As Adam and others have observed, last weeks classes on pre-writing interestingly revealed the similarity between the process of design and the process of writing. This is a really great insight for me, and I am surprised that I haven’t contemplated it before.
I recall my early frustrations struggling with the design process. I’ve always been rather analytical and a bit perfectionist by nature. So when I first encountered a wide open design problem, I was struck by paralysis. I wanted to produce a well-reasoned solution on the first try, but this is of course impossible as in any design situation there are just too many possibilities and too many unknowns. By engaging with difficult designs in a dynamic exchange with teammates, I learned to take risks, to brainstorm, to explore multiple paths, refine scope and to slowly create order out of chaos.
I find it interesting that having become quite comfortable with this process in design, I never extended it to my writing. I’ve always struggled with analysis paralysis in writing. I tend to sit down and attempt to write perfect prose from the start, constantly editing every sentence as I go. Needless to say this is a grueling experience. Over time, I have improved a little bit–making a few outlines here and doing a little free-writing there. But overall, I still try to begin a writing process with highly structured logical thoughts.
The folly of this approach is now starkly evident. Last week, as Marty described stage 1 pre-writing activities–lists, sticky-storming, concept maps, sketches , etc–I immediately recognized them as the familiar tools of design ideation. And its obvious why they apply; the blank page is just the same as an open-ended design problem: a space of infinite possibility. The end result, in either case, is a highly rational argument. But a large part of the process is decidedly non-rational, and demands a natural evolution from chaos to order.
I can’t say I’ve fully adopted pre-writing into my routine. But I am fully convinced of its usefulness and determined to change my habits with conscious effort and practice.