How Adding Limits can Supercharge Creativity: the 3-Marker Challenge

How Adding Limits can Supercharge Creativity: the 3-Marker Challenge

I love watching kids create. They naturally come up with these little tricks to supercharge creativity, and they don’t even know they’re doing it.

We just returned from a Washington Coast getaway with family, and as usual, the kids taught me a thing or two about creativity. Really, I think we can learn a lot about creativity from kids.

I get creatively challenged all the time. You know how it goes…

You’re sitting there staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen, and your mind goes blank. nothing. zip. How on earth are you supposed to be creative when your head is empty?

It sucks.
I’ve been there.
I still find myself in that place all the time.

But, maybe that’s not really the problem. Is your mind really blank? Or is it so full of so much everything that your brain throws up a blank, white wall in a self-protective measure?

When you sit down to create, and you’re faced with a blank screen or paper, the possibilities are infinite, and that’s hard to process.

The way to deal with too-much-everything is to narrow things down. Add some limits and boundaries and see what happens. Narrow the focus.

What happens in your brain when you go from “I’m going to write a blog post,” to “I’m going to write a blog post about apples”? I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about apples, but I’ve got to say, I felt a shift when the focus narrowed from the infinite to specifically apples when thinking about this example.

The boundaries help.

The specificity helps.

Now narrow it down some more. Keep narrowing and getting more specific until you have something you can work with.

The 3-Marker Challenge

On a recent vacation, my daughter and my niece spent hours with their noses in their sketchbooks playing what they call, “the 3-marker challenge.”

two young girls sitting at a table and drawing in sketchbooks

They pick a subject (cat, dog, dragon, whatever they think up) and then they each grab 3 markers with their eyes closed. Then they set a timer.

The challenge is to create the coolest looking image of the selected subject, in the specified amount of time, using only the 3 colors they grabbed from the bucket. They draw, compare notes, compliment each other, encourage each other, and then pick another subject and trio of markers to do it again.

They spend hours playing this game, and I’ve got to say it’s the most ridiculously wholesome way I can imagine a couple of 12-year-olds would think of to spend their time.

It inspired me, too.

The real trick of this challenge is in limiting the colors. Just three markers in random colors. That can really limit your options, and it’s precisely those limits that get your brain spinning in different ways. Limitations require you to think differently to get around them, and thinking differently is where your creativity starts to kick in.

This little game works as a warm-up before diving into your creative project, even if you can’t draw and your project has nothing to do with art. It’s about getting your brain to think differently.

If you’re hitting a wall, creatively, maybe your options are too wide open. Try adding some limits. Maybe the scope of your essay is too wide. Maybe you need to narrow your intended audience. Maybe you need to dial in on the focal point of your painting; you can’t focus on everything.

15 Journaling and Writing Prompts about Friendship

15 Journaling and Writing Prompts about Friendship

Friends are the family we choose. Just like our families, their influence on our lives, and how we perceive and interact with the world is vast. It could even be argued that because we choose each other, who we befriend may influence us and say something about us even more than our families.

I really believe you are the company you keep and you have to surround yourself with people who lift you up because the world knocks you down.

– Maria Shriver

I always learn so much about myself when I write about my friends. What traits do all my friends have in common? Why do I (subconsciously) seek out those traits in my friendships? There is so much self-knowledge to mine in considering friendships. What kind of friend am I?

Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.

– Amy Poehler

Writing helps us understand concepts and even our own motivations on a deeper level. Prompts help us focus the writing. These journaling and writing prompts about friendship will help you delve deeper into the nature of your friendships, and why those relationships, and those people, are so important to you.

A friend is someone who give you total freedom to be yourself.

– Jim Morrison

15 Journaling / Writing Prompts about Friendship

1. Write about a group of people that leave you feeling happy and at ease after you’ve spend time with them.

2. If you were having a rotten day, who is the first person you would want to talk to? And why?

3. Describe some traditions you’ve had with your friends.

4. Are you comfortable asking your friends for help when you need it? Would they ask you for help?

5. Do you have a friend you haven’t seen in years, but you’re sure if you saw them, you’d pick right up where you left off?

6. What is something nice a friend said to you that meant the world to you?

7. Is there someone you’ve been missing, but you haven’t reached out to contact them? What keeps you from reaching out?

8. How would you like to be described to others by your friends?

9. Have you ever lost a friend? Been unfriended? What happened?

10. Who has always been there for you, no matter what, through thick and thin?

11. Describe in detail someone who means the world to you. Include appearance, mannerisms, personality, quirks… everything that makes them who they are.

12. What do you believe are the most important qualities in a friend?

13. Have you made any new friends in recent years? How does the process of making friends feel different from when you were younger?

14. who are the people in my life with whom I feel the most like myself?

15. Make a list of all the people who have helped you in your life. Keep adding to this list as you think of more.


What other prompts or questions would you add to this list? I’d love to hear your suggestions, and I’m always trying to improve on my lists of prompts.

If you enjoyed this list of journaling / writing prompts, check out my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds for daily prompts and other inspiration.

A Fresh Start for the New Year: Are You Ready to Turn the Page on 2020?

A Fresh Start for the New Year: Are You Ready to Turn the Page on 2020?

I am so ready for the new year. I spent much of 2020 hidden away. Like many of you, my days and weeks and months were consumed with coping. At the end of each year, we often slide into the tail end of December a bit worn out, but 2020 took this to a whole new level. This year challenged us, all of us, in ways we weren’t prepared for. It’s become cliche to say this was a hard year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

But the year is almost over. It’s time for a new year. A new page. We will still have the same problems once the bell tolls us into 2021, but we can stop, take a breath, hit reset, and then tackle the new year with a plan. Let’s take a moment to reevaluate, to consider what’s working, what’s not, and look at our challenges with new eyes to find new solutions.

Journals are a tool

My friends know that journaling is important to me. They know that it’s an important part of how I cope and how I process what’s happening in my life. What they may not know, is that I drop the habit of journaling from time to time, too. I don’t journal every day, and I don’t believe everyone needs to.

Your journal is not an obligation; it's a tool. Use it when you need it.

RESET: A Fresh Start for a New Year

People often think that journaling is not for them because they don’t do it every day or they keep forgetting about it, but I have a secret for you. Your journal is not an obligation; it’s a tool. Use it when you need it. If you turn journaling into a chore, it loses its magic. Journaling does not need to be an everyday endeavor to be a robust tool for you.

Taking pen to paper is a powerful way to figure things out. Like a math problem that gets too complex to figure in your head, our lives are complex, and taking the problem to paper can make it easier to see solutions. Writing it down also helps us track changes and measure progress. If you really want to change something in your life, write it down. If you know something in your life needs to change, but you don’t know what, or how, write that down, too. And then keep writing. Ask your self questions, and then after you write all the bullshit answers, keep writing. That’s where you find the good stuff, after you get the bullshit out of the way.

If you really want to change something in your life, write it down.

Reset: A Fresh Start for a New Year

Sometimes, having a guide can help: a workbook or class with questions and writing prompts and encouragement to help you figure out what you want, how you’re going to make it better, and how you’re going to manage each step.

Reset: A Fresh Start for a New Year Journaling and Planning Workshop

I’ve been teaching these classes for years, but this year I decided to present them online. I’m starting with a free, 4-day workshop to help you plan the year ahead. What coping skills did you need last year? How did they work? How can you improve them? What new tactics can you employ this year to help make it better? How will you find the flexibility to bend with circumstances and still do what you need to do? And most importantly, what do you really want? You don’t need to know the answers to get started, we’ll find them along the way.

During the Workshop, we will gather in a Facebook Group for a live session each day, with workbooks and challenges, and plenty of encouragement. The workshop will run from December 28 through December 31, 2020, with a Facebook Live session each morning at 11am Pacific Time. In addition, I will record my presentations in case the scheduled time doesn’t work for you.

Join Us

Click the button below to join our workshop. Let’s plan our way to a better 2021.

RESET: A Fresh Start for a New Year free 4-day journaling and planning workshop.
Quote Prompt:  “As a writer you should not judge.”

Quote Prompt: “As a writer you should not judge.”

I love using quotes as writing prompts. Whether it’s for journal writing, or getting the juices flowing for an essay or other writing, a good quote can give my brain a jumpstart and take me places I didn’t expect to go. One of the great joys of writing for me is to wander off into unplanned territory. Sometimes pulling up a random quote can be just the kick I need to get me moving in a different direction.

As a writer, you should not judge. You should understand.

Ernest Hemingway

What thoughts come to mind when you read this quote? What do you think Hemingway meant? Do you agree with him?

Spend some time pondering this quote and start writing. If you’re journaling, keep writing long after you think you’ve said everything you have to say. That’s where the interesting bits start to show up on the page.

Share if you like.

Tips for Regenerating Creativity

Tips for Regenerating Creativity

Sometimes, my attitude about creativity can really trip me up. I start getting stingy with my ideas, hoarding them with the thought that I will need these in the future. I worry that I will run out of creative juices, that I might just use them up. And that’s where I create my own problem.

By hoarding my ideas and not expressing my creativity, I get blocked up. In graphic terms, it’s something like being creatively constipated. Creativity, like riding a bike, requires movement, action.

Curling up in a blanket burrito on the couch was doing nothing to help my malaise. Neither was hiding away my best ideas for a later day.

But what about my idea log?

Sure, keep an idea log. Many creatives I know maintain some kind of listing of ideas for future projects.  But an idea is just an idea. It’s not going to get you anywhere on your own, and 50 different artists with the same idea will turn out 50 different works.

The spark of brilliance is not in the idea itself, it’s in the action. It’s in the process of creation. Creativity is not a state of being, it is a state of doing. Creativity is action. 

Creativity is self-regenerating action

Yes, that’s right, the act of creating will produce more ideas and more creative juice. The more you create, the more you’ll be able to create.

But sometimes we get a little stuck when we’re in the middle of creating. That happens to me, too. But no amount of saving my best ideas for when I’m feeling more creative will break me out of that kind of funk. 

What to do when you’re feeling less than creative

  • Action. Like taking a walk. Get some exercise and get your blood moving
  • Free writing. Just let it all out. Write till you’re empty and write some more.
  • Play with color. Fling some paint around. Color in a coloring book.
  • Doodle. Draw shapes, swirls, doodads, and whatever else pops into your head. Draw something ridiculous.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Switch things up a bit. Try a creative activity that is not something you normally do. Write or draw with your non-dominant hand. Create in a way that’s out of character for you.

Just try something different for 20 minutes or so, and then go back to your work and go at it again. A fresh perspective will help. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s been 20 years since you last did something you considered creative. We’re all creative throughout different aspects of our lives, from the way we dress to the food we cook and eat. Use that to fuel more creativity. 

Journal/Creative Prompt:

What are the ways that you hold back creatively? How is holding back impacting your work? 

Check out my Instagram account for daily journal prompts.

When to Start a Journal

When to Start a Journal

Are you waiting for the “perfect time” to get started?

When pondering when to start a journal, or starting a new project or habit, I think we tend to think in terms of milestone moments, or an obvious break in the calendar. I’ll start Monday. I’ll start on the first of next Month. I’ll start January 1. I’ll start on my birthday. I’ll start on my wedding day.

It’s easy to build in a delay, a time buffer into our idea of starting something new.

Building in a delay is not a great way to get started. It is, however, a great way to start procrastinating.

Why do you wait?

Are you questioning how much you really want to do it?

Is it the idea of starting fresh on a new week, month, or year? Fresh starts are not limited to certain time frames. You can have a fresh start right now. Right this minute, you can take a deep breath, draw a line through the air, and say I’m starting fresh right now.

Sure, you’re still in the same place, the same situation. You still have dishes and laundry to do, you still have the same deadlines, problems, and habits, but something is different. When you change your approach, everything else changes.

Don’t give in to perfectionism

Sometimes we wait because we want to make it perfect. I have to have the perfect journal. I have to start on the first because then I can set it up to cover the month perfectly. That’s a recipe for avoiding your journal any time you feel less than perfect. 

Your journal is not a place for perfection. It’s a safe place, where you can be you any time of day or night. Any day of the week, month, or year.

If you delay starting your journal till a certain date, it increases the pressure on what you decide to put in the journal. There’s an increased sense of having to write about things you deem important – the big events in your life. But life happens in the in-between moments. It’s those moments that make up the bulk of our time that determine who we are and how we live – the hours and days, as well as the weeks, months, and years.

When to start a journal is when you’re ready

You decide when you are ready to start a journal. Don’t let the calendar tell you how to run your life. It’s your journal. 

Whenever you want to start your journal is the perfect time to get started. As I write this post, it’s 7:40 pm on a Thursday and a perfectly acceptable time to start writing. So is tomorrow. Or the next day.

If you want to write, then write. Pick up a pen or pencil and a notebook, or even open a new document on your computer. Then write. It only matters that you write. Everything else is just ornamental.