I’ve been teaching my son to play games lately. He’s 3, so he’s just starting to really be able to play games. He’s not too interested in the rules yet. When I try to explain the rules to him, he just looks at me like I’m crazy, then he makes up his own rules. So we have fun playing the game by his rules.
I’ve noticed that I like to play by the rules. Why? Because it makes the game more fun (for me—my son’s not at my developmental stage yet, so lack of rules does not in any way interfere with the fun he has.)
The more I think about it, the more I see that, when I play by the rules in a game I choose to play, winning is a lot more fun. Even if I make up the rules myself, I enjoy the challenge of following the rules and still winning.
I see this most in my writing life, when I follow rules I’ve made up (or that someone else has made up but I choose to follow) and I enjoy every minute of it.
One of the biggest rules I created for myself last year was my commitment to writing blog posts that are 500 words or less (see Edit, Please!)
It’s my rule, I made it up. No one’s checking to make sure I’ve stuck to my word, but I keep doing it because it’s challenging, and it’s made the game of writing blog posts even more fun than it already was. Also, I think it’s made me a better writer.
Here’s what I learned: Writing shorter is much harder than writing longer. Once I committed to the 500 word limit, I spent a lot more time on each blog post, mostly whittling the words down. I tend to write down all my thoughts and then start trimming until I get to just one point. The good thing is that sometimes, those other thoughts end up being an entire additional blog post.
I think the practice of writing shorter has spilled over into other parts of my writing life. It’s certainly made it easier for me to spot when I’m being passive (as passive voice tends to have more words than active voice) or excessively wordy.
The biggest benefit I’ve seen with this rule is realizing that, no matter where I start, or with how many words, I can corral all my thoughts into a coherent whole by the end of the process. It’s made me much freer to write more creatively, as I now have confidence in my ability to create a sense of order out of the chaos.
Who knew rules could be so freeing?
Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach, a writer, and a family physician. She is currently home with her son and working part-time as a life coach while also working toward her “10,000 hours” of writing to really master the craft and become a published author.