43 Folders

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Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

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”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Creative Constraints: Going to Jail to Get Free

A Brief Message: No Resistance Is Futile

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Paul Ford has been posting six-word Twitter updates for a few weeks, and now he's also created the magnum opus of six-word criticism: sexological reviews of the 763 mp3s in this year's SxSW torrent.

Writing on (the 200-words-or-less site) A Brief Message, Paul talks about how the constraint changed his approach and his thinking:

Now when I face a new writing project, I open a spreadsheet. I want a grid to keep track of sources and dates, or to make certain that the timeline of a story makes sense. The grid imposes brevity. Relationships between sentences are exposed. Editing becomes a more explicit act of sorting, shuffling, balancing paragraphs. In this spirit, I'm rewriting some blog software to read directly from Excel. We'll see how that goes.

Yes. Constraints. As Paul shows, constraints get you thinking about the creative process in a whole new way.

Me? I ♥ constraints. 30 seconds. 5 things. Less than 140 characters.

In fact:

Twitter's making me a stronger writer. I think harder about how to say more using fewer and shorter words. Nothing beats hitting the Twoosh. (140 chars)

Let's close with a favorite quote on creative constraint from Anne Lamott's wonderful Bird by Bird. She explains that she keeps a one-inch-square picture frame on her desk to remind her of "short assignments:"

It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.

Well put. (And only 17 characters north of the Twoosh.)

The Question to You

Got a good example of a creative constraint at work?

DanielGenser's picture

The idea of external constraints works in all aspects of life.

Constraints on your physical surroundings works wonders also. I once moved from Seattle to Aberdeen, Washington (a depressed logging town on the Washington coast) for this exact reason. I needed to clear some headspace, so I moved to Aberdeen without a vehicle (almost unheard of - this is logger country) and rented a basement apartment. Other events in my life at the time made it not such a good decision, but creatively the results were astounding. I felt so much more free - to write, create, everything. Everything felt new in that new context. I found Seattle (and other cities with large amounts of creative people) creatively stifling.

Since the Aberdeen days, I moved back to Seattle and got married. After a year in the city, my wife and I escaped again - this time to Vashon Island - a little island a 20 minute ferry ride from Seattle and Tacoma in the Puget Sound. Having the physical constraints of a ferry schedule have been great for me. My money, time and attention are now more focused, without all the glittery distraction-filled lights of the city. It's helped me focus inward and on my marriage and goals.

So the idea of constraints can be used in my contexts.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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