skip to Main Content

Talker’s Block, The Empathetic Heart of Oliver Sacks, & Being Worth More Than Your Salary (Reading Notes 7.11.18)

Resource: Talker’s block


The key to writing is to write like you talk: honestly and frequently.

Writer’s block is cured by giving ourselves the permission to show up even when what we produce is less than perfect. This permission comes from the realization that our brain processes information differently when it knows we have to show up. When we know we need to write something every day, our defense mechanisms will try to protect us from looking bad by forcing us to get better. The more you put yourself out there, the more you incentivize yourself to improve.


“No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.”

“The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.”

“If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.”

“Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure. Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better. I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing. Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.”

Resource: Love, Lunacy, and a Life Fully Lived: Oliver Sacks, the Science of Seeing, and the Art of Being Seen


I was particularly moved by Oliver Sacks’s recounting of the conversation he had with his father about “preferring boys” over girls. Knowing that his mother wouldn’t be able to handle it, Oliver asked his father to not saying anything, but his request was ignored. The mother was very angry with Oliver and told him she wish he was never born. What was most impressive was his the empathy and charity he demonstrated in accounting for his mother’s fear-based reaction. It’s a powerful illustration of how parents are still human and how they can wound their children with fear-based reactions in spite of their best intentions. But it’s also a powerful illustration of how children can learn to forgive their parents and interpret them with grace.


“I almost never speak to people in the street. But some years ago, there was a lunar eclipse, and I went outside to view it with my little 20x telescope. Everyone else on the busy sidewalk seemed oblivious to the extraordinary celestial happening above them, so I stopped people, saying, “Look! Look what’s happening to the moon!” and pressing my telescope into their hands. People were taken aback at being approached in this way, but, intrigued by my manifestly innocent enthusiasm, they raised the telescope to their eyes, “wowed,” and handed it back. “Hey, man, thanks for letting me look at that,” or “Gee, thanks for showing me.”

“In a sense, Dr. Sacks has spent half a century pushing a telescope into our hands and inviting us, with the same innocent and infectious enthusiasm, to peer into an object even more remote and mysterious — the human mindscape — until we wow. “

“He recounts a pivotal conversation with his father as he was about to depart for his university studies at Oxford at the age of eighteen: “You don’t seem to have many girlfriends,” he said. “Don’t you like girls?” “They’re all right,” I answered, wishing the conversation would stop. “Perhaps you prefer boys?” he persisted. “Yes, I do — but it’s just a feeling — I have never ‘done’ anything,” and then I added, fearfully, “Don’t tell Ma — she won’t be able to take it.” But my father did tell her, and the next morning she came down with a face of thunder, a face I had never seen before. “You are an abomination,” she said. “I wish you had never been born.” Then she left and did not speak to me for several days. When she did speak, there was no reference to what she had said (nor did she ever refer to the matter again), but something had come between us.”

“We are all creatures of our upbringings, our cultures, our times. And I have needed to remind myself, repeatedly, that my mother was born in the 1890s and had an Orthodox upbringing and that in England in the 1950s homosexual behavior was treated not only as a perversion but as a criminal offense. I have to remember, too, that sex is one of those areas — like religion and politics — where otherwise decent and rational people may have intense, irrational feelings.”

“My mother did not mean to be cruel, to wish me dead. She was suddenly overwhelmed, I now realize, and she probably regretted her words or perhaps partitioned them off in a closeted part of her mind. But her words haunted me for much of my life and played a major part in inhibiting and injecting with guilt what should have been a free and joyous expression of sexuality.”

Resource: “You’ll pay a lot but you’ll get more than you paid for”


The hardest part about making money isn’t getting paid, it’s earning what you make. To do that, you have to go beyond the expectations you set. You have to be remarkable. To do that, you have to invest some of the resources you own into a lifestyle or a process of personal development that improves your ability to be indispensable.


“The hard part isn’t charging a lot. The hard part is delivering more than the person paid for.”

“One approach is to keep working to survive the chasm. To hype more and apologize later for all that hype. The other approach, the one I’m hoping you’ll consider, is to charge enough (and then spend that money) to actually keep the big promises you just made. A race to the top, one that doesn’t happen simply because you announced you’re going to try harder. It happens because you invest in training, staff and materials to make it likely you can actually keep that promise.”

Back To Top