Rules are a common language in whatever medium you’re expressing your creative self with. Nothing emphasizes this more than a young child learning to tell jokes. Once they’ve learned the chicken joke, they start experimenting with other things that cross the road and the reasons for their crossing. If you’ve parented or looked after such a child, you know how tiring that can sometimes be, because the jokes…just…aren’t….funny. You admire the child for trying, but it’s hard to laugh at something that’s not funny.
However, it does drive home an important point: there are rules in whatever art form you choose to express yourself in. Sometimes learning the rules first can increase your creativity than just going at something free form. Having some basic boundaries can oddly be freeing.
Comedy improv is a good example. What may seem completely random is only partly random. Good players will follow specific rules and acting techniques to provide their ideas with structure. A well-known rule is to always say yes. If Player A says, “Here’s an apple for you!” and Player B says, “Thanks!” and takes the imaginary apple, Player B is saying yes to the idea that Player A has handed over an apple. If Player B says, “That’s not an apple, that’s a watermelon,” Player B has stalled the scene and Player A is left with the on-stage equivalent to having your first “I love you” not returned.
Think of dance. While it’s certainly possible to get down and boogie on the dance floor, many discover a lot more options if you take a dance class and learn some basic rules, i.e., basic steps. Same goes for writing: if you don’t learn how spell and write simple sentences, your work will make very little sense to your readers.
Whatever form of creativity you want to dabble in or actively pursue, don’t be afraid to pick up a book for beginners, or take a workshop once in a while. Rules and creativity don’t beat each other up; they work together.