Is writing without boundaries actually possible?

In the last month or so, I have read comments on a few different blogs pertaining to “writing without boundaries”, or “writing without limits”, which made me think at the time, that this wasn’t the case. I mean really, is writing without boundaries actually possible? What does it mean? Free your mind and be one with the world? There is another dimension? Or is it the case with us humans that we cannot escape some boundaries? For example, we know that wherever we come from, whatever cultural differences we have, one event we cannot escape and we will all experience. The ultimate boundary of death.

Now whether you do or do not believe in an afterlife is besides the point. We will all experience a full stop to this physical body currently inhabited whilst reading this. To add to that, unless you are on acid, you pretty much know where your body stops, and the rest of the world begins. These both apply to our physical being. But writing is an expunging of ideas, words, technique, form, from the mind, into a new form on the page (or screen). Do boundaries exist in the same way? Well much like a Presidential debate, let’s simplify some relatively complex ideas, and divide them into two opposing camps, whilst you the viewer (or reader in this case), sits and considers the possibilities before forgetting about it and heading off for a snack. In one corner we have the “Truly, writing without boundaries”, in the other, the “form or function brings you connection and understanding”. Two category names I just made up.

Let us first consider the possibility of “Truly, writing without boundaries”. To take a simplistic overview, this is simply about letting your mind open up, and see what comes out. Do not worry so much about what anyone thinks, or writing to an agenda. Just get going and see what your mind gives you. What will it cover? Will it be dark, or mystical? Will it be sexual, or perverse? Will it be something different to what you normally write? This last question is important, because writing without boundaries implies different from the norm. You may have been stuck writing 1st person fiction, then a revelation struck and you write 3rd person, in an entirely new (to you) genre.

So perhaps it refers to writing something different to what you normally do. Perhaps it means writing in a new way, pulling ideas you would not normally consider, or that you would, but using them in a different way. Perhaps you create a character, or a character and a scenario, and see where it takes you. In some respects this is comparable to writers who do little planning in terms of story structure. They just see where the story (or their mind), takes them. But do they always reach a destination? Well often yes, and often no. Even an open mind seems to have a closed section.

The alternative view is “form or function brings you connection and understanding”, i.e. no you cannot, boundaries always exist. I tend to subscribe more to this view myself. You see, there is something about language form, something about how for example, stories are structured, that gives it something. Primarily this is, that people can understand it. Our brains are quite structured, they like to process things in a structured manner. If we get something in a random fashion, it tends to slow us down, makes things harder to process or understand. I would relate this to psychedelic writings / songs. Whooooo, are they out there, you know, like way out there? Nope, mostly they are just crap. Most psychedelic stuff isn’t mind bending, it is just nonsense. It makes no sense. It is just meaningless drivel. Writing without boundaries is pretty much the same. There will always be some boundaries, be it in structure, or form, otherwise it brings next to no understanding.

Lets say you are writing a poem, and it covers some wild stuff, some deep seated desires, and some clever references. It may seem out there, especially if it is against your personality, or what you normally write, but it won’t relate to anyone unless you can give some frame of reference, or transition your ideas carefully. The best writing without boundaries is not actually without boundaries, but gives the impression that it is (so it may be cleverly hiding the form). For writing fiction, it is comparable to having an outline prior to writing. It helps to tell you if it works and whether it can be understood.

To conclude, I don’t think writing without boundaries is possible but it is relative to what you consider a boundary to be. If you have been writing under a strict structure, and suddenly you have more freedom to write with different language, or in different genres or contexts, then you may consider this to be a freeing up of boundaries. You may sit and write a poem, and let whatever pops into your mind land on the page. This too may be a freeing up of boundaries. But I would hazard a guess that underneath it, you keep some structure, so people can follow it and understand it. Boundaries, hmmm…

And with that said, all we need now is for some smart arse to wade in with “there are no boundaries other than those we create for ourselves”. To this I say, see above.

Do you agree? What are your thoughts on boundaries as it relates to your writing?


Lexicon word of the day: descry.

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23 comments on “Is writing without boundaries actually possible?

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’m all for structure, but that’s probably my left brain talking. To me it’s all about the story. The boundaries will be different for each one, but each one needs a structure.

  2. La La says:

    I agree that “no boundaries” may be simply writing differently or trying another structure. I try to free up my boundaries and I’ve learned that other people don’t like when my writing goes against the usual structure.

    My blog is a character that exaggerates my own personality, and sometimes, I like to try new things.

    • Elliot says:

      I think ultimately there needs to be a structure of some kind. You can write about anything you want but if people cannot understand it to some degree then it gets a bit wasted. But when people read and contribute, you must be doing something right.

  3. Maybe it’s okay to write without boundaries, as long as it isn’t the final version and gets edited later. But as with music, or painting, writing without boundaries mostly ends up as utter crap. IMHO. I am a more structured writer, and write via the Snowflake method.

  4. I see I commented in the wrong area. Figures.

    • Elliot says:

      I completely agree. Writing is communication and without that you have nothing. Someone reading it needs to be able to understand it. It could be something that few understand, but those few likely have a reference point to be able to do that.

      I’m not familiar with the snowflake method (or perhaps just the term). What is that?

      • Snowflake by Randy Ingermanson (sp?). Very simple software, a set of nine or ten tabs which guides you through a topdown structuring of your novel from a high level to scene level. You can make it as vague or as detailed as you want. There is a free form notes section for each scene and here is where I did my writing without boundaries.

      • Elliot says:

        Oh ok, I might check it out. I use Scrivener myself. I’m hoping the ipad version turns up in a few months because that would be ideal for me right now.

  5. legionwriter says:

    I agree with (what I think is) your opinion that writing without boundaries is not purely possible, short of us becoming disembodied spirits, floating about, and I suppose in that case, we would likely have better things to do than to write. Fascinating topic.

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks for the comment – it makes me curl up inside when I see comments on other blogs / writings, along the lines of “truly writing without boundaries”. They usually mean “pretty non-standard context” but then I suppose that sounds a lot less romantic about writing!

  6. This is a very interesting topic, Elliot. I tend to impose pretty clear boundaries for myself. Not intentionally, it just happens by force of habit. For example, I write non-fiction and satire. It never occurs to me to write fiction or poetry. I don’t know if that’s a self-imposed boundary or if my brain just doesn’t go there–or is that a boundary in itself? Even if I wrote freely, without editing or censoring myself, I don’t know what I’d come up with. But I’m going to spend some time thinking about this because it’s a really good subject. Thanks for this!

    • Elliot says:

      It is interesting that you say this. At the beginning of the year I did a post on how poetry and myself were not good friends. I didn’t really like it. So it then amused me to give it a go. I did, and actually I’ve grown to like it now, and respect it. My own attempts are varying degrees of quality, but I like the writing exercise of it. So in a sense that was a big boundary for me, and one I removed or overcame, and one I’m glad I did.

      On writing fiction I really like to have a strong spine before attempting the actual writing. On blog posts I usually have a structure in mind prior to writing. So I find certain boundaries are useful for me and the way I work. But at the same time, it is also useful to open some of them up from time to time.

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    Even though as a “pantser” some might expect me to say it’s possible to write without boundaries, I don’t believe that. As you say, if you try to remove all normal structure, you’re left with something incomprehensible. If there’s no common reference between the writer and reader, then has the writer done anything except string random words together?

    • Elliot says:

      The more I think about it, I think the only removable boundaries are some that you impose, or have been imposed on yourself. Underlying the words there needs to be some frame of reference which therefore means at least some boundaries exist. So really boundaries (like a lot of things) is a relative thing, or at least, a misunderstood thing.

  8. I think of boundaries in a writing sense as self-imposed boundaries that inhibit your writing. Like thinking all YA must be in first person or paranormal doesn’t sell so I’ll write a mystery. Instead of letting the story pour out as it wishes. In that situation, writing without boundaries is a necessity for an emotionally satisfying story.

    • Elliot says:

      But then you are not writing without boundaries, as you are still bound by the genre and a structure of some sorts, even if you do not no exactly where the story is going. But it is all relative. If it gives you the impression of being more free, then it is all good.

      • I was speaking more to the advice you hear at conferences to “write without boundaries.” From a purely dictionary definition, I do not see a way to “write without boundaries” since pen and paper would technically be boundaries and using language creates boundaries.

  9. Smaktakula says:

    I’m not altogether sure I can get my head around the concept of ‘writing without boundaries.” The creative process is always internal. I do know that very good writing tells the author the story rather than the other way around, so maybe that’s what writing without boundaries is.

    • Elliot says:

      I think it is a bit of a nonsense term really. When people use it they are really trying to say “write with imposing less restrictions on yourself” but that sounds a bit too formal, and not too romantic in the “love writing fiction” sense.

  10. rtd14 says:

    I like some structure. I do not think I would’ve been able to develop my novel without it, but I do think you have to go without the fence – as your picture shows – at the top. I think you must write without boundaries at times in order for the story to come out. Great post!

    • Elliot says:

      So in a sense you are just removing the barriers you set yourself, in order to open up your thoughts more. But you are maintaining the structure, so it isn’t removing all barriers. I replied to some of the other comments, that boundaries is all really a state of mind and it depends where you want to put them and therefore have them to remove.

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