Something from nothing

“I don’t know what to write about.”

It is the clarion call of procrastinators worldwide.

There is this pervasive belief that if you are not writing about something then you are not really writing. As though words have no power, no authority unless they are tied to some portentous subject. Free association, it would appear, is not free. And yet, ironically enough, nowhere is this written. It is a myth.

It is just as valid to write about nothing as it is to write about something. To make no conjectures, to postulate no theories, to hold no opinions aside from the personally pleasing juxtaposition of two or more words.

Just as people can speak forever and yet say nothing of lasting import, so too can people wax jibberish and yet speak volumes.

In painting, we can view both delicately rendered images of nature in all its glory (my personal favourite is Robert Bateman) or the seeming chaotic void of splatter on canvas. Both are art, but speak to different tastes and preferences. Why too cannot words, which are merely the medium that in and of themselves hold little meaning?

Write about nothing. Tap into your inner anarchist, your inner artist, to express yourself in splashes of verbiage that may mean little in isolation but so much more in toto.

Embrace the freedom and release the fear that comes from working without a destination or plan. Fill the void with noise of your soul and spirit, only to discover the noise is in fact a song the tune of which you don’t yet recognize.

I think you’ll find that in writing about nothing, you will find something, and you will stand amazed.

Nothing is rarely nothing

Nothing is rarely nothing

I had no idea

Ideas are everywhere, but they don't always look like ideas

Ideas are everywhere, but they don’t always look like ideas

“How the heck did you come up with that?”

It’s a common question I get when talking about my latest ideas, and for years, my answer was a resounding “I dunno…just came to me.”

To a limited extent, the response is correct, but it suggests the process of ideation is much more passive or deus ex machina than it really is.

Ideas surround me, as they do you. They are in the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that make up our moment-by-moment reality. They are in the streetcar in which I presently ride, the streets down which I presently travel.

In the dark-haired beauty two rows before me who is fixated on adjusting her hair rather than close the window through which the hair-mussing breeze blows. And in the armada of free-range humans who occupy the parkette we just passed, proving themselves houseless rather than homeless.

The challenge for many would-be writers is that these are starting points for ideas rather than fully fledged stories or subjects. These are the writers who wish to be reporters or chroniclers rather than explorers.

Think instead of these idea kernels as pieces of clay, as something that can be moulded into any of a thousand other shapes. Take the kernel and play with it for a while. Give yourself a chance to see what it feels like, smells like, sounds like, tastes like.

Twist it. Turn parts of it over. Reverse its halves.

What is something were feasting on Toronto’s homeless? Imagine a mobile service that will do your hair and makeup while you commute to work. What if a terrorist planted a bomb on a streetcar and it had to travel no slower than 50 mph? Or an aesthetician to the deceased in From Hair to Eternity.

All of these are probably bad ideas, but the ideas have evolved.

Twist it again. Mould it again. Press it onto something else, like so much Silly Putty, and see what sticks.

Keep the good. Set aside the bad. But keep working it until something you really like begins to show itself.

You have no idea the wonders you will discover.