Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Post - Roy Black

Today's guest post comes from someone I have always considered to be a mentor to me.  

When I was a fledgling student teacher, he was there with words of wisdom.  He opened his classroom to me during my grad work.  He encouraged me to work on my own writing skills by getting involved in The National Writing Project.

Almost a decade after meeting him, he is still the guy I go to first when I am questioning my teaching, my career, or my writing.

Plus he knows more about grammar and The Great Gatsby than anyone I have ever met.  And that equals cool to me.

I am so happy and honored to share my friend and co-worker, Roy Black, with you all today. 

Process vs. Product
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
            —Henry David Thoreau

I spend way too much time worrying about The Product of my writing—the finished piece of writing.

An embarrassing number of half-written works of genius reside on the hard drive of my laptop.  There’s the treatment for a five-act-play which gives an alternate telling of The Great Gatsby, the beginnings of a novel that stemmed from an idea that I had while lying in the Emergency Room after a recent automobile accident, various poetic ventures that won’t (and probably shouldn’t) see the light of day, various musings of my brilliant but scattered brain—OH YEAH!  There’s also the one about how ever since I was diagnosed when I was 35 with Attention Deficit Disorder, it upsets me when people flippantly use it as an excuse for their non-clinically-diagnosed lack of focus.  I’d forgotten about that one.

If the end result, The Product, is the reason for a writer to write, I am a horrible writer.  It’s not that I don’t write, it’s that I don’t finish.  I start new—and brilliant—pieces of writing at an impressive rate.  Most of them have yet to cross the finish line.

I write often.  I often write profusely.  I write in various formats.  I write creative nonfiction.  I write memoirs.  I write my notes at staff meetings as a series of Haiku; I end up taking better notes that way, and focus more intensely on what is being said.  What I don’t do much is publish, or even try to.  Heck, lately, I don’t even finish much of what I write.

And I have no problem with that.

No, really.

“What?” you say, “a writer who doesn’t care that he doesn’t finish? Preposterous!  What’s the purpose of writing if not to finish something, publish it, and gain wealth and notoriety?”

Admittedly, those are all very good questions.  Should my writing eventually gain me wealth and notoriety, I will enjoy that tremendously.  Do I have aspirations in that direction, someday? Of course.  It’s just not my reason to write right now.  At some point, I will move toward completing much of what I’ve started; at that time, I will have many high-quality pieces of writing waiting to be brought to fruition. But right now, I am having fun with some might derisively call “just writing.”

The Process of writing is why I write, at least most of the time.  Taking words and seeing how well they play together: sometimes immediately, sometimes with some coaxing.  Capturing ideas before they run away, never to return.  Recording—perhaps for no one but myself—whatever my mind can conjure up.

If The Product of my writing is the destination, The Process is the path.  And I enjoy the path.

The tools are starting to change; lately my writing fills fewer and fewer yellow note-pads and more and more hard-drive space.  The Process, however, remains the same.  Thoughts become words, words travel to my fingers, words are recorded—on paper or otherwise.  Sometimes, the words come out brilliantly and perfectly arranged.  At other times, they need significant polish.  Tragically, there are times when the thoughts run away before they can be accurately put into words.  Perhaps they will return, and perhaps when they do they will be diminished somehow, mere shadows of the original thoughts that got away.  Not to worry; other just-as-wonderful thoughts will come, and those will be recorded—or maybe not.  THAT is what I love most about writing.

Everyone loves a freshly-painted room, but few really enjoy painting a room.  Every writer loves the moment when they can sit back and admire a writing-well-written, but many writers fail to appreciate and simply enjoy the act of writing.

I love the path.  I love The Process.  If The Product is the destination, and The Process is the path, and the need to finish something and share it with the world is a rain-storm of doubt and pressure and procrastination and guilt—then I am the little boy jumping in the puddles that form around me as I wander playfully on the path.

And, as E.E. Cummings once wrote, “the world is puddle-wonderful.”


  1. That sums me up in a nutshell. I love the process and have no interest in the product. Great post.

  2. I love this! I always feel guilty for not trying to get to the end. Or struggling to make it have a conclusion. Sometimes you just need to write.

  3. This is great. Just what I needed to read!

  4. I really appreciate your thoughts on this, Roy! Always a struggle in my mind.

  5. Oh the delicious process, but I'm one of those wackadoos who adores prepping and painting a room.

    Wonderful perspective. Thank you!


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