I have nothing to say.

Thoughts on finding our message and the journey to get there

Jan 13, 2020

Writing Creativity Life Lessons Artist
crumpled paper

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko

There are many self-defeating thoughts artists and creators have over the span of their art-making journey. This must be among the top two.

I can’t imagine every artist not confronting this at some point, especially at the start. The nemesis that shows up from time to time, or constantly, it is nevertheless a necessary evil that must be dealt with if we are to create something worthwhile. Can we put anything meaningful out into the world without at some point having faced this avowal?

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones that has never had to ponder this. Maybe you know in your heart of hearts what you have to say and you’re itching to say it. I have moments like that. But other times, I’m plagued with the thought, “I have nothing to say.” It’s crippling, it stalls creativity. Doubt creeps in, stays. And if it’s not fought through, it can lead to an ultimate giving up of creating any art. Thoughts can be powerful, ruthless trappings.

There’s nothing new under the sun, the saying goes. Indeed — there is nothing new, only a story told in a different light, from a different narrator. And what does this offer us? Personal testimonies, intimate stories, a peek into the human condition from the perspective of each and every creator that puts their work out into the world.

Maybe it’s a good thing sometimes that we have nothing to say. Maybe the creative journey is asking us to face the silence, to sit with it, and see what it has to say to us. It forces us to dig deeper, to find our own way of saying the same thing. And in this, we find our unique voice. We discover what we think about things. How we feel about things. And ultimately, what we have to say about it all.

I spent the second half of 2019 not saying anything, creatively. Not a single blog post, journal entry, poem, nothing. The thought “I have nothing to say” became so dominating it took a hold of my desire to create and stifled it for good. I didn’t even fight it. I just gave up. It wasn’t simply a ‘creative funk,’ it was beyond that. I still can’t really understand or explain it.

And yet here I am, writing my first post in months, showing up again. Not because I suddenly feel I have something to say, but because there’s another thought that has become stronger and louder: “figure out what you have to say.” I’m digging deeper. I’m facing the blank page I’ve been avoiding. It calls me back for reasons beyond my comprehension.

This is my creative journey and I own it. It will not look like anyone else’s… it shouldn’t. The more we spend our creative energy comparing ourselves to others who are pursuing similar dreams and achieving them, the more often we will find ourselves facing the narrative of “I have nothing to say.” This is when we must come back into our own lane and re-focus on our own journey, however haphazard and erratic it may look, and feel.

I have nothing to say. It’s true and untrue at the same time. We may momentarily have writer’s block, be in a creative funk, or have zero inspiration or ideas… we may even give up creating altogether. And yet, we carry stories deep inside us — those told and those untold. We harbor truths we haven’t even discovered yet, secrets desperate to be exposed, wounds desperate to be healed, all through art.

Sometimes we have nothing to say because the thing we need to say has not found form yet. It’s still brewing deep inside us, figuring out how it wants to be brought to light, how it wants to be laid bare to the world.

So for anyone who yearns to put creative work out into the world but thinks they have nothing to say, dig deeper. Live in the silence for as long as it takes. Be patient with the muse; she scares easily. Create crap for a while if that’s all that comes. Take a break. Talk to a friend. Pay the bills. Then, show up again. Whatever you do, don’t avoid the struggle, for it will make you a better creator. And ultimately, it will help you craft your message — the thing you needed to say all along.

Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything. And please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone.

― Alan Wilson Watts