I'm not one for "no limits" and being 100% spontaneous all the time always, and so having some sort of constraint actually helps me to foster my creativity.
So, what are some ways you can "constrain" your writing, or alter it in weird ways to get your creative juices flowing?
N+7 is a fun game to take normal writing and make it bizarre. Take a piece of common writing, and replace every noun with the 7th noun to follow it in the dictionary. Since dictionaries aren't all alike, you'll get varying results depending on what dictionary you use. You can also mix it up by using different parts of speech, like verbs or adjectives, or by changing the number so that instead of using the 7th word, you can use the 8th, or the 10th, or the 25th.
In Twitterature, you have to tell an entire story in 140 characters or less. I like to challenge myself by making it exactly 140 characters, and there are plenty of websites that help with counting characters that specifically set a limit at 140. I've started out by taking famous works of literature and summarizing them. For example, I've done pieces of Twitterature on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I might start trying it with TV shows and movies, as well.
Lipograms are where you cannot use a certain letter anywhere in your writing. It's easier without letters such as Q or X or Z, where it's a less common letter. More challenging to try it out by omitting an extremely common letter, such as E. This was actually done in 1939 with Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadsby, which is about 50,000 words long (NaNoWriMo much?) but does not contain the letter E at all. And it has a plot, too, in which John Gadsby rallies the youth of his hometown to make the city a better place to live in.
4. Snowball Poetry
Poems that contain only one word in each line, but with each new line, the word length has to increase by one letter.
This is somewhat the opposite of the lipogram, in that in univocalic writing the writer can only write using one vowel, thus omitting the others. A famous example of this is Ernst Jandl's poem "Ottos Mops," which only uses the vowel "o." These poems aren't that great for bilingual people, because obviously, with translation, these poems will most likely not retain their univocalic nature. In English, Ottos Mops translates to "Otto's Pug."
So there are some different constraints that I found interesting and challenging. Of course, there are more that you can find online. There's actually an entire French literary group called Oulipo that tries to create works of literature using different constraints, often based on mathematical patterns. It's really fun and interesting and I'm definitely going to be having a lot of fun with constrained writing during Thanksgiving break.
If you have tried any of these techniques and created a piece of writing using constraints that you think is really cool or innovative or bizarre, send it to me using the contact form on the "About" page. I'd love to see what y'all have come up with.