Recently, I experienced some nerve damage that threatened my livelihood.
A trifling thing like a tingly pinky finger may not seem much of a threat; to a writer, it was existential.
Bad typing habits and slouching over a desk for ten hours a day for seven years had taken their toll.
The left hand was colder; the left side of it numb. Every time my pinky rapped against the keys, jangling pins and needles would fizzle up to my elbow.
It was clear that unless something changed, this problem was only going to get worse.
Not writing wasn’t an option. That would mean Death.
The only thing to do was to learn how to write. Again.
The first week of writing with a new keyboard layout was painfully slow. The second was pretty rough too.
Going from typing as fast as you can think to 15 words a minute is like running backward on one leg.
But it got easier, as all trials do.
And that suffering now will make it easier later too — hopefully, until all my bones grind to a halt.
Before we had email and texts, we had paper and that was it.
Reams upon reams of it. Our house was stuffed with paper.
Books of poetry. Books of cartoons. Books of art.
Books for teaching. Books for dreaming. Books filled with the addresses of old friends.
Books of pictures of people that were, apparently, related to us.
Storybooks; technical books; photobooks; notebooks; chequebooks; receipt books.
Diaries and journals. Books of lyrics and plays and propaganda.
Books filled with flowers as thin as the pages they lay on.
And, of course, boxes of books of correspondence.
“Always get them to write it down,” my Mother would say, “so you have proof of what was said.”
“You’ll be surprised how often people forget,” my Father would add, smirking wryly.
I’ve never been able to keep a journal except in the most tumultuous times, when the pen’s scratching helped me process the change; to cope.
But I always keep a record of official correspondence.
You’d be surprised how many people turn tail and run at the sight of a piece of paper with their words on it.
The Blur started long before COVID crept out of China and held us all hostage.
At first, everything was a blur. Childhood is barely distinguishable. High school was a drag, but even that’s a confusing blur now.
University seems like a whole different life now, and a very blurry one at that.
When we got locked in last April, it was no longer possible to hide from The Blur, although it had been creeping up on me for a while.
Looking back over the last 11,000-odd days of existence, it was clear that there was nothing that I could say I did with any real consistency.
Nothing worthwhile, at least.
I cried that night. Soon after, I began to do what I always knew I should have been doing: I started to write every day.
At some point, the days I’ve written will outnumber the days I’ve done anything else.
Then, looking back at that blur, I’ll know: I was a writer.
There’s a super simple way to get creative even when you lack inspiration.
Don’t look for it in the first place.
Inspiration is fleeting and fickle and, quite frankly, useless.
The muse is a lace-wrapped stripper who will only leave you blue-balled, waltzing in with her flashy ideas and power-hungry hips, whispering of screaming fans and glory-soaked riches.
Write down her words when they come but never waste your day waiting for her — for she is with another man.
Palaces are built by people wearing work boots.
Making art is often back-breaking work — just ask Michaelangelo. And it’s always hard graft.
Why settle for the flitting fantasy of the muse, when you can marry the miserably frigid matron of creative work and suffer for life instead.
Not so long ago, the best way to share music was by making plastic sing.
We scratched music into 7″ oily black discs in hundreds of neat rings. To get it out, you would scrape a tiny sliver of metal along the ridges.
The size of the disc changed the normal length of songs because you could barely fit four minutes of music on one side.
At first, A and B side was just a label to tell you what song was playing.
Then record labels began only to put the song they wanted radios to play on the A-side. For a couple of decades, the ‘B’ became synonymous with bonus; a special place where artists could try something out knowing their label would just shrug and say, “Make it quick.”
That little creative freedom has spawned dozens of unexpected hits.
There were many ‘B-sides’ that were as much of a hit as their flip-side. Sometimes more. I Will Survive and Ice Ice Baby are just two examples of this.
We can’t always know what people will like — even ourselves.
Always listen to the B-side because you might like it even more than the A-side.
It’s best to strike while the liver is hot.
Somewhere between stone-cold sober and fighting to stand, there’s a lot of creative juice to be squeezed.
Don’t expect it to be much use the next day though.
Editing sober is certainly easier, but it’s painful when hungover.
Trying to be creative in the wake of half a pint of tequila just adds another bell to the banging between the ears.
The only time I ever truly consider throwing in the towel is when hungover.
There’s a lesson in that, most likely.
But right now, all I can think about is fried stuff with cheese.
Some people have no regard for where things belong.
The other day I saw a bloke walking down the street holding a coffee mug.
Not a disposable cup or one of those reusable cups that looks like a disposable cup, but an actual fucking proper mug. It even had a handle!
The absolute nerve of this guy.
From the wary glances of passers-by, you could tell that this flagrant disregard for societal norms was making people uneasy.
Why does a ceramic mug belong on a table but a paper cup can go anywhere it likes? Who makes these rules?
These little rules exist in our brains to alert us to a difference in the environment that may or may not be a threat. It’s not a rule it’s just out of the norm.
Doing it on purpose is what we call creativity.
Doing it every day makes it a habit.
Doing it in public makes it normal.
Doing it for money makes it professional.
And doing it for free makes it an identity.
Except for mugs.
Mugs are just mugs.
Several years ago, I was staying in the back room of my parents’ house with little idea of what or who I wanted to be.
I knew that if I were going to survive in the world of work, or have any chance of success as a writer, I would need to learn to type.
People talk about how writing with a pen is more ‘connected.’ But it’s also slow and impractical in the modern age.
That connection is learned like any other, and so I decided to practice often to form that same deep connection with a keyboard.
So to start my day, and to instill the belief that I was headed somewhere, I would spend about 15 minutes every morning practicing touch typing. Then I would apply for jobs I didn’t want.
That bit of time invested has probably saved me hours since.
Today, the words flow through my fingertips onto the screen with the same ease as a pen and three times faster — faster than I can think.
The pen still feels snug in my hand. But when I sit down at a keyboard, the words just fly.
Art doesn’t come easy.
What to say?
No wisdom to expound. Or inspiration to share.
It would not be missed if it was never made.
But there lies no escape.
What else to do but make?
Hammer down those dumb words.
Lash the paper with ink.
Rip a chunk from the mould and hack hack hack away until the tears flow.
There. It is done.
If it was easy everyone would do it.
If you wanted to do it every day it would be bad for you.
If you always had something interesting to say, it would get boring.
Best to just show up and hack away until it’s over.
And hope there’s something to be said about that.
One thing I’ve learnt writing these blogs is many self-help book authors are liars.
You’d be surprised how many things Einstein, Aristotle, and Ghandi didn’t say.
Today was going to be about “eating the frog.” I’m not sure why Brian Tracy chose to misattribute this quote to Mark Twain, but it’s a great example of why you should always double-check history: some old white bloke is probably twisting it.
“History” is full of misattributions, purposeful or otherwise.
Of course Brian Tracey, the epitome of white America, wouldn’t quote a bastard French revolutionary writer who committed suicide after the democratic government turned on him.
It’s way cooler if Mark Twain said it. Plus, everyone knows who he is.
Most of our history is the result of pandering like that.
Evolutionary Theory wasn’t Darwin’s idea — and it’s unproved.
The richest empire in the world was in Africa long before Europe.
The Nazis got the idea for concentration camps from the Brits.
And everybody knew what happened at those Church Schools long before they started taking childrens’ bodies out the ground.
Why do you think they waited until the perpetrators were all dead?
But it’s only real if it fits the narrative.
A common misconception about being creative is that it’s enjoyable.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Being creative is fun. Creating for a living is work.
No muse appears for a deadline. We’ve just got to sit down and start working.
We won’t get calloused hands, but we’ll probably get repetitive strain injury. Our back won’t break from hauling stones, but it will creak from hours hunched over a table.
Being creative is rarely fun for long.
But it sure as hell is rewarding when you eke out something where there was nothing before — not even the desire to create.
As a great pugilist once said, the fight is won long before we dance under the lights.
Just like the race is run a dozen different ways before we even cross the starting line. And the book is written over hundreds of early mornings, with words that are never read.
The training we do every day shapes our future.
What does your day prepare for you?
For a long time, I wasn’t a writer.
I had dreamed about it, but I didn’t have anything that proved it. Nothing had been written.
Evading and denying my inner writer caused great anguish and uncertainty in my life. Later, I found some solace because my work involved writing, but deep down, that wasn’t enough.
It was writing, sure, but it wasn’t my writing. Copywriting is all about writing for someone else in someone else’s voice, after all. But it paid the bills.
Writing to you every day changed everything. Just that tiny bit of doing, and suddenly, I was.
It’s not like it’s easy writing every day. Some days, it’s not even enjoyable. But I write every day because that is what writers do.
Doing is being. Either we do, or we’re not.
But when we are, and we don’t, that’s when things get really messy.
This week, the 202nd KaizenBen blog post was published.
There’s a story behind the 25,202 number, which we’ll save for another day. But I’ll give you a hint and tell you that I’ll be ninety-nine and a half years old by the time the 25,202nd blog post goes out.
If I haven’t kicked the bucket, that is.
With any luck, the commitment might drag a few more undeserving years out of me, and I shall drop dead moments after hitting ‘Publish.’
It’s pretty sobering to see your life reduced to a handful of digits.
25,202 blogs left to write.
25,202 days left to live.
For most things, that’s more than enough. But until that moment, the days had seemed countless.
It wasn’t until those immortal snakes danced across my notepad that fateful morning that I realized: it wasn’t very long at all.
And only 24,999 left to go!
There was a big, stubborn rock sitting on my desk this morning.
It took me 15 minutes to move it off, by writing, “Get the ball rolling.”
Rolling the ball off the line is the official way to start a game of football. Once the ball is moving, the game has begun.
We use this phrase at work too, where it means we’ve talked a project to death and must begin the game of creating.
The implication is that it takes a bit of effort to get the ball rolling, but things get easier once momentum is on our side.
Inertia is difficult to overcome — especially if we’re making something new. But once we put in the energy to start, it’s tough to stop.
Fortunately, all it takes to get the ball rolling is a little nudge in the right direction.
It doesn’t have to be new or shiny.
It doesn’t have to be interesting or original.
It doesn’t have to be exciting or controversial.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or polished.
It doesn’t even have to be finished.
That leaves an awful lot of things it could be, and not many excuses why it couldn’t.
Better it be made bad than never to be at all.
And it does have to be made.
Originality is almost as big a curse as perfection.
For millennia creatives have wasted their time trying to “be original.”
Due to the laws of nature, both measurable and imperceptible, nothing can be the same twice.
Nothing is the same. Nothing is original.
Even if it looks roughly the same. Even if we try to make it precisely the same — and we do — we’ll always cock it up somehow, and it’ll be its own, new, slightly different, not perfect thing.
The best creatives learn to do this “stealing like an artist” better than anyone else: taking something you like and doing it your way.
And although imperfect unoriginality might the best we can do.
It’s always a damn sight better than doing nothing.
In 1945, a decorated Captain in the Red Army wrote a letter that destroyed his life.
As the war ended, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s battle with the USSR began.
He spent eight years in the GULAG, writing without pen or paper. After his release, Alek continued writing secretly.
When he published a story about life in the slave camps, Russia made him a famous writer for a while. But then the regime changed its mind and began destroying his work.
Alek wrote feverishly in secret, spreading his words with friends of friends across borders.
In 1970 those words won him a Nobel Prize. Then a year later, the KGB tried to kill him. So Alek smuggled his most dangerous words out of the country and published them worldwide.
The USSR told him he wasn’t Russian anymore and exiled him. But it was too late.
His words had unveiled the brutality of the regime.
And Alek kept writing until the USSR collapsed completely.
Shortly after, he got told he was Russian again and could return. After a little while, he did. And after his death in 2008, The Gulag Archipelago became required reading in Russian schools.
To show words can be very dangerous indeed.
Often, it takes a lot less than we think.
We don’t need a million dollars to be rich.
We don’t need to run an ultra-marathon to be a runner.
Planting one tree is enough to start a forest.
And fifty words are enough to be a writer.
Soon after discovering the monumental Seth Godin, I unsubscribed from his email list and decided never to think of him again.
Not only was it frustrating that some of his blogs were just a couple of lines — not even paragraphs — but it was frustrating that I had written nothing at all.
Writing a daily blog always seemed like the sort of thing I should be doing and yet, for some reason, could never quite manage to do.
Seth’s wonderfully elegant and effortless scrawling reminded me that for all I called myself a writer, I could never do that.
It was magic if I wrote once every six months. And a miracle if it got shipped once a year. Whatever it was that people like that had, I didn’t have it.
I could never do that.
Seven years later and Seth Godin pops up in my life again, talking about The Practice.
And suddenly, it all made sense.
The outcome wasn’t the point; just like ‘enlightenment isn’t the point of meditating.
Don’t write to sell a book. Don’t write to get rich (good luck with that). Don’t write to get famous.
Write every day because that’s what writers do.
All those years spent trying to change into someone worthy of writing every day — a real writer — were just me hiding from myself.
All it took was actually doing it, and all of a sudden, I was.
It wasn’t until I was 27 that I went skinny dipping.
Out in the Bay of Dragons in North Vietnam, my head swimming from Bia Hanoi and cheap rice wine, I finally took my clothes off in front of people I wasn’t about to have sex with.
And we plunged into the dark, star-speckled water, and I was free.
It still took another three years before I had the nerve to show myself to anybody.
I had been holding myself back, fretting about what people would think of me, laying my thoughts bare to the world; worrying what other people would think about what I think.
And whether I would measure up to everyone else writing out there.
But you know what?
Just like that balmy night on Monkey Island, as soon as I took my clothes off, I stopped caring.
It was the easiest, most natural thing in the world.
Whatever it is that you’re hiding inside you, put it out there.
You were born that way.
The more I write, the more I realize how important it is to the soul to write — to create.
To make a mark; a little spark.
To rub my fingers against the fabric of reality and warm it in my favour.
We’re all out here, one of eight billion souls (that we know) trying to figure out Why in our own little way.
What else is life but a reason to share our little spark, our short story, with the rest of the world?
You’re you. And we’re here.
So, start a fire and let the rest of us know.
We’re listening. We want to hear you.
That’s how we make fire.
And that’s how we change the world.
There’s a lot of money to be made in the world of Art.
There’s a lot of poverty to be made as well.
One of the travesties of our childhood is that if you weren’t ‘creative’ then you didn’t get to do creative stuff.
But being human is being creative. It’s not something for ‘creative people.’
People are creative but we get trapped into thinking that what matters is that other people pay for it.
I’m blessed that anyone reads this; I truly am.
But strangely, it wasn’t until I accepted nobody might read it that I was able to start writing it at all.
Nobody knows who said this but I suspect Mark Manson made it up in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.
In the story, he asks a prolific author how he managed to write 70 novels.
The author’s answer is simple: 200 shitty words a day.
That’s it. That’s the secret to motivation. The ‘secret’ to creating prolific work — and to success.
Motivation isn’t outside ourselves, it’s something we give to ourselves through doing.
If you want to get motivated, just do something; anything.
It could be as simple as making your bed.
Because when you take that one little step forwards and you’ll create momentum that makes the next step easier.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good.
You just have to get it done.
And thanks for reading mine.