Rules (was: soliloquies)

McMullin, Elise emcmullin at
Mon Jan 31 18:10:52 EST 2000

> Alice wrote:
> > Oh, Elise, I'm so glad you put the word "should" in quotation marks! One
> >of my most deep-seated annoyances with creative writing instructions is
> >when people trot out ideas like this and call them RULES. 
Philip responded:
> I've seen this expressed in various ways.  I meet it most in music, but it
> comes
> up elsewhere too.
> "The first rule is: There are no rules" (Daryl Runswick, composer)
> "Always let your heart rule your head" (Steve Montague, composer)
> I prefer to say, RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN.

I think if the Rule rules you, it's very destructive to creativity - which
is play.   When making something all the rules are part of your tools and
materials.  Is one supposed to be scared of experimenting with the tools and
materials?  How would anything ever get made?  Messing around and messing up
are not just acceptable, but a Must.

Anyway, that's what I tell myself  :)

I've had some teachers who understood this and some who did not.  It always
befuddled me, with regard to the ones who did not, how they could justify
the liberties and trouncings of rules of the artists/creators/whatevers they
admired.  They usually did so by claiming that Genius is above all that.
Bronx cheer.

> Any robot can follow rules.  It takes creativity to break them.
Have you ever encountered people who say the word "creativity" just as one
would say the word "leprosy?"  

>  But I'm firmly
> of the belief that unless you know the rules, you won't understand when
> and why
> to break them.  Unfortunately it is easy to teach the rules.  It is not
> easy to
> teach people to break them creatively and effectively.
Hear hear!  I think the breaking part - could it need to be taught from the
first?  By the time I had absorbed all the rules, opinion, styles, forms -
many times I forgot what I had wanted to learn it all for in the first place
- the process was so unenjoyable.  So then one has to unlearn all that
rigidity and hierarchy to get back to the simple happiness of thinking
something is really interesting to do and think about.

> PPS: The classic example of rule-breaking:  One is always taught never to
> use a
> mixed metaphor, however great the temptation.  But what un-mixed figure
> could
> compare with the power of Shakespeare's phrase "to take arms against a sea
> of
> troubles"?
Good example!  One can see how futile that would be, too - which is one of
the reasons why I like it.  Mixed metaphors with purpose - worn with a

To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list