10 exercises to shake off the writing doldrums

When you’re struggling to find the right words, sometimes it helps to think outside the box. Here are some ways to unblock your creative flow.

This article originally appeared on PR Daily in May of 2018.

Having trouble coming up with the right words? Unable to string more than a few sentences together?

Perhaps your brain needs a workout. Consider trying out a new writing exercise: constrained writing. It’s just what is sounds like—imposing conditions on your writing, such as disallowing certain types of words or writing to a specific pattern.

Imagine writing a short story without using the letter “e” or the word “is.”

Writing with a constraint forces you to solve writing problems in new ways, as you can’t always use the words or phrases that you usually rely on.

Here are ten descriptions and examples of the most common types constrained writing:

1. Acrostic a poetic form in which the first letter of each word, sentence, or paragraph forms a word or sentence.







2. Alliteration each word in a sentence or phrase must start with the same letter of the alphabet.


Early exclusion eliminates excessive exposure.



3. Chaterism a sentence or phrase in which the length of consecutive words increases or decreases mathematically.



I do not edit prose before sunrise.

4. Haiku a Japanese poetic form written in three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.


Oh, Microsoft Word.
Why must you malfunction so?
Crash, force quit, restart.

5. Lipogram writing that excludes a specific letter of the alphabet (most commonly “e”).



My piano instructor — a normally forgiving woman was visibly angry at my unskillful playing.

Ernest Wright wrote the 50,000-word novel Gadsby without using the letter “e.” See more examples.

6. Pilish writing in which the lengths of consecutive words match the digits in the number pi.





How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!

(Word length matches the first 15 digits in the number pi. Example from Wikipedia.)

7. Punctuation restrictions writing that excludes a specific punctuation mark.

For a fine example of this, see Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, a novel written without any commas.

8. Reverse lipogram writing that requires each word to contain a specific letter.


I like idle lyrics intensely. (The letter “i” appears in each word)

9. Six word memoirs a life story told in six words.



Did I sign up for this?

10. Univocalic poetry poetry using only one vowel.


Her speech melted Stephen, yet he nevertheless esteems, reveres her. He bent the knee where her feet pressed the green; he blessed, he begged, he pressed her.

Excerpt from “Eve’s Legend” by Henry Richard Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland

Share your versions of these writing brain-teasers in the comments.


Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts on corporate communications and exhausting writing tasks at impertinentremarks.com.

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