I have a lot of issues with the term “writing process” as I have noted here and here, but I have also struggled for some time to identify a better metaphor. I often use the term ecosystem for my pedagogical approach to teaching writing but I needed something different to represent the experience of the writer. Something more universal than my unique classroom. Then, when working on this blog post, it struck me that I had long been using a metaphor that was much more apt for this purpose: journey.
Something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another; for example, the journey from youth to maturity, a journey through time, a day’s journey. Also a transitive verb: to travel over or through.Merriam-Webster
I use this metaphor frequently with my students when discussing our unit work and deliverables – specifically as a reflection prompt I use for unit reflections – asking students to reflect on their journey. I have also used related terminology, such as way station or weigh station when discussing feedback and assessment.
There is more to like about using the metaphor of journey – including the fact it is an expansive metaphor. We can take a journey by land, air, sea, space, or imagination. We can take a journey in known territory or venture off the map into the land of dragons. There is not one path for any journey. There might be more expected options served up by a mapping app or an optimal path selected by AAA TripTik, but in truth there are infinite journeys to take whether you know your destination or you do not. In fact, that might be the best part of this metaphor – the fact that you can take a journey and reach a destination that you did not plan for or intend. I am also drawn to the idea that disparate travelers prepare for different journeys in individual ways. This metaphor is much more robust than process as a journey can be a simple jaunt or lengthy odyssey. Some travelers simply embark upon waking and do not even pause to put on their shoes while others plan carefully and take the time to plan and research their intended path while assembling the equipment they will need to navigate it. Many journeys fall somewhere between these extremes.
I also like that the journey metaphor offers up a wide range of roles for both teachers and peers — for a writing community. While some take journeys without any visible support, in truth most travelers need support either to prepare for the journey, as guides or guards along the way, and as I noted before to staff those way stations and weigh stations. One of the aspects of the stoplight or factory version of “writing process” that always troubles me is that my role as a teacher of writers is just as regulated and proscribed as that of the writers in my classes. But if the writers in my care embark on a journey then I can offer up maps and other special equipment or simply cheer them on from the sidelines. I can position myself or others at troublesome spots along the path or simply hand out flares so those on the journey can signal distress calls.
The dictionary definition offers up so many exciting implications for using journey as a metaphor to describe writing. Much like the oft-used writing process, a writing journey moves through time to arrive at a specific place with a product, but unlike process a journey acts upon the writer as well as the writing. The writer is transformed, perhaps even created, just as the writing is created. We can choose to take the same journey, but in truth that journey will not be the same as we are not the same. I am particularly struck by the use of journey as a transitive verb as that is exactly what I hope for the writers in my care – that they will travel over and through their writing to arrive someplace unexpected and forever changed.
That’s why I believe that the right metaphor for writing is journey and not process. Can your metaphor do that?