Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Discipline and Process

A well-designed process produces something in a reliable way. Of course, the process has to be supplied with the appropriate materials. You can set up a process to produce sausages, but without the right ingredients the product will not be what you want. But given the raw materials, once the process is set in motion we can expect a product after it is done.

When I talk about the writing process I do basically mean "process" in this sense. Given a set of materials (your knowledge), you can set up a process to reliably produce a piece of writing, a text. The first draft of a journal article will take you 20 hours to write, one paragraph every thirty minutes. You can write between one and six paragraphs a day. Working two hours a day, it will take you ten days, two five-day weeks, to produce the draft. Another two weeks and you will have been able to re-write the whole thing one more time. The process, when it is running, is perfectly reliable.

An absolutely crucial assumption in my approach, however, is that you know something. I focus on the problem of writing things down, not on the problem of having something to say. But the great thing about your knowledge is that you don't use it up in writing. "Running out of things to say" is a bit like a jogger "not having someplace to go". You can always go to the same place you've been before. The materials for writing, like the materials for jogging, are always available to you, so long as you don't think you always have to get somewhere new.

That's where your process intersects with your discipline. There is the larger 20-hour process and the smaller 27-minute process. The smaller process produces a paragraph, the larger process produces an article. But whether or not that process runs is a matter of discipline. You have to sit down and actually write the paragraph and then move on to the next paragraph according to your plan.

Discipline is important because it gives your imagination a place to function. Writing is not, finally, an automatic process. It is an imaginative act. It's true of any process that if it set in motion without proper care for the materials being processed it will simply harm those materials (and the machinery). If, however, it is followed in a careful and disciplined way, a process will improve itself simply by running. With a little discipline, your process can function in the same way.

I'm going to say something more about the role of imagination in this process on Thursday.

1 comment:

Kai Kaufmann said...

Interesting idea that you can always run to the place you have been before, like recursion, the topic of my diss. And the title for this blog also pleases me (I am writing from the town of the Beatles ya know ;)), since there is some Foucault'ian panopticon in it and a lot of Giddens' duality of structure (which is like Podolny's pipes and prisms or the mix of constative and performative aspects of language).