As a writer, I want to convey something to an audience. Some ideas are less concrete than others, some are explicit while others can be difficult to pin down. It is why I love this blog. I get to try all sorts of different things, write in various mediums and genres. I can write ridiculous lists, serious rants, heart felt paragraphs, almost anything. I get to choose if I want to make stuff up, tell stories as I remember them, or share images and songs that matter to me.
Each medium has its form.
Stories often have beginnings, middles, ends. Poems have stricter rules and guidelines. An essay should be coherent, have clear ideas, share evidence as well as substantiated opinion. Sentences must be written in the correct order with proper spelling and accurate grammar. All these forms are fluid. The give and sway with each writer, each written word. Some forms may appear quite restrictive, requiring strict adherence, but they are just spaces to write between, different templates for ideas.
A poet and friend of mine, Craig Arnold, loved to work in various forms. He would write sonnets, Sapphic verse, intense narratives, and some stuff I had never dreamed of attempting. He assigned our class several of these forms and sometimes, I would struggle to make ideas fit into such demanding forms. Writing something in Iambic Pentameter, I would often find myself using bland filler, words I didn’t need or want, rhymes that felt forced and false.
I expressed my discomfort and frustration to him over coffee one afternoon. I told him I felt like the forms were restricting me and I could never get them to flow right. He said something I have tried to remember. “Form is the vehicle to a destination, not the destination itself.”
I had to change the way I looked at writing. When I chose to write in a restrictive form, I needed to stop seeing it as a barrier to expression. I could instead use the structure to strip away the pretense, dig and chip away like a sculptor at a massive stone, until what was important and hidden in the rock started to push to the surface.
When I started to see writing this way, the creative process itself took on new importance. The vehicle began to reveal meaning, the writing itself exposing what I had been looking to express.
That said, few are ever impressed that my poem is rhyming couplets, and fewer less care if each line contains the same amount of syllables, or no stanza but the final one ends with a period. But for me, as a writer, the vehicle is invaluable. I would never get to my destination without it. I may never even start the journey.