Creativity versus Constraint . . . for authors

picmonkey_imageLike many would-be authors  most of my early books were written in between looking after children and juggling a job and the dream was always to have more time, more space, more of everything. However, a funny thing happened and as I managed to sell some books and carve out more writing time, my productivity fell right off. It was like now that I had permission to do it for real, I didn’t know where to start.

It got so bad that by the time my seventh published novel came out, my writing almost ground to a halt—not because I didn’t have time but because I was lost on which of the many ideas I had swirling around in my mind. With time came choices and in my case, too many choices. And it wasn’t until I started working again and I was forced to create some structure in my writing life, that my creative juices once again began to flow.

It got me thinking about how creativity can sometimes work best when there are rules and constraints around it. Probably why so many authors respond well to deadlines, because it’s the prompt we need to get off Facebook and get serious about our manuscripts.

Without constraints we are happy to sit around polishing sentences and not moving forward, but by having things narrowed down, it forces us to make decisions and look for solutions (and make us keep writing even when the words don’t look pretty and our skills remind us of a hippopotamus trying to perform Swan Lake).

It’s also why the first time since I started writing, I have realized that treating my writing like a job is a good thing, not a bad thing. After all, when someone is paying me, I have to turn up whether I feel like it or not. Yet, over the years, I’ve allowed myself to not turn up to my writing. I wasn’t accountable to anyone but my muse and it turns out that my muse is just as lazy as I am! So, now instead of seeing constraints and restrictions as a bad thing, I see them as my friends. They are the things that help me create new things. Like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

So, here are three ways that we can apply constraint to our writing:

  1. Manufacture a deadline. If you aren’t published or, if you’re an indie author, give yourself personal deadlines and then take them seriously! You don’t ring up your day job and tell them that you’re too busy surfing the Internet so don’t do it to your writing.
  2. Constrain your time. Break down your writing time and set yourself specific goals. So, if you only have half an hour to write, make sure you get the result at the end. It might be a blog post, or one page of writing.
  3. No matter what genre you’re writing in, look for the reader expectations and apply them to your writing, thereby giving yourself guidelines. When I write romance I need to make sure I have a happy ever after ending, which immediately narrows down my writing choices. Understanding your genre will help create constraint.

I hope these help and I’m curious if anyone else has struggled with too much freedom when it comes to their writing?

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