Writing as a Constraint-Based Creativity and Critical Thinking Skill

Placing sometimes artificial constraints on an activity is a fascinating creativity technique. The canonical example might be that Dr. Suess’ book Green Eggs and Ham was written on a bet — a bet that an entertaining children’s story could not be written using only 50 different words. That constraint led to one of the best selling children’s books of all times.

Constraints breed creativity. Create some limits, and see what you can accomplish within them.

The very act of writing is, itself, a constraint. What can you accomplish within the limits of language?

Creativity is required to make a meaningful result.

Writing requires that you be creative and think. It requires that you flesh out, clarify and organize your amorphous ideas such that they can survive the constraints of the written word. Writing not only attempts to capture thoughts and ideas with clarity and passion, but the very act of writing causes the writer to define and refine that clarity and express that passion.

At its best, writing does more.

The act of transforming thoughts into coherent sentences should also cause the author to critically examine his ideas. As those thoughts and ideas make their way to paper in some legible, coherent form, a good writer considers not only the words used to express ideas, but the very ideas themselves.

Everyone has experienced seeing something they’ve written out only to realize that it made no sense. Exposed to the eye — in the light of day, as it were — it becomes clear that it’s in conflict with other ideas, facts, or beliefs. It’s the process of transformation from unstructured thought to the constraints of the written word that brings it all to light.

At its best, the art of writing is critical thinking.

This is another reason that, looking back, I would have focused on my writing earlier. Had I understood that the act of writing as much about the act of thinking as the writing, perhaps I would have been more receptive.

But then it’s not clear I would have valued thinking back then either. Thinking is hard. Thinking is work. Critical thinking not only has us examining our ideas, but ourselves — what are we if not our ideas? Thinking threatens it all.

The ability to think clearly, to think critically, seems to be on the decline. Perhaps that’s contributing to the decline in the overall quality of literacy as exemplified by the inability of so many to express themselves in the written word.

Perhaps they need to write more.

It could help them think more.

If they’re not too threatened.