Shelley Widhalm

The Process vs. Product of Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

What is more real, the process of writing a novel or short story collection, or the book that results from having written, found an agent and gotten published?

For readers, that final product is the definable hard object, but for writers, especially for those not yet in print, I would guess that writing is both process and product.

Writing, and creativity for that matter, isn’t linear with the story coming out according to what happens next to fit perfectly into the traditional novel structure, as if all you had to do was fill in the blanks. Novels, excluding those that are experimental or on the extreme end of literary heavy in character’s interiors and light on plot, have an inciting incident that drives the main character(s) into loads of trouble from chasing after a want that can’t be had, at least not until the end.

Writing begins as thoughts, ideas and inspiration that, until spoken or written, consist of words, pictures, images and impressions. Writers can’t expect to fully form these musings before putting down some words and working through the various story elements of plot, character and dialogue.

Even during moments when the words flow at a rapid beat, pouring off the end of your fingers, the writing is in process without a clearly defined end. The writing happens almost as if you’re not consciously working through the unfolding of sentences and paragraphs.

In this way, one idea can generate other ideas, so that the writing builds toward something. You’re getting your thoughts down, while also thinking, pondering, questioning, discovering, planning, and considering and reconsidering. You’re trying things out, seeing what works and doesn’t work.

Thesaurus definitions of process include “to unfold,” “to bring forth,” “to bring out” and “to create by mental effort.” Product, alternatively, is “the thing that’s produced.”

But is the product final considering that agents, readers and the writer all will interpret and understand the writing, and hence the story, differently? Is the product when you know it’s ready and that nothing else can be changed, or is it when it has two covers and an imprint?

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