Creative Constraints (Summer Challenge Update #2)

We have finished month two of the Summer Challenge!  It's officially the half-way point, and participants have posted over two thousand completed challenges.  And there's still plenty of time to join in on the fun!

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Unsurprisingly, I get a lot of good-natured teasing for my love of lists.  Particularly to-do lists likes the Summer Challenge.  And particularly from other creative and artistic people.

It’s the latter I didn’t expect. It’s like they believe that guidelines restrict your creativity, and I’m a little weird for embracing them.  But for me, constraints have always been useful.  They’re built-in creative prompts!  

By restricting what I can use to solve a problem, it makes me think more creatively, not less.  When I can do anything, I find that I often choose the easiest, most obvious solution.  But when I have a creative constraint, I start thinking more critically, and often come up with multiple ideas.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Horseback riding.

Horseback riding.

Also horseback riding.  

Also horseback riding.  

The second version is much more creative, right?

The Summer Challenge can be one big exercise in creative constraints.  The list of challenges is practically a summer-long cleverness exercise.  Will you take the challenge literally or as intended?  You can play it straight, or go for the audacious interpretation.

And of course, you don’t have to follow a prompt exactly to the letter.  If fudging leads to a better outcome, it’s fair game.

As an example, let me share my recipe for a “proper umbrella cocktail.”

Step 1: Pour the desired amount of single malt or bourbon.

Step 1: Pour the desired amount of single malt or bourbon.

Step 2: Practice decorum and restraint.

Step 2: Practice decorum and restraint.

Step 3: Garnish with umbrella.

Step 3: Garnish with umbrella.

Technically, this isn’t a cocktail—it’s not actually combining two or more ingredients, because I don’t drink the umbrella.  Did anyone care?  Nope.  I laughed, and my friends laughed, and that’s what counted.

All of this is good fun for the Summer Challenge.  But it helps in real life too.  I find that I think more creatively over the summer now.  And my work improves in general.  Coming up with new poses or writing ideas is simpler.  I’m already exercising those “muscles” in my brain, so to speak.

Thinking about constraints also makes you pay attention to the world around you and draw new connections.  You start looking at things and asking yourself, “Ooh, could this be a Summer Challenge point?”  Or “Ooh, could this be inspiration for a new project?” 

Plus, it’s a good reminder to not take yourself too seriously or worry too much.  Even with fewer options at your disposal, remember: there’s always another possible solution.  A constraint or two just might help you see it.