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Live Free by Formula

Posted by Priscilla on March 8, 2013

Have you heard this one? “There are two types of people in the world:  those who avoid risk and those who take risks.” Or maybe you’ve heard this: “There are two types of people in the world:  organizers and creative geniuses.”

I beg to differ. 

All people move back and forth between risk and security, between creative gambles and controlled planning. It’s true that our personalities determine at which end of the spectrum we spend the most time, but we humans need both in our lives.

We need liberty. We need to know that we are unbounded, that we have room enough to choose to go in any direction. This is where creative genius flourishes. To stand alone, on the edge of discovery, is exhilarating. We crave the challenge and the adventure of the unknown. We crave the glory.

But we also need formula. We are not alone, and that is good. Family, friends, school, and work offer us a hedge that provides safety in the midst of risk-taking. Culture and society provide clear markings on the path so we will not lose our way.

For the writer, liberty and rule must always walk together.

If we deny liberty, we twist the good and cut off the air to our words. It might feel safe to write by formula alone, but soon we (and certainly our readers) will feel the fatigue and the emptiness of our flat landscapes. If we ignore rule, our writing becomes flabby. Poetry provides the best example of what formula can do for us. What happens when words are constrained by the bounds of poetic formula? Power explodes out of the poem. Whether a Shakespearean sonnet or verse by Theodore Roethke, the tight rightness of the words used within the bounds of rule raises excitement.

Too much formula can lead to boredom. Too much liberty might lead to despair. The successful writer finds the middle way.

What do you think?

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