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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Sometimes Nothing is Really Something

When his wife asked him what he was doing in the garage all day, Ted, who is recently retired, told her he was doing nothing.

“I thought you did that yesterday,” his wife protested.

“I wasn’t done,” Ted replied.

Everyone laughed at Ted’s story, but I thought, “What an intriguing idea – to do nothing all day and not be done doing it.”

I need more time to do nothing. We all need “nothing time” if we want to create.

Creative insight rarely comes when we’re actively trying to figure something out. It comes when we’re in the shower or walking the dog or lying in bed half-awake. When we allow our minds to wander, when we daydream, when we’re doing “nothing,” when our attention flits from one thing to another seemingly without direction  — this is when we recognize new connections and possibilities.

Research shows that different areas of the brain become active when we’re “doing nothing.” These areas are key to creative insight. We need to stop doing what we usually do so our brain can shift gears. Some of us need to schedule “unscheduled time” so we find balance.

Here’s how Brenda Ueland says it in If You Want to Write:

“So you see the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas. . . . But they have no slow, big ideas. And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.”

So if you’ve been rushing, over-busy or distracting yourself with electronic input like this blog, stop. Go spend time outside or in your garage or wherever it is you do nothing best.

To help you, I’ll stop writing and go walk my dogs–

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2 Comments on “Sometimes Nothing is Really Something”

  1. Josh Swedberg May 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Love this, Rosanne. So true. Funny you would quote Barbara Ueland. I have been reading If You Want to Write and its been very inspirational.


    • rosannebane May 21, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks Josh! If You Want to Write, like Elements of Style and To Kill a Mockingbird, is one of those books I re-read every couple of years (Mockingbird more often).


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