Constraints And Creativity: A Coffee Break Writing Challenge

Want a fun writing challenge for your coffee break this morning?

Here’s a prompt that will put a sparkle in your synapses and a skip in your step.

Author Sharon Callaghan* came up with it for Greene Writers this week. Impossible, no way, you’re joking, we said. The boundaries seemed just too restrictive. But we were bowled over by what we produced.

Teachers of creative movement learn quickly that constraints help creativity. If you say “OK, so go ahead and make a dance” students talk and yawn, and can hardly get themselves up from the floor. If you say “Make a dance in which you cannot move from the spot, using only three parts of your body” there is the usual resistance for a couple of minutes, then you see only intense focus, concentration and energy…and exciting idiosyncratic, dynamic and original movements.

And, it doesn’t matter how tightly constrained we feel. The world is filled with amazing possibilities derived from limited resources and elements. Consider the fact that every color in nature comes from just red, yellow and blue. Yet, we can mix them together in millions of combinations. Every pop song, symphony, jingle, ditty, and aria in the Western World starts with just twelve notes in the chromatic scale. Everything on the planet, including each of us, is made up of just 118 known chemical elements. Constraints? Absolutely, But they’re a starting point for seemingly endless creativity and possibility. David Sturt, How Constraints Drive Genius

The deal is that you MUST do the first step before looking at the second step. I’ve inserted a photo that has no significance except to block step 2 for a moment while you think!

20 minutes should be about enough time for this exercise.

Coffee-Break Writing Challenge

1. Write down a 5-letter word. (Stuck? This photo is full of five-letter words!)

beach under cloud


2. Now start free-writing. Every word you use must begin with one of the letters in your chosen word. No exceptions.

* Sharon Callaghan is a writer, genealogist and history enthusiast, who has done articles and presentations for writing and genealogy groups. She is the author of the historical nonfiction, Paths of Opportunity (Shoreline Press 2009), about an Irish Montreal experience.


2 thoughts on “Constraints And Creativity: A Coffee Break Writing Challenge

    • Let me know how it goes. I love these kind of prompts as you really have to concentrate. If you enjoy that one, you might enjoy the prompt in my post ‘Write in the Moment’

      It’s another one that you think is going to be impossible – but then something really fun and interesting happens!


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s