The Problem of Writing

I’m doing a seminar later today, and I just wanted to reflect a little on my opening remarks. The purpose of my Writing Process Reengineering seminar is to help writers think about their process as a manageable one. I want them to see “the problem of writing” as one that can be solved, almost entirely separate from “the problem of knowing”, i.e., their substantive research problem. Obviously, it won’t be satisfying for them to be able to write if they’re not also knowledgeable, but the truth is that everyone knows something. So I can always help you train your writing, even if you don’t think you know enough in some absolute sense.

Most importantly, the problem of writing is not solved once and for all. It arises every time you learn something new, every time you discover something that might make a contribution to your field. How do I write this down? How do I tell my peers about this? That’s the question. That means that I’m not actually helping you solve the problem of writing, I’m helping you to become better at solving it in particular cases as they arise. I’m showing you how to approach the problem … as an ongoing and practical one. That’s important to keep in mind. A healthy prose style is not an automatic process that produces representations of what you know as you come to know it. It’s a capacity you have. A problem-solving capacity. The problem is communicating your results to others for the purpose of discussing them.