Have you tried constraining yourself?

~ 2 min read | Category: Newsletters

Over the last couple of years my wife and I have entered a number of “flash” fiction competitions online.

You sign up, pay your entrance fee and then wait for the competition to start.

On the allotted date and time (usually a Friday at midnight) you receive your writing assignment, consisting of a genre, an object and an action that must appear somewhere in your submission.

So it might be: science fiction, an envelope and whispering.

(I always would cross my fingers to get any genre but “historical romance”. My wife would always hope to avoid “political satire”.)

Once you have your assignment you have 48 hours to write and submit a 1,000-word story incorporating those three ideas.

Although that might sound tricky, it’s actually those constraints that make it fun.

The time frame. The word count. The fixed story elements.

(By the way, if you think 1,000 words is tough, there’s also a 100-word “micro-fiction” competition!)

And in many creative fields it’s accepted that constraints make you more creative.

Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough film Reservoir Dogs was shot almost entirely in one location because it was originally written to be filmed on a tiny budget of $30,000.

Many great plays work so well not despite the constraints of the stage, but because they embrace them.

And while your online course may not have the artistic ambitions of a film or a play, you can still benefit from imposing some constraints.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What if I had to explain this concept in five minutes or less?
  • What if I had to create this module is just five days?
  • What if this mini-course was delivered as five, 500-word emails?

(There’s nothing magical about the number five by the way, but you get the point.)

So, what constraints would make creating your course easier?

And here’s a quick tip: the most useful constraints are usually around time, format or scope.

See you soon,


P.S. If you’re curious to give flash (or even micro!) fiction a try, I recommend NYC Midnight.


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