- the act of creation
- It’s the Eureka moment—that special moment when a writer, speaker, knowledge maker, product designer . . . imagines something or creates something that is new to the writer . . . —and perhaps the world
- one of the five canons of rhetoric (Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, Delivery).
- a stage in the writing process, as typically theorized by composition process subject matter experts
- a social act
- a measure, a metric, of originality, uniqueness, creativity
- Not all acts of invention are equal. Some inventions are transformative; others, derivative
Synonymous Terms: Invention is known by many names, including Creation; Creativity; The Big Bang and Expansion of the Universe
As humans, as homo sapiens, we are hardwired to invent. Since emerging from the Savannah Plain several hundred thousand years ago, we have been driven to solve problems and advance human knowledge. On a personal level and a social level, we feel an urge to make the world a better place, to contribute to society, to help build the infrastructure future generations need so they can prosper and prepare a better life for their children and loved ones. At the same, we can be motivated by economic incentives to innovate. Entrepreneurs may be richly rewarded for producing original or derivative texts, products, applications, or services.
Levels of Invention
Inventions come in all shapes and sizes. The act of invention occurs on a spectrum: on the one end of spectrum you may create inventions that are original, maybe even transformative. On the other hand, you may create inventions that are derivative.
Derivative Works, Shuffling Cultural Snow
Derivative Works remix existing ideas and practices. It’s the sort of everyday work that societies need to function: checking assertions, retesting hypotheses, replicating past studies, writing reviews of ongoing research.
Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . may not be in the best position to determine whether or not a particular invention is original or derivative. A writer, speaker, knowledge worker . . . may create works that feel innovative to them yet would be perceived by subject matter experts to be commonplace.
People are terrific imitators. We learn from one another. Consciously and unconsciously we are constantly reshuffling, remixing, what we see. This process could be called shovelling cultural snow.
- Haruki Murakami introduced the metaphor of shovelling cultural snow in his novel Dance Dance Dance. In the novel, the protagonist describes his job as a content writer as shovelling snow. Here he meant that all he ever did was take the same old stories and retell them to different audiences. In other words, he didn’t believe he was contributing to the conversation: he was only repeating what other people were saying and doing. He was shuffling. Ultimately, this meant he was letting other people think for him.
Original Works are texts, apps, products that are novel: they are unique in style and substance.
The authors of original works may benefit financially from their inventions. Their works are protected by intellectual property and copyright law. Authors may also publish works under Creative Commons.
Scholars, investigators, authors aspire to create original works. They aspire to solve problems and to express themselves. They aspire to develop top shelf, blue sky apps, products, and services. They are driven by an urge to do something that has never been done before.
Invention is a social act
Invention does not occur in a vacuum. Invention is a Socio-Cultural-Rhetorical Construct: What writers, speakers, knowledge workers. . . invent and how they invent is shaped by their personal, family, school-based, and work-based experiences.
Invention is shaped by
- existing scholarship on the topic. The status of the scholarly conversation
- the archive.
- Commonplaces, Topoi.
- Our educational training, our schooling introduces us, inculcates us, to literary traditions, styles of writing, canons, conventions, genre, media, and shared cultural texts. From schooling we first learn basic literacy. We learn information literacy, we learn how to keep up with current scholarship and research. We gain critical literacy.
- Our workplace experiences introduce us to new communities of practice, discourse communities, genres, research methods.
- From professional and technical writing, we learn how to think rhetorically analyze discourse communities.
- Our personal experiences, our day-to-day lives, present us with ample opportunities to weave in and out of different discourse communities. As we are introduced to new ways of doing things and new information, data, we learn styles, research methods, perspectives. We learn the creation stories, the biographies, the narratives, of discourse communities, communities of practice. We remix what we see. We reshuffle cultural snow.
- Our experiences serve as fuel for our imagination.
Invention is a Rhetorical Process
Our invention processes are shaped by our relationship to our audience. Our positioning, our rhetorical stance, is shaped by —our literary histories, cultures, rhetorical context, our relationship to our audience. Ultimately, our rhetorical stance, our identities, and the tools we use to compose are shaped by our literary experiences, anecdotal experiences, educational experiences.
During the process of invention, writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . adopt a rhetorical stance: a perspective, a point of view. It’s unavoidable. Writers . . . stand at a place, a setting, a moment in history.
To begin any writing task, you need to engage in rhetorical analysis of your rhetorical situation. Then based on that information, data, you want to engage in rhetorical reasoning about the best way to respond to your rhetorical situation.
Invention has deep roots in rhetoric. Aristotle urged rhetors to think deeply about the audience they were addressing in their discourse. Rhetors needed to consider what the audience thinks about a particular topic. For example, did the audience find the topic to be emotionally draining? What background information did the audience need in order to understand the topic?Additionally, Aristotle behooved rhetors to analyze what was commonplace between the sender and the receiver of the message. Aristotle encouraged authors to reflect on their rhetorical relationship with their audience.
Invention & Composing, Composing Processes
For writers, invention is where the magic happens. Writers don’t get hooked on writing because of all of the hard work. Instead, interviews of writers @ work suggest that writers are inspired by the joy of discovery, the bliss of finding what they want to say as they write. Writers report that engaging in composing helps them gain new insights about a topic. Composing, after all, is the act of making meaning.
Invention in early process pedagogy was conceptualize invention as a stage in the writing process. During this stage writers were exhorted to give some thought to the rhetorical situation that informed the act of discourse.
From the perspective of early process pedagogy, invention was a stage in composing where writers engaged in planning activities and engaged in rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning regarding the best way to respond to their rhetorical context.
It has been commonplace in U.S. schools since the 1970s for pedagogies to encourage writers to engage in prewriting or invention exercises before writing a text.
Interviews of writers @ work suggest a prevailing theme when it comes to invention: writers, speakers, knowledge makers . . . feel great pleasure when they create new products, apps, applications, and services. Yet it’s also clear that pain and despair may play a role in creation. But the big thing, the think that professionals take for granted, is that professionalism and self-regulation matters. To be
When we come across problems we check for known solutions. Maybe we jump online and see what we can learn from the internet. Or maybe we have access to the gated web. If, after strategic searching, we still cannot find a solution to a real problem, then we turn to theorizing about possible solutions and experiments, even if informal experiments at first.
The people you know, the ways they respond to your ideas, shape what and how you create.
Genres reflect . Genre reflects the histories, activities, and values of communities of practitioners.
Your understanding of genres, which are the shared expectations, the commonplace between readers and writers, informs how you shape your stories.
Writers work with information to generate topics, stories, and research questions to write about (see especially Scholarship as a Conversation). Hence, your relationship to information plays a major role in what is said and what is left unsaid.
In 1898, Thomas Edison, the American inventor, is quoted in The Ladies Home Journal as saying “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Although a cliché at this point, Edison’s aphorism remains as true now as it did in the early 1900s.
Perhaps most of all, Invention is shaped by Mindset. The act of Invention is characterized by a spirit of openness, optimism, and play. For many people, invention is the best part of writing. Invention is, after all, where the magic happens–where writers are inspired by the joy of discovery, the bliss of finding what they want to say as they write. That said, it’s also true that some writing tasks don’t require all of your creative bandwidth–like writing a shopping list or a quick Tweet. But the bottom line is that if you don’t have a Growth Mindset, if you can’t quiet the internal editor and Play the Believing game, you won’t be much good at Invention.
Disciplinary communities (e.g., engineering, nursing, chemistry) have long-standing traditions regarding how to posit and test knowledge claims. Learning new ways to develop knowledge claims empowers writers to join new communities which reinforces our social nature as humans.
Where’s the bleeding edge? What do experts on a topic currently think are the most important remaining research questions and research methods?