Dojo of the Mind LEGO

(5 minute read)

I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. I think it’s a feeble excuse, blaming something outside of yourself almost, for why you can’t write. Poppycock. This excuse is usually from people who have deadlines, as to why they can’t deliver what they promised. It’s not something that people who write for themselves suffer with. I’ve never had writers block because it’s not that I don’t have any ideas, it’s just a case of not being able to write them down fast enough. I’ve never had writers block because I see it for what it is: a lack of preparation. (We’ll get back to what this means in a minute.)

Not to say that you can’t also avoid writing by being in a state of constant preparation. That’s actually called delaying tactics, research too. You must write, it’s pointless putting it off till you have something perfect to say.

For me the proportion of writing to prep/research should be 2:1, write twice as much as you research or seek inspiration, but that’s by the by.

No, “writers block” is actually “not in a fit state for writing”. If you are drunk you shouldn’t drive a car, if you are angry or drunk you should not text anyone, and if you are drunk or tired or angry or depressed you probably shouldn’t have promised someone you would write something brilliant and deliver it at this certain date. Bonehead.

But it happens. You suffer from the writer’s equivalent of “man flu”, what do you do? Get good at creative solutions, or Mind Judo as I like to call it.

I studied Judo as a kid and it’s always stayed with me. In Judo/Jujitsu etc. you use the weight (of the person you are throwing) against them. You become a pivot and they become your own personal see-saw. So in writing you use the problem to solve itself.

Many times I’ve had to deliver a piece of writing and not been in the mood, so what do I do? I write about not being in the mood and then the only thing I have to do is tie that into a wicked insight into the thing I’m writing about. THEN I DELETE THE BIT ABOUT NOT BEING IN THE MOOD.

Having got over that minor crisis about not being in the mood, between submitting the piece and getting paid I have time to do the real preparation.

In farming you can’t just hand people crops that you haven’t sown seeds for, watered, weeded then then harvested when they come to their natural fruition. Farming is not magic, unless like JK Rowling you are farming magic wands. You have to do the work.

With writing the crop you are selling is ideas, a facility with words and a certain attitude of mind. In order to harvest that crop on a daily basis you also have to put effort into obtaining the seeds of ideas, planting them somewhere fertile and watering them with other ideas till they cluster together into useful nuggets of creative thought. They don’t have to go together or make sense at this stage but they have to be on the verge of being fully formed before havesting into the silos of your mind.

So how do you farm ideas?

Single thoughts are like a single LEGO brick. They are meaningless and pointless on their own, but collect enough single bricks and you can start slotting them together. They only fit one way, bottom holes to top nubblies. But they can fit in a variety of orientations to allow them to fit together interestingly with others.

So it is with ideas. You have to turn them over in your mind, fitting them together in an unhurried and relaxed way until you reach an arrangement you that you find pleasing. Then you turn over those two and try to fit a third idea, again in a relaxed and aware way. And so on.

This delicate and skillful process is not fuelled by rage and doubt and caffeine and impending deadlines. You have to work on your mind constantly. You have to soak yourself in books, images and music that inspires you, that gives you inklings of unformed ideas that you can bolt together. You must relax and I insist that you meditate or at least close your eyes and not fall asleep (which is what meditation is, in case you were wondering).

You have to write down your ideas, even a single idea that doesn’t mean anything. It’s rare that an idea for a whole piece of art lands fully formed in your brain. You have to tease it out, brick by brick. And that is why if you do the prep, farm your ideas and most importantly write every day you will never run out of material. Even if you have nothing to say, just work to smooth those pathways in your brain so everything you think can glide effortlessly onto the page without any speedbumps in between.

Master the Idea LEGO and Mind Judo and you’ll never have to pretend to have writers block again.


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Trick Yourself Into Being Productive


It’s been a very long while since I contributed to this blog, and it’s not because I don’t care or have nothing to say. It takes time to write something and I just haven’t had the time. It’s my intention to start posting more frequently however, especially after the New Year, so if you’ve enjoyed this blog when it was good, look forward to more soon.

Seed that info away in a small crevice of your mind and return from time to time. 😀

Writing is a hard thing to do all the time, even if you have been as I have doing it professionally on and off for over 30 years. Remembering to do it every day if it’s not the way you earn your living at the moment is hard, but you MUST, and that’s why I’m returning to this blog; I desperately need to keep my hand in.

It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, I actually have too many and that’s part of the problem. Mashalling your ideas into a project you can actually finish is very important. So I have a few impromptu tips, mostly for your benefit, but also to remind myself to take my own medicine from time to time.

  1. Write every day
  2. make notes
  3. do one thing

This is the hard one but this is helped by tip 3. The secret to writing every day is to write SOMETHING, ANYTHING. Write a three line poem. Write a phrase. Shit,  write a shopping list, it’s doesn’t matter. Just flippin well write something down and keep it somewhere so you can read it. I usually have a nice notebook and a pen handy. I write notes (tip 2) and fragments of writing (tip 1 and 3) which I may or may not develop later. At least I can say I wrote something and I can point to it if anyone asks.

Capture EVERY idea you have no matter how nonsensical or worthless. You can’t develop any ideas if you forget them and you WILL forget them. You may pride yourself on having a good memory. Well, bully for you. You are actually delusional if you think you can retain a half assed creative thought for more than 5-6 mins without it morphing into something else or getting blasted out of your brain by an interruption. Write your ideas down IMMEDIATELY if you want to keep them. Lock it or lose it.

I recently copped hold of a powerful concept: if you want to learn or develop or do something more often, a skill or a pastime or a project, just DO ONE THING. If you want to write, then write something. Anything. Write a sentence. In a week you’ll have written 7 sentences and in a month 30 sentences.

If you want to make scale models then just glue one part to another part. That’s all you have to do. Do this every day and at the end of the week (even if you’ve had no time) you’ve glued 7 parts together. In a month you’ll have glued a minimum of 30 parts and it took zero time out of your day.

See the theme? But here’s the trick. I started out this blog intending (if nothing else) to write one sentence. But like as not you’ll write five or six. Look back at how many sentences this intention of one actualy turned into.

It’s a mind trick, but it’s a damn clever one.


Midnight Movie Festival – the 50s

This is just a bit of fun, but there is a serious intent behind it. I LOVE 50s horror and sci-fi movies, and they are a great source of inspiration to me. I put together this playlist of great cheesy old flicks to inspire me to make movies and write stories that excite me as much as these did when I first saw them on TV as a kid. Connect with your sources of inspiration. Oh and if you fancy sittin’ through 16 hours of cheezy 50s movies be my guest.

Maria Popova on the Tim Ferriss Show


Best bit of audio on the web at this moment, the great Maria Popova doing a Q&A on the mighty Tim Ferriss​ Show. If you create anything, blogs, film, writing, food, and what to live comfortably in your skin while doing so, I urge you to listen to and digest this, multiple times if necessary. Seriously, this is concentrated good stuff.

From Tim’s introduction: “Founded in 2006 as a weekly email to seven friends, BrainPickings now gets more than 5 million readers per month (!). I read very few blogs regularly, but BrainPickings is one of the few that makes the cut. It’s a treasure trove. Maria is massively successful, and her output is staggering. None of it’s accidental, and she’s great at teaching what she’s learned. This episode answers the top-10 most popular questions you all had for Maria, including:

  • The single attribute that leads to greatness in any given field
  • Required reading and habits for anyone in public office
  • How Henry David Thoreau was the first to talk about the dangers of sitting
  • Why we must stop referring to our work as “content”

Really, you haven’t listened yet? Schedule some time today or tomorrow.

And if after that you are thirsty for more, ingest this too, the original appearance on the Tim Ferriss show which inspired the Q&A

THE OLD BROKEN HOUSE: a story about us

There is an old broken house in the woods. Originally it served a purpose and served it well, but it’s long overdue for not just repairs but . . . and nobody wants to think it . . . tearing down and rebuilding from scratch.

The people in charge, the bosses, urge us to “all work together” to shore up the crumbling walls and patch the roof for our golden future, a golden future where we can all seek shelter in the house together. But we don’t live in the house, the bosses and all their friends and family do. And we are not “all working together” because we live outside the house in the cold and they live inside.

It is us who are working together.

We are in the cold, working hard to keep the walls and roof of the house water tight and warm. We are hungry because the bosses inside the house need to keep all the food to eat and wood for the fire, and they say they are sorry about this crushing austerity but it’s for our golden future.

We ask them, shivering in the cold and the rain, if they perhaps could save less for our future and give us some food and wood now so we don’t die. And they say they understand, and they would, they really would . . . but they have so many mouths to feed and besides, as well as feeding themselves and keeping themselves warm they are stockpiling food and wood for our golden future! And anyway how can they, the bosses, co-ordinate our work if they are hungry and cold? They need to be healthy to make good decisions on our behalf, surely we must see that?

It’s okay, they say, because in our golden future, which is just around the corner, we shall all live together inside the house when it becomes stable enough for us to stop working, leave our tools, cease our endless shoring up of the fabric of the house . . . because the work is done. Then and only then can we come inside by the fire. So we keep working hard, saving the crumbling walls and the leaky roof, rebuilding the corners when they crumble, putting our blankets and clothes on the holes in the roof. For our golden future.

But then one day when too many of us have died and grown sick and old we realise the golden future is not ours . . . it’s theirs. We will never sit with them by the fire and warm our toes and eat stew. And on that day when we wake up from our slumber and realise what we’ve done, we wait . . .

We stand together holding hands in the rain watching the house gradually drop slowly and painfully under it’s own corrupted weight and fold in on them. We close our eyes and let the screams and cries for help blend with the pattering rain . . . until all is quiet and the dust settles . . .

And then, we heave a heavy sigh of relief and we walk together in silence to find a place to build a new house for all people to live in, in peace and warmth and comfort.

A house we build together. If we share.

Phil South
Some rights reserved 2015