Creative Constraints In Writing

Creative Constraints In Writing by R.S. Mollison-Read


The word constraint, often carries a negative connotation. Human beings don’t like the idea that they are being impeded or curtailed in any way. We seem to think that imposing any kind of limits on our creativity will dull our imaginations, and prevent us from coming up with truly innovative ideas.

Interestingly, research has actually shown that the opposite is true. Psychological studies have shown that limiting parameters is actually quite beneficial to the creative process. It seems to me that this is closely linked to the idea of paradox of choice, best illustrated in this great Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz; the more choices we have, the more dissatisfied we are with the choices we make.

The idea then, is to find some limiting factors, to enhance your creativity. Instead of staring at a blank page, or a blank screen, paralyzed by indecision, you have an idea of what you cannot do – and thus a stepping stool from where to start.

Constraints were not difficult to find, when I sat down and considered them. Blog posts are constrained by topic, word count, and relevance. My novels are constrained by the ‘magical rules’ that I have developed to make the world believable to my readers. Other writers are bound by the social conventions that society has placed on us all.

Even in my writing process I am finding that constraints are helpful to my creativity. Time, has been the biggest constraint I have felt recently. But having less time to write, has actually made me more prolific. I was rather astonished at realizing this, but I have begun to lean into the process, and embrace the necessary constraints on my process. Creativity, after all, is about making connections, and it is impossible to make connections, if there is nothing there at all.

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos. – Mary Shelley

Do you find creative constraints helpful in your writing process? Tell me in the comments below!

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