One of the many paradoxes of human creativity is that it seems to benefit from constraints. Although we imagine the imagination as requiring total freedom, the reality of the creative process is that it’s often entangled with strict conventions and formal requirements. Pop songs have choruses and refrains; symphonies have four movements; plays have five acts; painters still rely on the tropes of portraiture.
Constraints can seem like the last thing you’d want for a creative project, but they’re actually beneficial when it comes to doing good work. Anyone who has written knows the hurdle of the blank page, and the feeling that comes from being paralysed by innumerable choices. By restricting the choices available to us, paralysis disappears and we can focus on the task at hand. Don’t believe me? Consider the task of writing an entire story in less than six words. It seems impossible! How can you develop characters, expand a plot, and tell a tale in six words? Here’s how Hemingway did it:
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