Sometimes, the hardest part of the creative process is getting started. In the early 1990s, I used to perform improv comedy in Toronto and the surrounding regions. Doing improv helped me get my thoughts out of my head and onto the page when it came to writing a story, an essay, a memoir, or an opinion piece.
As a writer, I might have sat alone in a room and anguished over editing one sentence for an hour or so. In improv, I’d ask the audience for one or two suggestions and we’d instantly tell a story from start to finish with character growth and plot twists.
Can Limitations Help?
This approach freed me up in my writing. It didn’t stop me from being detail-oriented with characters, story, and description. Instead, it added more flow to my process, it brought more life and energy to my writing, and it inspired me to go deeper with internal monologue, context, and backstory.
I started seeing that limitations aren’t incompatible with the creative process. In fact, at times, they can not only be helpful, but also lots of fun. Sometimes I’ll create exercises to encourage creativity by using limitations.
Exercise: First Word. Turning Point. Last Word.
Here’s an exercise I call, First word. Turning point. Last word. I’ll do this exercise when I feel stuck, can’t get started with an idea, or if I just feel like having fun with words.
I’ll open a book to a random page and note the first word I see. Then, open it a second time and note the first phrase I see. And then open it a third time and note the first word I see.
This becomes a structure to work with.
All I have to do is fill in the details. When I finish, I can always go back to build on ideas, edit, and rewrite. The purpose of this exercise is to inspire and get the words and ideas flowing. You never know what comes out and the process is fun.
Try it and see what happens.