Tag Archives: boosting creativity

Let Me Limit You

Maybe you’ve been operating under the influence of certain beliefs, such as:

The sky’s the limit…

Creativity allows for endless possibilities…

Anything can happen…

Well, sorry, kids. I’m here to fence you in. Tie you down. To lower that ceiling over your head. You are on restriction and I don’t want to hear any whining. It’s for your own good.

Fact is, sometimes too many choices can be bad for creativity. It can lead us to easy and predictable. Limits–boundaries–restrictions–can actually open our brains to finding something new and utterly surprising.

In this fascinating Ted Talk, “Embrace the Shake” by artist Phil Hansen; he discusses how embracing a physical limitation (brought on by his art) led him to new levels of creative exploration and expression.

Henri Matisse was also plagued with health problems but he didn’t let it limit his art. His brilliant and vibrant collages were made from his bed. Cutting paper was something he could do in a prone position.

The rules and conventions–in other words, limits–of poetry is what makes a sonnet a sonnet and a different type of expression than a haiku. The framework is what leads to art.

We all have limitations in our creative work. We have limited skills and talents. Limited knowledge and experience. Limited time. Instead of being frustrated by these limitations, embrace them!

(And be glad your limits are not a matter of life or death–think about the creative restrictions put on NASA in bringing Apollo-13 safely back to Earth!)

Other ways to limit your writing:

  • SCHEDULE: Use time to inspire and re-set your brain. Set a ticking clock. Only write at midnight. Authors (and VCFA alums) Kelly Bennett and Cindy Faughnan are offering 7-minute poetry challenges each Friday. Sign-in and take part!
  • MATERIALS: When’s the last time you used pen and paper to work out a scene or story? What would you write if you had to use a crayon? Chalk? What if you were limited by space. The San Diego City Library is holding a short story contest where the entire story has to fit on a matchbook!
  • TOPICS: I heard author Sid Fleischman talk about his early days of writing. If I remember right, he had jars of characters, settings, problems; and each day he would pull out one of each and start writing. He let the random guide him. Story prompts are another way to be forced into writing about something specific.

As Phil Hansen says in the above mentioned talk, “We need to first be limited in order to be limitless.”

Sarah Tomp

Cross-posted at Through the Tollbooth



(Cross-posted at Through the Tollbooth)

As someone whose life has always been governed by school schedules – first as a student and then an employee – summer is a big deal. It has its own sense of time and space. Life is a different in the summer months. When I was a child, my father spent each summer doing research. So, on the first day of our vacation from school, we packed up our car and headed to a remote lake in Maine. He’d work, and we’d spend three months swimming, exploring the woods, making things, alternating between getting bored and being thrilled and amazed.

This past school year has been particularly hectic and busy – I’ve been looking forward to summer vacation since about October. And wrapped up in that eager expectation, is my desire to have more time to write.

Now that I am in the final countdown for summer break (5 more days!); I’m starting to worry about the exact thing I’ve been anticipating: More time to write.

amazinghappyMy two projects are A) finish a novel and/or B) revise a novel

More and more, I’ve been feeling like I don’t know how to do either one.

But then, last weekend, at my daughter’s college graduation ceremony (yay!), the commencement speaker gave some brilliant bits of advice to the celebratory crowd.

I’m hanging tight to one particular pearl of wisdom: STAY IGNORANT: Expertise and creativity make poor roommates. 

When you have your MFA, and have a book published, and spend a lot of time teaching writing; it’s easy to feel like you know how to write. Or, that you should know how to write.

Fact is, I don’t know how to write and/or revise these novels. Not yet. But… apparently, we’re more creative when we’re lost and confused. Reassuring, right?

junkmanSo, instead of the big grandiose plans of strict daily word counts and milestone achievements to get me through the summer, I’m planning my summer playtime and explorations. I’m going back to my days of running wild outside combined with lazing about on the floor, reading and doodling. Going exploring. Trying to find more creativity and less expertise.

As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


  • Walk somewhere new and/or at a different time. Evenings walks on the beach are completely different from those at noon.
  • eyeballSit. Force yourself to stay in one spot for longer than you want, longer than you are comfortable. Somewhere picturesque and quiet: in the woods, by a water, on a bench in an art museum. Or not: by a dumpster, on a busy street corner, in a barren lot. Be aware of all your senses. But stay still. You might even squirm.
  • Visit a museum.
  • Wander through a fabric store. Soak up the different colors, patterns, textures.
  • Collect. Rocks, seashells, pine cones, toys, anything.
  • Make something. Try using craft supplies from your childhood: paste and tape and scissors and paint.
  • youareniceKeep a doodle journal. I’m looking forward to exploring some of the exercises outlined in SYLLABUS by Lynda Barry.
  • Eat alone at a restaurant. You can even talk to yourself if you like.
  • Challenge yourself physically. Climb a mountain, swim laps, dig a hole. Get tired.
  • Listen. To music, is one possibility. Or try something new: listen to a favorite movie without seeing the pictures. Blindfold yourself and listen to your neighborhood. It’s okay if you fall asleep. Sleep is part of creativity as well!

What your favorite ways to boost creativity?

~Sarah Tomp