The Act of Creating: Stories without a Shape

Writing is essentially an act of artifice. We channel our innermost thoughts into complex structures and eloquent language. We leave out the ideas that are perhaps not as good or too deeply personal to share. We seek validation. As humans, we intrinsically apply a filter to our expression.

In academic writing, the need for structure is aggrandized. We all must conform.

As an undergraduate, I had to grapple with learning a very formalised style of writing that I wasn’t used to. My process for writing had always been what I like to refer to as ‘creative’, when actually it is wildly impractical. Whenever I had to write anything, I would sit in the middle of the floor surrounded by paper: drafts of ideas I’d written on the bus or in the middle of the night, sticky notes, scraps of articles. None of this was ever in any order. This is just how my brain works.

I spent my first two years at University feeling inadequate for my inability to strictly plan an essay and carefully formulate and refine each idea before writing. I would sit for hours trying to make all my points fit into a neat structure but words would evade me every time. Each sentence I wrote lay out of place on the page, defenceless before my judgement. A wise person once told me to ‘trust my own process.’ Success came when I found this freedom in my writing.

As humans I think we have an instinctive compulsion to have everything constantly in order, whether that be our homes, our priorities, our minds.  Whoever said that creativity couldn’t come out of chaos?

I was reading about Henri Matisse, one of my favourite artists, following an exhibition I visited in Charlottenburg, Berlin. Matisse would labour over arranging shapes and colours until he created something that appeared effortless, which made me think back to my own writing process.

By simplifying everything, we can create an ‘art of balance’, to use Matisse’s words. 


‘Odalisque in Red Trousers’, (1924), Henri Matisse.

Very few of us can create in a confined space. Trying to write in someone else’s structure did little but affirm the limitations of my art. It is good practice in life to allow, within reason, the mind to speak for itself. Applying self-consciousness to writing only inhibited me from creating.

‘Formlessness’ is what I would describe my writing technique to be. I herald the importance of writing without restriction; allowing a story to take whatever shape it wants without being bound by structure and rigidity.

Twentieth century artists – abstract expressionists to post-modern artists like Mark Kelley and Cindy Sherman, used ‘formlessness’ as a tool for creativity. The Tate Modern had a rich offering on this term when I googled it. Artist Jackson Pollock apparently ‘dripped paint onto a canvas that was laid out on the floor. The paint would get mixed up with the ash dropping from the artist’s cigarette and other bits of detritus, all of which would end up in the final work of art.’[1]

I love this image of a blank canvas being decorated with a sporadic range of material. This is true for writer’s too. The life experience of a writer is brought to bear on his or her work with kaleidoscopic effect. The flickering of ash from a cigarette they inhaled, the newspaper they read this morning, the appalling break-up they had last month or the joy they had at the arrival of a postcard from a loved one, all contribute to the final product. Ideas flourish at the hands of the uninhibited.

Poetic forms are created all the time by writers who require a new format to speak their own language. I love spoken word poetry for this very reason. It’s characterful and conversational. No strict shapes, often no ascertainable rhythms, just truth. Dressed down.

Maya Angelou says, ‘When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am.’

This is true for all of us. We are all artists and we all use different mediums and processes. Allow yourself to speak without restriction.



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