Sunday, September 25, 2016

Creativity and Constraint

Richard Powers, author of a several literary novels unrivaled in their beauty, says that "I write the way you might arrange flowers. Not every try works, but each one launches another. Every constraint, even dullness, frees up a new design."

According to evolutionists like the late Steven J. Gould, when it comes to developing new designs—like originating species, constraint breeds creativity. Put another way, we get to enjoy pearls because something irritated an oyster. The principle applies to writing as well:

Tip: Instead of dismissing difficulties, tackle them. That’s a plus for both reader and author.

So which constraints might writers sometimes disregard?

~ Clutter.

For many writers (certainly myself included), one of life’s greatest joys is words flowing so fast that your typing can’t keep up. Go for it. But afterwards? Remember that few constraints are more apt than “Less is more.” Tighten up. Lighten up. Challenge yourself to accomplish the task in fewer details rather than more.

~ Wordiness.

This involves not your details, but how you express them. William Zinsser reminds:

“I might add,” “It should be pointed out,” “It is interesting to note that”—how many sentences begin with these dreary clauses announcing what the writer is going to do next? If you might add, add it. If it should be pointed out, point it out. If it is interesting to note, make it interesting. Being told that something is interesting is the surest way of tempting the reader to find it dull; are we not all stupefied by what follows when someone says, “This will interest you” As for the inflated prepositions and conjunctions, they are the innumerable phrases like “with the possible exception of” (except), “due to the fact that” (because),” “he totally lacked the ability to” (he couldn’t), “until such time as” (until), “for the purpose of” (for).

~ Point of view consistency.

Yes, you’ll find plenty of contemporary novels (plenty!) that shift perspective whenever convenient. Should you imitate them? Only if you’re willing to lose what you’d gain by struggling toward a viable—and creative—strategy for inspiring yourself and pleasing your readers.

~ Tension.

You’ve likely heard, if not applied, some of these excuses: “Don’t readers want a lull?” “Why do mainstream/literary novels need conflict? Isn’t characterization more important?” “I write beautifully. Why worry about suspense?” And finally, “Even if I wanted all tension all the time, how would I do it?” Transform insufficient tension into an opportunity to develop “a new design.” Put your energy into momentum instead of rationalization.

Discouraged about self-editing? Feedback from others? Take any frustration you might experience and create a pearl. Goodness. If an oyster can do it, surely you can?

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