Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Four Categories of Invention

Drawing on Aristotle as well as on contemporary experts, we can establish the following four invention categories:

  1. Direct observation
    Legendary Guilford English professor Rudy Behar used to declare "There are three rules of writing: know your subject, know your subject, know your d---ned subject." By this he meant that any paper needed to begin with deep knowledge of your subject, and one chief way of getting to know your subject is by observing it. In some cases this might involve actual visual study. In others it might mean close and attentive reading.

     
  2. Logic (e.g., using inductive or deductive reasoning to expand understanding of the subject)
     
  3. Collaboration (e.g., talking with people, consulting authorities through library research)
    Collaboration means moving outside the zone of your own observation and thinking and getting into conversation with others who have thought about your subject. Keep in mind that Quaker truth-seeking assumes that no one individual has a complete view. The more perspectives, the more complete the vision.

     
  4. Intuition (i.e., direct knowledge or insight gained without rational thought or inference).

The first three on the above list are probably self evident and can be orchestrated well enough by the rational mind. What I would like to focus on, however, is intuition, which is the least well understood but is the one which is most likely to lead to discovery and to exciting thought.

What are we after? In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes:

I was a goody-two-shoes all through school. I wanted my teachers to like me. I learned commas, colons, semicolons. I wrote compositions with clear sentences that were dull and boring. Nowhere was there an original thought or genuine feeling. I was eager to give the teachers what I thought they wanted.

At Guilford we are looking for creativity and original thinking.

So what is intuition and how does one engage in it?

The Greeks fancifully believed that the Muses were available to inspire the would-be writer. These were the nine daughters of Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne. Each had specific responsibilities. The chief Muse, Calliope (calli "beautiful" + ops "voice") was responsible for eloquence. Muses specifically associated with writing were Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy), and Melpomene (tragedy).

The popular belief was that the Muses nursed poets' souls, an image which I would like to think is responsible for the origin of the word "exuberance," which literally means "overflowing udders." This image has been used elsewhere to describe the creative process. Richard Wagner, for example, said that he composed like a cow producing milk. (In a different organic image, the composer Saint-Saens is said by Howard Gardener in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences to have compared his composing to the way an apple tree brings forth apples).

In the 20th century many of us are too skeptical to wait for divine inspiration. And most of us are too busy. Therefore we often need to take charge of intuition ourselves. There are many special strategies, known as "heuristics," which can help us probe deeply.