Process or Product?

I recently found a pillow I made ten years ago, when I attended Creativity Camp led by Julia Cameron, ProcessPillow author of the Artist's Way (as if you didn't know that).  The camp was great, life-changing, really, particularly in that I met a couple of people who I remain friends with to this day.  The way it worked was that Julia led us through Artist's Way activities all morning and in the afternoon we could take our choice of classes–yoga, performance tips, drumming, and painting.  Or one could head into town (the camp was located in Taos, New Mexico) or stroll about the gorgeous land. 

I did a little of each, and one afternoon landed in the painting class, in which we painted pillows.  Freshly inspired by the morning's activities, I wrote one of my favorite sayings of Julia's on my pillow: Process is Everything, Product Happens.  As my late mother would say, clevo, huh?

Back in those days I was still a bit of a dabbler at writing.  I'd been working on fiction off and on for years and done a little free-lancing.  I'd not gotten my MFA, nor ever done any ghost-writing or copy-writing.  And I believed fervently in the saying on my pillow, that if only I remembered to focus on process, everything else would follow.

I think I still believe in that, but I'm not sure.  I know for a fact that when I sit down these days to write fiction, if I worry too much about the end result–the product–I'll cramp up and not be able to write a word.  Conversely, if I don't have some idea of what I want to write, some structure in mind, I'll not be able to write, either.  Or, more to the point, I write too much, allowing myself to meander through all kinds of tangents.

Process is pure creativity, writing fast, free writing, not stopping to think.  It is bliss when it happens.  And I advocate going for this kind of free and fast writing whenever you possibly can. 

But there comes a time when you have to put product first.  I can hear the gasps of horror coming from you, and I'm ignoring them.  When I sit down to write a book for a client, I have to put product first.  Number one, I'm being paid to produce a product.  Number two, if I don't have a clear image of what the client wants, the project is sunk from the start.  So most of my projects for clients start with product upper-most in my mind.

However.

Once I get the product firmly in mind and know exactly what I'm writing, then I can head for process land.  Because the writing process for clients is no different than it is for myself–write a rough draft, and then follow it with successive drafts that get cleaner and clearer every time.  And, for me, the only way to get a draft out on paper is to let it rip.  To go wholeheartedly into process, trusting that the product will follow.

I think the product/process conundrum is a bit chicken and egg-ish.  One can't exist without the other and they both have their place.  So, maybe I do still believe in the message on my pillow.  Or I would if it had some good editing.  But try as I might, I can't think how to change the saying to make it more pertinent.

Any ideas?

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7 Comments on "Process or Product?"

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Derek
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Derek
“Any ideas? Yes. Some very crazy ones! “Process is Everything, Product Happens”… How very Zen! It’s like saying that it is the journey and not the destination, but like everything else in Zen, it will turn on its head. Take writing for your clients for instance, then it becomes “product is everything”… Oh… and just to be awkward, Zen would say.. “or not!” Another Zen lesson for me here is that, I need to learn to quit looking for a destination, and then without having a destination with which to aim for, is to give everything I’ve got to the… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
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It is always good to get your Zen perspective, Derek, thank you. I guess focusing on process is very Zen…

Julie Jordan Scott
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I had a discussion with my friend last week about this very conundrum, only we were discussing art (something I dabble in) more than writing (which is my blood and how I make my living.) I was saying “Oh, I am not liking this painting at all. Yechhh! And yet, I have devoted myself to it so I must do it and I WILL do it” and blahdy blah. He is a PROFESSIONAL artist, is an Art Professor so he KNOWS this stuff, right? So when he asked me, “Do you have to like what you make?” (A question he… Read more »
Julie
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I found your blog by way of the most lovely Julie Jordan Scott. It’s lovely and this is such a great question.

In the creativity courses I teach, I always speak of having direction with freedom. I find sometimes there is more direction, sometimes less. Sometimes there is more freedom sometimes less. Sometimes we know more of the direction sometimes less. Sometimes we feel the need for more freedom, sometimes less. It’s a continuum, and we never know where on the continuum we’ll land.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll blog about this today.

Thank you, Charlotte.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I love that: “does the process serve my products?” I may have to adopt that for my paid projects.

I didn’t know you were an artist, Julie. I started out writing about art years ago and still love it.

Charlotte Dixon
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Julie,

Glad to meet another creativity teacher/coach! I think you hit it dead on–sometimes it is more about process, sometimes more about product. I’ll go read your blog post!

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[…] I like to remember to separate the process from the product and remind myself that during the initial writing, my job is to focus on the process.  When […]

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