If you are a writer, artist, designer, architect, cook, or creative all-purpose person, you know all about process. You know that your process is unique and essential to the creative life.
If you watch reruns, check out Carrie Bradshaw’s writing process. Seriously. She ruminates. She ponders. She obsesses. She wonders. It might be about Mr. Big or shoes or negotiating life and relationships in New York City— but she digs and spins and drills until she hits it: the first sentence. Then she opens up her laptop and starts to type. The camera zooms in on the screen. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap. We watch as the first sentence is crafted, character-by-character and word-by-word. If the sentence turns out to be a false start, we are witness to a swift single revision. We hear Carrie’s voiceover as she writes her life. That’s process.
Carrie Bradshaw and I live in different shoes. We have different approaches to life, but we each have our own process. Mine involves Sunday mornings and coffee and headphones and gospel bluegrass in the breaking pink-streaked blue of predawn light. I clean off my desk and make a mess and clean it up again. I write my life in the break of a brand new day and in the twilight of a week just passed. Process.
If you are a teacher you know all about THE writing process: the march from start to finish –planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing– no matter how many writers are lost along the way. I am much more interested helping children learn THEIR process than I am in teaching THE process. And I’ve never lost a writer yet.
In September, young third graders are pretty sure they know how to finish the job. They know how to fill a prescribed amount of space, put the pencil down, and announce, “I’m done.” My first task as teacher is to gently guide the young writer away from the allure of “done!” Writers need to know how to get ideas and see details. Writers need to know how to get started and how to stick with it. Writers need to learn to hear cadence in craft.
Writers need to be willing to get lost along the way and learn how to find their way back.
And then, finally, writers need to know how to finish their work. That’s where we are now… we are learning the beauty of finish: we are learning to remove flaws and add detail. Finished work has permanence and integrity. We are honing our revision skills and playing with ways to publish. This week we spent time reading over our notebooks and deciding what to take forward—what we want to finish. I leaned in and listened as young writers talked this part of the process through.
“Oh, I love this one — it has such good words!”
“This brings the feelings back!”
“I think others would like this.”
These are great guidelines for any writer! We’ve learned the secret of getting done. It is this: just get started. And begin well. Live into your work. And then finish the job. Without finish there is no “done.”