I’ve always disliked formulas. Not just formulaic “art” but formulas for creating things. The setup-punchline structure for jokes. The three-part model for essays. The three-act structure of scripts and stories. The reason is because these things always felt restrictive. They also felt inorganic and inauthentic. They especially feel forced at times. I have a desire to be original and unique because it is great fun (and a great competitive strategy). I’ve felt that it might be a good idea to resolve the resistance I have towards using these sort of structures, and I’ve been able to do that in three ways: The first is to figure out why these structures are created and what purpose they serve. The second is to change the way these things are represented in my mind. The third way is to realize that they seem forced only because I have not used them enough while thinking about them the right way.
Recently, I was reading Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, and it was just a rambling bunch of paragraphs. There was no single focus for a chapter and Freud would talk about a number of unrelated things. There seemed like an overall lack of preparation there (something I’ve recently come to recognize the importance of). I came to understand that the three-part structure of essays helps give it clarity and balance. In a similar vein, the three-act structure creates a certain response in human beings which is quite enjoyable. That doesn’t mean its good or bad, it just is.
This is the image I have of these sort of structures: Imagine a human-shaped mold. It can only be filled with a certain amount of material and thus restricts growth. This is how I used to imagine these sort of structures. As molds to pour your work into, and that just felt inorganic and forced. Now, I’ve come to imagine them more as a skeleton that you can drape your work on. In this way, you can gain the benefits of these skeletons (such as clarity and structure) and still create great work.
The final way to learned to be ok with structures is to realize that while they may seem forced now and then but that’s only because I am not very good at them. At the beginning of learning any skill, it may seem forced and awkward, but as you become more skilled, it becomes easier. I wrote about this previously: 4 Stages of How You Learn!
All of that said, that does not mean I cannot play with the structure of these things. In fact, playing with structurs is a great source of joy for me. But I have gotten over my subconscious resistance to these sort of structures. I have a feeling that this has bigger implications than just for writing. I can feel that this has to do with my life purpose (finding which felt restrictive and mold-like to me) but now I realize purpose is simply a back-bone thread that is already in my life. I can feel that this may have to be why I do not want to do anything unoriginal. Similarly, to-do lists are not supposed to be restrictive like that and you have to do everything on them because it’s written down, but they serve as guides and skeletons for your time. There is more introspection to be done here.
I hope that if anyone out there is suffering from a similar subconscious resistance to structures, they can make the mental flip from mold to skeleton and lose that resistance. Without subconscious resistance, you can make conscious decisions better. 🙂