Friday, April 13, 2012

Process vs. Product

At one of my writing seminars yesterday, I slowly became aware that there's something I'm perhaps leaving too implicit when I talk about writing every day, one paragraph, a half-hour at a time. Participants often ask questions about how to apply this idea in accomplishing some particular writing project—a paper they've got due or a dissertation chapter their supervisor wants to see. I have to explain that what I mean by "writing process reengineering" is somewhat more longterm process, and that they should not think that they can immediately use it to realize some concrete goal over the next few weeks. In fact, what I'm suggesting is that you see your writing process as something you can, and should, develop without a particular writing project in mind.

There are some (many?) researchers who write only when they have to. This means that they are always writing some particular text, for some particular purpose, usually with some particular deadline in view. They never write just to see what they think (even when they "free write", it's as an initial stage of some project), or, even better, just to keep their prose in shape. They're never just writing, always writing something.

My view of the writing process is that it should simply be going on at all times alongside your research process. Even when you don't have a research paper or chapter to finish, you should devote time to writing your ideas down, forming them in prose. This act of "prosing" your thoughts without the immediate pressure of publishing them will be good for both your prose and your thinking. Now, since you're writing academic prose you've still got to have a clear idea of who your audience is (your peers) and you're still writing claims and supporting them, one paragraph at a time. The task remains the same. It's just the feeling you have while doing it that's somewhat different.

Then, when you need to "write something", i.e., produce a text for some given occasion, and this will of course happen quite often, you can just take this smoothly running process and hitch your project to it. Your writing process should just be that part of your life that is continuously delivering reliable prose about the things you know. You can then use that prose in the usual way.

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