I work in patterns. I inhabit forms.
For me, they provide creative inspiration. It doesn’t matter whether I’m using an established form (a sonnet) or one of my own devising (say, in my most recent novel work-in-progress, using very short chapters), the hope is that formal pattern gives my mind something to work against. The creative boost they provide comes from my brain being centrally concerned with something other than the meat of the poem or novel. Instead, I’m worrying about the next rhyme or when the short chapter has given enough information to be worthwhile.
As you might already suspect, the benefits are that my subconscious is working overtime because my conscious mind has other things to worry about (said rhyme and/or chapter length).
The drawbacks are that my subconscious is working overtime and my conscious mind has no time for vetting what my subconscious produces.
But, as NaNoRevisMo tells me, in a loud voice, repeatedly, “Such things are what revision is for.”
And yet there’s something else to mull over (with properly spiced wine), and that is the benefit of keeping with a pattern and/or form and/or formal pattern and/or patterned formal. What should you do if the pattern starts to choke the writing? If the form begins to chafe?
Quick Answer: You cut out of the dance early and head on over the after-party, changing into your casual-but-awesome clothes as you go.
But sometimes you don’t have the choice to cut and run. Sometimes you have a curfew you can’t dodge and you’re stuck at the formal because none of the parties start until after you’re expected home. In that case, you have to make the best of what you’ve got.
And it’s true I’ve strayed a bit from the main topic here, and that metaphor has nearly erased the main argument, and that I didn’t spend any real time at my prom after-party which was official and therefore still umbrellaed under form(al), but the point here is…
Ah, yes, the point.
As you might guess, I’m talking about A Year of Living Bloggily, the stated goal of which is to write a blog post every day for a year. The past few weeks I’ve fallen behind in my writing of posts, letting the day lag on until I force myself to sit down a few hours before the midnight shift and key something out. But the form – to write a blog post every day – was established so that I’d be forced to do this, with the desire & hope that I’d be creating some posts that I wouldn’t normally, simply because I was forcing myself to write.
This has been, and will continue to be, true.
But that doesn’t make lulls like I’ve just passed through (and I’m hoping I’ve reached the other side of the tunnel) any easier.
And that’s the point.
A form can be constricting, yes, but that’s why one chooses to use a form in the first place. Ideally, the form constricts us towards beauty. And please forgive that unfortunate corset metaphor while I continue with my belief that a form is useful, once decided on, for the entire length of the project. It grows difficult because your mind is finding a rut to fall in, or simply doesn’t want to do the work to come up with something new, and it’s easier (oh so much easier) to simply abandon the form. But if you do that, you’ll miss out on those unexpected gems that would have come through continuing to struggle against/with/form the form.
That being said, I’m all for jettisoning the form once the hard work of a first draft is done. Then, and I’d suggest only then, can you see whether the form is worth keeping.