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?

Joe's picture

A trend in the posts

It seems like a lot of posts focus on using time as a creative constraint. I'm not trying to get down on the lot of you, but I thought it relevant to point out that time is a constraint for practically everybody: it is the universal constraint. While I don't doubt the utility of forcibly increasing the constraint of time to cause efficiency, I do wonder whether the ubiquity of time constraint lessens its ability to boost creativity. After all, we all deal with this issue all of the time.

While Merlin writes "As Paul shows, constraints get you thinking about the creative process in a whole new way", I'm now wondering whether time, as a constraint, really is a tool for creativity; perhaps it is just a tool for efficiency. Sorry, I was trying to avoid the semantic debate - but there it is: is efficiency a medium for displaying creativity? What new can we glean from dealing with time constraints?

Here's my revised question for this topic, then: what are the most novel constraints that you use to boost creativity? Which constraints (like writing without the letter "e") do you do on a whim, for no logical reason at all? These seem (to me) like more useful tools for increasing "creative" output.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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