Limitations: How Placing Constraints Can Give You Greater Creative Freedom

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When you think of Dr. Seuss book first comes to mind? For a lot of us it is probably Green Eggs and Ham, it is the book that he is arguably most famous for. Did you know that he wrote the book using only 50 words? That’s right, you can go through and count them if you want, Dr. Seuss only used 50 different words to write that book. Why did he do it? Because his editor bet him he couldn’t. This is a prime example of how setting limitations on ourself can cause us to be more creative.

That doesn’t sound like it make sense does it? To be creative you need more options, you need every crayon in the crayon box, right? Not really. While this is what most of us think, having too many options can actually prevent us from even getting started. With a plethora of choices in front of us we will spend more time thinking about what to do than actually doing anything. We will hem and haw over which color is the exact one we need, or which word sounds just right. We will second guess ourselves, trash what we have started thinking the choices we made were wrong and then start over again with new decisions. While art can be made this way, it is a very frustrating process. This is why I prefer to set constraints on yourself before you begin.

Setting limits on yourself provides you with very little options and forces you to be creative within the constraints that you have. Dr. Seuss knew he could only use 50 words so he had to think outside the box on how he could use those to write an entertaining story. And what did he end up with? One of the most beloved children’s books ever written. When you have limited options and tools you are forced to be more creative on how to utilize them.

Give this a try and set your own limits and see what you are capable of creating out of them. Write your own story with only 50 words. Pick two colors out of your crayon box and see what type of picture you can draw. Shoot a roll of film and see what pictures you choose to take when you only have 24 exposures. Write a poem on your lunch break. Build a sculpture out of the spare parts you find in your garage. Get started doing something, don’t wait for conditions to be right, don’t over think it, don’t second guess yourself, just begin.