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Writing Constraints

By Deren Bott

Recently, I’ve been experimenting a lot with my writing as a way to shake things up and try something new. At first, I tried googling writing prompts, thinking that I simply needed more ideas. That worked alright, but I didn’t feel like they stretched me and that I would just fall back into my same writing habits.

I then decided to take a fiction writing class to help expand my writing horizon, and it was there that I was introduced to the book The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. This book is full of writing prompts and ways to improve your writing. The most interesting thing about it? All of the prompts are constraints designed to help you stretch your writing muscles in ways that you never have before.

One such example of this is writing exercise #122 titled “E-Less” where the writer is challenged to write a 600-word story without the use of the letter “e” anywhere in the story. This prompt really challenged my writing ability and forced me to think of new words and new ways to describe things. While the story I wrote isn’t necessarily one of my favorites, I learned so much from having such a simple constraint placed upon my writing. (If you’re curious, try it out yourself.)

Having constraints such as this placed on your writing may seem difficult at first, but it is such a helpful tool that allows you to really focus on the craft of writing. There were several other exercises in The 3 A.M. Epiphany where the constraints allowed me to create a story told in a new way that I sometimes didn’t think was possible.

If you’re looking for ways to shake up your writing or simply practice the craft, try adding constraints. Some starting ideas could be avoiding a certain word, selecting a creative POV that you wouldn’t normally think about, or (another one that I really enjoyed) creating a 200-word story while only using 50 words. Whatever the constraint, you’ll surprise yourself with the things you learn and become an even better writer.

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