Use a variety of invention strategies to stimulate your creative abilities.

Many people do not perceive themselves as creative. They reserve the terms "creative" or "innovative" for people who write literature, create art work, invent products, or lead scientific breakthroughs. People who develop new theories, products, and ideas certainly deserve to be called "creative" or"innovative," yet the vast majority of us can be creative, too.

Our insights, ideas, products, and art work may not transform the world; they may not even be perceived by others as creative because to others they may seem familiar or prosaic. However, if we develop ideas, stories, and works of art that are new to us (that we're not copying), then we are being creative. Our creations may not enrich society at large, yet they may enrich our personal lives, and, perhaps, the lives of those around us. Over time, our "small c" creative projects may lead to a "big c" Creative project--something that truly does transform how people think about the world. A daily pattern of being creative, of working hard to solve problems, may lead, over time, to breakthroughs for ourselves and others.

Use Burke's Pentad to interpret human events, stories, and movies.

In A Grammar of Motives, philosopher and critic Kenneth Burke presents a model for analyzing written and spoken language to better understand and even predict human behavior. His model, the pentad, can be used to understand or interpret human behavior and to develop ideas for stories. The pentad assumes people can have ambiguous, conflicting, and complex reasons for acting. It attempts to avoid simplistic explanations.

"[A]ny complete statement about motives will offer some kind of answer to these five questions: what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)." -Kenneth Burke

The Fundamental Components of the Pentad

Like the journalistic questions or the common topoi and tagmemic questions, the pentad can be presented as a series of questions. By asking these fundamental questions, Burke proposes that we can generate insights about the factors that led us to the action. In particular, these questions will offer us insights into the following five components of a situation:

  1. The act
  2. The scene
  3. The agent
  4. The agency or method or means
  5. The purpose or motive

Relationships Among Terms

While analyzing specific acts or scenes can obviously lead us to some understanding about what motivated someone to do something, what really makes Burke's pentad useful is his emphasis on the relationships among the terms. Burke is especially interested in the relationships, or ratios, that occur when the following terms are compared:

  • Actor to act
  • Actor to scene
  • Actor to agency
  • Actor to purpose
  • Act to scene
  • Act to agency
  • Act to purpose
  • Scene to agency
  • Scene to purpose
  • Agency to purpose

For example, by analyzing the "act-to-scene ratio," we can gain information about how a scene, or social context, influenced the act. Thus, you might try to understand how criminal behavior is expressed in the inner city. If violence is an everyday part of the scene in a housing project in the inner city, then we can understand why residents might express a lot of fear about being a victim of violence. If we interviewed people in the community who acted violently (i.e., agents), then we might have a better sense of how they commit the violence (scene to agency) or why they believe they commit the violence (act to scene).

Social Media_WC

Sources for a research essay can be seen as a web of people talking to each other. Although sources may not seem alive to you, they represent their authors' unique identities and opinions, which makes conversations among them not only possible but also lively. Similar to people who may have different types of conversation, sources may converse with each other: they may support, complement, conflict with, or attack each other's opinions. 





Who is doing this?

Who will do this?


What did they do?

What was it for?


Where did they do it?

Where is it going to happen?


Why are they doing this?

Why are they doing it?


When is it happening?

When is it going to happen?


How did they do it?

How do they hope to do it?

Understand how writers organize their commitments by organizing work under development into a notebook.

Although the thought of maintaining a notebook may at first appear intimidating, you will probably be surprised to find that it is actually quite easy to keep one on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the following comments are fairly representative of how most students feel after keeping a notebook for a semester:

  • Writing these entries has helped me to remember important events from my childhood that I was not aware were buried in my subconscious, in particular, I have thought of several special moments that I shared with my maternal grandmother and have made a record of them. I now have a written record and can reread them years from now when perhaps my memory becomes faulty, and I am no longer able to recall them with ease.
  • Another bonus of notebook writing is the discipline it has imposed on me to write frequently. I enjoy writing, but I have always found excuses not to do so because I allowed other responsibilities to take precedence. Since journal writing has been a class requirement, its importance has been elevated because I see it as an obligation (not a negative).
  • Do you ever notice how important something seemed to you in high school and now that you look back on that you think, “God, I sure acted stupid back then!”? Doesn't it sort of make you wonder if what you consider important now is really stupid, especially if you were to look back on it in say, 10 years? What then is truly important?
  • Notebook writing has helped me get a better perspective on my life and problems.
  • I used the journal to let out emotions and thoughts. The journal was like a person I would talk to whenever I needed someone to talk to.
  • I used my journal to help myself study for exams in other subjects. This is something I never used to do—take notes on chapters—and I found it to help.
  • I think the more you write, the more you enjoy it, the more easily you can come up with ideas.
  • I’ve learned that I have a lot of hidden opinions and feelings about issues that I usually don’t get a chance to express. Consequently, in this class, I have an outlet to express my ideas in a creative and structured way. By writing a little each day, I am able to think more about what I feel which then, helps me to become a better writer.

Maintaining a notebook can help you write regularly, set goals, establish priorities, and organize your writing projects. If you tend to be a disorganized writer, the notebook can provide an invaluable focus for creative ideas. Although you can succeed without such a notebook, maintaining one can give you some control over what and how you write.

"Benefits to Using a Writer's Journal" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

Use freewriting to avoid writer's block, stimulate your thinking on a subject, and find your voice.

Freewriting involves writing without stopping. Your goal is to write whatever ideas occur to you, using a pen or pencil and paper or using a computer with the monitor turned off. When freewriting, your focus is to generate ideas as opposed to writing grammatically correct sentences. Get your thoughts down as fully and quickly as you can without critiquing them.

Freewrite to Avoid Writer's Block

Freewriting is a powerful way to blast through writing blocks. Rather than staring at a blank page, wondering what you have to say about a topic, you can write about the topic, exploring what you know, what you need to research, and what you need to accomplish to finalize the document.

In Writing Without Teachers (Oxford University Press, 1973), Peter Elbow argues that freewriting is "a way to produce bits of writing that are genuinely better than usual: less random, more coherent, more highly organized." Elbow believes that freewriting, when used routinely, helps writers to find their voice, a voice that is smoother than a voice "damped out by all the interruptions, changes, and hesitations."

Different Ways to Use Freewriting

  1. Use freewriting to warm up; to identify everything you need to know about a topic

  2. Use freewriting to overcome writer's block

  3. Use freewriting to find your voice

Use talk-and-then-write strategies to jump-start writing projects.

Dialoguing, dictating, and group brainstorming all rely on talking to generate writing. Many people get their best ideas discussing issues and ideas with people.

Lawyers, doctors, and business leaders have frequently used dictation to draft documents. Now, as a student, you can also dictate, thanks to voice recognition software. IBM Via Voice and Dragon, Naturally Speaking are two popular programs that enable your computer to transcribe your speech into words, after you've trained the software.

Extroverts particularly enjoy talking-over possibilities before writing. If you are fairly introverted, however, you may prefer to develop a topic by yourself, holding off on discussing it with others until you've conceived a plan to develop the documents. And it is possible that this is the best approach. Even so, you should experiment with talk-and-then-write strategies.

Unlike writing, where we have to guess how readers might respond, when we talk with other people, we can see the immediate effects of our words. When we see people shaking their heads negatively, nodding, smiling, or looking bored, we can adjust our rhetoric accordingly.

Warning: Don't confuse excessive amounts of email (or talk) as work on your writing projects. Like anything else taken to the extreme, conversing online can become counter-productive.

Talk can play a surprisingly powerful role in the creative process. To find out how you can use talk effectively, try discussing drafts before writing, speaking as you write, and reading your work out loud. Our personalities, experiences, and the rhetorical demands of particular writing projects influence when and how talk can be beneficial or distracting. Try keeping a log on how and when you use talk effectively.


Use a writer's journal to organize your work, develop new projects, and nurture and sustain existing projects.

Consider using these categories to help organize your journal, whether you publish it online (with or without security) or keep it in a three-ring binder.

The writer's journal can help you to write more efficiently and more originally. Your journal provides a place to organize your work, develop new projects, nurture and sustain existing projects, and provide links to completed projects. Rather than ignoring the innovative ideas for new writing projects that occur when you are in the middle of another assignment, you can keep a record of your new ideas in your journal.

Save time, develop more effective documents, and be more creative by developing a writer's journal. Throughout human history, writers have used notebooks to organize and develop their ideas. Thanks to the internet, you can now easily maintain your journal online or you can use a low-tech solution, such as a three-ring binder.

Note: A writer's journal is different from a digital portfolio in the sense that you are the audience for the journal and the work in the journal tends to be rough, really fragments of ideas, a place to be creative.

In contrast, the digital portfolio represents your best work on a subject and its audience includes potential employers, university admission committees, and internet users.

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