Creativity and constraints

What inspires creativity? Time and again we return to the same answer: constraints.

Setting limits on structure, length, even the words we use forces our minds to focus on the task and make the most of what we have. For instance…

  • Write a story consisting of exactly 50 words
  • Use a recognised format such as a haiku (fixed number of syllables) or limerick (rhyming scheme and metre)
  • Write a piece describing a purely visual scene (such as the night sky) without using any words referring to vision

Any such exercise requires ingenuity, not just to work within the constraints but to make them work in our favour.

This approach was advocated by, in particular, by the French Oulipo School. This article (ironically, somewhat badly written) explains some of their methods.

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