Guilford College Writing Manual

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

Closing Observations

There are some interesting invention strategies which don't appear on the usual lists of control and loosening heuristics. As Diane Ackerman notes in an essay entitled "O Muse, You Do Make Things Difficult," Dame Edith Sitwell used to lie down in an open coffin. D.H. Lawrence climbed naked into mulberry trees. And the poet Schiller kept rotten apples beneath his desk lid: whenever he got blocked, he would raise the lid and inhale deeply.

Incidentally, Ackerman notes, Yale researchers have proven that the fumes of rotten apples do work

Whichever heuristic you use, here are specific professorial expectations related to invention. Not all, of course, apply to every type of writing. But they represent a good general set of directives.

  1. Papers should contain original, probing thought. This means going deep, digging well past the crust that your first hour's thinking about a topic barely penetrates. Key words here: subtlety, complexity.

    When you've finished your draft, run a Geiger counter over it to see what's hot. Then push this material.

    The Indian sage Krishnamurti suggested that the function of education is to free your mind from all tradition so that you can discover the truth as it is. Received truth, he proposes, is limited and limiting.

  2. Papers should be characterized by fullness of material. It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Keep that in mind as you gather copious amounts of material--and then boil it all down.
  3. Papers should balance abstractions with concrete detail. Evidence is critical; unwarranted generalizations are an intelligent reader's bane.
  4. Papers should make connections. Key words that David Barnhill of the Religious Studies department identifies include: "implication," "ramification," "interrelationship." Again, delve deep! Be alert, too, to the larger significance of your ideas and to possible links with other contexts, other bodies of knowledge, other disciplines.
  5. Papers should be critically alert. This means being aware of underlying assumptions, both in those who write about your topic and in your own mind. Again, David Barnhill ("Some Notes on Writing Papers"):

    Be self critical. Criticize the ideas and attitudes presented, but turn the same level of criticism on your own ideas and attitudes. A mature mind seeks its own criticism.

  6. Papers should explicitly or implicitly answer the question, so what? What purpose does your paper serve in the cosmos?