Create Limits

Infinite Possibilities

I love beginning a new project, but there’s something about that pristine page that can be very intimidating. I can remember many times (back when I used to draw often) sitting down with my sketchpad and pencil and staring aimlessly at the paper, trying to summon inspiration from its blank whiteness. I never won those stare-downs. That empty page means infinite possibilities, but the problem was, when something is infinite, it’s not definite. And that leads to…creative block.

Maybe there are some people who can work something amazing from absolutely nothing (take Michelangelo), but I am not one of them. I wish that I had an endless supply of creative thoughts stewing around in my brain and I could just spew one out at will. But it has never worked that way. My imagination can be very powerful, but before it will spit anything out, I have to give it something to chew first.

The Creative Copy Challenge

I discovered a very valuable tool from one of my friends’ blogs (Thanks, Aaron. Check out his site for great writing advice.) that provides a solution for overcoming writer’s block. The website is called The Creative Copy Challenge and the concept is very simple: they post ten random words or phrases, challenging writers to come up with a short story or poem using all ten. Everything is posted to under the blog’s comments. The rules of the game aren’t strict – the point is just to get people writing. The reason it works is because it gets rid of the blank page by creating limits.

I highly recommend the CCC – it’s a great exercise and the community that hangs around there is awesome. Everyone I’ve met is encouraging to and supportive of other writers.

Make Up Some Rules

I’ve found in my own writing that if I give myself “rules” or restrictions it makes the process much easier. And I’m not really limiting my freedom, since as the writer, I can always break the rules later if it suits my story.

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I have fun coming up with limits. “I will paint using only two colors or byproducts of the two.” “I will create a song in which every verb used must be a form of the word ‘talk.’” “I will write a story using only characters that I can create from people I see in the next hour.” (I’m actually planning on doing the last one at some point, so look for a post on that in the future.)

I’ve been using the CCC words of the day as a challenge to propel myself forward into my second novel (tentatively titled Foreign Identity). Not only am I writing the story in order and incorporating the ten words into each section, but I’ve also created another rule for myself. There are two main characters – a man and a woman – and each part of the story alternates between their points of view and is approximately 1000 words (give or take).

Have you found that creating limits in your art helps or hurts the process? Have you created any “rules” for yourself in the past?

2 thoughts on “Create Limits

  • I think this topic is exactly what I love about working in the theatre. The possibilities are endless, but there are always constraints that you are working within. You can push the boundaries as much as you want, but you always have a particular story/character/setting/performance venue/budget that you’re working within. The limits are built into the problem to be solved.

    It’s kinda like being a kid. If there are no rules, chaos ensues. They are at loose ends because they don’t have a solid base of rules to work/play within. There don’t have to be a lot of rules, just a few. But it makes all the difference! And really, people who engage their creative sides are really engaged in play, right!?

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