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Posted on May 21, 2015

What if limitations were a good thing?

“There is no art without limitation.” – Oscar Wilde *

One of my favorite creative writing professors mentioned this quote last week while we were discussing the idea of control and constraints within writing. As short story writers, we had been tasked with crafting “short-shorts,” so instead of luxuriously developing a story over 15 pages, we had a few paragraphs to compose a beginning, middle and end. The exercise was difficult – really difficult – but I found it freeing at the same time. I couldn’t rely on background summary or long chunks of dialogue to create meaning.

As I cut my short-short ruthlessly, it got me thinking about the storytelling we do at Brilliant Ink. Thinking big and bringing bold ideas to life are what makes us shine, but we still need to relate to our audiences, fit within our budgets and hit our timelines. So how can we take the most inspired, creative approach within the confines of very real limitations?

Here’s what I say: you own those limitations and make them work for you. Here are a few scenarios that I’ve seen in my experience with clients:

  • Constraint: You’ve only got five minutes with a key decision-maker and have 10 discussion points.
  • Re-think it!: Instead of focusing on what you can’t cover, think of what you can. Narrowing it down allows you to address the most important items right away.  
  • Constraint: Your people don’t read long stories on your intranet.
  • Rethink it!: Consider the 3:30:3 rule: You have 3 seconds to draw readers in. If readers are interested, they will keep reading for another 30 seconds. If they are still engaged, they will keep reading for another 3 minutes.
  • Constraint: You’re producing an annual event or leading an initiative and don’t want to repeat the same format as previous years.
  • Rethink it!: Schedule a 1-hour brainstorm with team members and ask them what you want employees to know, feel and do. Based on what you hear, develop tactics from there. You might be surprised at what your team dreams up!

What did I learn from my short-short creative exercise? I discovered that a strict word count made my writing crisper, clearer and more creative. And now, I’m going to bring that new perspective to my longer stories. Win-win.

* Most sources attribute this quote to Oscar Wilde.

Kate Brinkerhoff