By Amy Alkon | Jan 31, 2018
Excerpt from Amy Alkon’s science-based book, “Unf*ckology: A
Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence”
There are people who keep their writing “pure” by doing it only
when they feel inspired. We call these people “independently
For the rest of us, there’s the daily terror of the blank page.
Come anywhere near it and it sneers, “You suck. You’re not
interesting. You have nothing to say to anyone. But hey, go
ahead and type something.”
Truth be told, the fear this provokes can be motivating. For
me, it typically leads to a burning desire to clean my
refrigerator—a task I usually reserve for when some
long-abandoned bowl of leftovers starts growling at me as I
open the door.
Unfortunately, my lack of inherited wealth is accompanied by a
lack of practical job skills, such as the ability to do more
with tools than hold them while smiling flirtatiously. So, I
really, really do need to write. Luckily, I’ve found the
perfect way to make myself do that, and it’s by refusing to
let my feelings be in charge of my behavior.
I do this by writing with a timer—fifty-two minutes on and
seventeen minutes off. So there’s no stalling to the tune of
“Whoa . . . I don’t think I can pull this piece together”;
there’s only that bitch, the clock. I turn it on, and no matter
how horrified I am by what I’ve put down on the page, I keep at
it until there’s that “ding!” of the time running out.
Just to be clear, this clock—a digital timer in the upper left
corner of my computer screen—doesn’t change my feelings an
iota. It simply tells them to fuck the hell off.
This is a beautiful thing—allowing me to earn a living as a
writer, and not just of cardboard signs to hold up at the
freeway exit asking for spare change. It does have its
downsides, but mainly in the housekeeping department. My
refrigerator is often a hostel for developing life-forms, and
with all the books and research papers piled on any remotely
flat surface in my home, my Venice, California, shack is best
described as a “walk-in fire hazard with a bed and an
Sure, this can sometimes make finding the dog difficult, but
there is a simple (post-book deadline) solution—timed tidying
jags! Yes, by bypassing my hatred of the housekeeping arts with
that ticktocking Stalin, the clock, I will eventually open my
home to visitors who don’t come to the door with a search
FIGHT THE COWER
What I’m saying is that you may have a feeling—like
the urge to dodge some scary, ego-filleting challenge—but that
doesn’t mean you have to go all “Yes, your lordship!” in
And sure, I did explain in previous chapters that feelings are
“motivational tools,” but they aren’t necessarily motivating
you in the right direction, right now. Say there’s some person
you should talk to—some Hottie McBody or somebody who’d be
really good for your career. But—whoops!—up come your feelings,
singing their usual tune: “Quick! Find somebody portly to hide
Your feelings are trying to act in your best interest
by protecting you from rejection. Unfortunately, it’s your
evolutionary best interest. Yes, it’s that annoying
mismatch between our evolved psychology and our environment
popping up again.
It would have been important for you to “know your place” (and
stay in it) back in an ancestral environment, where not showing
a sufficient level of deference to the Stone Age quarterback
and cheerleaders could have led to your lonely death by
starvation on some rocky outcropping. But these days, the
crushing fear driving your social submissiveness no longer
makes sense. The worst thing that’s likely to happen to you
from overstepping is getting humiliated; and “died of
embarrassment” is only a figure of speech, not something they
write on the forms at the coroner’s.
This fear keeping you from going after what you want has a
co-conspirator—your “automatic” behavior, i.e., your habits.
Because “neurons that fire together wire together,” creating
behavioral grooves, all of your ducking instead of
doing has turned ducking into your thing. You have
become predisposed to duck.
Earlier in your life, your nasty ducking habit may have served
you—maybe even keeping you from getting your kiddie ass kicked
by playground bullies (back before children were monitored like
prisoners who’ve tried to garrote themselves with dental
floss). However, being preprogrammed to take cover is not
helping you now. In fact, it’s doing just the opposite—keeping
you from getting up on your hind legs and having the biggest
life you can.
The solution is to do what I did: Tell your feelings to beat
it, and then get on with doing whatever needs to be done.
(Which isn’t to say you won’t be scared, terrified, nearly
shitting your pants, or otherwise ill at ease about it.)
To give you an example, a friend of mine—a fellow author—was
chatting with me in the green room at a book festival, when she
spotted Mr. Famous Agent strolling in, followed by a small
entourage. She got excited—and then bummed. She explained that
she was afraid to just go up and talk to people—unlike
She thinks that way because we write at the same café and she
sees, well, the me that I’ve become—always talking to
strangers—so she assumed that I was all cool and comfortable
with that. Hah. Au fucking contraire, I told her. I’m often at
least a little afraid to strike up a conversation; it just
doesn’t seem a good enough reason to avoid doing it.
Excerpt from Amy Alkon’s science-based book, “Unf*ckology:
A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence” (St.
Martin’s Griffin, January 23, 2018).