Let’s take a look for a moment at the concept of a writing process, a concept that is iconic in just about every contemporary discussion of writing and its teaching. As Victor Villanueva noted in 2003, “That writing is a process sounds pretty obvious.  We know that texts don’t appear magically on pages as whole products.  There is a process in getting from mind to page” (1).  For many (and certainly for me), Donald Murray’s iconic 1972 essay, “Teach Writing as Process Not Product” was the starting point for how we began to understand such a thing as a “writing process.”  Addressing an apparent lack of improvement of students’ written products, Murray characterizes the process as that of “discovery through language…. [and] the process of exploring what we know and what we feel about what we know through language.  It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to communicate what we know about our world” (4).  Murray then unequivocally asserts:  “The writing process itself can be divided into three stages: prewriting, writing, and rewriting.  The amount of time a writer spends in each stage depends on his (sic) personality, his work habits, his maturity as a craftsman, and the challenge of what he is trying to say” (4).  
He then goes on to describe these elements in more detail:
Prewriting is everything that takes place before the first draft…it includes the awareness of [the writer’s] world from which his subject is born…prewriting may include research and daydreaming, note-taking and outlining, title-writing and lead-writing.
Writing is the act of producing a first draft.  It is the fastest part of the process, and the most frightening, for it is a commitment.  When you complete a draft you know how much, and how little, you know.
Rewriting is reconsideration of subject, form, and audience.  It is researching, rethinking, redesigning, rewriting—and finally, line by-line editing, the demanding, satisfying process of making each word right.  It may take many times the hours required for a first draft…
            (4) (Emphasis original)
These three elements have become part of the background knowledge of most if not all writing teachers. They sound and seem simple to us, perhaps because we are intimately, almost unconsciously, familiar with them.  But we also know, from conscious observation of our own and our students’ writing, that this process model, though easy to describe, is staggeringly complex in practice.  We know, for example, that these three elements do not all always happen in the same order, or in such a neat sequence as their linear presentation above might suggest.  Writers often, for example, start to write draft-like text as an introductory exercise, skipping traditional “prewriting” activities such as brainstorming.  Sometimes we invent for longer periods; sometimes we do not.  We will brainstorm making a list one time, and make a formal outline at other times. We may follow our outlines, or throw them out after a few moments of writing.  Often the research for a project runs through the entire time that the project is being created.  Writing occurs in stops and starts, fits and leaps, at different times, for different tasks, and for different writers and for different purposes.  Writers write, go back and brainstorm, edit a bit, brainstorm, write some more.  
Indeed, about the only thing we can definitely say about a writing process is that it is whatever process in which a writer engages when she or he writes. It’s as slippery an eel of a concept as there can possibly be, and the writing process of any one writer is as idiosyncratic as any such personal, cognitively constructed process can possibly be; there are as many processes as there are writers and opportunities for writing—an effectively limitless set of options.
But this does not mean that the idea of a process—a map of the general concepts--is useless.  A process model like Murray describes gives us a general idea of what happens when people write. The inherent complexity of the reality that the model  attempts to represent does not keep us from valuing the model as a way of forming an understanding of what happens when we create something, like writing, which changes so dramatically and unexpectedly when any of its variables, or even any part of any one of its variables—audience, purpose, subject, writer’s role, motivation, situation, place, context—changes.  In other words, given the complexity of the reality of writing, such a model must by its very nature be general.
It may be the danger of many if not most conceptual models that they sometimes—if not often—become considered as synonymous with, or are seen as replacements for, fuller experimental proofs and more extensive theorization.  So we can grant, I think, that the elevation of a simple three-part model of anything as complex as writing as a comprehensive, exhaustive summation of all that can happen in the production of a text is dangerously reductive.  But we can also understand that such models exist to provide entrances, paths, to map, and to chart possible ways; they do not necessarily exist to chain or hold back. Therefore as a model, a definition of a process as representing, at least on a general level, things that writers tend to do when they write has value for scholars, teachers, and students wishing to get an initial “handle” on their own textual (or, as I will argue in a moment, multimediated) compositions—or process, and as a stepping-off point for further examination—as, indeed Murray’s essay  and the three elements contained therein has served for a generation of writing scholar-teachers.