A little while ago I was having a beer with a friend of mine and she was telling me about the improv class she just finished and she mentioned that among the exercises was one where you had no direction except to makes something up. No guidelines, no genre, no limits. And she found it strange that we humans had such a difficulty with such a thing. Here you can do anything you want and somehow that paralyzes you.
It reminded me of a book I had read years ago called Why We Buy by Paco Underhill. In the book he recounts studies that have found that if you give people a choice of three condiments to try, you have have a reasonable chance at making a sale. Give them a choice of 25 and you won’t sell a thing. I know that I have walked out of stores for those reason, or certainly have stuck with my ok product rather than bother seeking out a better one among hundreds. Life’s too short.
But why this problem with the blank page? My guess is that our brains are more problem solvers than inventors. We’ve always had to figure out how to get food, get shelter, get laid using the tools we have and the situation at hand. We’ve rarely been faced with nothing and had to make something of it.