One of the hardest things for writers to do is to write when they have nothing to say. The common term for this malady is "writers block."  Just as hard, but quite different, is to write about nothing, in spite of the fact that all our lives we have heard that "nothing is easy."  

I recently read John Grisham's book, "A Painted House."  I really liked it, and mentioned it to a friend who is a voracious reader. She said she had read it and it was, "...the best book about nothing I've ever read."  That wasn't a fair appraisal of the book, since it really was about something. What I think she meant was that it was a story about poor southern folks who had nothing. At least that's what I thought she meant, but she had nothing more to say about it.

After thinking about nothing for a while, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked up the word in the dictionary. As I was thumbing through my dictionary in search of "nothing," the thought crossed my mind that it would be most appropriate if there were only a blank line after the word. What I didn't expect was eleven definitions for nothing.

Many of the definitions of nothing were splitting hairs, since they all basically were describing the same thing. But what can one expect when you've got nothing to work with. What I hadn't realized was that there were so many different kinds of nothing.

According to my Random House College Dictionary you can say nothing, you can do nothing, you can get nothing, you can imply nothing, and you can be emphatic about nothing. I'm not sure why each of these warranted a special definition. The most interesting definition contradicted itself by saying, "something of no importance," which basically describes all of the other ten definitions.

The word "nothingness" followed "nothing" and only had two definitions, but then how much can they say about nothingness. It appears that when "nothing" is applied to life -- or the lack thereof -- then you are experiencing nothing, and must add "...ness" to describe the lack of experience.

I decided to see what the great writers and thinkers had to say about "nothing" and opened my Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I was shocked to discover 205 quotes listed as being about nothing or containing nothing. But when I started reading them, most were actually talking about something rather than nothing. It appears that "nothing" is often used to give something relative worth. As in "I'd rather be writing this than doing nothing," or, "This is better than nothing." (I just made those up so don't look for them in Bartlett's.)