The Value of Nothing

June 11, 2008

Yesterday was my birthday: I celebrated by not writing anything.

For a writer, spending time not writing is precious, in the same way that cleaning out your closets helps grow your wardrobe and having earthworms in your garden helps the soil bring forth plants. It’s the aeration that comes from introducing emptiness.

Empty space is one of the greatest secrets of all creative endeavor, and the one that most readily divides wannabes from masters. The value of white space in page layout; of silence in music; of understatement in rhetoric; and of knowing when the greatest eloquence lies in not saying anything at all.

I think of Jack Benny and Johnny Carson, of Peter Falk as Columbo, of the peculiar genius of Steven Wright — all masters of the pause.

In traditional churches, mosques and synagogues there are these vast empty spaces above our heads — extra space, someone once said, “to leave room for God.” In the same way, the silence of listening makes room for another person, and the conscious pause in action leaves room for inspiration.

Blaise Pascal, writing during the generation of Isaac Newton, when the science of Europe was just beginning to grasp the vastness of the universe, wrote, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.”

I think of these infinite spaces as a pool from which one may sip when the brain and heart become parched from too much fullness.


  1. Kevin Eikenberry

    John – This is a wonderful post. In our busy world, we seldom leave space. Having space of time can be a tremendous source of inspiration, creativity and learning. Thanks so much.

    Kevin 🙂


    Superb, inspirational narrative. As a professional musician & freelance writer, I can wholeheartedly concur. Keep up the good work.


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