Robert Frost said it: “I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”
I don’t often write poetry (though I have had my characters write bad poems on occasion), but I understand what Frost was saying: we need boundaries and goals.
Last weekend when I was in Philly teaching with my good buddy Nancy Rue, we’d often get tickled as we’d look over a manuscript together. She’d point out a passage that made her stumble, and I’d say something like, “Well, the rule for that is . . . ”
I have a rule for almost everything–with cute names attached. “The ING thing.” “The FAS rule.” “The pencil rule.”
I like my rules. They’re clear, they give me direction, and they shape up my writing. Best of all, when you know the rules, you can know when it’s appropriate to break them. And I’ve found that as long as I can convince an editor I’ve a good reason for breaking the rule, I can usually manage it.
How do you learn the rules of writing? Some rules you learn by instinct. Some you learn by reading books about writing. Some you learn from rule-happy teachers. Some you learn by experience. And some rules you invent yourself.
There are rules for writing and there are rules for life. As Christians, we’ve been given a book of rules–or, if you prefer a softer semantic, we’ve been given guidelines for living. Instructions from the Creator, who knows how we were meant to function best. Guidelines for a happy, healthy, and productive life.
So–the next time you’re tempted to rip down the net and break every rule in the book (and believe me, I’ve seen students who gave it a try), think about that tennis game.
Ah. A new week. Love it!