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Having something to say: Invention in writing and the teaching of writing

Karen J Phillips, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Invention should be privileged in the writing classroom. This is the most important implication resulting from extensive interviews with seven published writers about how they write. There are vast differences in their approaches to writing, but one thing common to all of them is that invention is central. Invention was central for Aristotle and for early eighteenth century pedagogical theorists, and it was again privileged by the theorists involved in the early days of the writing process movement of the 1960s, but historically it has always been gradually neglected. One predominant pedagogy today, often labeled current-traditional rhetoric, privileges form and correctness. The attempts to discredit current-traditional pedagogies have long been raging, and yet writing textbooks continue to teach their methods. Three important approaches to composition often associated with the process approach—expressionism, cognitive rhetoric, and social constructionism—represent a pulling apart of Aristotle's important proofs of ethos, pathos, and logos. The pedagogies of invention that are usually associated with these theories tend to emphasize one proof over another, and the unfortunate result is a narrowing of the concept of invention. Until we privilege and enrich invention we may never see the changes needed in the conceptualization and teaching of the process approach. We need to broaden our perception of a writer's process of writing to understand when invention is occurring and to recognize its powerful drive. Because of its serendipitous nature we need to be less rigid in our pedagogy to allow for and validate a writer's proclivities. Pedagogical implications from this study include the need for student writers to begin their writing and to be continually nourished by their own inventions. They will be motivated by their ideas to improve their writing. Student writers need to know the importance of recognizing and recording their inventions and to trust their individual writing processes that produce the inventions. Student writers will benefit by sharing in-process writing with people they trust, and they will benefit from the positive comments of teachers in response to their writing. Invention centered pedagogy, fortunately, promotes writing worthy of praise by teachers.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Phillips, Karen J, "Having something to say: Invention in writing and the teaching of writing" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978538.