A student mentioned in an email to me last week that they were having problems coming up with ideas. He would sit down at his allotted writing time, switch on his laptop and fire up a blank page in his word processor. And then he would think, “Now, what am I going to write about?” Whereupon, he says, he would sit and wonder for up to half an hour about what to write.
Being able to write about absolutely anything can be overwhelming. With so much available to you, it can overload the brain. The trick is to limit your creativity. Paradoxically, limiting your creativity can lead to better creativity.
Instead of thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write about anything I want, you could try giving yourself some boundaries. Instead, try thinking I have 30 minutes in which I can write anything I want about my home town/my last travels/the date I had last night. As soon as you narrow your choice, your brain has something to work on. It can cope better, because you’ve dismissed everything else.
The problem with having complete freedom is that it stifles you. You might have an idea, but then think, No! I can write about anything I like - I might have an even better idea in a minute. And so your brain continues to consider absolutely everything humanly possible. Whereas, once you’ve narrowed down your topic, your brain has disregarded everything else. You’ve already made the decision not to worry about anything else. Limiting your creativity gives you the freedom to explore a narrow idea.
If you ever go to a writing workshop, rarely will you be asked to sit down and write about absolutely anything that you like. Instead, the workshop facilitator will give you some boundaries from which to work. Sometimes, the more restrictive you are, the more creative you might be.
Some of the world’s greatest inventions have come about through the creative use of limited resources. So, next time you feel creatively stuck try narrowing down your options. You might surprise yourself.