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.

Always have a back-up plan

Just in Case by Sheila Sund -

Things fail, it’s just one of the realities of life.

Software, brakes, people, plans, fire alarms, auto-pilot systems, batteries and parachutes can all be working one minute, but useless the next.

It’s an important lesson to learn, we just need to make sure the lesson doesn’t turn us into cynical, paranoid, lunatics. Life is full of risk, and risk of failure is one that we just have to accept.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare for failure; there aren’t too many scenarios when it doesn’t help to have a back-up plan.

This is especially true if we reflect inwards and consider our own motivation, drive and commitment. There are lots of forces which can motivate us to act, both intrinsically (from within us) and extrinsically (from outside ourselves). And while many of them will seem, in any given moment, like constant forces which will always be there, it’s important for us to remember that they’re not.

It’s important for us to remember that our motivating forces are as capricious and fickle as a summer breeze, and so it’s useful to have a couple operating simultaneously. It pays to have a back-up plan.

One way we can do this by mixing up the sources of motivation so that a failure in one area doesn’t mean a failure of the entire system. An example might be that we make sure that all of our long term goals are fuelled by a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. You might be driven to create something artistic by intrinsic creative forces, but you might also tell someone about this project or commit publicly to a deadline which imposes an extrinsic motivation as well.

Both of these motivators have the capacity to fail, but they’re not inextricably linked. What causes one to fail doesn’t necessarily bring down the other. So on a day in which you’re not feeling inspired or creative, you might be motivated by the deadline. Other days, when the internal fire is burning bright, you might happily chip away without giving the deadline a second thought.

This diversity of motivation can be a great, multilayered defence against failure. By ensuring that there are few, decoupled systems in place, we can decrease the odds that we’re ever jumping without a chute.

When motivation fails

clear sky behind a row of houses

It’s only 1° outside and I’m struggling with the motivation to run to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m running to work, there are no two ways about it, but I don’t want to – and I’d like to understand why.

The sky is clear and blue, even at this time of the morning, but for some reason, today, the temperature seems like a good excuse not to run.

Suddenly that solitary 1° is a barrier, not an opportunity. It should be a challenge, a call to action, an invitation to go forth and conquer – but today it just seems like the world’s best reason to catch the train.

Herein lies the challenge of motivation.

Today, forces and circumstances which would normally propel me forward, feel like they’re holding me back.

Nothing externally has changed. I don’t look any different, sound any different or (probably) smell any different from the days in which the 1° would be the best reason to run – but I certainly feel different.

Somethings are just going to be impenetrable to us in any given moment – Why is this happening? Why is that person being difficult? Why don’t I want to run? – and while there is value in picking apart the causes, especially in the long term, the question for the moment is “what are you going to do?”

You can wish that the situation were otherwise, but it’s not. So what are you going to do?

Sometimes, how we feel about a situation will have changed, but the objective realities of the situation have not. The best course of action when we felt good about it, is still the best course of action, even now when we feel rubbish.

The challenge here is to understand when it’s in our best interests to ignore our short term feelings and pursue the long term action, and when it’s not.

One answer here might be to quickly ask “why?” until we hit on the likely cause of our change of feeling. We can then more objectively evaluate if it’s a valid reason or not.

I don’t want to run to work.


It’s too cold.

Why is that a problem?

It’s uncomfortable, and I would rather be warm right now.


Right, you’re going running.

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Many thanks to Meriel Rosenkranz for pointing me in the direction of “why?” which Charles Duhigg writes about in his new book.