The Only Rule: There are None

The first and last important rule for the creative writer, then, is that though there may be rules (formulas) for ordinary, easily publishable fiction – imitation fiction – there are no rules for real fiction, any more than there are rules for serious visual art or musical composition…Invention, after all, is art’s main business, and one of the great joys of every artist comes with making the outrageous acceptable…  John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction

Are you a creative type? Are you an artist, writer, pastor, illustrator, photographer, leader, business person, producer, teacher or musician?

Insert your chosen profession into Gardner’s statement:

though there may be rules (formulas) for ordinary, easily CREATED POETRY – imitation POETRY – there are no rules for real POETRY

though there may be rules (formulas) for ordinary, easily CREATED SERMONS – imitation SERMONS- there are no rules for real SERMONS

though there may be rules (formulas) for ordinary, easily WRITTEN MUSIC – imitation MUSIC – there are no rules for real MUSIC

Sticking strictly to the accepted guidelines can offer you a certain level of success, but it will only take you so far.

This year, take what you know, and invent something new. Something bizarre. Something outlandish or offensive or abnormal. Take the rules that everyone else in your field follows and integrate one outrageous new thing.

Make 2012 a year worth remembering.

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Do you agree with Gardner’s assessment? What do you think about the place of rules in art?

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4 Replies to “The Only Rule: There are None”

  1. I think this is why Palahniuk’s work stands out so much for me. He simply doesn’t follow the rules of story-telling. And in so doing, he weaves these sick, weird, amazing stories.

    I do think that rules have their place, especially for successful marketing, but (!) I think sometimes we need to step outside of the rules for ourselves in the initial creative process. That’s where we’ll get our fascinating ideas or interesting characters or unusual lyrics. We can go back and refine later, but if we don’t give ourselves freedom in the creation process, we’ll probably just churn our the same old, same old.

  2. Oh, there are rules. Just not the kind that he is talking about. If you want to write or create anything, you have to use the tools available.

    If you are writing, you will have to use letters and words and probably sentences and paragraphs. You could write total nonsense, but you’d better be trying to communicate chaos or nonsense.

    If you are painting or doing some other kind of art, you will have to use things that people can see.

    Music will need to be heard.

    And so on. So I would say there most certainly are rules.

  3. The thing about rules is knowing where and when to creatively break them. In order to do that, one must first know them–then smash them with aplomb. Which puts me in mind of the old (still brilliant) Apple ad campaign:

    “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

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