The Creative Power of Restrictions


There’s nothing quite as daunting as a blank page. Gasp! That void could be filled with anything. Or everything. Or nothing. The emptiness stymies. It taunts. It goads.

According to Stephen Sondheim, restrictions can unleash creativity. It seems counter-intuitive. Absolute freedom seems as if it should loosen us up, but what gets us going are boundaries to bounce against.

Powerful Restrictions

  • Name a theme.
  • Set a word limit.
  • Pick a genre.
  • Add a deadline.
  • Break a rule consistently.
  • Enter a competition.
  • Play word games (five-word sentences; narrative through dialogue only; no adjectives; no words beginning with A; create palindromes; play with a literary device).

All of these restrictions make it easier to get started and keep going.

Poetry and flash fiction are excellent writing practice for this reason. Both challenge the writer on with their super-tight restrictions (especially if the poetry you’re writing has a form rather than free verse.)

Restrictions give you a point.

Over to You

What’s your favourite creativity-sparking restriction? Please share in the content.

4 responses to “The Creative Power of Restrictions”

  1. I love mathematical limitations. Patterns, like going 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 words or 1, 2,3, 4, 5 in a poem or like the ones in a nonet.
    I love repetition patterns at in villanelles.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Pearlz Dreaming and commented:
    Let Ali know what limitations you like to put on your writing. She’s exploring the freedom of setting limits.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. […] Ali ¬†over on her Spilling Ink Blog, know what limitations you like to put on your writing. She’s exploring the freedom of setting […]


  4. I love deadlines and a word limit. Keeps me motivated and on task… so I’m not the only one … Thanks for the blog …Karen Tyrrell author

    Liked by 1 person

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