Creative Limitation

Creative Limitation is the idea that purposely limiting oneself can drive creativity. Being faced with limitless possibilities can lead to writer's block. Sometimes setting up some parameters for yourself can help lead to a series of creative moments. For example, imagine trying to write a piece of music for a 1000-person symphony orchestra, with virtuosi playing instruments from all past and present cultures. Surrounding the audience are 100 loudspeakers controlled by computers able to make any imaginable—and unimaginable—sound. This could feel daunting. Where would you start? 

500-member choir performs in front of the Milan Cathedral

500-member choir performs in front of the Milan Cathedral

The Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound, Winterland, February 22–24, 1974

The Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound, Winterland, February 22–24, 1974

Now, imagine writing a piece for a tennis ball. The limits of what can be done with it, like bouncing, throwing, squeezing, rubbing etc. may give you some ideas for sounds you could make with it, and then ways you could organize those sounds into a composition.

Hemingway was famous for pioneering a terse, minimalist style of writing more like newspaper reporting than the flowery prose. He told his friends he could create a complete story in six words. They thought it was impossible—how could you introduce characters, a problem, and resolution?

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

After completing The Cat in the Hat using just 236 different words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher he could limit himself to 50. Green Eggs and Ham has just 50: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you, which became the fourth-best English-language children's book of all time.