Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

Creative Constraints – Or How to Wall Jump Like Mario


Mario jumping from wall to wallHave you ever played a Super Mario Brothers game? My favourite is Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii in all its delectable 3D planetary madness, but that’s probably beside the point. I bring this to your attention to discuss wall jumps.

A wall jump, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, is when you scale to normally unreachable heights by jumping between two conveniently placed walls. This is a skill Jessica has great difficulty mastering, but that’s also probably beside the point.

The point, if I understand where I’m going with this, is: If the walls are too close together, Mario can’t move. If the walls are too far apart, Mario can’t wall jump at all. They have to be just the right distance from each other to make this feat of game magic possible. (Goldilocks would have loved this game.)

What does this have to do with your Creativity?

Placing Creative Constraints

Some people believe freedom is essential for Creativity. They say endless time and boundless possibilities are exactly what’s needed. Well, I have news for you. That may work for some special few, but most Creativities I know would find that kind of freedom paralysing. It would be like Mario stuck walking along an endless green platform with nothing to jump on.

You end up with too many possibilities and yet none at all. Your Creativity blinks at the curvature of your brain and his/her eyes glaze over. He/she continually waddles past idea flowers and interesting walking mushrooms without ever advancing to the next level.

Constraints are essential to get the game started. For instance, knowing whether you need to create a poem, short story, novel synopsis, children’s story or mystery thriller greatly alters the skills, materials and mindset you use.

Work out what you want to achieve. If you need to write, give yourself a word count, a subject, the first line, a character – something which gives your Creativity a wall to jump against.

Yes, as soon as you start nailing down the specifics you cut off access to other things that could have been. But without the wall you’re really holding your Creativity back from the creative heights he/she could achieve. And the good news is there’s always more to explore later. You can start on the other side of the wall in your next project.

But one wall is not enough. For a proper wall jump, you need a second surface.

Placing Deadlines

While most Creativities eye off deadlines as if they were the grim reaper come to snatch their baby, I think we all realise how important deadlines are to the completion of projects. Without deadlines, you would forever tinker with the details, or worse – never get around to starting the project at all. 

We’re not necessarily talking about massive impending deadlines like ‘must have a submission-ready manuscript by the end of next month.’ A deadline can be something as small as ‘I am going to sit at my computer for the next 20 minutes and just keep writing.’

Search out deadlines (like writing contests) or create your own (like inviting your writing friends around at the end of the month to discuss progress on your projects).

Set specific goals with specific completion dates.

Some Creativities will balk at this, but if done right, you’re really giving your Creativity a wonderful opportunity to explore new heights.

Watch Out for Tight Corners

I mentioned earlier that if walls are too close together, Mario can’t move, let alone jump. Likewise, if your constraints and deadlines are unreasonable, then you’ll just paint your Creativity into a corner where he/she will live like a sardine until such time as you realise you’ve lost the game. So continually evaluate the walls you choose, because their effectiveness will vary depending on your Creativity’s experience, skills, preferences and mood.

Why does all of this matter so much? Well, if you’re happy for your Creativity to potter around on ground level fiddling with the mundane, then it’s probably not that important. But if you want to advance your projects and eventually reach the goal (a finished manuscript or just a big shiny gold star) you need to start moving upwards. And the best way to do that is to wall yourself in. Counter intuitive, no?

Have you found this method works?


15 thoughts on “Creative Constraints – Or How to Wall Jump Like Mario

  1. As a fellow Mario Galaxy lover, I read this blog with delight. I am filled with wonderment at the exactness of your analogy – at what point did it occur to you that Mario, that little Italian Plumber of unusual ambition, was the answer to almost any writing problem?
    I do get paralysed by endless possibility!
    And I do find it surprising and exhilarating when constraints force you to come up with spectacular solutions!
    This is evident in one particular aspect of my creativeness, my cooking. I have friends with a very unusual and limited diet and, although I was frustrated by what I COULDN’T serve them, I found it very satisfying to utilise what ingredients they COULD have to create new and interesting things for them. Because of these friends, I have discovered that there are some very good flavour combinations that I would never normally have put together. It also forced me to try cooking different types of meals that I previously had little experience in, including soups and stews. Now I can make use of these new talents with confidence and ease.
    So hurray for Mario, wall jumping and Creative Constraints!

    • I can’t really remember the point when Creativity happened upon the analogy. It was several months ago now. She’s wanted to write it for a while but we kept getting distracted. (It’s probably come to a head now because my local grocery store plays Mario-esque music to its shoppers and so one tends to expect piranha plants to sprout out of the vegetable section.)

      Your cooking example proves the point nicely! I’m sure your friends really appreciate your efforts, and it sounds like you’ve increased their recipe repertoire.

  2. Great analogy on the use of constraints in the problem solving process. Thank you for this!

  3. Very interesting post. I have read lots on creativity and you are speaking to one of the fundamental features (I think). It is important to have the “left-brain” structure to allow the “right-brain” creativity to flourish in. That is, if there isn’t an effective synergy between the two, they both fail. 🙂

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  4. Excellent advice. As they say in the Mob (or as they SHOULD say, anyway): “Set yer targets up close, Mugsy, so’s you can hit ’em.”

  5. Once in a great while, I get a day to myself, when all I plan to do is work on my novel. I envision how much I’ll get done in all the hours I have to work. Yeah, right. I never, ever get as much done on these days as I envision. Sometimes I barely get anything done! Having no constraints whatsoever turns on the “I can do anything” switch and that’s what I do. I get much more done on the days when I have a million other things to do. Weird human nature.

    • Yes. The same thing happens to me. Isn’t there as saying about if you want something done, give it to a busy person?

    • That is more or less what I wanted to say, Charlotte.

      I recently decided to enter a local story contest with four weeks to the deadline and not a whiff of an idea I didn’t think it would happen. But its a wonder what you can do when you “have” to. With two very good friends to rapidly proof and edit I got the story done and in, three days before the deadline.

      Now I mean to impose similar deadlines on other projects. Wish me luck in foolling creativity that these are real deadlines.

      • Congratulations on your story. It is amazing what you can do when you “have” to.

        Let us know how your self-imposed deadlines go.

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