Why you should break more rules

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In their song, “Stressed Out,” Twenty One Pilots rap in a cacophonous couplet, “I wish I found some chords in an order that is new / I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang.” The lyrics still follow a stressed/unstressed pattern that brings cohesion to the two lines, but the last word and its dissonance is jarring. This effect is intentional; as the lyricist illustrated, he did not “rhyme every time” he “sang” by simply breaking a literary convention. The freedom from rules adds creativity as there are more possible options when those options do not need to be within the guidelines of rules.

If you’re scared taking an academic risk might hurt your GPA, do not worry. Your boss is unlikely to have a 4.0 GPA because, as a student, he may have broken academic conventions for the sake of creative ingenuity. As researcher, Karen Arnold, explained of her longitudinal study of high school valedictorians, “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries … they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.” Her reasoning? “Essentially, we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.” Grades reward intelligence, but they also reward conformity. I would infer a similar effect is true about college grades in comparison to high school grades.


Steve Jobs shows off the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference.  Photo in the    public domain

Steve Jobs shows off the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference. Photo in the public domain

So, go ahead, be like Twenty One Pilots and intentionally break that rhyming stanza. It will show your boss you are a creative thinker, unafraid of taking risks. Some of the most successful people have had imperfect GPAs. Adam Grant for The New York Times writes, “Steve Jobs finished high school with a 2.65 G.P.A., J.K. Rowling graduated from the University of Exeter with roughly a C average and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got only one A in his four years at Morehouse.” Grades aren’t always a predictor of success.

One major writing convention is to only write in first person or third person narration. People are frequently admonished for attempting literary quests in the second person. Writes Emmanuel Nataf, “A quick poll of literary editors will reveal that they’re pretty unanimous about writing a novel in the second person  —  most of them strongly advise against it.” However, second person narration can be a fun, creative break for many authors. My favorite children’s author, Pseudonymous Bosch, wrote a pentology, “The Secret Series,” in second person narration and using footnotes. In fact, the last book in the series is called “You Have To Stop This,” directly calling the reader into action. Bosch is a bestselling children’s author, and the stylistic choice was definitely worth the risk.

One of my favorite writing conventions to break is the rule that all titles must be capitalized. Putting titles in lowercase can be cute and inflect tone. Take Billie Eilish, for example. Of the 14 tracks on her debut album, 12 have words in them, and all 12 are stylized in lowercase. Some may say she is allowed to do that because she is a celebrity and gets a free pass, but Eilish’s pre-existing career had not yet hauled her into megastardom. The deliberate choice to render titles in lowercase proved to be a success: Eilish’s debut album was the most streamed album in 2019.

I’m not saying we should devolve into literary anarchy; I’m just saying that some deviance from the norm can be creative and intentional, proving both artistic and commercial results. Risk-taking is a positive quality, when utilized correctly. If we only adhered to rules, where would our creativity and ingenuity come from? It would be so limiting. I say: Learn the rules, learn how they work and intentionally break them. A true rule-breaker would learn the mechanics of the rule, only to acutely subvert them. Without knowledge of the rules, subversion is impossible. As the old adage says, “Rules are meant to be broken.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


Samara Karow is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samara.karow@uconn.edu.

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