Words to be written, not read

I’m caught in that moment when you want to get something out of your head but you can’t find the words to unlock it. It’s like they’re tied in a knot and will only come out in a particular sequence. But where do you start when you can’t find either end of the string that’s tied in the knot?

Each weekend I sit down to write, to let all the pent up creativity out of my brain and into the computer. It feels, during the week like it would gush out in a raging torrent.

But then I carve out some time, from the sheer rock of a jam-packed existence and suddenly not even a drop will come forth.
It’s not that the pressure isn’t there, it’s that I can’t unlock whatever is holding it back.

It’s like there is the energy, but not the vehicle with which to move it.

And so I get distracted and frustrated, trying to find the key, the code, the sequence which will unlock the fucking ideas. I trip down hundreds of rabbit holes, chasing one end of the knot.

If only I can get it out, then I won’t feel this crushing pressure, this burden of potential, boiling inside my head all day.

This is The Resistance that Steven Pressfield describes.

This is a manifestation of my fear of failure. My fear of creating something unreadable and mediocre. My fear of not having enough time to get out the ideas worth sharing. My fear of not contributing anything worthwhile. My fear of not living a good life.

It’s crazy that something as small as wanting to write a short story could so quickly be traced back to an existential purpose (and crisis), but it’s true.

There is no cure for this except to write. I know this in my heart of hearts. To just sit down and pound out words. They don’t have to be on point or purpose, they just have to be words on screen or paper. To start the process of testing keys in the lock, of feeling the knot for one end of the string.

Just write anything.

Adrian Calear told me that when I can’t think of anything to write, I should describe the inside of a ping-pong ball. “Faced with that prospect,” he said, “ideas will suddenly step forward.”

That is in many respects what this post is. It’s just an exercise to get the fingers moving. They are words to be written, not words to be read. I’m sorry if you’ve gotten down this far, looking for some other meaning. There is none to be found.

No other meaning except that you just need to do the thing you’re trying to do. Run, write, cook, read, fix, draw, glue, sew, compose. You just need to get the words out. The only way you’ll feel the string at the end of the knot is to undertake the task itself. Sit down and start doing. It ok for it to not be right.

When you’re paralysed by choice, it’s not important to make the right choice, it’s important to just make any choice.

So to answer your question, yes, it worked. This sentence is going to finish and I’ll be starting another sentence in another document immediately.

557 words written, just to unlock thousands more.

Ideas are great, but executions are wonderful

1863 Alexandre Cabanel - The Birth of Venus

Within the mind, our ideas remain perfect. They have neat form, divine purpose and they fulfil their destiny flawlessly.

With such perfection as a starting point, it’s understandable why we hesitate birthing them into the world. Not only does it take effort, but the real world is messy, complicated and brutal. It is merciless towards newly realised ideas. At best it is indifferent, at worst it is openly hostile.

So why do we bother ever trying to bring our ideas into the world when they will almost never live up to our visions for them?

We do it because an idea realised, even poorly, is more valuable than one never realised at all.

When an idea is realised, it gives us a benchmark. It gives us learning, proof of concept, inspiration and a path which both we and others can follow.

Ideas are valuable compared to nothing, but are nothing compared to execution.

What comes first, the inspiration or the work?

Lightning on an urban horizon with machinery in the foreground

It seems like inspiration should come first.

It seems like you should wait for it to strike and then make as much space as possible for the output which it will fuel. “Clear the decks,” you yell, “I’ve got a full tank of inspiration and I’m not stopping until it’s dry”.

But that’s not how it works, unfortunately – the work always comes first.

Inspiration doesn’t push the work; work drags inspiration into the world, sometimes kicking and screaming.

You show up, you start working and then the inspiration comes.

If you wait for inspiration to show up, you’ll be waiting for a long time.

If you wait for inspiration to show up, you’ll be forever afraid of it running out. It will seem like a precious resource that needs to be handled like eggs. You’ll wrap your inspired ideas in cotton wool and smother them before they have any chance of growing.

If you do the work first, you’ll learn that inspiration is free and plentiful and should never be hoarded away. You’ll learn that inspired ideas should be unwrapped and exposed to full sunshine as quickly as possible so you can determine which will grow and which need to be discarded (yes, some great ideas need to be discarded – they might not be for you).

If you do the work first, you can be generous with your inspiration and the ideas that follow, because you know there’s always more where that comes from.

If you do the work first, everything else will follow.

And since you’re going to be starting this work, most of the time, without inspiration – you’d better start to love the work.