Process Versus Product

One question I get a lot on blog tours is, “What’s your writing process?” I’m always a bit surprised by it, because my writing process has no relevance to anybody else’s. I get up in the morning and write. Last thing before I go to bed at night, I read over what I wrote that morning, pray for more words, and go to sleep.

VoltaireIt’s terrifying, mysterious, fun, and has served me well for about thirty books. This approach is probably unique to me in some particulars, but not in others.

In contexts other than writing, particularly decision-making situations, I care about process a very great deal, sometimes more than I care about the results of that process. Small children understand that if Mom or Dad will at least LISTEN to their concerns and wishes, really, truly, listen, then whatever decision the parent makes will feel more of that illusive quality of “fairness.”

judiciaryWhen overworked judges are trying to find funding to set up mediation services in their courthouses, the judges point to the fact that when people participate in making a decision, they’re less like to gripe about it and try to overturn it, even if the decision doesn’t go their way.

If the parties choose a more inclusive, participative process, the situation may take longer to resolve, but it stays settled, and the parties are happier with the outcome.

Another tenant of good process I’ve stumbled across is that feedback in a group should be given in reverse order of influence. In other words, the boss speaks last, lest everybody’s sense of deference prevents them from being honest.

tired momI’ve also bumped up against this one many times is: “Good decisions are made based on good information.” The heroine who says she needs more time to consider the hero’s hasty marriage proposal? What she really wants is more information—about him, about her options, about the future.

Any rubric of process has limitations. When the house is on fire, you don’t ask the kids whether to save the dog or the cat. When a couple has a history of severe domestic violence, they aren’t good candidates for mediation, because the power imbalance is both great and subtle. When buying a house, if you take too much time looking at available comps, you’ll lose the prospect you were most interested in.

And yet, we all have words of wisdom and sound habits we’ve learned to apply in moments of decision. My mom used to say, “Don’t make decisions when you’re tired.”

tartan_450-204x335THAT is good advice, exactly what you need to hear when you’re exhausted, at the end of your rope, and just want a problem to be over.

What helps you make good decisions, decisions you can live with and support, even if you’re not thrilled with the results?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of this week’s release, “Once Upon a Tartan.” In this story, our hero makes some decisions in good faith that he’d make entirely differently if he’d had all the facts…

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55 comments on “Process Versus Product

  1. thought about this one for a while – in hindsight I’ve made most of my decisions based on faith and that they felt right at the time – now In the place I am now – I feel that many of the choices I made did require more information, We can make bad decisions better by making them better fit us now.

    • No matter how carefully we choose, we never have perfect information, there’s always room for faith. And you’re absolutely right, Vickie: We can modify our decisions so they better fit our circumstance over time.

  2. I have made most of my decisions based on what was best for my family. I have often found myself using my faith as a tool as well. My family and their health and happiness comes first in all situations.

    • Sheryl, I hope they appreciate your generosity of spirit. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew my happiness was coming at my daughter’s expense, and fortunately, I think that sentiment is mutual.

  3. I tend to go with the gut feeling. Sometimes I think decisions can be over-thought. Has that led to stupid/bad choices? I’m sure. Can I pinpoint of any of them? No. So, they must not have been too terrible.

    Well, I have signed up for a GORUCK Light and I’m currently in full regret mode for that choice. Hope I can forgive myself when it’s all over and I’m having beer and pizza when it’s over. 🙂

    • Sabrina, GORUCK light sounds like “Mild Torture,” but something about those challenges makes the classroom a more bearable place for you, too. Keep us posted, please, and don’t forget to take pictures.

      • The classroom was a much better place in the spring semester and I have the same expectations of this year. Instead of a rough transition “year” to a new school I had a rough year and a half. Right now all Tennessee teachers are unhappy due to a wonderful governor and his delightful Supervisor of Education. There really is an Ivy League grad out there that would be much better at my job and it just chomping at the bit to do it for me.

        And “mild torture” is correct. I’m an idiot.

  4. I agree with the information part. Sometimes it also takes getting someone else’s (impartial) opinion. Mum’s sage advice always helps to.

    • And if it has to do with money, I try to wait 24 hours. My first impulse is usually to open the wallet, spend the money, help out, make the commitment. But I have others depending on me, and nothing wrecks my creative joie de vivre like financial anxiety. Sometimes best to heed the notion that charity begins at home.

  5. My mother taught me long ago that making a pro/con list helps in making a big decision, and for the most part, I still turn to that (or some variation thereof). But I also rely on that gut feeling, too — even when looking over the pros and cons. If one side outweighs the others but it still gives me a sick feeling inside, I figure I either need to ask a different question of myself or weight that feeling much more heavily in the list of tangible considerations.

    And no matter what, I remind myself that most decisions aren’t set in stone — if something I decide on doesn’t quite work out, I can and should reevaluate based on experience and any new information (and any additional “gut feelings”). After all, I’m not the same person I was when I made the decision in the first place!

    I like what Sabrina said about forgiving one’s self if a bad decision is made. I think we all have opportunities to change if we are able and willing to grasp them, but honesty and forgiveness definitely helps open those doors!

    • We do the best we can under the circumstances with the resources available, and Sabrina does make an excellent point. The conflict management people call it “unintended consequences,” but Mom called it, “twenty-twenty hindsight,” when a decision backfires or causes all manner of mayhem we didn’t foresee.

      And sometimes, those unintended consequences are good!

  6. Many of my decisions are based on a gut feel. I’d like to think that I use common sense and logic, and try to balance the different possible outcomes. But most of the time it is just plain gut feel.

    • More and more, Betty, I’m augmenting the gut feel with information, at least when it comes to the author stuff. Writers are often isolated by what they do, and if they’ll just send out a few emails, check a few trap lines, they’ll find a world of helpful experience and common sense advice from other people in similar situations.

      I like that about being a writer, because in a lot of areas of life, people aren’t so very cooperative or helpful.

  7. A very wise pastor expanded a little on your mom’s advice. He said, when making decisions, think “HALT.” Never make decisions when you’re Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. I also have found that when you have that feeling of doubt, there’s a reason, and you shouldn’t go forward with something that doesn’t feel completely right.

  8. If I listened to your mom’s quote about not making decisions when I am tired, I wouldn’t be making any decisions at all. As it is, I am terrible at making decisions, from the small decisions like what to eat for dinner to the big decisions that mostly involve my boys. My problem is that I over think just about everything and I am still too much of a people pleaser even though I have been working on that for years.
    I actually get a little knot in my stomach when I am asked about going somewhere for dinner. In my head I have a place I would like to go, but I want to make sure that everyone is going to be happy with what I decide and more often than not I pass the decision on to someone else. So, of course, that knot is huge when it comes to the big decisions.

    I know I have made some poor decisions in the past, but sometimes they have led to wonderful things that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    • Sarah, I’m glad you piped up, because I think my Mom is similarly afflicted. We sometimes see her as dithering, or grandstanding, but in truth she’s tortured by the idea that she could make a wrong choice, hurt somebody’s feelings, disappoint them, anger them… Makes me wonder what growing up in my grandparents’ household was REALLY like.

      And with the kids you have, keeping the troops happy has much higher stakes than it might for another Mom with four boys.

      Here’s wishing you some decent rest!

  9. I’ve also learned, many times the hard way, to sometimes just go with my gut feeling when making a decision. There are a couple of times in the past when I didn’t listen to that feeling and because of it someone else was harmed. My mother called it having a “vivid imagination” but believe me maybe if more people listened to their instinct many times a situation would turn out better.

    • I listen to my guy too, Molly, but sometimes, my gut is conflicted. I need to be stronger about waiting for an answer to emerge in situations where time isn’t of the essence. Often, sleeping on a decision IS a good idea.

  10. In the past, I would over-think almost every decision. How much money to spend at the grocery store, which backpack to buy for my son, which job to keep or leave, where to live…It seems most of my decision making had an automatic default to my entire life situation. I was not able to focus on the decision that had to be made because of all the excess ramifications that might happen. When you are the only decision maker in the house, it can weigh kinda heavy at times. Over the years I have learned to listen to that inner voice that we all have…I know when something doesn’t feel right. Finding the courage and faith to listen to that voice has been a wonderful discovery.

    • Are you left-handed Tracey? Apparently left-handed people excel at big-picture thinking, sometimes to the point where details make their eyes cross.

      And I agree 100 percent. With the passage of time, life has become more manageable.

  11. What helps me make good decisions is definitely having all the facts, as much as possible. I do usually try to take my time and not make snap decisions, sometimes I may be too indecisive, but eventually I’ll come to what I think is the best decision for me. If it is something I have to make an immediate decision on, sometimes I’ll just opt out because I don’t like being forced to a hasty decision, unless that’s not an option and it’s something that I need or want. Then I just try to think it through and go with my gut. 😀

    • Barbara, you raise a good point: Decisions often present themselves a forced choices. You can travel or stay home for vacation; you can see the movie go out to dinner. In many cases, it’s a false forced choice. You can split your vacay; you order delivered food and download from netflicks, etc.

      I’ve gotten better about spotting the false forced choice, about making third options up when I’m feeling cornered. Though sometimes, you plain have to choose.

      • Ah … the third choice. I attended a Jesuit college, and the false dichotomy was often a favorite logic trap that the professors liked to warn against. Jesuit Rule of Thumb: When presented with two options, select the third.

        At college, I also learned the process of discernment (at least for big choices) in which you think about your life and goals and then LISTEN for what God’s plan might be. Then, try to reconcile the two. It’s trickier than it ought to be, sometimes.

  12. I always try to consider the other person(s) involved. I want to do what I think is best. I will explain why I did what I did. I try to always think of my kids when making a family decision. It’s not always easy making decisions and the results may not always be what we want but I think we learn from every experience we have.

    • Eloisa James recently asked on FB how other parents respond when the teenagers sneers, “Oh, yeah? Well how are going to make me?”

      I think your approach, of explaining why the decision came down the way it did, and thinking through the impact on everybody, models for the children that some decisions are hard, but Mom and Dad are not heartless dictators. That pays off in happy grandkids, at least.

  13. The process vs product is at the core of one of my professions (occupational therapy). The idea in that context is that the human (nervous system) must learn to manage the sensory input and motor out put in such a way as to allow the person control over the vast variety of their iinteractions with the world around them. This may seem wordy, but I think it goes along with the phrase “life is a journey not a destination.”

    The need to act on faith (in the accuracy of one’s perceptions) is intrecately entwined in the human process and really cannot be sorted out individually. Along with it needs to be the ability to recognize errors in perception and adjust accordingly.

  14. The process vs product is at the core of one of my professions (occupational therapy). The idea in that context is that the human (nervous system) must learn to manage the sensory input and motor out put in such a way as to allow the person control over the vast variety of their iinteractions with the world around them. This may seem wordy, but I think it goes along with the phrase “life is a journey not a destination.”

    The need to act on faith (in the accuracy of one’s perceptions) is intrecately entwined in the human process and really cannot be sorted out individually. Along with it needs to be the ability to recognize errors in perception and adjust accordingly.

  15. I’ve had a hard time with decisions having been trained from a young pup not to step to the right or left of “the line”, go along, etc. So these days I try to listen to my gut, the truth I need for me to feel I’m not compromising more than makes me happy. I could really feel for Tye who was trying to do the right thing. And listening to him is going to be even better, I’m sure.

  16. I’m a horrible decision maker! I usually do a lot of praying and cross my fingers. That’s probably not a great process.

  17. I try to make decisions based in reality. When I have to make a major decision for myself or my family I try to weigh the pros and cons involved. Then I sleep on my choice and go with my “gut”.
    Not very scientific but it works for me.

    • Sue, somebody pointed out to me that science can only help us with information available to the five senses. If a matter is moral or spiritual, science goes lame early in the race. In fact, my dad the scientist is one of the first to admit this.

  18. I try to make decisions based in reality. When I have to make a major decision for myself or my family I try to weigh the pros and cons involved. Then I sleep on my choice and go with my “gut”.
    Not very scientific but it works for me.

  19. I think what my gut reaction is, then analyze it. Nine times out of ten, my gut reaction is usually the right one.

  20. Trusting my gut and if need be, able to explain the decision with supporting facts. Plus if I’m feeling frantic about a choice to not decide right then, because my choice won’t be the best option.

  21. I made some child-rearing mistakes with my first child & hope to make better decisions with the 2nd (7 years between them). Although the first is a boy & the 2nd is a girl, and they have different personalities, there are some overall decisions that I can change. So, I guess I would say, learn from your mistakes.

    • We all need a feedback loop, but I think with kids, it’s more important to have good intentions than a perfect track record. My mom claims she has seven only children. What worked for one was disastrous with another, and just about the time she’d figure that out, a third kid would need something in between… Parenting is not for the faint of heart!

  22. There are a few core questions I ask when making decisions:
    Who will be affected?
    What are my heart, mind and gut telling me?
    Am I abiding by my principles, by my faith?

    A good night sleep – after pondering hard on the issue, a decision will be made, with the affirmation that all is well, all will be well. If it turned out I’m wrong, I can only hope that I can correct this mistake and be given another chance to rectify the situation

    • You mention an interesting ingredient–faith. My mom is devout, but somewhere along the way, she picked up the notion that a wrong decision cannot be fixed or forgiven, and thus she dithers. Makes me want to bop the people who stole her self-confidence…

  23. I’m not really sure I have one answer for this question. I seem to be able to make large decisions easier than less important ones. I know they say don’t sweat the small stuff, but there are so many choices sometimes I have trouble narrowing it down. When growing up we pretty much just had to do what we were told, no real choices. Then I married someone that has no problem making a lot of the decisions, and I usually just go along because I don’t really care but sometimes so as not to make waves. I get to make the decisions he doesn’t care to make. Most of the time that works, but not always.

    • Well… your post shows up right beneath my comment about my mom’s dithering. She has a good head on her shoulders, but was raised “old school” Irish, and expected to act like a lady, and look like a lady. If she’d questioned the authority around her, it would not have gone well for her.

      And I wouldn’t say my dad is authoritarian, so much as he and Mom divided up the turf, and she’d never have trespassed on his terrain, nor he on hers. Now she’s having to make decisions for both of them, and it’s beyond her comfort zone to do that. Thanks, Jeanne, for making me think things through a bit more.

  24. I like quiet time to think through the pros and cons. No snap decisions on important things. Sometimes I’ll make a list. Often I’ll do research. And I think your Mom is so right about not making decisions when you’re tired.

    • To me, your comment about quiet time points up the benefit of having a commute between the office and home. So often, it’s on the twenty mile drive into the office that I’ll figure out how to organize the day, approach opposing counsel, position a case, or manage my workload. I need the bubble of my truck and the familiar route for my brain to search and sort. Not sure I could do the same thing on mass transit or walking.

  25. I like an analyze and then pray method. I’m pretty good at thinking big picture and seeing all the details at the same time. When I’ve been tested for certain brain or personality qualities–feeling vs thinking, judging vs. perceiving, I usually come down 50/50 for either. If my analysis doesn’t produce a clear path, I will look for the one that I have peace about.

    What I’m curious about, in this writing process . . . how many books did you write before you were published–was it 24?? And more than that, how did you keep going? Did you “know” someday you would have an audience? Or did you have some people who encouraged you along the way? Or are you self-directed enough to just write, because you are a writer and you have to write?

    • In personality inventories, I’m pretty much on the cusp, too, Ellie, except for introversion, in which I approach the a-social end of the scale. About the writing process… oh, I could fill volumes. I’m not self-directed at ALL. I write because I can’t help myself.

  26. Hello, Grace,
    This is a very thoughtful compilation regarding decision making. I found myself nodding with thoughts of “oh, yes, I agree” re many of them, pleased at new insights with some, but my overall reaction is – how helpful to have all of these views in one place. It brings new insight considering all of them together.
    Thank you!