Tristram Shandy is a novel about novel-writing—and that was pretty novel. In the mid-eighteen hundreds, the "novel" was starting to be recognized as a new form of writing, thanks to Samuel Richardson, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding—and good old Sterne. Of those four, Sterne is the most self-conscious about his writing. Throughout Tristram Shandy, you see Tristram struggling to get the words to behave. It's never clear who has the upper hand—Tristram, or the text. He not only writes and writes about writing, he takes on other writers by referencing, parodying, and even plain stealing their work. In some ways, Tristram Shandy looks forward to a later genre of novel, the Kunstlerroman: novels about the education of an artist. In others, it riffs on Keeping Up With the Kardashians: a reality show that's only half reality.
Writing allows Tristram to cope with the trauma of his early childhood.
Tristram's intention in Tristram Shandy is to develop a new style of writing.