By Troy Headrick
If you’re a regular reader of my posts, you know that I’ve been a writing, literature, and critical thinking teacher for many years. I mention this again because it’s going to be relevant to the topic of this blog.
In recent decades, there has been something of a transformation in how college and university teachers of writing approach their work. In the old days, way before I entered the profession, there was a great deal of focus on product and little attention paid to process. In other words, educators focused on what was written and less on how the writing happened.
Today, we understand that good writing is more likely to result when writers understand the importance of the creative process and have some tools and techniques at their disposal. Thus, we teach research methods and idea generation and problem solving and creating the right mood. We talk about brainstorming and keeping records and epiphanies. Metaphorically speaking, we now understand that what takes place during the gestation period is key to what sort of baby is to be brought into this world and so we do a lot of prenatal care. Having said all that, it still must be noted that most instructors mostly assign the most significant grades to finished pieces of writing.
The world we live in puts tons of emphasis on product. Just imagine the work that you do to earn your living. Your boss is going to judge your performance on results, mostly, right? Let’s say you’re in sales and your numbers look bad for a given period even though you did all the right things—your process was good, in other words. You can describe the process you followed to your boss until you’re blue in the face, but process can’t be measured. It doesn’t fit into a cell on a spreadsheet. There is no way to quantify it or even see it. (For years now, I’ve been saying that learning is messy and very often can’t be observed with the naked eye.) No one is going to continue to pay you forever just because you keep doing all the right things apart from sealing the deal.
I want to conduct a little experiment. Listen to the following two words and tell me which one connotes success and accomplishment more—“finishing” or “finished.” If you’re like most people, “finished” is the one you chose. That’s mostly due to how the English language works, linguistically speaking, and partly because, culturally speaking, we equate success and accomplishment with having things all wrapped up. “Finishing” may not ever become “finished,” right, so you can’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Here’s the important point to remember, though. Being finished can never happen unless one engages in finishing. No products or results ever occur after a magical snap of the fingers. Plus, the more elegant and thoughtful the process, the more likely it is that one will have a product worthy of appreciation.
This is a huge subject that I’ve spent many years thinking about, and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface.
Thanks for reading.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.