Recently, Bob and I spent a weekend in Virginia with our grandsons and son Stephen and daughter-in-law Mindy.
The two boys, Andrew and Ryan are now 5 ½ and 3 ½ and our interactions with them has changed. Instead of bouncing, lifting, carrying, swinging and all those other physical actions that infants and toddlers love, we are now doing a lot of building and creating.
One evening Ryan asked me to help him build a “garage” out of Duplo bricks, those building bricks made by the Lego company but much larger, the first intro to Legos.
What Ryan meant by garage is a four-sided building that he could put his Cars (Disney) cars in. He dumped out a large bag and a large toy dump truck of bricks for us to work from.
The only rule he gave me as we started building was, “Make it strong, Grandma.”
Otherwise, there were no rules. He didn’t correct me or change what I was doing. We just built together in a nice collaboration.
Meanwhile, Andrew had asked his dad to help him build Lego race cars. As I helped Ryan in the family room, I could hear Stephen and Andrew in the living room rattling through Lego pieces while Andrew chattered away about Formula One racing. Stephen and Andrew built their cars without instructions booklets.
The only rules they worked from were that the cars needed wheels to run on, and their front ends needed to be heavy enough to keep them hugging the inclined track that Stephen built.
The few rules Andrew and Ryan were creating from were there entirely to support the purposes of their constructions, not to inhibit their creativity.
That’s how you should use rules for your writing or other creative work.
Not coincidentally, at the same time I was helping Ryan build a garage, a writer on a writers’ forum posed several questions about her story. She’d received mixed feedback from a critique group, beta readers, workshop instructors, and even a few agents or editors.
She’d had so many suggestions and rules thrown at her that her head was spinning and she couldn’t determine if her story was salvageable or not.
She received a variety of responses, most of which you’ve probably heard before:
“Let it rest and then come back to it to see what you need to do.”
“Remember who your audience is.”
“What are the rules for your genre? If you know them, then feel free to toss them out if you must in order to tell your story.”
I wanted to suggest she spend time playing with Ryan and Andrew so she would remember to value spontaneity, to trust instinct, and to create without worrying about too many rules.
Rules of craft and design can be broken if the work does what you want it to do.
Create with joy.
Rules are meant to be broken.