My daughter is a rule follower. No matter what we're doing - coloring, swimming, eating dinner - she wants to talk about the rules. She's also a human with a rebellious little heart. To honor her love for order and her love for chaos, she'll allow herself small prescribed doses of anarchy. She will often tell us while getting ready for bed, "I'm going to run away three times!" And she does. She runs away squealing three times, and we chase her three times, and her need for disorder is sated for the night.
Sometimes, when a toddler's daily life gets to be too constrictive, she'll really need to cut loose, and will inform me: "I'm going to go all willy-milly!" This is a brief whirlwind of spins, kicks, shouting, and throwing stuffed animals. It's a delight to see a generally reserved little girl go absolutely nutso with joy and abandon. It's also the most creative I ever see her. I think having a defined period makes her feel safer, like things won't get totally out of control.
Sometimes, as writers, we have trouble letting go. We spend so long learning the rules that sometimes it's hard to just write. This can be a real hindrance to creativity. There's a reason many creatives turn to drugs and alcohol. I find a healthier way to let go is to give myself a safe, well-defined space where I can break all the rules and see what happens. Below are some rule-breaking exercises. These are not meant to result in good work, or publishable work, or work that ever sees another eye but your own. That's just fine. The point is to shake off the cobwebs and get the words flowing out of your fingertips. To free yourself from the pressure of producing publishable work, I recommend creating and keeping these exercises in different spaces from your other writing. Write them in pencil in a dedicated notebook, when you usually type on the computer. Maybe type in a different font and save in a different folder. Just do something to remind your writer brain that this is Willy-Milly time.
I recommend setting a timer and dedicating no more than 30 minutes to any one of these. Knowing you're on the clock keeps you writing, not analyzing.
Make a list of 20 nouns, 20 verbs, 20 adjectives, and 20 adverbs. Choose a story you like and rewrite the first paragraph, substituting every word with a word from your list of the same part of speech. (You can keep articles and prepositions.) After you've got the first paragraph down, continue the story from there, no matter how little sense it makes.
Take another story you like, and re-write it from the POV of another character. Try, at first, to stay true to the original plot as it was written. In my experience, you'll find that the harder you try to stick to the original story, the more rebellion creeps in and your character insists on telling a very different story. When you're ready, let go and let the story go off where it wills.
Read Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. Write your own set of instructions in this style. Some ideas to get you started: a coach to a player who isn't very good; a father turning over his shady business to a child; an outgoing president to the president-elect; a beautician to a new co-worker. (I've done this exercise myself probably a dozen times, and it always leads to good stuff.)
Breaking the Rules of Nature
Think of a basic task you do regularly. Walking to the kitchen to make coffee, getting groceries, taking a shower. Remove one law of physics: gravity, friction, inertia, etc. What would it look like to get try to accomplish this task if that law suddenly disappeared? Get as science-y as you'd like, but don't get too bogged down in the details. Obviously, if there were no more gravity, making coffee would be the least of your concerns. But how would you complete your task if everything kept floating away?
Tell, Don't Show
Have a great idea that you can't quite get going on? Write it like you had three minutes to explain it to a guy in line at the grocery store. Write it fairy-tale style. Tell everything, and don't show a thing. "There once was a man who kept hearing a knocking sound coming from his basement stairs. He was very afraid. He bought a dog." This is a great exercise to get a good idea down on paper before it escapes.
Fan Fiction Frenzy
Choose three real people from your life. Insert them into the plot of your favorite movie or TV show. (Try to do this without planning too much - random people, random show.) How would grandma react if she were on Breaking Bad?
Dick and Jane
Write a story with only two-word subject-verb sentences. (Jane woke. Jane stretched. Jane looked. Jane screamed.) How far can you get before you really need a third word?
Talk to Me
Write a story that's only dialogue, no tags. Try to include the scene and setting. Try to include a third character who doesn't talk.
Retell a classic monster story, but mix up the details. Dracula needs brains, not blood. Frankenstein's Monster only comes alive during the full moon.
Edit: Find more Willy-Milly exercises here.
Remember, let yourself go wild with these. Keep your fingers moving. Don't revise. Don't even delete if you can keep from it. And if any of these lead you to something great, let me know!
(This is my favorite part of this blog. You've felt them. I've felt them. But there's no word to describe them. Maybe we should write about them!)
Attending a potluck and only eating the food that you brought.