I suffer from menu anxiety (among many other minor neuroses). Although an ice cream shop or a restaurant may offer dozens of appealing options, I’ll more often than not order something familiar (some variety of chocolate ice cream, some mixed enchilada platter) because doing so spares me the anxiety of choosing.

Sometimes we confront a similar anxiety in writing. Questions such as the following are common:

  • What should I write about?
  • What tone or style should I adopt?
  • What genre should I write in?
  • What should my piece’s point-of-view be?

If you find yourself having trouble actually putting words on the page because you’re neck-deep in questions like these, it can sometimes be oddly freeing to impose constraint on yourself.

For example, if a poet chooses to write in a rhyming poetic form, he’s automatically limiting the set of words he can use, so that while he is in one way making a challenge or puzzle for himself, he’s also limiting his options, effectively making it easier to choose which words to use from the smaller subset of available words.

If poetry’s not your thing, there are of course many other constraints you could settle on. Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Write in dialogue.
  • Avoid dialogue.
  • Use only active verbs.
  • Write something composed wholly of rhetorical questions.
  • Use a fairy tale as the framework for what you’re writing.
  • Use no adverbs. Or use exactly one adverb exactly every three sentences.
  • Write a lipogram (something that omits a common letter or group of letters).

My examples may not suit you, but hopefully you get the idea. If you’re floundering, change things up in a way that’ll force you to use a different part of your writing brain than usual. And when you’re done, go out and treat yourself to some boisenberry-pumpkin-mint-banana-birthday-cake-cookie-dough-licorice ice cream.

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  1. bonjour!
    mon nom est bayala suis un artiste peintre vivant. je voudrais bien un jour un article me presentant et mon travail. bien de vous lire. A bientôt !


  2. You are right. We have too many material objects and foods we are so overwhelmed by the choice. I had a handy man who gave me only 3 choices for flooring, I asked is that all he said ‘no but do you like these choices’ and I chose one I really liked , End of Story.


  3. As a Newbie to the Blogging World this is very exciting. I am still finding my direction On the Road Less Traveled and having a great time all the while. ~Thanks


  4. I just wrote my first blog ever tonight and I take part in a writing group. I find that constraint actually really helps me but I hope to one day be able to wrote freely and awesomely 🙂 Too many choices can make anyone go crazy. #firstworldproblems haha


  5. Constraint would be impossible with a delicacy like that sitting in front of me! But after speaking with a few editors and proofreaders at McGraw-Hill (who published one of my books) I’ve learned to constrain myself with the use of “ing”. I had one editor tell me manuscripts with that flaw are an automatic for the trash bin after the first few paragraphs. It is better to write “As he ran to the bus” as opposed to “As he was running to the bus”. Practice that writing constraint to keep editors reading on. Also write dialogue in “real time” to keep readers interested. I’m a New Yorker so I wouldn’t make my main character in a novel from Brazil. I speak with a heavy New York City accent and my dialogue will reflect that. Keep your environment in your writing to create a believable character and story.


  6. Loved that photo and the “no need to decide, let’s just take it all” feel of it!
    In Thailand they have a dessert that is roughly translated the friends dessert which combines everything together to make it taste good, hence the name.


  7. Very Inspiring. I am like two people. One that knows how to write anything(I astound myself when I read things that I have written in the past) …and a some goofy wanna-be who can’t even spell (what I am today.) If I have an assignment on a day like today, it’s like handing a sucker to a baby who can’t hit their own mouth yet. I have it all over the place.


  8. As a new blogger, I am not troubled–yet!–by writer’s block, but find that I am in the middle of too many blogs at once, challenging both the time I have available to blog, and the ability to get a blog post-worthy, as I get distracted by the beginnings of a new post before completing the current one.

    Anyway, I found your ideas about ways to address the challenges of frequent writing engaging, and am sure I will need them sooner rather than later. Thanks for your postings.


  9. Some, or most of us don’t have those questions at all. If we did, we shouldn’t be wasting our time blogging.

    What is with this WP pressurisation to blog every day under the sun? I love the community and the sharing, but this post every second gets up my nose.


    1. Lots of people seem to find it a fun challenge to blog every day. This blog started out as an experiment to give people tips and inspiration for hitting that goal, but we’ve reduced emphasis on daily blogging (without changing the blog name, which is a minor problem from a pragmatic standpoint).

      This post arises not out of a desire to push daily blogging but out of a particular problem I’ve had lately wherein I have (non-blog) stuff I want to write but can’t figure out how best to attack it. Sometimes in that position, I think you just have to make a decision and see what it results in. Since I was confronting the problem on my own, I thought I’d post a couple of more general ideas on the topic.


  10. several question above was i know but some of that question never i think before. I get some trouble and problem in my own office. Perhaps we never judge some one from their cover but personally

    Appreciate new thing in my life is more than just judge some one