It’s become relatively easy for me to write 200 – 300 word article. I can crank those out in no time. It’s like “blah blah blah, blah blah blah – finished.”
It’s harder for me to write 600 words or more. But it’s still not so hard.
It’s getting more difficult at 1000 words. I rarely write more than 1000/1100/1200 words. At this point I have to explore a topic more in-depth. I have to go beyond the “blah”. This is a challenge.
As much as I love challenges I also run away from them like everybody else. Aren’t 1000 words enough? Isn’t the sound of this song already good enough? Isn’t it good enough that I wrote an article and a song today? Why not just stop now and do something entirely else?
Yeah, it’s all good. You can do that. I do that all the time. I stop when I could go on.
But sometimes I go on, and that’s where the magic happens.
Until recently I did not know that I could a write a score like, realistic sounding orchestra piece. Then, about two months ago, I got the offer to write that kind of music for a short movie. So I sat down and wrote one. My first composing session on that piece was about 4 hours. Usually my first session is one or two hours. Later that day I spent about two more hours on the music.
After six hours of work I had done something I hadn’t known I was able to do. I had composed a score like, almost realistic sounding orchestra piece. I must have listened to the track a hundred times on that day. I just couldn’t believe that I was able to create such kind of music.
On that day I had gone beyond my former creative “limits”. Instead of giving in to them, I challenged each one of them during the process. I didn’t know how to create realistic sounding fast strings, so I figured it out WHILE I was composing. I didn’t realize what was necessary to build a full sounding arrangement, so I figured it out WHILE I was arranging. There were many more “limits” like this. Of course, those limits were all in my head. I hadn’t done those things before so I just assumed that I wasn’t able to do them. However, AFTER deciding that I wanted to go beyond this limits, they disappeared almost without effort.
I’ve had many experiences like this. Another big one that comes to my mind is my experience with the NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it’s every year in November. People from all over the world take part in this event, which is about writing a novel of 50000 words in 30 days.
Naturally this is an event where most people who take part will go beyond their limits. They have not written a novel yet, and certainly not in 30 days. However, those who manage to finish the NaNoWriMo (not many, btw, about 17%) will go beyond their former limits and make a new creative reality possible for them.
If you ever had an experience like that where you went beyond a creative limit, you know how empowering this can be. If you’ve finished the NaNoWriMo once, you can finish it twice. If you’ve written 50000 words in a month, you can write 75000 words in a month (many people do, in fact, up the challenge when they take part a second time).
Finishing the NaNoWriMo was one of the first challenges where I really pushed beyond my former creative limits. It wasn’t so much about the word count but about the length of my creative sessions. Back then after one hour of highly creative work I would usually switch to other (less creative) activities. Sitting down and working on one big creative piece for several hours was rather new to me.
After finishing the NaNoWriMo though, I was able to use this “new” ability when I was writing articles for my website. I was able to write more, and longer articles became easier to create because I didn’t need a break during writing them which would have interrupted the inspirational flow.
You see, this ability to sit through long writing sessions wasn’t new. It wasn’t something I “learned” during NaNoWriMo. I just hadn’t gone beyond a certain point before (in this case: a certain amount of time), which made me automatically assume that I couldn’t.
There are still a lot of self-imposed limits in front of me every day. We all limit ourselves all the time, although our individual limits might look quite different from each other’s limits.
When you’re being creative and are living consciously you will at least sometimes notice when a creative limit lies in front of you. Then you have two options: 1)You can go for the “easy” solution once again, 2) or you can leave your comfort zone and go beyond the limit.
Unfortunately, it’s mostly not as simple as “just choosing”. Oftentimes our habits just take over and make the decision for us.
So, the first step that will help you to go beyond your creative limits is to recognize them consciously.
This will require you to take a step back and examine your creative work real accurately.
- Are there patterns that repeat in your work and that you could do without?
- Is your work always lacking something specific (good sound, good structure, good style, good ideas)? Where are the weaknesses of your work?
- Where do you always go for the easy solution and never for the solution that needs more effort?
- What do you avoid because it’s uncomfortable?
- What have you always wanted to do but never have?
Also look at your work behavior:
- How long are your work sessions? When do you stop?
- When do you work? Does it serve the results?
- How content are you with your progress?
- Which tools do you use that don’t give you the best results?
And more general:
- How much time do you invest in improving your skills?
- Are you fit and focused when you’re working?
- Do you prepare yourself enough for your work?
- Which results do you believe to be possible (concerning creative quality and quantity)?
When you look at those questions, watch out for any hints where you see that you limit yourself.
How do you limit yourself?
Sometimes it can be really helpful to ask an expert. A more experienced writer will be able to tell you where your writing is lacking something, for example.
Experts have a distance to your work that you don’t have. That’s why they can stay objective and see your pattern more clearly than you do.
However I often found hints myself about the limits of my creative work so that I don’t have to rely on experts to point out what’s missing all the time.
I would recommend both, though: Listening to yourself and listening to an expert once in a while.
After recognizing where your limits are, you now need to get beyond this limit.
This is actually a very simple process. You just define the crossing of the limit as your new goal and then work on accomplishing it.
- So if your limit is that you can’t write more than 2 hours, commit to the goal of regularly writing 2 hours and 15 minutes.
- If you limit yourself by always being content with mediocre choruses in your songs, commit to the goal of writing a song with a great chorus.
Execution is simple most of the time but it will take you out of the comfort zone. That’s why you probably will come up with all kinds of excuses about why you absolutely can’t go beyond your limits.
One of the most popular excuses is “I don’t know how.”
Sure you don’t know exactly how to cross the limit! After all, you’ve never done it! But that’s not a good excuse after all because lots of people cross their limits every day. They don’t know how to do it before they do it either – but they still do it!
- At first, try to run across the limit without asking or wondering so much. It usually helps for simple limits (like the length of a creative session)
- If this doesn’t work and you don’t know how to get beyond the limit, get as close as possible to it at first.
- Then look for the solution. What can help you go beyond the line? What ideas do you have? Brainstorm!
- Then execute those ideas.
- If you don’t get any further, do some research on the topic and look for the solutions other people have already come up with. Try out those solutions!
- You can always ask experts if you don’t find a solution yourself (they will be able to give you more specific advice).
However, no matter where you are in this process, “I don’t know how” is never a valid excuse (nothing is a valid excuse anyway).
A very beautiful thing about crossing your limits, is, that’s it’s extremely rewarding. You will look at your work and be astonished by what you’ve created. You will probably think “I never knew I could create something like this”. Maybe you will even have a hard time to understand why your new work is so much better! Just try it out and see for yourself!
BTW, this article is more than 1600 words – so it’s definitely taken me out of my comfort zone. Where are your limits? Are you willing to cross them?