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chiots-run-flickr.jpg?resize=860%2C484&sIt’s firefly season in my part of the world. As I write this, it’s dusk, and my front yard is just starting to light up. For the next few hours the fireflies will flash their little butts at a much higher concentration in front of my house compared to my neighbors.

I get a better light show in the first half of summer not because my yard is more beautiful or well-kept than others, but because in the two years we’ve owned our house, we haven’t raked or blown away a single leaf. We don’t mow the grass very often, and we don’t do anything to control the population of clover, fleabane, and purple dead-nettle as they slowly take over. Fireflies spend 95 percent of their lives as larva in leaf litter and other dark, moist environments, and they only live for about two months as adults. If we had bagged up all those leaves last fall to be taken away, we would have lost all those larvae.

We’re lucky to live in a place without a homeowner’s association to dictate what makes a yard “attractive,” so we’ve been able to allow nature to reclaim some of what had once been an average suburban yard: a stretch of seeded grass, azaleas bushes (which don’t attract many pollinators, as they bloom too early in the season), and some border grass (an invasive ornamental). When I tell other homeowners I’ve let my yard go wild, they will sometimes joke that it must be so much easier to not have to do yardwork. And, yes, it is easier to not have to spend hours mowing the lawn, raking, pulling weeds, or filling in patchy sod every weekend. But it does take work: we’re constantly cutting back ornamental vines that threaten to choke off pollinator-friendly plants, and uprooting invasive plants that will outcompete native flora if left unchecked.

And that’s one of the major differences between the wild yard and the more traditional manicured lawn: one attempts to dominate and control the landscape. The other works with it. This means that I’ve had to teach myself how to identify the most common plants that crop up in my yard (there are some great apps out there that make this easier than it once would have been). I’ve learned which ones are native and which ones are invasive, which feed local wildlife and pollinators, which enrich the soil when they break down, which offer shelter for beneficial insects in the winter.

As writers, we’re frequently told by other well-meaning industry professionals about the “rules.” I don’t mean grammar rules, bur rather the rules of structure, of story progression, of beats. It’s easy to get bogged down in trying to follow all the rules. Am I hitting all the correct beats for my genre? Does every scene further both the plot and my main character’s internal development? Does each plot point occur the on the exact correct page?

Do these frameworks help create interesting stories? Abso-freaking-lutely. Just as I still put effort into my yard, guides for story structure and genre are worthwhile tools. But—like most things—there are limits to what one can accomplish by sticking strictly to what’s considered “good.” Particularly when we force our writing into a structure, set of beats, or genre that it may not perfectly fit, we’re only doing a disservice to our readers and our own creativity.

It’s important to not get bogged down in what we “should” do at the expense of letting our ideas run free. You never know what’s hiding under that leaf litter: firefly larvae, or a white-throated sparrow’s nest, a monarch butterfly cocoon. Why would I risk these beautiful, living things in favor of a “neat, well-manicured” lawn?

Has your creative vision ever directly contradicted the “rules” of good writing? How did you reconcile the two?

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About Kelsey Allagood

Kelsey Allagood (she/her) is a writer, occasional photographer, and trained political analyst specializing in the causes of war and systemic oppression. This background led her to begin writing fantasy fiction steeped in the anthropology of conflict. Her writing can be found in literary magazines such as Barrelhouse, GRIFFEL, Menacing Hedge, and Wanderlust. Her photography is forthcoming in RESURRECTION mag. She has also written on peaceful resistance movements, art as a form of political resistance, and countering violent extremist ideology. Kelsey has a Bachelor’s Degree in international and cultural studies from the University of Tampa and a Master’s Degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University. She lives in Maryland with her husband, mother, and a rescue dog named Henry.

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