I have doubted myself for as long as I can remember | KATARINA WEST

I have doubted myself for as long as I can remember





And in doing so, I'm not alone. I've often wondered: how many of us there are out there, right now, at this very moment? Are there thousands? Or tens of thousands?

How many aspiring artists and nameless talents and hopeful novelists and would-be musicians and potential playwrights and yesterday's promises, all of us toiling in obscurity, trying to find our way and make our dreams come true, all while that cursed question is harrowing our minds?

Can I, or can I not?

Why is it that some of us can't, even if we seem to be blessed with so much talent? What happens to them, those who get lost during the journey?

Checking and re-checking. Sounds familiar?

Some of us have been very illustrious indeed, like Tolstoy, who at times couldn't work for months, or Hemingway, who took a shotgun and found a quick way out, or Schubert, who feared being a failure and proclaimed himself to be "the most unfortunate, the most miserable being in the world", or Christian Dior who regularly fell into depression before designing a new collection, or Clara Haskil, a pianist, whom I love for her music and character, and who after each concert told people how atrociously she had played, once even refusing to play, because as she insisted, she "wouldn't be any good, anyway."

Good Writing Day.

Bad Writing Day.

Excerpt from Witchcraft Couture:

Of course there's no mystery as to what was happening to me. I was having a creative block, the occupational hazard of artists and poets and songwriters and other lucky people. If you have never had it, think of it as a kind of virus: it is infectious and invisible, and it attacks you no matter you do.
If you're lucky, it will be short and harmless – like flu – and you'll get over it with a little bit of a headache and soul-searching.
In more unfortunate cases it marks you for life. It turns into a chronic infection, and hits you year after year.
That's what happened to me.
There is no vaccination against creative blocks. And nowhere else are they as devastating as in fashion which, unlike art or literature, dies the moment it is born.



Where does that insecurity come from? Is it in our genes, or in our upbringing, in the choices we make – or is it simply a question of rotten luck? I don't know. I only know that I have destroyed my writings because a ruthless self-censor told me that I'm not able to come up with good plots or well-rounded characters – or simply and most shamefully, fluently written sentences.

A week later the same text didn't seem so bad after all.

Then there's that added doubt plaguing multilingual writers. You know that you no longer write well enough in your mother tongue, and fear that you'll never do so in your second language – and that makes you a writer without words, which is an anomaly, like an athlete without legs.


So what should a person like me – or you – or anyone suffering from creative blocks – do? Should we go back to school and take more classes in whatever-it-is-that-haunts-us, and become over-licensed practitioners of our trade? Should we go to therapy, try to get rid of our inflictions?

Or should we just grit our teeth and plod along, even if there's no light at the end of the tunnel?

Whenever I can't write, I wrap books. Our home is full of them!

I must confess: I did none of that. Instead one day I just took my laptop and went to see an exorcist.

I live in Italy, after all.

The exorcist in question was a famed priest with a cult-like following, a little like Father Pio, the twentieth-century Capuchin friar and mystic who became a national celebrity for bearing the signs of the stigmata.

When we arrived at the church the place was thronging with people, so that you couldn't find a parking place anywhere near and had to elbow your way through the crowd, just to get inside the building. You couldn't spot any yuppies or executives here – the majority of the people were humble and poor, some disabled, and many in wheelchairs, aided by their parents or loved-ones. And so standing there, my laptop in my arms, I felt ashamed, for these people had Real Problems and I wasn't supposed to steal their time away.

But my Italian friend, hell-bent on curing me once and for all, had the right connections, and so to my surprise I was one of the first people to speak to the exorcist. When my turn came, I repeated to him what I have just told you here, albeit in a briefer form, as there was a sea of human desperation behind me, waiting to be alleviated.

After I had stopped speaking he looked at me, and uttered a long and complicated prayer in Latin, which I hope I could write down right here, so that you and I could repeat it ad infinitum whenever the dark moment arrives. But you see, there was such commotion around us, and I was nervous. Whatever he said to me went in one ear and came out the other.

I'm sorry about that.

Book Heaven: an ancient tower filled with books. All wrapped books shuffle off their mortal coil here.

Anyhow, he told me to send him my first book, because I should continue writing, he was adamant about that. I went back home and worked without crises for months - till one morning doubts started creeping back, insidiously, and once they were there, inside my head, there was no way of getting rid of them. Years later I heard that the exorcist had died. At that, my heart grew cold, because I still hadn't published the first book I was supposed to have sent him.

That's how it is, life.


But it's true what they say, that every cloud has a silver lining, because I would never have invented the world of Witchcraft Couture had I not gone through a fair amount of Bad Writing Days myself. And anything that doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, and nowhere is this truer than in creative blocks, because you can learn to combat them.

Don't ask me how many dark days it took before the idea of Oscar Pellegrini and his magic machine came to my mind. But it just so happened that one day I began to think about creative blocks in a larger context.

For what if there was a fashion designer? And he was as besotted as they come? And insecure, just like me? He tried and tried, but never got anywhere. And then one day, he made a creepy Faustian deal with the underworld. Or the supernatural? Or God? Or simply with his own tricky subconscious? And he became a genius for a period of time. And all his dreams – even the wildest ones – came true.

Now where would that take him?

A retreat for bad moments.

Right away I knew that this book would be dedicated to you and me and everyone else who's still battling in the trenches: those would-bes and wannabes and what-ifs who revise and check and redraft, only to delete everything the next day; those who distrust and mistrust every single word they write, line they draw, and melody they play; those who wish but do not dare; and those who roar like a lion, but only in their dreams.

Whoever you are and wherever you are, you're not alone. This story is for you. Don't give up hope. Don't stop trying.

One day, this world will be ours.