"The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit… the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution."
— Igor Stravinsky
It may seem counterintuitive but for someone like me who suffers from choice paralysis and noveling ADD, applying constraints to my writing is often the only way to get from A to Z without losing my momentum and/or my mind. The freedom from choice is what helps me focus my creative energy in a more productive way!
My first NaNoWriMo was in 2006, a couple months after I was hired as the NaNoWriMo Managing Editor. At that same time, I discovered (and became obsessed with) Oulipo, which “is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques.”
Before this discovery, most of my writing was surreal short form and was nearly always based on my dreams. Dreams are a great constraint, but my dream-life was inconsistent; there was no way to guarantee that I’d have enough inspiring dreams in November to get me through a 50,000-word novel.
This is where Oulipo and its constrained writing techniques came in to save my first NaNo. Though I did not follow any of the well-known constraints, I became inspired to come up with my own and to plan my novel accordingly.
I chose to write a novel using the following three constraints:
- All characters would be inanimate objects.
- Each chapter would take place on a different planet (starting with Pluto, which had just been demoted as a planet).
- Each chapter would begin with and would be based on a random quote found on Wikipedia (using the randomize tool until I found a quote that was interesting to me).
It worked! I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days and stayed sane while simultaneously working for NaNoWriMo during the era when Chris Baty and I were the only full-time employees. To this day, I use various self-imposed constraints to write: dreams, geographic locations, and found objects included.
I’d love to know if anyone else out there in NaNoLand uses self-imposed constraints (or even traditional Oulipo constraints) to write their novels and what they are?
Photo by Flickr user amanda farah.