Reflections on the Writing & the Research Processes
John L. Steadman (February, 2019)
When I write a speculative essay, or a short story, or the chapters of a book, or the book itself, I begin with ideas & images, some drawn from my reading, some drawn directly from my mind, and some drawn, quite frankly, from other, less definable places- the Undiscovered Country, as the great fantasist Ray Bradbury referred to it, a place that we, as creative artists, live in from time to time without fully understanding where we are living, or the whys, hows & whats of the experience.
Over the course of time, the ideas & the images refine themselves as I work with them & clarify them. Eventually, they arrange themselves together into a perfect whole, each part where it should be & in its proper place. In effect, the ideas & the images complete themselves, and all of them - and especially, the order in which they have arranged themselves- are entirely clear to my perception, my thought-processes & my understanding. They are as perfect as anything can be in a delightfully imperfect world. And finally, I begin to write them down.
The actual composition is the most enjoyable part of the writing process for me. The ideas are clothed in beautiful words, phrases, sentences & paragraphs; the images, too, are clothed, but much more vividly, because they have been re-imagined, as only I can re-imagine them. All of them have become entirely my own creations, whatever they were before & wherever they have come from.
The ideas & the images are like a lost woman, ugly, average, or beautiful, as the case might be; a little faded, perhaps, to begin with; a little ghostly, possibly. But then, under the alembic of my attention & efforts, the woman is suddenly transformed into a glowing, brilliant goddess- so brilliant that it is hard to look at her. And since this goddess belongs to me now, I must love & revere her & teach others to love & revere her.
It strikes me that the research process is remarkably similar to the writing process. The gathering of the ideas & the images is exactly the same; these things present themselves to the researcher & the researcher will arrange & order them until they evolve into as perfect of a form as she can make them.
Eventually, as with the writing process, the ideas & images will all come together, fitting themselves neatly into the categories & the cubbyholes that we have constructed for them, but which, really, they have carved out for themselves, using our minds as the conduit, as it were. And then, the writing begins.
The results of the writing of the research study are, of course, exactly the same as they are for the writing project. Once again, we weave our witchery of words, sentences, paragraphs; we imagine; we re-imagine; we take possession of our material until it takes possession of use. And surely, the lost & found woman referred to above by way of analogy suddenly springs into being. Once again, we have our goddess, and if we are genuine thinkers & writers, then the goddess not only exists, but she will be brilliant & we will love & revere her.
There is however, one major difference between the research study & the finished product that results from the writing process. In the case of the former, there is consideration as to whether or not the study should be conducted. If a decision is made to do so, the researcher will usually put forward various reasons for this- the usual fandango about extending pedagogical knowledge, or contributing to the educational dialogue, or building on the existing literature. However, the real reason for conducting the study is, in effect, the only reason for conducting it: to confirm, as it were, the hypothesis- i.e. that which is known in advance but not supported by anything other than the clear, unsullied mental acuity of the author.
The reason for conducting the study, therefore, is to merely confirm the existence of the goddess; to convince us, perhaps, that we have not merely deceived ourselves. To convince us that we are really seeing the goddess, and that she is as brilliant as we think she is, and as worthy of our love & our reverence as we fervently wish her to be.
At this point, I cannot help but ask: why bother to do this? Why conduct the study at all?
For in fact, if the researcher has really & truly done her work & created the research study, with all of the elements & the details in their proper places, and if everything has been clarified & arranged as if it were a work of God, or God-in-humankind, then nothing more needs to be done- it will be a work of God. And consequently, the hypothesis cannot be other than just as complete as the rest of the study. The hypothesis is the sculpturing of the lens; the lens is the area of focus that we chose for our research study & it arises from our own teaching & life practices; it arises from what we feel passionate about; it arises out of our wish to change or improve something; and most important, it is something that is within our locus of control. Likewise, the chain of reasoning that leads to the hypothesis cannot be flawed. This chain is like the stairs to heaven in Christian mythology - visualized rather unimaginatively by Christians (bless their souls) as white, marble steps inlayed with gold & silver- if the destination is perfect, then the avenue leading to the destination is equally perfect.
Even more interesting, whether or not there are any results to be derived from the study, additional hypothesis & addition reasoning can nevertheless transpire & legitimately extend themselves from the research study. I’ve read a lot of research studies & the authors always place one phrase somewhere near the end, often in the conclusion: this study is inconclusive & further research is necessary. Quite so. And this is true whether the study has been conducted or not. What matters is only that it could be conducted if there were a need (though admittedly, there is usually little need). As for our goddess, just as before, there is really nothing to do except to admire her. As is the case with all goddesses, she is & always was- even when she was only inside our minds & unseen & unmanifest. She was always there as a potential; but now, she is out in the open, evident for all to see.
The great aestheticist writer Oscar Wilde, among other truisms, wrote these pithy little observations: No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. Let’s pause & think about these statements for a moment before we leave speculation behind. We as the writers of a literary work or a research project are artists, since we have created something outside of ourselves that is not & yet is most intimately ourselves. If we have created truly in conformity with our thoughts, our emotions & our reasoning, and I believe that all of us in this class have done this with their projects, then deep down, we really don’t need to prove anything.
Nevertheless, we may feel an urge to do so anyway. This urge is the result of our past socialization & education; we feel that we must do something that is useful, and we have been conditioned to believe that the mind existing & simply thinking to the fullest extent of its powers with nothing to show for it is somehow wrong. But this is simply not the case. The mind existing & thinking to its fullest extent is God, and we as artists, when we allow our minds to act thusly, are very much like gods & goddesses ourselves.
The implication behind: even things that are true can be proved is that false things can be proved as well as true things, and perhaps, in a preponderance of circumstances, more false things are proven than true things. These considerations, however, are a distraction, and it is best & most expedient to simply throw truth & falsity out of the window. We as researchers & artists must erase them from serious consideration. And we must simply admire the goddess that we have created and revel in the additional mental activity stimulated by that goddess, and, of course, learn to live with the inconclusiveness of the whole process, for the inconclusiveness is our own fault.