Constraints Are Your Friends by Sue Oke

image collage writingHave you ever noticed that the more constraints you face in your writing, the more creative you become? I used to write a collage piece with a group of writers—just for fun, you understand. This involved the giving and receiving of short phrases from everyone in the group, so that you end up with perhaps six unrelated phrases to work with. If working alone, you can choose random words/phrases from the book you are currently reading. The challenge then is to write a piece that incorporates all the phrases within ten minutes. As an additional constraint pick one of the phrases to start and finish the piece with.

The key to this exercise is NOT TO THINK. Put pen to paper and let the words flow. DO NOT STOP WRITING during the ten minutes. Grammar and spelling are not important. You can write a load of nonsense, at this point it really doesn’t matter. What you are doing is flexing the creative muscle. Have a go at it. You will be surprised at what the pen creates.

Random phrases I had to work with:

  • walking in single file
  • any number divided by itself
  • one long gaze at the world
  • bring me one child
  • one won the Derby
  • one tasted such delicious pineapple in Guadalupe
  • one across and two down
  • one does not gas badgers

And here’s the piece I produced in response to the phrases (rough and ready as I wrote it):

Bring me one child. Not two walking in single file down the long road to nowhere. Not any number divided by itself. Just one. Only one. The one that won the Derby, not the one that got away. Let him or her be clear skinned and clear eyed. One long gaze at the world, seeing only beauty, not the dross that skirts our lives. Let the child taste of delicious pineapple, the sweetest in Guadalupe. Lips licked, eyes hooded, badger-like. Only one will pass these gates, marked by posters decrying war and scratched messages that plead for kindness in the world.

One does not gas badgers or foxes or small children.

This place stands as a bastion in their defence. Windows stare blankly, one across and two down, a mismatched face that watches the road. Waiting for the only one that can save us. Fringed hair plastered flat by the rain, walking slow but determined, slight fingers wrapped in yours. Trusting. Such a taste, such a sight, a vision awaited with bated breath. To wait so long, gazing at the world.

Any number of feet tramping the dust, walking single file. But not one of them will do. He or she won the day, chosen by their village, their city, their state to journey here and save both badgers and children. This is not a selfless task, we who wait have promises to keep and promises to claim. So slice the pineapple, lick the juices and tell me that it is not delicious. Eyes that have seen the world can rest here, knowing that this community will not gas the badgers. That makes us feel safe. This is the right place.

Trace a finger along the window pane, moving lines, up and down, tracing patterns, a pineapple matrix. Whisper under your breath, give me a number, any number divided by itself and I will show you a prime child, just waiting to blossom. Sun and water, light and love––all will blossom here, nurtured within crumbling walls behind dusty windows. So, I ask you one more time. No, I demand it. Bring me one child.

Off you go. Generate your own random words and phrases and work that Creative Muscle!

Sue Oke headshot colourSusan Oke worked in the UK Higher Education sector for thirteen years before surrendering to her passion for writing. She spends every minute she can spare writing and has had short stories published in anthologies, magazines and podcasts. As the Review Editor first for Vector, and now for the BSFA Review, Susan gets to read lots of books—her favourite pastime, when she isn’t writing––and edit copy (another fun job, which she genuinely enjoys!). Susan is an active member of several critiquing groups and works part-time as an English tutor. You can view her blog and read samples of her work at: susanmayoke.com

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
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