Last summer I decided it was time to get serious about a slimming regime (aka a diet) that I could incorporate into my lifestyle and maintain long-term. Three years ago, my husband totally changed his diet from a horrorshow of unhealthy fare to low-carb, non-processed, sugar- and starch-free nutrition. As a result he lost 50 lbs and has kept if off ever since. Although I lost weight and gained energy on the same foods he ate, it wasn’t as much and I often let myself stray.
I tried to analyze why I had a much harder time losing and maintaining than he did, besides his being a guy, and I concluded there was a major difference in how we respond emotionally to “diets.” For a slimming diet to work for me, I need hard, fast rules so I don’t have to make judgment calls. He, however, is miserable with rules and does better with an eating philosophy, especially if it’s one he formulated for himself. Once I discovered the right combination of rules and choices for me, I managed to get to my goal within a few months.
This epiphany got me thinking about writing. Over the years I’ve attended lots of how-to writing workshops—how to plot, how to add tension, how to market yourself, how to write a bestseller. The best instructors tell you upfront “This works for me. It may or may not work for you.” Others, however, are happy to inform their audience, “This is how you do it and it works if you do it this way.” And when it doesn’t work for me, does that make me a bad writer/person/student? Nope. Someone else’s rules will not make anyone a great writer. True, learning craft is essential, but without the je ne sais quoi of inspiration and hard work it only goes so far.
In my daily life I use rules to avoid spending mental energy on mundane decisions, but in my creative life I know I have to fashion my own path and not be afraid to try a bunny trail now and then. As craft becomes more automatic with experience, I try to focus on freshness, originality and emotional impact. At times I give myself permission to write crap knowing my laptop has a delete key that will be used liberally on the next draft. That's fine. To quote Nora Roberts, "You can't fix an empty page." And some of the very best writing breaks a whole lot of rules.
How about you? Do you like rules, guidelines, boundaries, or are you more comfortable with limitless freedom to do whatever strikes your fancy?