Commit to a Size

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

The two most common dimensions we’re constrained by are space and time. If setting a time limit is timeboxing, then perhaps the space-analogous exercise can be called sizeboxing. You pick a limited size for your work and work within that.

If you’re recording music, scale down by committing to recording a song with only two instruments if you usually use more; or if you want to produce a lot of ideas, commit to writing thirty-second melodies for one week.

If you’re working with paint, choose a surface with dimensions no more than four inches by four inches.

If you’re programming, restrict yourself to a set number of lines of code or a specific memory size. (Sizecoding might be an inspiration.)

Another version of this is filling out three pages of writing in a notebook. (If you do this without stopping, that’s what teacher, artist, and author Julia Cameron calls the morning pages.)

The less time you have, the smaller a size—or the fewer the elements—that you may want to go with.

Do Your Work without Your Equipment

While most of the prompts in this book involve getting ideas out of your head and into the world by taking action, and creating ideas through action, this prompt is about working on an idea in your head and leaving your studio, laptop, or gear bag behind. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

These connections come from many sources, including what you see and experience. Photographer Ivan Chow leaves the house without his camera to practice his observation skills. He says, “By taking away the need to make photos, you’re relieving yourself of that pressure to deliver. This will allow your mind to focus solely on spotting moments that are worthy of capturing. You’ll get less caught up with what’s directly in front of you and you’ll start looking a bit further to spot potential subjects and points of interest. Being a good street photographer is all about being good at observing, and that means that you already have a very good head start.”

If your chosen creative operation is photography, you might choose to take a moment out of each day to observe a location or scene that would make for an interesting photograph. What makes it stand out to you? How can you return and recreate the moment, or would it be worth capturing in different lighting conditions? If it’s music, take a long walk and play with a melody in your head—when you take away the option of recording an idea right away, you’re forced to work with the raw materials in real time, which can lead to many surprising developments.

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