My mom bought me a t-shirt with a quote by Canadian artist Michael Snow. It said, “I make up the rules of a game. Then I attempt to play it. If I seem to be losing I change the rules.” She, of course, bought it for me because I am a very poor loser (which is ironic, since I lose quite often, so you would think I would be used to it).
The profundity of the statement struck me much later in life. It is the essence of all creative design, be it musical, visual, or written. You set yourself up a set of rules and you play by them. Two things come bursting out of me as I look at the quote again.
Firstly, I have played according to this quote in the creation of Emily Rose. Here are a handful of them:
1. Thou shalt not rely on plants. Plants haven’t grown in the District for hundreds of years. All things normally made by plants must be made by animals, fungi, or molds that can be grown underground.
2. Thou shalt explore genetic engineering, which exists in practice, but it is poorly understood.
3. Thou shalt use firearms in moderation. Firearms are complicated and difficult to use. They are at a 15th century level, at best.
4. Thou shalt create a society that is insulated by the ruins of its own peak of existence. The District used to be three times its current size. The birth rate dropped suddenly for unknown reasons and the city gradually shrunk toward the center.
Just as Mr. Snow said, however, I reserve the right to change the rules if I seem to be losing. 😉
But there are other rules. I want to be a writer, and I think there needs to be a set of rules for that too. They should look something like this:
1. Thou shalt not toss out the phrase, “I’m writing a novel,” when thou hast written a total of 20 pages over 5 years.
2. Thou shalt write on a laptop in Starbucks because their coffee is better than thine, not to look cool and hope that someone asks thee if thou art writing a book.
3. Thou shalt not name a character after thyself.
4. Thou shalt not use writing as a means of living out sexual fantasies involving captive maidens, celebrities, or alien races.
5. Thou shalt use writing as an excuse to buy the fancy, sexy pens from Staples, arguing that the ball-point cheapo ones impede thee creatively.
6. Thou shalt not write stories about Spock, Han Solo, or Master Chief.
7. Thou shalt write not for fame, nor for money, nor for praise, but rather because it is a fine and noble thing to give unto the world something worth reading.