Rules, or constraints, whatever you want to call them--I've got tons. They're fluid and they change all the time, sometimes from piece to piece depending on what I'm trying to achieve. But I have to have them. They work on me like a belt, or a harness, or maybe even a straightjacket; they keep my molecules all stuck together, keep bits of me from floating off in every direction. They keep me focused.
I'm a very scattered person naturally, and while I count it a point of pride that I keep my shit more or less together, it takes a Herculean effort ( and lots of lists) to make it happen. Same with my writing. Maybe it inhibits creativity a bit, but I could never be one of those auto-writer types, the ones who can just let their minds wander and jot it all down. I'm jealous of them, how their brains work. I require structure, structure, structure.
The other problem that constraints help me avoid: I not only let my darlings live, I write them over and over again. To stop myself doing this, i have to declare some subjects off limit. Some general rules I'm following these days, in no particular order:
0. Every story needs an outline first. Even flashes.
1. No proper names. (Sometimes I'll name characters later. But I feel oddly trapped by
names while writing the story.)
2. Something has to happen in the story. (Yes, this actually has to be forced upon me.)
3. No wives or girlfriends that turn into, or are compared to, birds.
4. No normal physical descriptors. (Brown hair, green eyes, etc)
5. No quote marks. Little dialogue.
6. Limit adjectives to one, certainly no more than two per sentence. (I fail here often.)
7. No adverbs, if possible.
8. No specific, existing and recognizable places as settings.
9. No flashbacks.
10. No dreams.
11. No first person singular, if at all possible.
12. No writers. (As characters.)
13. Keep paragraphs shortish.
14. No checking email, Facebook, Twitter, or the work Blackberry more than once an
15. When stuck, open a book of poetry and choose a word at random; insert it and carry
on from there.
16. Write the title last, not first.
17. Cut. And cut again. And again. And again. Revise, revise. More.
18. Don't send a piece out the same day you wrote it.
19. Don't compare yourself to anyone. While writing, exist alone.
20. No music with words. Only instrumental (usually Dixieland jazz, ragtime, gypsy, etc).
21. No current events.
22. Break some rules or every rule and write a damn good story.