Slash And Burn, Baby

Some days are not writing days. Some days are for slashing and burning.

On any given day, I have about 20 ‘open files’ in my brain. These are the tasks that need attention, both personal and business, and I think of them like those old-school manila folders you would line up in a filing cabinet under little alphabetised tabs.

They splay open and slosh stuff around everywhere if you’re not careful with them. But even when they’re perfectly organised, they take up a truly unreasonable amount of space.

This week there were more like 40 files open.

That is an impossible mental environment in which to write, and so I haven’t.

Instead, I’ve been slashing and burning every file I can get my hands on. My to-do list is torn to shreds, and I love it. I can feel my brain unfurling out into all the space that’s been freed up.

This is one of the parts of writing, whether it’s for work or your personal life, that no one really talks about. You need time to do it, and room in your brain.

Creativity dies in captivity, and there is no more insidious prison than the to-do list.

Here’s the unavoidable fact: life requires you to do stuff that is not writing. You have to pay bills, send invoices, wash your clothes, acquire food, answer emails — on and on.

All these little tasks have weight, and when you ignore them for too long, you soon find yourself in a giant game of Katamari in which your life has become a catastrophic clump rolling downhill at speed.

No one wants that, and it’s certainly not how you get good or useful writing done.

So sometimes the better thing to do is to not write.

Take a day or two and burn through everything that’s crowding up your brain where creativity could be simmering if there was a little space for it.

This is hard. It’s not intuitive. It doesn’t feel good, until you’re done.

When there are deadlines looming, or when you know there’s something brewing down in your body that’s going to need serious attention, it’s totally normal that you want to just throw yourself into the writing, consequences be damned.

But consequences laugh at your damnation and they will beat you with a stick if you don’t show them the respect they are due.

So instead of feverishly trying to force yourself to work when the to-do list is getting out of control, don’t.


Take a step back and think about what needs to happen first, so that there’s room for you to make your best effort. Close all those files, slash that list up, take a little breather, and then get to the writing.

I promise you, the writing will be so much better for it. You’ll be able to get so much deeper, so much faster, because you’re weightless, free from all the debris of daily life.

It takes practice; all of this does. But all you have to do is give your permission, and start tearing shit up.