Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Obviously, limitations are one of my favorite themes.  But I don’t see “limitations” in a necessarily negative light.  In fact, I see limitations as positives much (most?) of the time.  But here, I’d like to talk about a particular kind of limitation – choices.

It’s easy to become paralyzed by choices, for a number of reasons. First, it can be hard to choose between equal-but-different versions of the same thing. Second, choice can become a distraction, a path for fear of completion to take over our creativity. Third, it can just be added complexity when dealing with already-complex problems, pushing them beyond our ability to handle the big-picture problem. This is often made worse by computer-mediated creative processes like writing, photography, and music recording (to name three of my favorites) – computers provide us with a dazzling array of choices – the ability to undo/redo our work, create alternate versions, process in different ways, etc.

I find it valuable to take away choices when working, unless the choices are really necessary.  If I can work without a computer, I like to do that.  If I must use a computer, I try to do so in a limiting way.  For example, if I’m writing, I like to do at least pre-work with a pen and paper (erasers give us choices, too).  But pen and paper are slow going, and the work often needs to be retyped on a computer later – bad limitations in many cases.  I type far faster than I write, and often want to move my writing to a more complex form.  So I’ll start writing using a simple, formatting-free editor like Notepad or vi.  This takes away unnecessary “choices” like bold or italic.  It helps keep me focused on the words, not how the words are presented.

Choices can also be reduced by improving the raw input so we don’t have to “fix” so much.  I try to be a good technical photographer so I don’t feel an urge to Photoshop the heck out of everything afterward.  I could go farther and stick to b/w film (which does give a lot of choices, but also forces commitment to them once they’re made). If I’m recording music, I like to pre-produce as much as possible so I know well what the finished product should sound like.

This isn’t to say choice is always bad, or computers are bad.  They’re wonderful tools that have opened up new worlds for artists – the fact that you’re reading this on the WWW thanks to WordPress is proof of that.  But it pays to be aware of them, and be conscious of when choice becomes a substitute for creativity, or an impediment.  Don’t be afraid to take away choices from yourself.


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