I saw a discussion today about breaking the rules of writing and grammar. I’ll give you a moment to go read that.

Now, the thing that a lot of writers don’t understand is that yes, you can break rules once you completely mastered them, but it takes most writers years of writing and extensive study before they can get to that point.

Take, for example, an artist. Art and writing are similar in so many ways, and this case is no different. A young man—a prodigy—named Pablo Picasso started drawing at the age of ten. His early work isn’t what you’d imagine from the later master of cubism and surrealism.17

Look at this painting above. (First Communion. 1895/96. Oil on canvas. Museo Picasso, Barcelona, Spain.) Picasso painted this at the age of fourteen. During his youthful instruction, he painted in the traditional manner of the time. He was a master in classical style of painting.

In the intervening years, his style developed and changed. From there he went through his blue period, on to the rose period, then on to cubism and finally to his later periods of exploration.

Throughout his career he mastered each technique—and invented several of them. Take, for instance, the painting at right. Picasso_Demoiselles

There is a beauty in the painting, something evocative and sensual even though the style is completely different. Though not all people may like this style of painting, they can’t deny that it is masterfully done.

Now to tie this back to writing. Picaso studied art for years, first learning the rules of art before striking out on his own to explore and create. Yes, this does go along with the theme of “know the rules before you break them,” but there is something important here that many writers don’t understand: you have to master the rules before you break them. Not just know them, not just learn them. You have to master them.

So how do you do that? Educate yourself, not necessarily through formal studies at a university, though that will help. Study language and writing. Read the masters, both modern and classic. Incorporate the rules of grammar into your writing. If you really struggle with punctuation, take a class at the local community college or a continuing education course.

Your literary education is up to you. Don’t sell yourself short by declaring that you’re “breaking the rules,” at least not until you know them as well as you know your own soul, because that is what you will be putting on the page. Become a master of the language, and then explore, create, and craft new rules. Don’t just say you’re breaking them.