Xkcd: Wordsmiths View Unusually Tight Standards Really Quite Positively


Xkcd summarizes quite precisely my logic in desiring defined constraints.

Thank you, stick figure girl, for expressing why I like guidelines – not only in creative writing, but when it comes to things like class projects and exam prompts.   If there wasn’t a hurdle in the track, I would never feel the urge to leap.

Limits are my friend.  I get a psychological satisfaction from attempting to thwart their rigidity, trying to think outside of the box.  I’ve found a love for quickly-paced novels, where I can speculate and try to figure out what will happen to the characters as I read.  This also leads me to prefer series over stand-alones, since established characters generally react in ways that I can anticipate and predict.  In a strange way, I’m writing as I read – what would I set up if these were my characters and milieu, how might I resolve this storyline?  Given the constraints of this world, these characters, this story, what will happen?  My creative mind is engaging with the material as I work my way through it.

Limits also help me make decisions.  As my family knows, I’m practically useless when it comes to a simple question like deciding where to go out for lunch.  But if you give me enough constraints – fast food, nearby, serves Pepsi products, not a sandwich place, etc. – I’m more likely to come up with an answer.  Another example: needing to pick up something at the grocery store.  That’s a very vague demand on my attention, and will lead to “I’ll get around to it later” and other similar excuses.  But, if I need to pick up eggs for a recipe that I want to make, and I want to take advantage of my 10% Saturday student discount at the grocery store, but I have to work around meeting my friends at eleven, a lecture event, and a couple hours of blocked-out study time, I’ll find myself motivated enough to strategize and work that into my schedule.

I loathe open assignments and prompts, because I need barriers to channel my thought processes.  That’s one of the difficulties of maintaining a daily blog, which is a wide-open format – and why I have set aside Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as “topic days” where I have specific kinds of posts that I add.  I’m giving myself a break from doing all of the creative legwork if every Saturday demands a photo post, every Sunday a sketch, and every Monday a nonword definition.

A very casual analysis of this need for limits takes me back to some of those awful self-analysis tools back in high school that were supposed to predict what kind of job your personality was suited for.  Much of that material was useless to me, but some of the fundamentals behind the evaluations make sense.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, for one, determines four dichotomous preferences in order to psychologically “type” the subject.  Back in high school, I was typed as INTP, and the appellation is still scarily accurate.  Some excerpts from the Wikipedia article:

INTPs are quiet, thoughtful, analytical individuals who tend to 
spend long periods of time on their own, working through problems 
and forming solutions. They are curious about systems and how 
things work. Consequently, they are frequently found in careers 
such as science, philosophy, law, and architecture...

INTPs organize their understanding of any topic by articulating 
principles, and they are especially drawn to theoretical 
constructs. Having articulated these principles for themselves, 
they can demonstrate remarkable skill in explaining complex ideas 
to others in simple terms, especially in writing...

Given their independent nature, INTPs may prefer working alone to 
leading or following in a group. During interactions with others, 
if INTPs are focused on gathering information, they may seem 
oblivious, aloof, or even rebellious—when in fact they are 
concentrating on listening and understanding. However, INTPs' 
extraverted intuition often gives them a quick wit, especially with
language...

INTPs are driven to fully understand a discussion from all relevant
angles. Their impatience with seemingly indefensible ideas can 
make them particularly devastating at debate. When INTPs feel 
insulted, they may respond with sudden, cutting criticism...

I find it vindicating yet disturbing when rather simple psychological tools like the Myers-Briggs can peg personality quirks so precisely.  When I view my love for limits through this inventory, I’m led to my function label of T: Thinking.  My reasoning and problem-solving (decision-making) centers around a preference for logic.  When the problem itself doesn’t especially demand logic, e.g. fast food for lunch, I am easily stymied.  But if the problem requires heavy logic, e.g. putting a class schedule together or organizing a collection, I am all over that.  The shirts in my closet are sorted by color and my dishware by how often I use it.  What seems like an obsessive tendency on the surface is really just the application of a rule system and limits so that I can more easily function – in this case, put things away.  If I don’t enforce these rules, my clothes pile on the floor and I can never find the bowl I want.

Sometimes it’s very difficult for me to make rules for myself, because I like to be lazy, and I will use my logic to find ways to permit myself to be lazy.  Most common problem: procrastination.  I have an assignment due in a week, but logic tells me that it’s something I can realistically finish in a couple of hours, so if I start it the morning it’s due I’ll have it ready for class that afternoon.  You can imagine how easily that backfires.  Therefore deadlines, which should appeal to my sense of rule-following, become my worst enemy, because they aren’t procedural rules that apply throughout the process of making the assignment – only at the endpoint where I should have the thing done already.  My limit-oriented brain is basically tricking itself into thinking “all is well” all the way up to the point where it’s too late.  As a result: chronic procrastination on my part.  I still have problems making myself adhere to deadlines.

And now this blog post has become far more introspective than I originally intended. Oh well.  Some people work better under limits, and come up with more creative results. Restraint inspires creativity.  How can creators be creative without complications to consider?

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