A PHOTO of the words “TODAY I MADE NOTHING” spelled out on one of those blackboards with white plastic letters that you see outside of older churches or schools showed up on my Tumblr dashboard a few days ago. Today I made nothing. Today I made… nothing. I kept reading it, one line for each word, over and over, as queasiness settled in.
For creatives — writers, artists, graphic designers, poets, actresses, creative directors, and so on — there is rarely a day we make nothing. Our lives revolve around creating and hoping that a particular creation or series of somethings gets us the job, the raise, the praise, or the peace of mind. Our happiness, and often our livelihoods, depend on making something. There are a multitude of reasons that a day without making feels like failure at best.
With writers — the breed of creatives I know best since it’s how I survived grade school and currently pay my bills –there is the very real trouble of what feels like forced nothing in the form of writer’s block. The people of the pen and keyboards do not go gently when writer’s block attacks — we fight the nothingness and we fight it hard. This is why such intense feelings of dread washed over me when I saw the photograph. The days where I make nothing, where no words will come out of my fingertips and I feel like a monkey sitting in front of a computer for the first time, banging on the keys, are some of my worst. I don’t feel accomplished at the end of a day if a story hasn’t been completed or at least pitched and, at the very minimum, I have created a blog post and sent a networking email. In my mind I need to be out there, at least a few hours every day, in order to received.
But, what would a day of making nothing actually be like?
Maybe not so bad.
One of the very first lessons I learned as an undergraduate studying English was to never use cliches, proverbs, or idioms in writing. My Journalism 101 professor drove it into my head and hands with her red pen scoldings of “CLICHE! CLICHE! CLICHE!” all across my papers. I have largely tried to adhere to these admonitions ever since, but I am going to break that rule here, rely on some old words of wisdom, and suggest that we should stop putting old wine in new bottles. How? By dropping away every so often from our phones, our paint palettes, our keyboards, and feelings of “I need to make something today” and instead embrace “Today I Made Nothing: I have no innovative ideas or art to give today. I lived, breathed, ate, interacted, whatever, but I made no art/words/ads/poems/articles.”
Will the world crumble? Probably not. Will it be uncomfortable? Definitely. Will it lead to better creating? I think so.
We live in a world of constant showing and doing. Here’s what/who/how I know. Here’s a pin of the terrarium I made for my succulents, check out my “staycation” on Instagram, peep my Twitter and see how I overcame my struggles when they got my order wrong at Chipotle, etc. ad nauseum. We are constantly making, doing, showing.
Maybe, if we take a break every once in a while, we’ll come back the next day with more or better ideas. Perhaps we’ll have new wine, not just pretty bottles to put old wine into. Instead of feeling like we’re reinventing the wheel each day or participating in a constant game of one-upping or repainting the old and presenting it as new, we’ll have brand new ideas for something. Try it for a day: let your brain and creative juices have a rest, embrace all of that nothingness, and get back to it again tomorrow. See if all of that nothing doesn’t lead to something.