If I don’t write, am I still a writer?

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Sylvia Plath

The biggest challenge with anything creative is being able to keep creating. To keep playing, writing, producing ideas and material and, sometimes, to just get it finished at all.

Like most writers, I’ve gone through ‘dry’ spells when I simply didn’t want to write, or I felt that I couldn’t write well. I just didn’t feel inspired or interested and long periods of time would start to open up when I hadn’t written a word.

After a while, fear inevitably sets in. Why don’t I want to write? What if that means I can’t do it anymore? If I don’t write, am I still a writer?

To me, being a writer is an identity. It’s very important to me to have that identity and I feel it’s woven into the very blueprint of who I am. Writing is my best friend, and it’s been with me in one form or another all my life. My writing changes as I change; it’s a reflection of the experiences I’ve had in life, and also the experiences I haven’t had. And my writing tells the story of my life in ways that only I can really understand.

But I have to continually earn the right to call myself a writer. To demonstrate a level of skill and mastery in the craft. I wouldn’t call myself a pianist if I couldn’t play a note. I expect myself to write, to produce ideas and material regardless of whether or not I share them with anyone.

It’s very hard to not be able to write sometimes. But creativity doesn’t work on demand. 

I think most writers have a fear of running out of ideas. Often the problem isn’t an inability to write, it’s fear of writing something bad. Or a nagging doubt in your own abilities. Fear can paralyze creativity by shutting off the little moments of bravery and invention that occur when you’re fully open to it. When you want to know where it goes next.

I like to understand creativity as a visual image involving doors. Creative people have minds that constantly ask; what if I went through that door? As soon as you’ve stepped through, more doors appear. And more. The more doors you open, the more choices appear. And then you start to invent your own doors, connecting places that aren’t meant to be connected. But in your world, all things are possible.

Fear will make you hesitate at that first door and every one after that. It will keep you on a safe route, opening the obvious doors and making the simplest choices. It will make you doubt that you’re opening any of the right doors at all.

There’s no simple solution when you’re in that place. You can wait for the courage or inspiration to return. You can keep opening doors and hope that eventually, you’ll feel you’re on the right path. Or you can give up altogether. Even if it’s just temporary.

If you want it enough and you believe in it deeply, inspiration will come back to you.

The key thing is – don’t panic. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again. If you’ve enjoyed it before, you can enjoy it again. 

But there’s a reason it’s not working now, and you may not understand why that is until you’ve come out the other side.

I often hear sports stars talk about falling in and out of love with their sport, and needing time away from it to recharge. It’s exactly the same with creativity.

I have learned to see a ‘dry’ spell as part of the experience of being a writer. Not separate to it. It always makes me uneasy to not be writing, but more often than not I do find my way back to it. And then it’s like greeting an old friend who you appreciate all the more because you’ve not seen them in a while.

For me, inspiration returns like a light. Sometimes it’s suddenly flicked on. Other times, it’s a dimmer switch gradually increasing in power. 

But I find there are few things you can do to help it along.

Read back over your work. Remind yourself how good you are. Find new things to write about; read new books, meet new people and have new experiences. You may just be bored with the same themes or ideas and need a change of direction. Take a course, or join a writer’s group. The support network and structure might give you the impetus to write.

Go back to basics. If you’re lacking in confidence, keep it simple. Go back to what you know you can do easily. Write a little a day, whatever you can. It doesn’t matter if you were once able to rattle off pages at a time. Sometimes you have to go back a few steps and start again.

And try to remind yourself why you loved writing in the first place. 

If you really do, that love will still be there. 

But, like any relationship, sometimes writing needs a little time to rest and adapt to what’s going on in your world and find where it fits in again. 

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