Writing is a Process, Not a Product

All 110 of my seniors and my 20 college freshman just finished writing personal narratives. It took almost three weeks of hard work and revisions and peer-conferencing, but I have a huge stack waiting for a final grade.

For three weeks, writing was a process…to a product. Right?

Sort of.

My students and I definitely had an end product in mind as we dug through example after example of good writing and as we read and re-read our own writing.  But it was also a process.

It was the process most of my students…and you…are probably somewhat familiar with: brainstorming, drafting, revising, drafting, revising, drafting, editing, publishing.

Lots of my students hate this process because they feel like they could sit down, draft and publish.  Many of you have said to me, “I don’t really have a process.  I don’t revise or edit. I just do it all at once and hit publish.”

My answer, of course, would be that well, yes, you do have a process then. How successful it is for you probably has to do with how long you spend on what you call “drafting” before you “publish”.

But my point here is that most of the time, I am not looking at writing as being just the Writing Process, but also a Thinking Process.

PicMonkey Collage

I cannot imagine working through any of my thoughts or emotions without writing. Long before I was a wife or mother or any of life’s major challenges had come flying at me, I kept journals.  I have stacks of notebooks and journals of all different sizes and shapes.

I started one my freshman year of college.

I remember sitting in my dorm room alone.  My roommate had moved her stuff in and then went home for the weekend not to return until Sunday night before classes started.

I knew nobody on my floor and since I hadn’t been a party-er in high school, I wasn’t exactly great at walking up to new people and asking if they had any vodka.

My parents had taken me to the bookstore that day to help me get my books and any supplies. One purchase that day had been a spiral notebook with my college crest and name in gold on the cover. It was so much nicer than all my other notebooks, and I didn’t know what class would be worthy enough to have it’s notes put in it. So I had set it aside.

That first night in the dorms, as I felt alone and scared and homesick, I took out that notebook and I wrote my first journal entry. Over the course of the next couple years, I hauled it out sporadically when I needed to “write it out”. I remember writing about how no one tells you how angsty college life is…how the transition to college is way harder than the transition to high school that every is always gushing about.

That journal is shoved far in the back of Charlie’s closet under a bunch of other keepsakes (and among other journals) from my late teens/early twenties.

I stopped keeping a regular journal about four years ago when I started putting all those words here (I started this blog six years ago, but didn’t start “writing it out” here until more recently).

My point is, words like the ones I wrote yesterday are ones I didn’t have to explain how I felt until I wrote them down. Writing through pain, happiness, confusion, anger, joy, surprise, and so many more things have not just helped me to know how I think and feel, but it’s also given a voice to these experiences.

It’s made them real to me and to those who read my words.

This is why I have my students write every day. It is also why even though we do “publish” things, I try to teach them the process of writing…not just the drafting and revising stuff, but the thoughts that go into all those drafts and revisions.  All the brainstorming and just word vomiting onto paper for weeks before finding your subject or tone or voice.

It’s why I try hard to assign a type of essay and not give a specific prompt.

I want my students to learn what they know and what they don’t know and what makes them happy and confused and angry by writing through it all.

 
Blogging To End Hunger

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About Katie Sluiter

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a high school English teacher, college adjunct instructor, freelance writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. Writing through it all is what has helped me get through all of it.

  2. I have been blogging about the same amount of time. When life has gotten hectic my blog usually falls off from me, but I am back soon enough, it being my safe place to vent, scream, rage against injustices. I will admit I wreak havoc on the English language in some of my posts. (A fact I am sure drives you absolutely bonkers, oh if you only had a red pen when you came to my blog.) I write what my heart fears and craves. I pour out my soul on there. I think if you went way back to the beginning you would be shocked by some of the things you would find..maybe even some things that would relate to your soul dump yesterday.

  3. I had a journal right after high school. It was mostly filled with teenage angst, but there began my writing process.

    My process now? I write in spurts. I try to write every day, but if I don’t, I don’t beat myself up over it. I probably don’t edit as much as I should though. :)

  4. yup, yup, yup. I was nodding all the way through this one. My blog became my journal, but before that it was composition notebooks all the way. Almost all of the writing process is a thinking process. You have to be aware of your own thinking. And so as not to go completely psycho crazy–it’s just better if you write that shiz down along the way. xx!

  5. You know, I wish I could have had you as my English teacher. I liked both my HS and my college English composition teachers and I did very well in both their classes but I feel, they didn’t reach me the way you try to reach your students. Love it.

  6. I needed this today. I’ve been struggling with my voice and my writing – partly because I’ve been writing a lot for other people – and all too often I think about what the piece will be like when it’s published. And if I don’t feel like it’s “that” from the get go, I stop and get frustrated. I need to just write more.

  7. You’re a good English teacher. If I get this job, I’ll need to help with literary analysis and I’m not even sure what that means. I’m pretty sure I do it, but what does it mean?

  8. I don’t know where I’d be without writing…. great post, Katie!

  9. I love this. I’ve never known how to make sense of the world without using words and stories to make it orderly. Not that it’s ever orderly at all, but it FEELS like it makes some sense.

  10. Almost every essay, blog post, chapter, complete manuscript I have ever written began about one thing then evolved into something else.

    I can outline or not. I can have an idea for the beginning/middle/end or not.
    But eventually, the words take over and I realize what it was I’d been getting at all along.

    “Oh! That’s what I really meant (think, planned, believe, want to say)!”

    It’s all about the process. Indeed.

  11. In high school, my journal of choice was an old, scribbled-on binder full of loose leaf pages. When I finally started writing again 2 years ago, it was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. These days, my process is write and leave and come back. I do more thinking, more editing.

  12. I like the idea of writing as a process. Writing as a product stops me cold. What is the product? A book? A paragraph? A note jotted onto a scrap of paper? Some of my best writing came out of a few words seen on a screen and I ran with it. Others took hours of writing and editing and heart beating fast before I hit that publish button.

  13. I write when I get ideas. Something has to spur me on to WANT to write. And revising is definitely a part of the process again and again!

  14. I have found a lot of times that I don’t know what I’m feeling until I sit down and write it out. Putting the words down helps to open parts of my mind that allow the feelings to flow free. It is very healing.

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  1. […] idea here is that I share with you a peek into my writing process. I’ve written before about writing being a process and not just a product, but I never really shared my own process. I hope this does not stifle any of […]