In work and life, when we think of limitations, we tend to think of them as a bad thing. At the same time, constraints also serve a purpose â€“ and can be the impetus for actually getting something done.
More often than not, creative types appreciate knowing whatâ€™s not possible, so they can create within known parameters. Just as kids donâ€™t ask for boundaries, but thrive within them, projects – in my experience – succeed when the walls, whether they be budget, audience or format, are known at the outset.
I recently attended a talk and book signing by the amusing, fantastic, handsome and eternally witty John Hodgman (Vacationland). During the Q&A, someone in the audience asked for advice on how to keep writing now that he was out of college and working in a bank (adorable). All the writers in the room of course knew the answer before he finished his sentence, but John said what we were all thinking:
â€œCreate an artificial deadline. And then keep it.â€
I find my own writing to be best served by a deadline because I know what Iâ€™m pushing up against. Even this blog has a self-imposed hard stop. My fantasy is that readers will be up in arms if it doesnâ€™t show up in their inbox with regularity. But riot aside, I know that if I donâ€™t publish once a week, I feel adrift. Writing helps me know what I think. So without it, I feel a loss. The fake deadline benefits from knowing how these stakes affect you.
The open road â€“ as you may have discovered if youâ€™ve ever tried to create/write/build something from scratch – Â can be a paralyzing place. While I think itâ€™s worth exploring, even a few decisions about what that thing is not going to be is immeasurably helpful in shaping what it is going to be.
It may come as a surprise, but I actually love responding to a creative brief; writing someone elseâ€™s speech, taking over a brandâ€™s Instagram feed, channeling a founderâ€™s voice, or even helping to craft an application to kindergarten as a favor to a nervous, non-writer parent. Why? Because itâ€™s responsive. I know the job ahead of me. Copy writers are proâ€™s at becoming other people and in some ways, are professional channelerâ€™s.
But thereâ€™s a sweet spot.
When the writing assignment looms too large, I do nothing.
When it seems too small, it feels transactional, constricting, and less sexy.
The perfect (personal) project has a wide enough berth for me to be expressive and brave, but enough of a guard rail to keep me from going off the road.
Manufacturing this magical highway, when itâ€™s not mandated, is the work.