As much as I believe my intuition to be above reproach, it’s nice to have a little science come along to back my shit up. Days after I posted about putting things in boxes, I came across a vindicating Jonah Lehrer article in Wired: it seems that scientists have proven that restrictions trigger the brain to perceive on a larger scale and to conceive of a greater range of ideas, thereby boosting creativity. Thank you, science!
Now that imposing form (aka my favorite kind of restriction) has been sanctified as awesome by the brain masters, I feel compelled to push the envelope a bit further and bring in the frail, curmudgeonly matter of intention. To be clear: by form, I mean the shape of a piece of writing; the way in which content is organized on the page. It's easiest to imagine the imposed form of a sonnet, but any variety of form can just as easily be imposed on any piece of writing. You could set out to write a short story beginning every sentence with the letter Q. You could limit the syllable count in every paragraph, use only monosyllabic words, end every paragraph with a different color.
Now, imagine an idea of what you want to write about and an imposed form are fighting. Do you know who is going to win? Form. The answer is Form. Why? Because form owns you. Because form is more necessary to the achievement of beauty than some idea you had. Form takes that idea and makes it better—science says so.
As soon as an idea finds its way into language, it is trapped by the rules of grammar, coherence, effect. What is written supersedes the idea that compelled the language onto the page.
In other words, what is read are the words put down, not the intention behind those words. No author can whisper into the ear of every reader to explain what they meant. But this imposition, this forcing of an idea into language, in turn allows that idea to be explored, tweaked, and revised more fully. If I get the idea in my head to write about pancakes and how delicious they are, chances are, if I set up some limitations for myself beforehand, if I make the adventure of writing more challenging, I will be forced to enter more interesting territory.
Pancakes could achieve greatness. Pancakes could bring you to your knees. One of the greatest side-effects of form is that it’s likely to push intention further into an unexpected, delightful place.