Creative Constraints

What do you do when you get into a creative rut? You know the signs.  Suddenly, you suddenly feel stuck, uninspired and wonder why you’re bothering.  At this point you usually take one of two paths: you either walk away to start on something new, or attempt something impulsive and bold to redeem your project and ruin it in the process.

Ironically, one of the best ways to reconnect with your initial enthusiasm comes from less rather than more.  Anything that imposes a limit – time, space, energy, materials, colour, word limits etc – forces you to push your creative thinking harder and further, which  in turn flexes your imagination and frequently makes you more inventive, original and edgier.

I call them creative constraints. Here a couple of examples of how they work in practice:

This month I entered a story for a competition. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the rules. The competition had a 4,000 limit. My story was 800 word over.   My first response was to stuff it in the drawer and switch on the TV. To cut a long story short (groan), three cups of tea and a Mars bar later, I lost 1,000 words, and ended up with a story which was tighter, and far better than the original.

Recently, working with women on a display for a Women’s Pop Up Museum, we discovered we weren’t allowed to use any permanent fixtures (no nails, screws, etc) which scotched our plans for wall-hangings.  After an initial wave of despondency, someone had the brilliant idea of using old fashioned wooden clothes horses and washing lines to hang and peg the artefacts. Not only was this idea truer to the theme of the display (which is based on using objects from women’s own homes to tell stories), but also spawned the idea to make a display which could fold into suitcases and travel to other museums and communities.

So, constraints! Love them!  Embrace them! If you haven’t got at least one bedevilling your ideas/projects, create one.

Next blog we look at how assumptions can trip up our creativity.

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