The Paradox of Creativity: Why Structure Actually Serves Your Inner Genius

If you're a creative type, you probably hate words like "structure" and "planning." 

I certainly used to. I resented anything that made me feel boxed in, or like I was following some preordained set of rules. (I've always had a bit of a problem with authority.) 

However, what I've learned, through my own processes and those of my clients, is that when it comes to creating something tangible - like a book, an article, or a blog post - starting with a solid structure is not always a bad thing. 

You see, when you let your creative spirit roam free, she acts a bit like a puppy off the leash: dashing here and there, sniffing this, rolling in that, jumping from focus to focus. 

Is your creative mind running away with you? 

Is your creative mind running away with you? 

This is wonderful if you're brainstorming, exploring new subjects, or just daydreaming, and I hope you have a chance to do it often. But when you're actually trying to get somewhere, the constant distractions and direction changes can be worse than frustrating. You may feel like you're following your puppy-mind on a treasure hunt, wondering, "Who's really in charge, here?" 

In order to do her best work, your creative spirit needs structure.

Expansion is in her nature - but when she's contained within the boundaries and guidelines you set, she will expand upward, not outward.  

For example, if you want to create a painting, you don't simply throw paint around the room, see what it sticks to, and call it a painting. You apply it deliberately within the bounds of a canvas, a wall, or another object. If you want to write a piece of music, you create it within the parameters of a song, or a sonata, or an opera. I mean, you could create a work with no structure, but it would be more of a "noise collage" than a piece of music, and might be hard for your listeners to understand and connect with. 

Your vision, your outline, and the basic rules of writing and grammar operate like the boundaries of a canvas, or the the walls and floors of an empty house. They provide a container for your creation, so that when you ask your creative spirit for a book, you don't end up with a treehouse or a llama. How you show up in that space, and how it looks when you're done, is entirely up to you and your muse - but without that container to give shape to your intention, you may end up getting more (or worse, far less) than you bargained for. 

So go ahead: set down a few guidelines. Tell your creative spirit what you really want to create, give her the parameters, and let her built it from the ground up. You may be surprised at what a little structure can do for you! 

Bryna Rene Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing. In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband and their little Moonbeam, Áine.