Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly

Why You Can Be More Creative With Less


In a previous post we discussed how constraints can help your Creativity reach new heights. Since then we’ve come across a couple of real life examples to illustrate this principle.

Take to specifics like a hammer to a nailNail Down the Specifics

The first is this quote from composer Stephen Sondheim:

“If you ask me to write a song about the ocean, I’m stumped. But if you tell me to write a ballad about a woman in a red dress falling off her stool at three in the morning, I’m inspired.”

This is a brilliant example of how nailing down specifics can explode the situation’s potential. This is why (as an example) the more you know about your characters, the easier they are to write.

If they are wishy-washy, with vague background and nebulous motivations, then there are just too many possibilities. Your Creativity find his/herself stumped, like a rat in a lab experiment, surrounded by doors. Of course we know the cheese/story is behind one of these doors, but instead of starting somewhere and working our way through the options, we sit staring at the possibilities. Sensory overload!

So start choosing specifics, often the wackier the better. Give your character an embarrassing middle name – Goliath, Liverwurst, Gimblebot – and then describe the parent who gave it to him. Discover the food your character absolutely detests – plums, cream cheese, schnitzel – and then explain why. The more details you add, the more possibilities you’ll see.

As you learn and create the specifics of your character, that character will come to life inside your head. You’ll hear their voice, and they’ll take you on a journey.

That surge of inspiration and the glorious surprises which result all come from nailing down specifics. And trust me, details make the story.

Choose the Hard Road Out of Necessity

Our next quote is by Sally Porter, a very talented woman who wears so many hats in the writing and production of her movies that it’s almost impossible to list them all. The following comes from an interview about the movie Yes, which she wrote and directed. (I hasten to add that Jessica’s never seen the movie itself so this is not a review or recommendation, merely a quote.)

Guernica: What made you choose to do the dialogue in iambic pentameter, and—even more astonishing—in rhyme?

Sally Potter: It came out of necessity. The constraint of verse liberated a way of expressing ideas and feelings which are difficult in the different constraint of so-called normal or everyday speech.

There’s something deliciously crazy about writing an entire movie script in iambic pentameter out of necessity.

What constraints are necessary for your project? Remember, it’s the details, the specifics, of your project which make it unique. Of course Creativities love working on ideas, but when we know we’re working on something truly different, something which will capture your unique view of the subject, then we get really excited!

So don’t avoid the hard constraints. Choose them, run with them, and create something extra special.

What constrants have you imposed on your Creativity?

For further reading on this topic, check out the article 3 Reasons Why Having Too Many Materials and Options Stunts Your Creativity at A Big Creative Yes.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art


4 thoughts on “Why You Can Be More Creative With Less

  1. This is interesting. I read an author’s article on developing characters. Among other things, she wrote about giving the characters physical attributes. She said if you give the character a limp, don’t just mention it casually. Put that character in situations where the limp reappears–repeatedly. I think that’s related to this. lol. I’ve never thought of defining the story, of getting to know the story as well as you know your characters. Hum, I think I know what you mean.

    • That’s a really great point. Sometimes we go to all the trouble of giving our characters defining characteristics and then forget them or allow them to fade into the background later on.

      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Jessica, that Stephen Sondheim quote is brilliant, I agree totally. Soon as we start applying a few limitations our creativity rises to the challenge and thrives.

    We think as artists we should have the ultimate freedom to create anything and not be penned in by any rules or limits. But too much freedom means nothing ever gets created. Like you said, start choosing specifics, and the character/story/song/poem/painting comes alive…

    Thanks for the link love too. 🙂


    • Actually that reminds me of a quote from The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry (which I was going to include in the post but forgot):

      “Indeed it is one of the paradoxes of art that structure, form and convention liberate the artist, whereas openness and complete freedom can be seen as a kind of tyranny. Mankind can live free in a society hemmed in by laws, but we have yet to find a historical example of mankind living free in lawless anarchy.”

      There is indeed such a thing as too much freedom.

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