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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Composition Invention Strategies: Power for the Paper You Must Write

There are many ways to kick off the writing process.  Some of the best approaches involve simply listing ideas or free-writing without any kind of censoring or restrictive thought. The key is to start the flow of ideas and to discover everything you can about what you want to learn about the topic, what you want your audience to do, what kind of discursive outcome (rhetorical situation) do you think you’ll be able to accomplish, and what uncovered (and creative) connections there may be.

Key elements:
* flow of ideas
* topic discovery
* audience persuasion / “do” something
* ultimate outcome
* unique and undiscovered connections

There are many effective techniques in the “getting started” phase. It is often a good idea to try more than one when writing.  

Topic bulls-eye: 
This is a great way to narrow your topic. Write down the first main idea or topic that comes to mind. Then, consider the topic and whether or not it is too narrow or too broad. Write down other terms or words that approximate or approach the main idea. Soon, you’ll start honing in on the topic that makes the most sense, given your goals.

Goals Description and Your Own Personal “Rhetorical Situation”:
What do you want your paper to do? Lloyd Bitzer wrote of “the rhetorical situation” in his now classic article (yes, please Google it now. It will do you good. I can provide a link but you’re better off looking it up yourself, and then thinking about how it ties to your own prior knowledge). The “rhetorical situation” is something I like to refer to as the “persuasion equation.” It’s the end-product and result of the actions and activities.

For example, if you want your piece of discourse to persuade a group of people to vote for a certain candidate, you’ll approach your writing activity much differently than if you want to persuade someone to purchase a new smoothie at a local organic grocery store. You’ll need to know something about your audience, their values, their goals, the context, and competing ideas or “rhetors.”

But, before we get too complicated or digress into some of the outer reaches of the “rhetorical situation,” let’s step back and break it down. To get started, we need to simply look at our goals and objectives. What do we want to accomplish?  Here’s where bullet points can be useful.

Quick-list of goals:
    * audience attitudes to change
    * audience actions to inspire
    * values and emotions to incorporate
    * author reputation to shore up

Uncensored Freewrite: The Deep Dive Into Your Unconscious
Can you write for 5 minutes without stopping? You might be surprised how difficult it is to do. Sometimes it’s almost impossible if you’re easily distracted by social media or the Internet. And, sometimes, you have to trick yourself and put your freewrite in a form that simulates a situation you care about. For example, you may need to create a situation in which you’re writing a letter to someone about a situation you care about. Or, you may need to pretend your writing in your journal about things that you observed but that bothered you, or which triggered emotions.

Of course, this is probably the most difficult of all things to do -- after all, we spend much of our lives trying to avoid emotions or at least to channel them. Self-control is a good thing, but sometimes it keeps us from really understanding ourselves, and it pushes us into a rut of predictable, proscribed responses.

If you have committed yourself to a freewrite, be sure to tell yourself that you do not have to show it to anyone, and also that grammatical errors, spelling, facts, etc. are not as important as you might think they are. They can always be revised later. What you’re trying to accomplish right now is a deep dive into your unconscious.

MindMaps: Triggering connections through graphical representation.
There are a number of tools that can help you if you prefer computer graphics to a pen and piece of paper in which you write words, and then associated ideas or concepts which you then branch out. The mindmap helps you visually see the way you relate your concepts or ideas, and the visual representation triggers more thoughts and ideas. After you complete the mindmap you can save it, or use it after you’ve completed your first draft in order to identify where you have gaps or unexplored connection.

Here’s a free mindmap program ( which does not have all the functionality of a MindMeister (or your own piece of paper and pen), but it’s a great way to get started.  If you don’t need all the functionality, you can always simply use Google Slides or PowerPoint to start some ideas and then share with your collaborators to start creating interactive brainstorming.

Here’s an example just using a word processing program (Okay, MS-Word):

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