Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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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?