The Cure for Writer's Block

I get asked all the time: "How do I get over writer's block?" As someone who's made a living writing for several years now, I can tell you that there's a simple solution.

No, really.

Are you ready for it?

Just keep writing.

That's it. Just write. Whether you feel like it or not. Because at its core, writing is work. Does the electrician not wire your house because he's not feeling "inspired?" Does the plumber not fix your toilet because he can't generate ideas? You wouldn't accept this from any other profession, so why is it acceptable for you?

And if you can't do the work, maybe it's not the field for you. That's okay, the world needs accountants, carpenters, electricians, engineers, and nurses. All honorable jobs, probably moreso than writing. There's too many writers already, go do something you're better suited for that people need.

I've written plenty of articles and book chapters when my inspiration was dead. Was it my best work? No, but it wasn't that much worse than my best work. At least in writing, people don't stray far from their aptitude level unless they really work at it. You might do a little better, a little worse, but the important thing is to get it done.

The first job of the carpenter isn't to make your house pretty. He first has to lay the foundation and set the studs so you can have a wall. Concrete and 2x4s aren't pretty, but that's what drywall and paint are for. It's the same with writing. Frame the house (write the words) and then you can make it pretty later (in editing).

So stop making excuses and get back to work.

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

James Rhodes, The Guardian:

The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn't it worth fighting back in some small way? So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame and Heat photo-shoots that all our children now think they're now entitled to because Harry Styles has done it.

Quit fucking around.

The Jeopardy Experience

Friend of the site Glenn Fleishman is the reigning Jeopardy champion, and he has written a detailed account for Boing Boing.

His preparation was intense:

I knew my general knowledge was rusty, and consulted piles of almanacs, watched the show, and went through the J-Archive, a compendium of every clue and question ever posed on Jeopardy, run by fans and unaffiliated with the show. I read the three best-known Jeopardy books, too: Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions (1992), Prisoner of Trebekistan (2006), and the aforementioned Brainiac (also 2006). I had coffee with Jennings, who lives in the Seattle area, just before appearing, which was a nice morale boost. (I have an article about the studying process over at The Economist's Babbage blog.)

What I didn't know is that there is now an online test to become a contestant. It's currently only open for kids.

Kottke linked to a video of Glenn's impressive first-night comeback win.

Congrats Glenn! Well played. As a side note, am I the only one who misses Trebek's mustache?

Seth Godin on Freelancing

Seth Godin:

It's true, if someone wants professional work, then he will need to hire professionals. But it's also true that as amateurs are happy to do the work that professionals used to charge for, the best (and only) path to getting paid is to redefine the very nature of professional work.

A Litany Against Fear

In my Linchpin review, I made a reference to the classic science fiction novel Dune. In the novel, the Bene Gesserit (space witches) recite a litany against fear when they're in danger:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Maybe it'll help you when you're overcome by your lizard brain.

Back to Work

If you haven't, you really should check out the great Back to Work podcast with Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame.

Don't let the name fool you. It's as hillarious as it is insightful.

Start with the earlier episodes, as the more recent ones are packed with inside jokes and get a little...silly. If you're in your '20s and feeling lost, episode 7, "Vocational Wheel" will be of particular interest to you.

If you're a new listener, Merlin compiled a starter pack to keep you from getting lost.

The New New Deal

A long time ago, when I was younger and more naive, I studied astrology. Some astrologers believe that around the turn of the century, we entered, or will enter, what's called the "Age of Aquarius," a time when people become more individualistic and self-guided, as opposed to the previous age of Pisces, that was defined by strong leaders like Jesus Christ, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Stalin.

Well, astrology might be a crock, but I think they're onto something there.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, for roughly 200 years, western civilization has held an informal social contract. We would allow a small number of capitalists to own the means of production, and we would restructure our society to suit their needs.

Schools were constructed to turn children into good factory workers. Infrastructure was built to make products easier to move. In exchange, the owners would provide jobs and keep society rolling.

It worked. Better than feudalism, at least, but the owners got greedy. One Roosevelt divided their power and forced them to consider the needs of their workers. Despite his efforts, the economy crashed, and another Roosevelt created a New Deal of government safety nets.

And so after a few tweaks, the system was great. The '50s and '60s were times of prosperity, and despite a few bumps in the road, that prosperity lasted through the '90s. It was so simple. All you had to do was go to school, cut your hair, and get a job.

But in 2008, things once again fell apart and threw us into a recession that may never end. And slowly we've came to a terrible realization: Our leaders no longer have any idea what they're doing.

Maybe it was cronyism gone amuck. Perhaps too much inbreeding. Or could it be that the world now moves too fast for anyone to keep up with? Regardless of the reason, we are becoming increasingly aware that newthe only people we can depend upon are the ones we look at in the mirror.

It's an exciting time, if you look at it the right way. The problem is that we're in a time of transition, and the system is slow to adapt. Our schools are still churning out factory workers when we need leaders, artists and entrepreneurs. We still hope for pensions and life-long employment, while we would be just as productive dreaming of unicorns and wizards.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the math. Let's say you buy into the old way of doing things. You spend your entire life working, saving for the day when you can finally retire, meanwhile putting your money into mutual funds and bonds.

We'll assume you did well for yourself. You retire at the tender age of 65 with a million dollars. Of course, you don't want to touch the principle, so you stick it in the bank and draw interest.

Today, you'd be lucky to get an interest rate of 1% on that million. That brings you in a whopping $10,000 a year. If Social Security is still around, you might do slightly better than double that. How much do you think $25,000 a year will buy you by the time you retire?

There has to be a better way. When you spend most of your life working for a system that leaves you, at best, a broken pauper, then that's a system that's not working.

We are in need of a New New Deal. But this time, the one dealing it won't be a rich factory owner or a president. It will be you, and you alone.

As author Seth Godin says, there are no more maps. If you want one, you'll have to draw it yourself.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be telling you about a few books that will help you draw your own map and teach you the skills you'll need to adapt to the Aquarian Age.