post yesterday.  But after one hour of searching for it on laptops alive and dead, USB sticks of all sizes and even trawling through emails and printouts, I had to admit defeat.  It is lost!  I guess I will have to write another, better article then…

  46. Judith Shulevitz spoke at the Festival of Faith & Writing this past spring. She said: “The most uncomfortable things are the things you have to write about…
    the stuff that is unpleasant is the stuff that’s really important. If it
    freaks you out, you should be writing it.”

  47. I have been troubled with the rise in “paranormal romances” and “sweet vampire” stories, so I took a deep breath, and posted about it (won’t be published until Sunday). I used the scripture from Isaiah 5:20,21 which says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” This has been on my heart for weeks, but your challenge urged me to write about it!

  48. I’m playing catch up here, however, PROVOKE is something I do regularly. I write in my own blog about my experiences living here in Serbia as a foreigner.  I’m always provoking one person – good and bad – and have many people request I write even more because they are glad I write the truth of things on my blog.  So PROVOKE? Check.

  49. I try to make every line of my poetry thought provoking.  I try to do a mind job on the reader with every line of thought because by the end I want them pushed to the brink.  Only when at the brink will we truly evaluate matters.

  50. Well, two weeks ago I didn’t have enough nerve to take on anything big, but I sure did it today.  I took on Facebook.  After reading in Technology Review about how Facebook is actively manipulating our behavior, and restricting visibility to items we share with friends just to test our responses, I decided enough was enough, and wrote about it:

    I hope it provokes people to take action, and to recognize that we are investing more than money in Facebook: we are investing our precious time.  We deserve to be treated better, and we need to demand it or find a new platform.

    I’m still working my way through all of your wonderful writing, fellow 15-habiters (??).  I miss you!


  51. I’m not a very provocative person by nature so at first I was a bit stumped. But I began thinking about what I was passionate about – seeing people fulfil their potential – and the obstacles that get in the way of that – human nature. And I wrote about it on my blog – a challenge to people to stop complaining about their problems and do something about it!

    You can read it here:

  52. Okay, I’m a little late on this challenge, but how do you write the truth without getting overly zealous or hypocritical? You want to give a good point, but you don’t want to say “All is hopeless”? Any suggestions?

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