Why creativity requires boundaries and limitations

Why creativity requires boundaries and limitations

There are two types of people in the world. Those that buy the same brand of cereal every day, and those that repeatedly walk up and down the breakfast isle in search of the ‘perfect’ cereal.

Both of these mindsets limit us.

We live in a world of too much choice.

When it comes to creativity, the concept of becoming ‘too free’ with our work can hold us back from doing any work at all.

Think about that book you’re writing. The reason you’re stuck on chapter two is because there are endless possibilities to progress your story, and you don’t know which fork to go down in case it’s wrong.

But here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as wrong. It might just be a little different to what you were expecting when you first picked up the pen.

Think inside the box

Watch this TED talk by Barry Schwartz:

Choice is the enemy of action. It limits us. It overwhelms us. It muddies the waters.

When it comes to writing a book (especially if it’s a work of fiction), you have an infinite number of possibilities in front of you:

  • What genre is my novel? Romance? Horror? Thriller? Action?

  • What characters do I develop?

  • How many words should it be?

  • How many scenes should I have?

  • Do you write in first person narrative? Second person? Third person?

  • How do I develop my characters arc?

The list goes on.

Listen to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs explained this point perfectly in this video:

He explains that as you grow up, we’re told to live ‘inside’ the world. Society has boundaries, and we live within those walls.

But he states that once you realise that these boundaries were created by people like you and I, you can begin to experiment and influence those boundaries. You can ‘push your finger in at one end and see what pops out at the other.’

But this ability to influence only comes about because there are boundaries, rules and definitions setup in the first place.

Writing your novel

I urge you to read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. He explains the concept of the ‘Hero’s journey’, a staple story journey that has been used in multiple films, books and other storytelling mediums across the globe for centuries.

It explains how Hollywood goes about making big movies.

Towards the end, he conducts a story analysis of Titanic. It’s intriguing to read about how director James Cameron used the hero’s journey to build a complex tale of the sunken ship. How he used romance as his main ingredient in telling that story. How he developed multiple ‘hero’s’ from different walks of life so that a wide audience could relate to the story.

But the hero’s journey is not set in stone. Sure, it outlines the boundaries in which we should all develop a certain style of story, but these boundaries can be played with, changed and manipulated until you have the story you want to tell.

All these boundaries do is give us a walkable path to follow as we write. It’s up to us to veer off into the bushes every once in a while. With rules and limitations in place, the only thing standing in your way is you.

As Seth Godin once said:

‘Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.’