I taught a class of artists recently, and a poetry student asked me this question afterward.
“And so what do you do on those days of self doubt? When you don’t have anything to write about, and you think you’re a failure at this whole thing?”
Oh, you mean, how do I begin my every morning of my writing life??
I give myself grace. I’m careful about what I tell myself.
I don’t say, “I’m a failure at this. Who am I kidding? I have no idea what I’m doing. Somebody’s going to blow the whistle on this fraud at any moment, and all measures of book contracts will be thrown out the window.”
I don’t say, “Whatever, Trish. Stop writing. Nobody cares what you think anyway.”
But I have to replace those words with something else, or those thoughts win. So instead, I say, “Not a whole lot of words are coming my way right now. Maybe I’ll read a book until the words find me. Hey, it’s okay. It’s a slow writing day. I’ll write about what it feels like to have nothing to say.”
And I write.
“But what do you do when you can’t write? When you really have nothing to say?”
Nothing is more suffocating than straining to create. So when I’ve got nothing to make, I step away from the process. I step away, and I live for a little while. Art is born of life; life is born of art. They cannot exist without each other. So, if my artistic well is running dry, then it’s time to give it some new experiences. Go live a bit. Then write about it.
“And what do you do when you really think you don’t have any right to call yourself an artist?”
Well, see, the thing is? You can trick yourself into believing you are one. When people ask what you do? Say, “I’m a writer.” Or poet. Or singer/songwriter. Or philosopher. Claim it. And before you know it, you’ll start to believe it.
Write it down somewhere. Start to say it. And you’ll start to believe it.