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Why limits matter in blogging and other creative pursuits

October 23, 2016

Mario - sticky notes

Photo: Ronaldo Ferreira (CC)

We are most creative when facing limitations. Typically, those limits are time and money.

Fortunately for most of us, we’ll never have quite enough resources to do our jobs as we wish. Bloggers can always use nicer computers, faster Internet, better cameras, more hours in a day and so on.

But typically what separates one blogger from another is talent and how it is applied. A super-skilled blogger can grow complacent. A newbie can strive with each post to try something new. Where do each of us fall on that continuum?

Even arbitrary limits can create better results. Because blogging has no word limit, I read too many posts that ramble. No one is telling that blogger to rein it in, so we all suffer.

At one news site I managed, I set a limit of 500 words on every post, including my own. It was an arbitrary number, not based on some scientific study of attention spans or ideal SEO triggers — it could have just as easily been 300 or 750. Having that limit forced each writer to be concise. It made each post stronger than if every blogger had free rein.

This word limit forced bloggers to make choices, even under an artificial circumstance. No one says books must be shorter than so many pages, or TV shows must have fewer than so many episodes a year, or movies must run under so many minutes. But we have a word that describes creators who dare to heap on more for the sake of more: overindulgent.

Arbitrary limits aside, some of us face very real limits in our regular blogging lives. For example, we lack time to write posts, and when we get going, we have to stop for other urgent duties.

This constant time challenge can bring out our most creative sides, forcing us to tackle the problem in different ways. That could mean shorter posts, writing chunks on the go, using video, setting aside more blocks of time, imposing earlier deadlines or developing ideas that require less work. Many bloggers simply give up before trying alternate approaches.

But the best bloggers try something to make it work. We force ourselves to brainstorm, on our own or with colleagues, for a better solution. This is the creative problem solving that happens a million times a day in marketing departments, studios and on assignment.

For me, the best example has been Twitter. If I want to see creative writing with the most impact, I look at what’s tweeted about current events (debates, football) and from pithy personalities (comedians, peers, writers).

It’s why I’ll never get tired of reading best of Twitter posts or “Gameday” signs. It’s why I’ll never stop working on my writing, whether with a 140-character or 500-word or 10,000-word limit.

Limits don’t hamper us. They empower and unleash our creative minds.

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