Creativity. Is it easier to work in a blank space, or from inside a box?

I have run into this before, and when I talk about it I am surprised at the response I get.

I have always found it to be easier to be creative in a setting with constraints than with a blank page. I am able to latch on to thoughts and ideas presented within the constraint. Without the framework or starting idea, it becomes much more difficult.

Let me see if I can illustrate to you with a sample conversation:

Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Anne Burgess [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Self: “Ok, brain, write a story.”

Brain: “Umm…. Hmmm… Yeah, I got nothin’. Go play a game or something to entertain me.”

Self: “Hey brain.”

Brain: “Yeah? Thought you were going to play a game or something to entertain me?”

Self: “I will. Later, ok?”

Brain: “Whatever. I’m getting bored and tired now.”

Self: “Wait! How about you write a story about a clown midget in New York who rides a pink elephant to right wrongs for the homeless?”

Brain: “Oh, you mean a story about Frank, the clown from Hoboken who’s partner Squishy the elephant was permanently died pink in a tragic cotton candy machine accident?

Sure. Let me tell you about the time Frank and Squishy were in trouble with the O’Malley’s over breaking their illegal bowling pin smuggling operation”

Self: *starts taking notes*

As my friend Mark Reed put it, after I described this situation, “Constraint breeds creativity.”

Much shorter than my example up there, and probably not as filled with circus references, but I hope you see the point. I work best when I have something to work with. It’s why I enjoy working with other people. It’s also what I enjoy having a baseline to work with.

So I found myself in this very situation just a few days ago. I wanted to write, but had no framework to catch hold of. People were asking about my next project and I had nothing.

This is what I think most people are asking about when they ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s also what writers suffer when they talk about writer’s block.

I’m not going to spout anything monolithic and profound here. I’m going to tell you to think of Frank. He’s my go to guy. When I got stuck the other day, I went to my metaphorical Frank and an hour later I had a fully fledged setting for multiple stories in my head.

Frank in this case was present day Earth and the things on and in it that currently are taking my attention. The end result is a dystopian future setting where climate change, 3D printing, spaceflight, and global unrest have all come together to form a wonderful scaffolding in my mind for stories.

So if you or someone else is stuck for a story, tell them they should write a story about a clown midget in New York who rides a pink elephant to save the homeless. I bet the story ideas start popping into people’s heads.

For those of you curious, stick around and I’m sure more about the dystopian future setting will make its way here. If you want stories about Frank and Squishy, let me know. I didn’t think there was a market for that.

Making your own positives in the face of negatives.

Things have been rather up and down for me lately. Overall, on the up side luckily, but still too much up and down for what I like.


  • I have a writing project that is nearing completetion that I will talk about soon.
  • At work, I am on a new client project that is challenging and has engaged my mind. Always a good thing.
  • I’ve continued to enjoy my reintroduction to woodworking, and have made great strides in cleaning up the shop.
  • The team that I helped put together is both awesome and supportive in the trouble that the project (below) has encountered.


  • Vegas After Midnight, is a project that I have been working on in my head for years, and had assembled a great team recently to bring it about had to be shut down. If you want more details on that, I talked about it on
  • My deck continues to be a struggle to start. Today I finally am able to have someone over to dig the holes for the footings, and… it rains.
  • My 3D printer still has not arrived. The Eventorbot Kickstarter shipping is still happening, so I know that I will get it eventually. It’s just when that eventually is going to happen that is the most frustrating.

As I said, more ups than downs. I’d like things to be a bit more up, but life is life. I’m moving on with it and looking forward to making more up times.

When I have completed the edits and sent them into the editor, I’ll let you all know more about the writing project. I will tell you it’s up my alley with one of the things I am known to tinker with.

Once the holes are dug, I will be getting the building inspector out to look at them and then setting the footings for the deck.

Since Vegas After Midnight isn’t going to be happening, I have some other thoughts in my head to do.

I haven’t forgotten about the laser cutter either. I got the laser in, and I need to wire up a control circuit to turn it on and off using the Arduino. Once that is done, I’ll do some test cuts and post them here. Assuming success with that, I have the base of a larger version already started to allow me to make larger sized cutouts.

So again, things are up. The rain has let up, and the diggers are back at work. I’m going to go downstairs and help my daughter with a very tricky video game problem in Lego Star Wars. So if you will excuse me, I’ll be working on one of those high points in life.


As I am embarking on new creative endeavors, and rekindling older ones, this comes along at just the right time.

Neil Gaiman – Inspirational Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts 2012

Create. Write. Make. Do. Be.

Where you can find me at Balticon 46.

This weekend I will be at Balticon 46 in Hunt Valley, MD.

If you happen to be going, I’ll be on the panel and podcast below. I’ll also be attending a fair amount of other sessions and hanging out in the bar when I’m not busy. See you there!

Sunday, 6:00 pm (50 Minutes) (Derby)
NM-73. Secret Lair Design For Minions 101 (New Media)
In this highly informative educational session, the staff of the
Secret Lair will work with the audience to design and implement traps and countermeasures to keep those meddling
heroes out of The Secret Lair. Special Guest Star Jared Axelrod
will play the part of The Hero, describing how he would attempt
to break into The Lair. The audience (minions) will have to assist
the Lair staff in designing traps to foil the hero.
(M): Chris Miller, (S): John Cmar, Jared Axelrod

Sunday, 8:00 pm (50 Minutes) (Chesapeake)
NM-74. The Secret Lair Live! (New Media)
Join Overlord Chris Miller and Doctor John Cmar for a live
recording of The Secret Lair. Surprise guests! Games! ShetlandBonobo Pony rides! Fun for all ages!
(M): Chris Miller, John Cmar