02 Oct Writing Assignments

When I was in college I took a poetry workshop course that, looking back, was probably the most helpful academic experience of my student life. I say that because it introduced an important practice into my creative work: assignments. Like I’ve said before, discipline used to be a dirty word when it came to creativity because Inspiration is the sacred light of Genius, and I was going to hold out for nothing less. I see now that the seeds of a healthier creative work ethic were sown in that course, even if it took me a long time to start cultivating them.

It’s a wonderfully baffling thing to me that there is such freedom within parameters. We tend to think of them as restrictive (and they can be), but they can also provide valuable structure to the boundless creative mind. In the workshop, for example, one of our tasks was to write a sestina – a fixed-verse poem format that requires the final word of each line in the first stanza to be reused in each of the five following stanzas. It was one of the more rewarding projects to finish because of how complicated it was, and it introduced me to a form I knew nothing about and stretched my creativity in directions I never would have gone on my own.

Some recent assignments I’ve given myself as a songwriter have been a little less strenuous than that, but just as fruitful. I’ve attempted new genres for the first time, written lyrics to instrumental music and then put them to original music later, and started with specific song archetypes (I had never really written a breakup song before this year, for example). Some other ideas I’d like to pursue include writing short stories and condensing them into songs, writing in unfamiliar keys and modes, and working backwards from broad themes (love, hope, etc.) to their microcosms (i.e. very narrowly defined metaphors, stories, etc.).

I’m finding that the more I embrace habits of discipline, I’m led to inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to me. What about you? Do you find that setting parameters around your work challenges or perhaps hinders your creativity?
//This post was reblogged at Creativity Everywhere in February 2014.

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