What links Tom Waits, suicide and the Klu Klux Klan? They’ve all come up in a recent podcast I was listening to about creativity, writing and the mental games we play.

The more I write, the more I realise that my creative life depends on how I handle my mental game – how I use that highly complex lump of grey matter in my head.

Everyone gets stuck, everyone procrastinates at times, everyone has days when writing comes easily, and days when it doesn’t. The key to unlocking that creative flow is how you handle those issues.

The podcast I was listening to came from the excellent people at Radio Lab, I do recommend them. Titled Help! it looked at various ways that different people have tried to get to grips with that arch-enemy that always seems to be sabotaging our best efforts – ourselves.

Nice or nasty?

And this is where the nasties came in. Because it turns out that while being nice to ourselves may well be a useful way to persuade our mind to get down to work – sometimes it needs a bit of a fright too.

Stuck writing his first book, Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, became so frustrated with his lack of progress he made a serious pact with himself that he would kill himself if he didn’t finish the draft.

Would he have gone through with it? Even he doesn’t know. But what happened was that suddenly his writing mind shifted into gear and words started to flow. The start of a long writing career.

One woman, not a writer this time, found she could only give up smoking if she pledged in front of a friend that she’d donate $5,000 to the Klu Klux Klan if she ever smoked again. The horrific thought of having to go through with her promise succeeded where years of trying had failed.

Could you imagine making such a commitment to writing your next script? Or novel? How successful might you be?

Mind you, I’m not sure that nasty is always the way. Tom Waits was also quoted, saying that every song needs a different approach to getting it to reveal itself in full. Some need to be coaxed and cajoled, others seduced, tempted out and persuaded.

And – yes – some need to be bullied too.

That’s the thing about being a professional. When it comes to getting the work done – you need to be ready to commit to whatever it takes.