Journaling Idea #13: A Process Journal

Photo by David Stone of a bulletin board in his classroom depicting Donald Murray’s stages of the writing process as described in Murray’s book Write to Learn

Whatever you make, there is a process, a series of actions, that creates your product. I find value in consciously considering the process I follow for creating everything I make.

Graham Wallas designated five stages in the creative process in his 1921 book The Art of Thought:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Evaluation
  • Verification

You can find a description for each of these stages on Pearce Center for Professional Communication hosted by Clemson University.

If the idea of a creative process is new to you, then take time to reflect on what you make and how you do it. How do I start? Is that how I really start? Is there anything before that? What’s the second thing I do? Write out a description of how you made your last creation? Do you see distinct phases? What would you call them? Are they similar or different than the stages of Graham Wallace?

Consider what new insights you might gain from documenting your creative process and reflecting on it.

Teaching writing as a process became the dominant approach to teaching writing in the United States during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Most frequently I see the writing process labeled in the writing textbooks with five stages:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing
  • Presenting/Publishing

I have found value in creating discomfort in my students by presenting them with more than one model for the writing process. I want them to experience cognitive dissonance. Looking at the same process from a different perspective with a different set of labels deepens and broadens their understanding. I use Donald Murray’s labels to help them reconsider the writing process:

  • Conceiving
  • Collecting
  • Focus
  • Select
  • Order
  • Develop
  • Clarify

(The labels above are a mix of those found in Murray’s book Write to Learn and those accredited to Murray by Roy Peter Clark in an article on the Poytner website.) I have my students place their work in a classification folder with six flaps. Before they turn in their “final” draft, I have them write a reflection on the process of writing their paper. I ask them to consider the following questions:

What worked well for you? 

What gave you difficulty? 

What will you repeat the next time you have a similar writing task?

What will you do differently next time?

Which models/samples of similar writing influenced you?

Is there an aspect of the process where you think you need to sharpen your skills or gain more knowledge?

Of which aspect of this piece are you most proud?

I hope you will begin to keep your own process journal, if you haven’t already, where you record and reflect on how you make whatever it is that you value and create. Consider creating a model for your process and share it with other creators.