Rules Are Made to be Broken

Happy Monday world!

Despite my recent failings in terms of keeping this blog post running smoothly along, I have returned with a post: hurray! WordPress reminded me yesterday that it is now 1 year since I first created this blog out of the ether that is the internet, and I thought that, at the very least, I should drag my sorry self together and write a blog post in honour of that milestone.

So, I was scrolling through the infinite pages of wisdom, inanity and cat videos that is Facebook (or at least, my Facebook feed), when I stumbled on the below image, courtesy of the Australian Writers’ Centre:

It made me laugh, because Maugham has the right of it: apparently there are all these things we ‘must’ do in order to write a novel (though the question implicit in that statement is whether even that simple phrases means to write, or ‘write well’–another nebulous idea), but if you try to sit there and nail them down, it can become a little disconcerting. What I really want to know—at the prize of a cookie for anyone who can definitively prove their answer to me is… Are there rules? If there are (which, to be completely honest, I’m not 100% sure about), then who made them? And what gave that person or persons the authority to make that decision?

So, onto the point of this (admittedly somewhat short and rapidly-put-together-on-Sunday-afternoon) blog post. The idea of ‘rules’ which we must obey at all costs is to the detriment of creativity; it is a barrier to writing freedom; it is the death of innovation… and I have no doubt that there are numerous instances in which the fear of failing to abide by writing rules has proven an insurmountable barrier to someone’s efforts to write. The rules kill off more would-be writers than we can keep track of.

But rules are made to be broken. 

[Disclaimer: I am not encouraging anyone to become a drug dealer, or to kill your boss because of the above statement. It does come with some caveats.]

Rules are made to be broken: if there are rules that you believe exist for your writing… challenge them! It’s how new literary theories are created, how revolutionary novels are born, how really almost anything brilliant in life comes into being: through a refusal to be hamstrung and pigeonholed by someone else’s idea of ‘the rules’. If nothing else, a quick glance at literary history will reveal how the novel (and literature in general) has evolved since the birth of the novel in the early eighteenth-century: the novels we know and love today are the result of authors refusing to be confined to a single definition of literature.

Now, I’m sure there are people reading this who think that while I may be right about something things, there remain SOME rules that are holy. But are they? And why? Even a little bit of investigation into the ‘supreme rule’—of any other we feel to be precious, unbreakable and immortal—is likely to reveal that someone, somewhere, at some point, has snapped that rule over their knee like a dry twig. Whether that experiment was successful or not (and we need only examine postmodern novels such as Fight Club, The Crying of Lot 49, True History of the Kelly Gang to discover a vast host of literature which has successfully tested the boundaries and come out triumphant), it is worthwhile by virtue of its attempt to innovate. To seek to move beyond the limitations imposed upon us by an arbitrary notion of the acceptable or permissible is the responsibility and joy of any artist: so indulge.

Be wild. Break the rules. 



  1. There are rules??? I clearly didn’t get the memo! Great post – as far as I’m concerned writing rules are just opportunities for comedic exploitation 🙂

  2. I don’t believe in rules, only guidelines. Many of those guidelines are wise and I abide by them because they make sense. Other times, I trot off the guided path because there are flowers over there. 🙂

    • Agreed! I definitely think that there are probably things it’s a good idea to do, but plenty of things that you don’t HAVE to do, and it’s fun to run away from those sometimes :p

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