Creative constraints can be a source of resistance; it’s only natural to feel oppositional when you’re being restricted. But creative constraints can also be a source of amazing creative breakthroughs. It all depends on your attitude.
This week’s episode of Dancing with the Stars demonstrated the power of two truly creative people working with what seemed at first glance to be insurmountable constraints to create something more powerful and amazing than they probably would have created have without the constraint.
If you haven’t seen Derek Hough and Nicole Scherzinger perform their Paso Doble with a 50s era twist, go here.
You’ll see that when they discovered their challenge was to combine the Paso with the widely divergent flavor of the 50s, their first response was incredulity.
“How are we going to do a 50s Paso?” Hough asked. “Man, the 50s and Paso are… im-Paso-ble.”
But Hough and Scherzinger didn’t wallow in self-pity or pessimism. Hough acknowledged how difficult the combo would be, then accepted the challenge.
Both Scherzinger and Hough were willing to experiment, to try things, to look foolish and make mistakes as they worked toward a creative solution. That willingness resulted in an amazing performance that earned a perfect 30 from the judges.
My experience with creative constraints is not so dramatic, but still satisfying. Last week I found out about a novella contest where the judges will read the first 5,000 words and if they’re intrigued, read the rest of the novella. I knew I wanted the excerpt to take the reader to the first major plot point where the protagonist stops running scared and turns to confront her fears and fight her opposition. Unfortunately, that plot point came at 6,474 words.
My first thought was there is no way I can cut 1,474 words. I figured I’d have to find another “good enough” stopping point. (My Saboteur must be on vacation because it didn’t occur to me to not enter the contest at all.) But I realized I wasn’t going to be happy sending an excerpt that didn’t get the reader to that plot point. So I accepted the challenge with a “What the hell? Why not give it a shot?” attitude.
With a little help from my friends, I trimmed to 4,999 words (including the title and my byline). It wasn’t as difficult as I feared. In fact, it was kinda fun. I was more engaged with this piece of writing than I’ve been since I first wrote it. More importantly, rewriting improved the story; it moves better with faster pacing and more dramatic effect. Good writing always comes from rewriting.
Creative constraints are clearly a gift. Embrace the restrictions. Go ahead and do the im-Paso-ble.