Sitting Down to Starve: How it Feels to Write With Self Doubt

3 min readNov 9, 2020
Photo by Steve Johnson (Unsplash)

Sitting down to write was the most awful thing in the world.

The stereotype stains. The starving artist, the drifter, the idealistic student, a youth pitied. (The look! ) (The stare!)

My mate dragged me into watching Limitless, a film where the slovenly writer only achieves success through an omnipotent, mind-altering drug. The look, the stare. As curt as I hoped they’d be, my mate turned to me with those eyes saying, “God, it’s you,”. It was that face, in the dark with only the screen doing its shape justice; the knowingness in their eye, the unkemptness of my shirt compared to theirs how could I prove them wrong in the moment? How could I not look successful at failure?

I’d crafted some of my life around failure. Not all of it, as those who write will often have a bit of lost, wanton energy about them. An indifference about absolutism; we’re all wobbly tangents. But that’s the problem, becoming so tied in the many ways in which you might be wrong and someone higher, better might be right. When I sat down to write, a little voice in the back of my head spat a tantrum. I don’t call it mine because it isn’t, it simply doesn’t belong to me. It belonged to something hungry that wouldn’t eat and something sick that wouldn’t vomit. It sounds insane when saying it aloud, but I’ve found that even the most capable of writers deal with the same shtick. One, who gave me the advice I now give myself, sat dumbfounded at how they could possibly write a couple hundred words for an assignment. I’d do it wrong I’d do it wrong I’d do it wrong. We sat there, recycling words from past conversations, tweaking it to adapt to the current exchange. And by far did we get something new out of it. Why wouldn’t we? We’re writers.

Artists are separated into two categories. One is iconic, and the other is pathetic. A guy, a poster-boy for hustler Instagram pages, a guy, unpitied. A guy, who pumps out ten pages a day or whatever and yet still can’t write a Human Woman. They’re cool, I guess.

And everyone else is deemed a poser, a stand-in, a replica, as though the icon never represented an artistry inherent to our humanity, but an individual’s hard work. Sure, justify money hoarding as a bizarrely reasonable trait, but when our kids draw their dreams we stick it on the fridge and forget about it for years.

I think about the art I did when slightly fresher from the womb, less stale and less socially acceptable in my outlook. It was art that was Just Good, and it was okay with being Just Good, as its creator had never experienced a lick of real criticism in their life. There’s a sort of braveness there. There’s a danger there. It was a spirit able to start wars over nothing.

Alas, now I sit, pacifist as I ever was. The market is but a swarm of voices. I am a swarm of choices. Artistic thresholds, as necessary as they are for contemporary standards, feed on hatred. I call it hatred because the threshold grows stronger, obscurer, as we yell at ourselves alone in the dark, cursor blinking, eyes not. In the end, of course we can’t write. Of course sitting marinating waiting to write is the most awful thing. We falter due to something miles pettier than our cringy little vent paragraphs: the toddler warbling “no” to every spoonful manifested. And we starve.