Posted by: Jess Scheve | April 7, 2011

Somethingness or Nothingness? That is the Question

When I first set out on my blogging journey, I sat down and brainstormed some potential blog topics to help me get started. I decided to wait to write the “writer’s block” post because I figured there would come a time when I myself would suffer from this inconvenient malady. I contemplated the idea of saving the topic just a little longer, but frankly I find myself suffering from mental fatigue this week. What better time to write about the topic?

Giant desk and chair with people walking around it
photo by best read cold via PhotoRee

The good news is that there’s a plethora of information on finding inspiration when you hit a wall. Most of the advice falls into one of two categories, which I like to call “somethingness” and “nothingness.” Let me explain.

Somethingness involves evoking creativity by stimulating the senses. Nothingness, is the exact opposite. It involves clearing your mind so you have room for new ideas.

Because everyone finds inspiration in different ways, I’ve outlined some tips for moving past writers block that fall into one of these two categories.


Don’t ask me why, but I have always been one of those people who need a deadline staring them in the face in order to get inspired. I can’t seem to get much writing done unless it’s crunch time. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, we’re not alone. Daphne Gray-Grant from wrote a post titled A speed demon’s guide to more effective writing. Just because it’s quick, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be effective, right?

If the idea of getting dangerously close to a deadline gets your heart pounding, don’t worry. The web has plenty of other great resources for combating writer’s block. Start by looking at your RSS feed to see what other blogs are writing about. Is there something you agree or disagree with? Or maybe there is something you want to add to. Blogging is, after all, about conversations. If you can’t find inspiration in the blogosphere, then check out these great articles:

If you’re choc full of ideas and want to make writing a full-time career, then check out DailyWritingTip’s 7 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Writer.


Can over-stimulation of the senses lead to a creative standstill? I was recently reading Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy and found myself wondering this. The book was written in the early 1960’s before the advent of most of the technological distractions that are a part of everyday life for most of us. Ogilvy talks about “keeping open the telephone line to…[his] unconscious,” (pg. 20). He goes on to detail how goes about doing this:

“I take long hot baths. I garden. I go into retreat among the Amish. I watch birds. I go for long walks in the country. And I take frequent vacations, so that my brain can lie fallow…

While thus employed in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my unconscious and these becomes the raw material from my advertisements,” (pgs. 20-21).

I found this interesting because often times the approach to “hitting the wall” creatively is to look for inspiration via stimulation of the senses. We may go to an art museum, read up on current events or look to the ideas of others in hopes of getting a sudden epiphany.

I wonder though, if this approach is backwards? I often find that ideas come to me when I least expect it; whether I’m driving or lying down to go to sleep for the night. This got me thinking that maybe Ogilvy is on to something. Maybe we need to get away from stimuli in order to manifest our creative genius. After all, how can we expect to draw on the creative part of our minds when so much of our brain power is being devoted to other things?

Think that this approach might be right for you? Try meditation to clear your mind and come back to your work refreshed.

Fight Writer’s Block Before it Even Begins

If you come up with ideas when you least expect to, then check out the concept of Creative Composting mentioned in JustifiedDesign.  Composting is a simple concept that involves little more than keeping a notebook for your ideas or bookmarking interesting articles; however, it’s a creative way of thinking about how you gather ideas.

Pen & notebook
photo by Olivander via PhotoRee

Not only does this give you some ideas to draw on when the creativity isn’t flowing, but it also gives you time to more fully develop them. What better way to combat writer’s block than to be proactive and prevent it in the first place?

Personally I use a little bit of all of these concepts. What are your experiences with working through writer’s block? Do you find stimulating your brain or letting it rest more effective?


  1. Another success!

    • Thanks, but of course you’re bias 😉

  2. I do a lot of somethingness when I’m online I look up pictures to help me get drawing idea’s done. Nothingness is me doing a paper….

  3. I find myself using both of the somethingness and nothingness, it usually is situationally dependent. Sometimes I listen to music to help block out distracting noise and help focus on the task at hand, and other times it just adds to the distraction. I had no idea that there were sites out there that catered to writers block and speedy crunch time writing, and that made my day.

    -Casey Zimmerman

    • Glad to be of assistance Casey. To be honest, I didn’t know there were sites for writer’s block either. I actually found them by accident, but I’m sure I’ll be using them!

      Believe it or not, I hadn’t even thought of music when I wrote this post, but you make some great observations. I think that it’s interesting to think about how music relates to writer’s block. It falls under both categories. For example, you listen to music to help you focus and clear your mind. Essentially you are using music to achieve “nothingness,” much in the same way that people use meditation for the same purpose. Some people, however, listen to music in order to stimulate their minds. Using music in this way falls under “somethingness.”

      Thanks for joining in!

  4. I was directed to read your blog for my PR class with Mrs. Ewig. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed your posts. I am an avid blog reader and I have my lists that I check on a day to day basis, the majority are fashion and design related. Having writers block would be a very difficulty obstacle being a writer. I am an awful writer and I feel that I am having writers block writing this post. I commend you for your efforts. I really liked your ideas to combat writers block. Yoga is another way to clear your brain and I would recommend this for writers block. After I am done with yoga I feel refreshed and ready to comabt my tasks for the day! Keep up the good work; I will put you on my blog roll.

    • You’re not an awful writer Emily – your well thought-out comment is proof of that. Sure there is God-given talent, but the best writers, singers, actors, artists & etc all have to hone their craft in order to be successful. You and I are no different. But you know what I found out? Blogging really helps. Not only will it give you a chance to practice writing but it’ll also boost your confidence…so keep it up! Anyway, now that I’m off my soap box…

      Yoga is a great method for combating writer’s block! I can’t remember where I read/heard it, but I believe someone said that exercise helps writer’s block because it helps you relax and clear your mind. Thanks for feedback and the add!

  5. This first entry of the blog really says a lot about how we are inspired with ideas as individuals. I truthfully have never heard of the terms “Nothingness” and “Somethingness”, but learning about them in detail made me realize that I use both of these when looking for ideas. If I am crunched for time I find that I lean towards “Somethingness”, because I often feel too stressed to create. I feel that my best ideas do come more so from “Nothingness”, because I am in a relaxed state of mind.

    It’s fascinating really, the things we learn from other people. We are all so diverse in the ways that we think . If humanity shared more often to the public how they learn and find their inspiration, people would have more skills to create; hopefully putting an end to writers block.

    • You bring up a great point, Trishina, about being “too stressed to create.” I wouldn’t be surprised if many people find that their creativity is diminished once they get stressed. Stress does, after all, take up brain power which means that less of the mind can be devoted to creative thinking. Even more of a reason for everyone to avoid stress! Thanks for joining the conversation!

  6. I found this entry very intriguing and easily relate-able. Its nice to know that other people have the same problems I have when its time to write a paper. Being in a news writing class, I am writing papers every week and find it very stressful and hitting a wall when thinking of ideas. I thought it was great that you put some humor into these topics and explained them in easier terms. I think that if you add more of these articles that relate to students with finals approaching and somehow incorporate tips or suggestions, you will receive a lot of readers.

    • Thanks for the feedback Jacqlyn! I know people probably say this frequently, but I do think it gets easier with practice. Developing a method for generating ideas is a lot like developing a style of writing. Once we develop a method that works we will be prepared when those pesky walls manifest themselves…or at least that’s what I’m hoping anyway!

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