Friday, June 29, 2007

The Paradox of Freedom

In a previous post a reader asked me to explain what I meant by the paradox of freedom, one of the tips I list for writing. Good question!

Here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s say that you and a friend are trying to decide where to go our for supper. You say, “Where do you want to go?” And she says, “I don’t care, where do you want to go?” “It doesn’t matter to me.” “Well it doesn’t matter to me either.” “Wherever you want.” “I don’t really care.” This can go on for hours. Days. Weeks.

Sometimes in my writing workshops I’ll say, “Write a story.”

“What about?” people ask.


And ten minutes later when we check to see how everyone is doing, some people haven’t even started yet. Why not? “I couldn’t think of anything to write,” they say.

But, if I say, “In the next ten minutes write a story about a pickle who doesn’t want to get eaten,” every one of them will have a story. Why? Because the problem isn’t that they didn’t have any ideas, the problem was that they had too many ideas. So many ideas in fact, that it crippled their creativity and decision making ability.

It’s the same with a restaurant. If you can go anywhere it’s more difficult to decide than if you are limited. Perhaps by distance, or price, or preference. So here is the paradox of freedom—the more freedom you’re given, the more crippled you become. I know it sounds strange, but there is nothing as liberating as limitations.

So, the first step to writing, actually to making any decision, is to limit yourself. That will free up your creativity and your ability to make decisions.

For more articles and ideas on writing and storytelling, visit my website.


Traci said...

My husband and I have this discussion often. We found a solution. He gives me 3 choices and I pick one. Works almost every time.
I have applied that method to other areas of my life. Narrowing things down, the actual process of it, feeds my creativity.
Great post!

Tannis said...

That's really clever, i often had trouble with assignments where we could write an essay or a story on whatever we wanted; some of us would even ask for more restrictions. (i like the pickle idea) Anyway just wanted to say it was a great post :)

Anonymous said...

Came to your blog through a friend of a friend referring me to this entry. Although it almost sounds ludicrous, the concept of limitations is actually very freeing! I'm going to approach writing with this paradigm in mind - thank you!

kc said...

What a "novel" idea. Whoa. So, how about coming up with a plot for my novel *wink*? I could use less freedom and more structure! LOL.
God bless,