Monday, 18 February 2013

Limiting Your Creativity


A student mentioned in an email to me last week that they were having problems coming up with ideas. He would sit down at his allotted writing time, switch on his laptop and fire up a blank page in his word processor. And then he would think, “Now, what am I going to write about?” Whereupon, he says, he would sit and wonder for up to half an hour about what to write.

Being able to write about absolutely anything can be overwhelming. With so much available to you, it can overload the brain. The trick is to limit your creativity. Paradoxically, limiting your creativity can lead to better creativity.

Instead of thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write about anything I want, you could try giving yourself some boundaries. Instead, try thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write anything I want about my home town/my last travels/the date I had last night. As soon as you narrow your choice, your brain has something to work on. It can cope better, because you’ve dismissed everything else.

The problem with having complete freedom is that it stifles you. You might have an idea, but then think, No! I can write about anything I like - I might have an even better idea in a minute. And so your brain continues to consider absolutely everything humanly possible. Whereas, once you’ve narrowed down your topic, your brain has disregarded everything else. You’ve already made the decision not to worry about anything else. Limiting your creativity gives you the freedom to explore a narrow idea.

If you ever go to a writing workshop, rarely will you be asked to sit down and write about absolutely anything that you like. Instead, the workshop facilitator will give you some boundaries from which to work. Sometimes, the more restrictive you are, the more creative you might be.

Some of the world’s greatest inventions have come about through the creative use of limited resources. So, next time you feel creatively stuck try narrowing down your options. You might surprise yourself.

Good luck.

12 comments:

  1. Hmmm ... interesting idea; thanks for that. However, my problem is that I get so far into a novel that I just seem to go dry and can't puzzle out how to move the story on. I have 3 such novels going on now.

    Ron

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    1. Hi BirderRon,

      That's frustrating when you get so far into a novel. Do you know the endings of any of these novels? Do you know where you should be heading? If you haven't written the endings, but know how they should end up, try writing the final chapter. That might help you to identify the rest of the journey your main characters have to take.

      Cheers,

      Simon

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  2. Great advice and I hope it helps the WB students who post on the forum saying they don't know what to write about!

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  3. I don't even sit at my computer unless I have at least a seed of an idea to work with. There is nothing stunts creativity better than a blank page!

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  4. Absolutely. Necessity is the mother of invention, and all that! ;)
    I have suffered from this, and one thing I find very useful - besides all the more general ideas for generating topics and story starters - is to use prompts or subjects for writing competitions, even if I have not the tiniest teensy-weensy intention of actually entering the competition itself. It's like standing at the writing equivalent of King's Cross Station - if you could go anywhere, travel along any train line, but you didn't have any idea how pleasant any of the destinations would be, how on earth would you choose which train to get on? You need someone to limit your options. The literary equivalent of Go West, young/old/man/woman! Writing comps, with their topics, dialogue, first and last line restrictions, do just that.

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    1. Nice analogy about the railway station!

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  5. Great advice!! My best ideas originate before falling asleep, when I wake up, when exercise to exhaustion, do yoga, cook, shower, or carry out menial tasks. I use a great app called EverNote to capture my "headline ideas" and then pick one of them during my "diarised writing slots". I capture so many ideas in EverNote that choosing a single one that inspires me on a given day is really easy. It works all the time!

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  6. Yeah, all the best ideas happen when you don't want them too! Evernote is useful - as long a syou tag your ideas appropriately, I find!

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  7. I'm a great believer in lists. Try writing down fifty things you have done - and this can be very general such as been to school, learned to drive etc down to detailed items such as made some jam or picked blackberries. (Easy to think of thirty but the last twenty usually take time.) When nothing comes to mind to write about pick one and start writing. It may develop into something you could use but more often I get bored and come up with a better idea!
    Ann

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  8. Great advice and wise wrods from veryone who has replied to this one. I'll re-read the stuck work and see if I can get a ending and see how I get on.

    Thanks everyone

    Ron

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