Working under tight constraints can make creative work difficult. But working with no constraints at all can make it downright impossible.
As a freelance programmer, I’m used to jumping into a project after all the high-level decisions have been made, but before the whole thing’s been executed. Oftentimes, the piece of the project I’m doing has already been specced out, the client just needs someone to write the code and test the feature. That can be a very good thing–second guessing, thumb twiddling, and wheel spinning are nearly eliminated, and I can get the job done with minimal stress.
Contrast that with my indie projects, where I can decide to make almost anything. That freedom can be fun and exciting at one moment and paralyzing the next. If anything is a possibility, then it’s very easy to crawl down every rabbit hole I encounter, and end up making nothing useful. So I’ve decided on a few loose, mostly arbitrary constraints: music things only, prototype in a week or less, finish in a month or less. Following those three rules, I can freely move forward with an idea, and modify or shelve it if it no longer fits a constraint.
Another area where I–like many other musicians–encounter constraints is with music gear. Anyone who’s dipped a toe into the modular synth world will attest to the allure of acquiring more and more modules, and how that conflicts with the desire to just make something with the rig. Sometimes a simple setup is best. A saxophone will always be monophonic, and yet people have found new ways to make it sing for going on 200 years.
What are some ways constraints have helped or hindered you? Do you consciously use constraints as part of your creative process? If not, how do you think your work would be different if you just picked some arbitrary constraints for each new project?