Willing the Will: when mind, body, and spirit are weak:

Whether its a terrible night’s sleep, a mishap at the day job, or some mild illness that dulls the spirit and mind but leaves enough strength for the body to attempt some scribbling, everyone has their off days. How does one conjure an artistic spell if the thoughts are clouded, the body, impatient, and the will, barely existent? Should one simply discard a precious writing day if the mind can barely scratch a sentence together? After all, many of the greats were plagued with sickness; how did they endure and press on during all those years of consumption (Keats) gout (Wilkie Collins) Tourette’s (Samuel Johnson) or bi-polar (Woolf)?

If words can barely be strung together into some semblance of sense, a writer might consider other peripheral but no less artistic work:

Organize. At your fingertips, stuffed in piles at the corners of your desk, tucked in notebooks, magazines, and books, you should have boundless notes, scraps of ideas, and bits of dialogue or imagery floating about on napkins, scribbled on those pesky magazine subscription cards, and jotted down in your journal at random. Consider making good use of non-writing time by cataloging them for easy access when you can weave them into your story or spark a new poem. Or better yet, start plaiting these raw ideas together into a potential narrative. Your mind’s already scattered, make use of the free thought.

Research. There’s always extra background information you need on that dive bar in Reno where your protagonist used to work before shipping off to Phuket, or the history of mariachi in Northern California that will prove the key to your antagonist’s dark past. Now may be the time to really dive into the depths of those ponderous inquiries you have and gather the essential details that will tack your story to a physical reality.

Business. If you’re really in a perverse and sick mood, you can research small presses, agents, literary journals–whatever market you’re looking to send your next brilliant piece to. This drudge work has to be done at some point, and, though it’s not nearly as fun as tearing your hair out over the actual writing, the down times are better than never.

Go home. When all else fails, pull out your favorite story, novel, or poem. Revisit that shining piece from the author you idolize and just can’t breathe, can’t even conceive of living without her work. Returning to your inspiration will remind you why you started this mad endeavor in the first place. You’re sure to be provoked and try your own hand at the magic of art-making. Reading favorite pieces will invoke sacred words that can resuscitate any failing artistic heart.

There’s always work to be done. The challenge is to be flexible and stay true to the art. No matter what kind of mood or malady strikes you, soldier on with creativity.



  1. Good post, Rashaan. As writers, I think we do need to remember that there are many things in addition to actually writing that we can do to remain productive writers. I’d add editing or even revising to the list, because sometimes when we can’t be generative, we can still handle looking at older or unfinished work. When asked what other things I do when I have “writers’ block,” I’ve responded that I cook, or I garden! Generative, creative work, right?

  2. Wow! Thanks for the shout out on PAWA, Barbara. And for reminding me to go back to older pieces. You’ve got me mulling over all the “forward thinking” mania inherent in American culture. I rarely go back to old works and fiddle but tend abandon them as failures, then keep pressing–striving for “new and improved” works. There’s something awfully short-sighted and un-holistic to that methodology. I will definitely be adding your suggestions.

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