Boxed In? Boost Your Creativity with an Extreme Makeover
by Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant

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Being able to think outside the box is crucial to anyone trying to be creative. But as writers we tend to sit at a box, in a box, typing words that show up on a box, using up boxes of paper to print out our work. Is it any wonder that we sometimes feel like our brain has developed right angles and is made primarily of cardboard? Rather than shipping your box off to UPS, however, you can take a page from TV makeover shows to help you live and write more creatively and with more passion.

As a comedy writer and teacher, I explore the issue of creativity every day, especially with my students. A few months ago one of my students complained that she couldn't think outside the box because "I am the box!" She didn't realize just how true her words were, but I decided to use them as inspiration when I was asked to put together a workshop on creativity for the South Coast Writers' Conference in Gold Beach, OR.

Rather than having the participants in my workshop put in writing the issues they thought limited and restrained their creativity, I decided I'd have them build their own boxes. After all, a writing workshop focused primarily on writing is way too inside the box. For three weeks, I collected all the cardboard I could from around my house. The spiders weren't happy and I'm sure the guys who work for my recycling company thought I'd gone on vacation. But by the time the conference rolled around I had enough cardboard to build an ark; fortunately the day was sunny and I could proceed with my plans.

At the conference, I set out stacks of random-sized pieces of cardboard and rolls of Scotch tape and asked the participants to team up and spend five minutes building a box. They only rules were they had to use every piece of cardboard in their stack and they only had five minutes. I'm a firm believer in tight deadlines to spur creativity -- a short time limit makes it hard to listen to all the voices in your head telling you what to do and not to do.

When time was up, I asked each group to show off their box to the class and to explain the thinking that went into its design and construction. The results were insightful and impressive. One group made a box with a drawer in which to store their ideas. On top, they attached rabbit ears so they could tune into new thoughts that might come from outside their box. A second group stacked boxes up in a pyramid shape, with a heart-shaped box on top (the workshop was in February and I had a few Valentine's Day chocolate boxes left over). They explained their design as a representation of how we can take steps to move from our heads to their hearts. A third group also built a box with a skylight to see out easily, a slide so they could escape when the needed to, and a patio so they could stand on the outside and look in.

The way the participants approached their task, looking for ways to follow the rules but at the same time design boxes that would be easy to get out of or bring new ideas into was wonderful. And the task helped me illustrate my belief that despite outside forces that reinforce our boxes (such as what editors and agents tell us is missing from our work. what is or isn't selling year, or family pressure to grow up and get a real job), we are the ones who build our boxes. Being writers, rather than using a hammer and nails (or Scotch tape and cardboard), we build our boxes with words. Words such as:

Is it any wonder that after a while our boxes end up making us feel claustrophobic, stymied, insignificant, easily pigeon-holed, drained, cramped, dizzy, drowsy, restless, afraid of other shapes like circles and tetrahedrons, and antisocial? Not to mention, fearful we might turn into a mime.

Following the example of the conference participants and the recommendations of the interior designers, builders, and landscapers on home makeover programs, here are some tips for changing the structure of your box (without tearing it completely down) so you can be more creative:

I wouldn't mind being grown up, she told me, if I didn't have to get up and be grumpy right away every morning (Brian Andreas,

Studies have shown that the majority of things we grown-ups stress out about are ego-related. We worry what other people will think of us if we try something new, make a mistake, aren't as good as the rest of them, etc. By being playful in our lives -- like wearing a tiara to the grocery store, attaching a funny button to your serious jacket, never passing up an opportunity to play hopscotch or Frisbee, carrying a purse shaped like a poodle, or braiding your beard -- we can step beyond those boxed-in grown up boundaries.

We all feel boxed in sometimes. But instead of letting that feeling drive you out of the writing life or into a state of despair, try remodeling your box and see if your creativity doesn't soar.

Find Out More...

Mindplay - Peggy Bechko

Six Ways To Make Your Racing Thoughts Work For You! - R.H. Ramsey

Tapping Your Innate Creativity - Barbara Florio Graham

Using Footpower to Boost Your Brainpower: How Walking Away Can Improve Your Writing - Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant

Copyright © 2007 Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant is an award-winning humor writer, speaker, stand-up comic, and comedy coach. She is the author of thirteen books, including I'm Not Getting Older (I'm Getting Better at Denial), Yoga for Your Funny Bone, Laugh Lines are Beautiful, Bedtime Stories for Cats, Bedtime Stories for Dogs and Don't Get Mad, Get Funny. Her articles have been published in such major magazines as Family Circle, DogFancy, Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, and Better Homes & Gardens' Special Interest publications. She is the host of Women Under the Influence of Laughter on KOPT 1600 AM. Her website is


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