This essay was originally written in 1995 for a college course, The Personal Essay. I have made slight modifications to it as of October 30, 2001, for presentation here.
You know, in a past essay I waxed rhetorical on the evils of writing as a process. I griped about one of my professors, who practically beat us over the head with information on what "good" writers do. Ultimately, I decided that I didn't know if writing really was a process, but I would rather it wasn't.
Sadly, I've come to the conclusion that, at times, writing is a process. It goes against what I believed a few months ago, but my Expository Writing class has shown me the cold hard facts. Sometimes, you really do have to just do some straight writing, and then go back and do the revision. It's unsettling, but maybe I should have known it from the start.
Before you think I've gone totally soft, let me tell you that I don't think writing is the mechanical process that my professor has presented to me. My God, one day he was showing us how we could write a paper by basically filling out a sort of tree diagram, where instead of the branches being, say, family members, they were made up of topics or even sentences. He said if you were to go far enough you could merely string all the sentences and all the topics together and have your paper written. (Thank God he said that no one actually writes like that. But I wonder about that manů.)
Why did I have to be proven wrong? When I wrote that first essay I truly believed I was right, that writing really isn't a process. Now I feel kind of like that kid who just found out there really isn't a Santa Claus (oops, sorry if I ruined it for anyone). Well, maybe that is a little drastic. But at the time, I blindly followed my faith.
Through experience, I've found out something almost more horrid, though. Writing isn't only a process, it's a logical process (gasp). For instance, when writing a ten page paper, it makes sense to step back when you're about three-fourths of the way through it and take stock of what you have. Once that is done, you know what is missing, and what is unnecessary. It gives you an idea of what you still need to research in order to finish your paper. Further, when writing a work of any length, it makes sense not to edit as you go along, because in the end you may not even use what you've wasted time editing. It's logical enough to make Mr. Spock proud.
You know, writing this essay is really giving me a bad feeling. In the first place, I don't like to admit when I'm wrong. Second, like I've been saying throughout this piece, I just don't want to think of writing as a process. I really don't do enough of it, but even so, writing is something that I love. Hell, I'd be happy to make a career of it, if it paid (and believe me, to those lucky few it does). When something you feel so strongly about is turned on its ear, it just leaves you feeling a little bit bummed.
Still, I have a theory that I thought of before I even started this essay. Yet I don't really know if it can be true. I suppose that's why thinking about it didn't make me feel any better. But, for your reading enjoyment, here's my theory: writing can be a process, but it doesn't have to be all the time. What I mean is that when you're writing the ten or more page paper, there's little choice but to follow some sort of process, or else you'll never be able to handle it. But when you're writing for yourself, when you're writing for pleasure, just let go. Sit back and type and do whatever the hell you feel like doing. If you want to revise while you're typing, go ahead. If you want to finish the piece and print and send it off without proofing it, go ahead (but I wouldn't guarantee your chances of success). If you finish it and leave it sit for a while before coming back to it, hey, that's your business.
I hate to say this, but I'm worried that the entire paragraph I just wrote is moot. Couldn't all of my examples of non-process writing be considered processes in themselves? It boggles my mind, and once again makes me sad. Why can't writing just be fun? Maybe it can be, if I'd just stop worrying about process.