Re: Invention

Greg Ritter (gritter@SATURN.VCU.EDU)
Wed, 3 Jul 1996 11:35:21 EDT

My invention process depends on the form.

For academic writing, I usually begin by taking lots and lots of
notes on any idea I can think of that is remotely related to the
topic at hand. Then I sift through them, selecting the notes and
ideas that seem fruitful and developing them.

For creative writing, my invention process is far less
structured. For fiction, sometimes I have a something in mind--
characters in a bizarre situation. If that's the case I just
start the ball rolling and see where the characters take me. 90%
of the time, though, writer's block is in the way, so I've
devised techniques to get around that.

One is the Bowl O' Ideas (which is actually a big silver trophy I
won at a national debate tournament in high school). Every couple
of days I stick a few random nouns written on slips of paper into
the Bowl O' Ideas. When I'm feeling stuck, I close my eyes, reach
into the Bowl O' Ideas and draw out three nouns. Then I have to
write a story--or at least a scene--that incorporates those three
nouns in a significant way. Nothing like trying to fit "banjo",
"Monopoly" and "hammerhead shark" together to get you thinking
creatively. :) It also works well if you have separate Bowls O'
Ideas for people/professions, settings, and objects--draw one
profession, one setting, and 2 or 3 objects and then try to fit
it all together.

(I've used a variant of the Bowl O' Ideas--called the Baseball
Cap O' Ideas--in freshman comp classes. Each student writes three
nouns on slips of paper, and they all go into one student's
baseball cap--and there's *always* a student wearing a baseball
cap (if I'm no wearing one myself). Each student then draws three
nouns and has to write anything--can be expository, can be
narrative, whatever--that incorporates those three nouns. It
doesn't make for a good 'formal' assignment, but inevitably it
results in some of the best, most interesting student writing.)

Something else I do with both myself and my students is exploring
the mundane. I try to find the most bland, boring subject
possible (concrete, boiled potatoes, lint) and try to make it
interesting through writing about it. This can generate some good
student writing, too. One of the best student pieces I've ever
received came off the prompt "boiled potatoes"; the student wrote
a beautiful piece about about all the different ways her
grandmother prepared potatoes and about being in the kitchen with
her as a child while she was cooking.

One more, you ask? Well, okay. Another exercise I assign myself I
call Word Chaining; it's a kind of automatic writing. I just put
random word after random word down on the page (not in sentences,
not trying to have any syntax--actually trying to avoid sensible
syntax usually) until I hit upon a string of words that inspires
me. Like yesterday it took a half page until I hit the word chain
"auto plastic curse" and wound up writing a (really bad) poem
called The Automatic Plastic Curse. Yeah, the poem sucked, but at
least I was writing!

More? Clustering (which you're probably all familiar with from
Gabrielle Rico's book _Writing the Natural Way_) is another
method that works well for me. I was rummaging through notebooks
yesterday and came across a cluster around the word "letter" that
eventually turned into a short story about a mailman delivering a
baby on his route (get the play on delivery? God, but I'm clever
;). Interesting to find that cluster, because just that morning
I'd been proofing the galleys of that story; it's being published
in an anthology this fall. I'd forgotten it had all started from
that cluster three years ago...

Greg Ritter <--NEW E-MAIL ADDRESS!
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