Invention

a long table with a stack of notebooks, sticky notes, and pencils organized in a row. A plant sits on the right edge of the frame.

On October 8, I held a writing workshop called “Develop Your Idea.” I held it in a new location, and in a strictly face-to-face format, instead of having the option to attend online or in person, that I’ve had with my past workshops. I chose a local coffee shop, The Roast, because I could book it for a Saturday afternoon after they had closed for the day, and I could include a coffee or other beverage in the price of admission.

I was excited, so very excited, for this workshop, and posted flyers around town, and even paid to boost the posts on social media.

Two people enrolled. The others who had expressed interest had conflicts in their schedules, or simply didn’t attend. This is fine, of course. I express interest in so many things, and find myself able to do only a fraction of them.

I was slightly disappointed in the low enrollment, but excited for the two friends who had enrolled, and also nervous. Both are people I respect greatly, and I worried that my workshop would be a letdown, especially because they generously paid more than the enrollment fee.1

We had three hours together, and we discussed using details and context to organize and develop our writing concepts. We started, first, with using story-telling elements to determine what details and context we needed. We were encouraged to think of setting, characters, plot, and what events would take place.

Bill was working on some fiction ideas, and Kim was working on a poem, and I’ve been working on some different creative nonfiction pieces. I believe that, regardless of the genre, thinking in terms of the story we are telling can help us shape our ideas into something cohesive.

In many instances, people think they must be “inspired” to write, or think they must have a clear idea to write, and this is most likely because we’ve forgotten one of the five canons of rhetoric: invention2.

Invention is the step where creation begins. We have a glimmer of an idea, maybe even just a brief spark of one that we would have missed if we blinked at the wrong moment. And then what? For many, it would be too vague, too small, to latch onto. Maybe it gets jotted down in an idea book.3 But it’s not enough of a spark to glimmer into full light, and it doesn’t make it’s way to a draft, or even an outline.

Most of the time, invention is the stage in writing classes where we have students freewrite for a while, and then write a thesis statement and an outline. Most of the time, my students spend about 5 minutes on the freewrite and skip to the thesis statement, and if they can’t figure out what they want to say within 20 minutes, they move on to another idea and head to Google to find “proof” for their already fully formed opinion.

This, I think, is why many people don’t feel they are creative, because the idea doesn’t spring fully formed from their brain like Athena breaking out of Zeus’s skull. They forget that Metis was swallowed by Zeus, that creation and labor were happening before Athena was born, and that the whole process gave Zeus quite the headache.

This metaphor is getting a bit weird, so I’ll just say that invention is a highly overlooked part of the writing process. Sometimes those little glimmers that don’t seem like anything, that seem too challenging to turn into something, are the best somethings we produce.

If you’d like more info on using story-telling concepts to develop your ideas, check out the online version of my Develop Your Idea Workshop. It’s coming up on November 12, and I’d love to spend time with you and help you turn your glimmers into light.

moonlight behind clouds and a mountain range silhouetted on the horizon

1I was so grateful; this meant that my cost for renting the space and paying for advertising was covered.

2The other four are arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. These five canons are referring to oratory, what we now call public speaking.

3I have a few of these books. Someday, I’ll write all the ideas. I will.

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