The writing process. Like getting to the gym, eating healthily, and buying only what you need at the store, that old process is often the first thing to go, even when you know, in your heart of hearts, it’s good for you. And, like a favorite recipe, sometimes we think we know it, but end up with a lemon pie sans sugar. Yerg.
And even the most educated of us can screw it up. Take Frasier and Niles from the TV show “Fraiser”. (Some of you are jumping up and down, pointing at the screen, and yelling, “But they are fictional characters, damn you!” Yeah. I know. Calm down.) These two self-described intellectuals, graduates of Harvard and Oxford, famed phychiatrists, get it so wrong that it is a useful teaching tool. The episode “Author, Author,” is a great “non-model”.
When the students came in, I asked them how long it had been since they had written an expository essay. Two months. So, we all agreed that we had slept since we last had to think about it. And although we were finishing up our narrative essays, the brainstorming part of the process is somewhat truncated because of the nature of story-telling. You just don’t want to over-organize a piece of writing designed to make you muse on an event. Sometimes the best ideas happen while you are writing that third paragraph. Anyway, I told them that we would be watching an instructive video on how to use the writing process. They all wilted a little.
When Netflix came up on the projector with the title frame “Frasier”, the game was up. They’d seen episodes before and knew it would be silly. Still, I asked students to write down the Crane brothers’ writing process. Then, they were required to contrast this to what they are expected to do when they write for me. I suggested a Venn diagram. The more awake of them realized that Fraiser and Niles were about to get it wrong, really, really wrong.
In this episode, Niles wants to write a book (a glorified essay) on mental illness. He ropes his brother into helping him write a book on sibling relationships. They can’t agree on the topic or thesis statement, they brainstorm the wrong things, they don’t make an outline, they lie about how long it is taking them to get it done, and they revise before they even get down the first paragraph. A complete shambles.
My students laughed all the way through it. “They didn’t even outline!” one of them said. I ask them if they thought the brothers might have been successful if they had done the writing process correctly, and they all shook their heads, no. That wouldn’t be funny.
But I think the point was made. Students were reminded to give themselves enough time to do the writing process, to make a thesis statement, to brainstorm and research on that topic, to organize their research into an outline, to write the draft without being overly critical, to get feedback, to revise, to edit, and then, finally, to publish. I wanted them to understand that not using the process could lead them into a knock down, drag out brawl in which they try to strangle their siblings. And that’s just not healthy.