During an education course, the professor tasked the class with a creative writing assignment. We were told to write a poem about something specific, and this specific something was provided by the professor. For example, after reading a poem in which the narrator expressed a desire to be inside a rock, our professor told us to write a poem about an object that we would like to be inside. We could write about any object we could imagine, but we had to express a desire to be within that object. We were then given five minutes to write our poem. This is what I came up with:
I would go inside Jupiter
Or another gas giant
Because you really can go inside.
I think about how small I would be,
In that giant Jupiter.
How small is that giant Jupiter
When compared to our medium-sized sun.
And as we are already inside it,
Let us think about how small that medium-sized sun is
Within our spiraling, swirling milky-way.
And outward we go
Towards greater spaces.
How many things
Are we already inside?
What’s not one more
to be within?
I would hardly consider myself a poet. But I couldn't help but be
somewhat pleased with what I had created in a mere five minutes. Not
only had I written the poem in five minutes, but I was forced to write
about being inside of something. How was I, along with everyone else in
the class, able to create poetry in such a short amount of time, with
such a restricted sense of time and topic?
I then thought to myself: what if I were simply told to write a poem in five minutes? If I were told to write a poem about anything and everything in five minutes, would I be able to? And if I were able to, would I appreciate my writing as much as I had appreciated my poem about being inside Jupiter? The more I thought about these questions, the surer I was that I needed that sense of restriction to write creatively in such limited time.
The art of restriction is overlooked by many creative writers. Attempts at creative writing are too often discouraged by a lack of focus. It is easy for the author to have the desire to write. It is always there - the desire to put one's thoughts down and create some meaningful and powerful message from our feelings. But we have so many feelings and emotions and thoughts and desires to share our story. In fact, we have so many ideas on what to share and how to share it, that when it comes time to actually writing, we just decide on any one topic.
The choice then becomes the ultimate objective. The author must first choose his path. Nothing can be accomplished; nothing can be written without first choosing a topic to write on. But choosing is so hard, isn't it? When the nearly impossible task of choosing a dinner spot arises, what do we do? Who do we turn to? Traditionally, we turn to the person joining us for dinner and say, "Why don't you choose?" To which that person replies, "No, I chose last week, it's your turn to choose." And this conversation continues for hours and hours. When you finally choose, you find that the restaurant is closed, or that you've since lost your appetite.
Authors face much of the same issue. What should you write about? Well,
the author wants to write about what the audience wants to read. But,
unlike choosing a restaurant, the author cannot deflect the issue. The
choice will always be your own. The opportunity to say, “What do you
want me to write about, audience?” never realistically manifests.
But we have seen what happens when the audience does choose for the author. In the case of my education class, the audience did tell the author what they wanted to hear. The audience wanted to read a poem about wanting to be inside an object. Much like the once in a million occurrence when your lunch buddy actually chooses a place to eat, it works. After the choice is made, the two go to lunch. After the restrictions are set in place, the author can write freely, openly, and comfortably, set within those specific parameters.
How then can we, as authors, self-restrict our writing? How do you set parameters in place that will allow you to create so freely and efficiently? It comes down to making that dreaded choice. But how do we lessen the burden of making such a choice? We lower the stakes. We understand that our topics of discussion are limitless, and we look towards absurdity to structure our creativity.
I believe the poetry assignment worked so well because the restrictions were so specifically strange. Although I was writing about being inside Jupiter, I still managed to create poetry that felt emotionally charged and meaningful. I found that my imagination successfully created content within the parameters, but simultaneously worked around the constraints to deliver emotionally fulfilling writing.
Restrictions allow authors to focus more on the delivery of emotionally charged and meaningful content without experiencing the hindrance of choice. The next time you sit down to write creatively, set a ridiculous parameter. Limit yourself to discussing something strange and make choosing meaningless. By doing so, you will effectively disengage with the preservation of choice, allowing you to focus on your love for writing.
Check out this and other posts on the Writing Center's blog: https://umbcwritingcorner.wordpress.com/author/umbcwritingcenter2017/