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.

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