Engagement: How We Utilize Literate Practices to Write

On the Importance of Prep Work: How Automotive Painting Can Teach You to Polish Your Paper

A. J. Ortega

 

A NOTE ON ACTIVE READING AND CRITICAL THINKING

As you read this article, keep a notepad and pen, or a word document, handy. There will be writing prompts that I hope will encourage you to think outside of the box, so to speak. Write thoughtfully, but without pressure. More importantly, write for yourself, and don’t be afraid if your first draft is subpar; you’ll have time to revise before you show your work to anyone else.

 

LET’S START

Oftentimes, when we are figuring out writing at the college level, it can seem like the answers to good writing are a bit of a mystery, locked away with only some people having the key. The truth of the matter is that writing, when looked at from a birds-eye view, can be simplified if you think outside the box.

For this exercise, we will simplify a general writing process and learn why it works by comparing it to painting a car. I know that sounds odd, but think about this with an open mind. No one is born a great writer, and like most activities, the step-by-step process of becoming a good writer can be learned.

Write

How can you tell if a car has a good paint job? When you see a car that really catches your eye, what makes it look good to you?
Similarly, when you read a piece of writing, either from an article, a chapter of novel, a book of poems, or even an essay for school, what qualities make it clear and strong? In other words, how can you tell if a piece of writing is “good”?

When writing, just like when painting a car, leaving out any single step will expose flaws.

 

THE BASIC AUTOMOTIVE PAINT PROCESS

When painting a car, the process is adjusted depending on the condition of the paint, the body work, the age, and so on. Still, in general, the basic steps are outlined below:

  • remove rust and dents
  • sand
  • clean
  • mask car with tape
  • prime
  • sand
  • paint basecoat
  • apply clear coat
  • wax

Again, this can be expanded or compressed according to the situation at hand. It can be broken down even more and made more specific, but for our purposes, the basic process will work fine for this example.

 

BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

The process of painting a car takes place in a garage, with no pen or paper. So, what is the connection to writing? In short, the idea is that writing is also a process. A process that, usually, needs to be done in order. [For a different take on this, see the chapter “Writing Is Recursive.”] Painting a car seems like a complex process, one that most people generally hire out to be completed. Writing seems like a complex process, one where only certain people have the skill, and we ask them for advice, hire them for their expertise. Depending on the type of writing being done, the intended audience, and your own writing style, the process may need to be adjusted or even done multiple times, but the basic steps are generally the same. But, in both cases, the general process is easy to follow.

 

THE BASIC WRITING PROCESS

You may be familiar with some or all of these steps below, but you may also include more steps in your process according to the writing situation:

  • brainstorm
  • read/research
  • discuss
  • outline
  • draft
  • revise
  • rewrite
  • edit
  • proofread

 

THE “WHY?” OF IT ALL

In both of the above examples, the prep work is most important. If you skip steps in the process, specifically in the prep work, it will show in the final product in both writing and automotive painting.

As we revisit the list of basic steps for painting a car, I’ve highlighted the prep work for you:

  • remove rust and dents
  • sand
  • clean
  • mask car with tape
  • prime
  • sand
  • paint basecoat
  • apply clear coat
  • buff

And as we revisit the list of steps in the basic writing process, I’ve highlighted the prep work for you here, too:

  • brainstorm
  • read/research
  • discuss or collaborate
  • outline or plan
  • draft
  • revise
  • rewrite
  • edit
  • proofread

How important is this?

There’s a common expression in the car-enthusiast community that goes, “Painting a car is 90% prep work. The last 10% is actually painting the car.” While I think the expression stretches the truth a tiny bit for a stronger effect, I think we can safely say that most of the labor in painting a car is in the prep work. Similarly, most of the labor in the writing process is the prep work, or what some call prewriting. By my estimation, it looks/feels like 70% or more of the time and energy is dedicated to everything before the piece of writing looks mostly complete.

Write

If you skip the prep work in writing, what happens? What errors can occur when specific steps are skipped or rushed through?

 

AVOIDING MISSTEPS IN THE PROCESS

As stated above, most processes need to be done in order. When you got up this morning, you put on your socks then your shoes, not vice versa. That is an obvious error in the steps to getting dressed, but it serves us to slow down and think about what we are doing and why, at least every once in a while.

When painting a car and rushing the prep work, the results will always show in the final product. If you don’t remove the rust, and paint over it, the rust will come through in short time. If you don’t clean the surface and rid it of the oils from your hands, the dust in the air, or other debris, the primer or paint won’t adhere correctly. If you don’t tape the parts you don’t want painted, you will have overspray on places you don’t want.

Similarly, when you rush the prep work in writing, the results will show in the final product. If you don’t spend time thinking about what your task is, what the writing situation is, and brainstorming on your approach, the latter steps may be more difficult. If you skip the planning or outlining process, you might end up with organization issues in a later draft.  If you don’t revise your draft, you end up with a sloppy, error-filled paper.

 

THE FINAL BUFF

When you finish waxing a freshly painted car and stand back to admire your work, you’re filled with a sense of pride. It is the same with a polished final draft of a piece of writing. But if you do not complete each step in the process, you miss out on that moment of pride.

Write

What processes are you familiar with that could also be analogous to the writing process? Write a paragraph or so about something you are familiar with, something you know, that can be compared in some way, even in part, to the writing process.
Or, you can deviate from the analogy idea and write about anything that helps with the writing process that doesn’t seem clearly related to writing. What sort of things outside of English class help you understand the writing process?

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Open English @ SLCC by A. J. Ortega is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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