Tag Archives: San Diego Library Short Story Contest

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