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.