Craft: “How to Put Forth, to Go Forth: Thoughts on Process & Product” by Courtney Harler

December 9, 2021

In our last craft essay of 2021, Courtney Harler discusses the importance sending our work out into the world, instead of remaining perpetually in the “process” space. In 2022, make it a resolution to put yourself out there! You never know what might happen.

As writers, we spend a lot of time in “process” or in “progress.” We hunker down, work on our “craft” or our “art.” We eventually “workshop” and “open mike” to share our work with others, to get valuable feedback which, in turn, refuels our writerly “process” or “progress” on the page. I put these terms in quotation marks because they are the hallmark terms of the writer’s working world. I also put these terms in quotation marks because they are, in my educated opinion, somewhat overused. Sometimes. Well, actually, a whole heck of a lot. Let me try to explain:

Almost every writer, at some point or another, unless they are Emily Dickinson, would probably, one day, some day, like to see their writing published in some format, whether in print or online. In fact, online literary magazines, with their corresponding digital submission forms, have made publishing much more accessible to a wider variety of writers. Many traditional print lit mags also now offer or even require digital submissions. The modern writer, or at least one who is in the habit of “submitting,” can’t quite imagine what it would be like to print and post every time they wanted a publication market to consider their work. Normally, a writer just attaches the file, pays the fee (if requested), and hopes for a good outcome. The submission process has become almost too easy: if everyone can do it, then why can’t we? Now, I think maybe we are starting to see how the words “submitting” and “publishing” can thus be deemed as equally “problematic” as “process” and “progress” and “craft” and “art.” Let me continue to explain:

Many instructors of writing, and even some professional industry editors, privilege “process” over “product.” Meaning, the process and progress, the craft and art, are prioritized over the submitting and publishing. I agree that we need to know and understand our own work, and our goals for our work, before we begin to send it into the wider world. However, I do not believe in keeping writers in a perpetual process space, especially if they express a sincere and studied wish to move beyond that process space into a product space. Not all writers are ready to publish, sure, but sometimes “failing” in that arena becomes part of the process, part of the progress.

Lots of writers have lots of work in-progress on any given day. On any given day, some work is ready to “go out,” while some may take years to be “ready” at all, for even a fellow writer’s eyes. As writers, as creators, ultimately, we decide when, where, and with whom, we share our work. Maybe the work is so unique or experimental that an instructor or mentor expresses their doubts. (This exact scenario occurred to Emily Dickinson, believe it or not.) Maybe the writer takes that well-meaning advice and dives back into process, even perhaps seeks more training in the craft. But maybe that same writer takes that same advice and quietly puts it where the sun don’t shine, if you know what I mean. Maybe that same writer submits that poem or that story or that novella. Maybe that same writer gets published. In both scenarios, the writer, most likely, keeps writing. And honestly, to keep on keeping on is the most desirable outcome of both process and product.

Let me say boldly now that “product” is not the opposite, or the antithesis, of “process.” Rather, and quite simply, product is the flip side of the process coin. We all begin somewhere, and we all finish somewhere. Joyce Carol Oates tells us that “finishing” a written work is very important for the practicing writer. We need a sense of “product” to fuel our next project, our next dream. Yes, we may return the product to a process space from time to time, as in, we may switch from open (generative) to closed (critical) creative modes in our work, and sometimes do so many, many times in the same day. As far as old “craft” axioms go, it’s true the written work is never “done,” but sometimes it is “good enough” to “go out” on the town. To go out in the wide, wide world and gain some acceptance, or some rejection, however the case may prove. Let me also say again that “failure” is a vital part of artistic process. How can we know what the market wants, if we never ask? We as writers, along with our written work, will never go forth, unless we put forth.

by Courtney Harler, MA & MFA


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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