Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[personal] On rules

At one point in my life, I realized that everything important I needed to know about living I’d learned from my car. (Then a 1975 Cadillac Eldorado convertible — a nasty-ass pimpmobile with Texas plates that read BIG*CAR.)

Rule number one was “Never drive behind a bus.” I’d originally gotten that from my friend Rob Cordes, and what it really means is don’t deliberately do things which reduce your quality of life.

Rule number two was “Never leave anything in the car you really care about.” I’ve owned at least four convertibles in my life, and never locked one of them once. Why? Because there’s nothing in the car that will cost me more to repair or replace than the top if some meth-head cuts it to boost my radio or whatever. What this really means is take care of the things which need taking care of, and don’t sweat the rest. In other words, I can always buy another radio.

Recently, I’ve been discussing in various contexts the idea of “Please don’t eat the giraffe” rules. These are the kinds of rules any society has which no one ever thinks to spell out in so many words, until someone comes along who tries to eat the giraffe. If you’re a parent, you’re pretty familiar with these rules, because kids are always finding some giraffe to eat. If you hang out with writers, many of whom are the beneficiaries of what at the kindest could be called quirky socialization, you run into some of these same rules. (And of course, there are places in the world where “Please don’t eat the giraffe” may well be a needed social rule.)

I’ve decided that the most important rule for working writers is “Don’t be a pain in the ass.” (Well, ok, the most important rule is “Write more”, but that one is kind of internal and doesn’t apply much to interactions with the world outside the space behind your eyes.) “Don’t be a pain in the ass” covers a lot of ground, and touches on many of the behavioral tics and outright neuroses so common to our breed, but mostly it means meet your deadlines, be polite, manage your expectations, never forget where you came from and try to remember who you really are.

Unfortunately, for some people all the time, and all people some of the time, “Don’t be a pain in the ass” is a “Please don’t eat the giraffe” rule. (Myself very much included.) My advice? Listen to what you’re actually saying to people. And, of course, never drive behind a bus.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Tags: culture, personal, process, writing

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