T.S. Eliot once wrote that “When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” Given his background Eliot may have been talking about the creative restrictions of poetic forms but I think the principle applies to rules in general as well.
Art is one of the few places where you get to make the rules. When recording his fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye West laid out some studio rules that included:
NO HIPSTER HATS
NO RACKING FOCUS WHILE MUSIC IS BEING PLAYED OR MUSIC IS BEING MADE
These rules may seem arbitrary to me or you but to Kanye these were essential to the particular situation he was in. Someone in the studio, possibly Kanye himself, was tweeting or blogging and no music was being made. So, in that hypothetical situation, the rules are there to prevent (or minimise) the sprawl of procrastination because it’s easy, maybe even natural, to turn away when there’s difficult work to be done.
On this dual nature of ours Don DeLillo wrote that “a writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.” If an award-winning novelist also struggles with procrastination (and still manages to write) we’re in good company.
So go ahead. Make some rules for yourself.