Limitation As A Creative Tool


2011-6-20

The blank page is a nemesis for many writers. The hardest part of many creative processes seems to be the simple act of getting started. What to write? What to write about? Where to begin? It feels as if all inspiration suddenly drains away. The dreaded writer's block. No idea, no words.

One thing that can break this deadlock is often overlooked. It is called Limitation.

What's that? you say. Limiting myself? I don't have anything to start with! I am limited already!

Here I would like to disagree. You may perceive the blank page as a void, a nothingness that needs to be filled. But I believe the opposite is true. A blank page is a vast open space. Everything is possible. The whole universe, the real one and also a multitude of fictional ones, sleeps in a blank page. The opportunities are so vast that our problem is not one of lack but of overabundance. We could write about anything at all. So where do we start? What do we pick?

Here's where voluntary self-limitation can help. Given an overwhelming number of possibilities, we let chance choose for us. We roll dice on a list of concepts, draw a Tarot card, choose some images from magazines at random, or pick three words by flipping through a novel or dictionary.

How does this random technique work, and why? First, the actual method matters little. The idea is to collect a limited number of ideas (what I call seeds). These seeds can be single words, images on a card, or objects in our surroundings. It doesnԴ matter whether these things are related to each other.

Then we take these seeds and try to connect them, by creating a story that incorporates all of them. Working with things not normally connected can be a great boost to creativity, and makes for interesting reading later. Tinkering around with these seeds will likely lead to some kind of inspiration, and might even open the floodgates of creativity. If not, at least we got started into the writing and thinking process.

What happens in this limitation process? Given a number of concepts, words, and objects without context, our mind will try to supply that context. Our mind is very good at storytelling. Putting things into context is the basic act of storytelling. And where there is no story or context supplied, our mind will make one up. But we first need to supply something for the mind to wrap around, which is what weԲe doing with our random draw of seeds.

So the next time you find yourself staring at a blank page, try giving your mind something to wrap around. Limit the choices and watch the magic happen.

I will be writing more about actual things you can try in this space soon. Stay tuned!

{This article was originally posted 15th May of 2006 on Alison Gresik's blog 'Wrestling the Angel' wich sadly is no longer online. Alison acted as my editor in the process of creating this article, and I learned a lot from reading her comments and editorial advice! I recently noticed that I had never posted this on my own space, so here it is now.}

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