Introduction to Vital Writer Services and Elizabeth Herman

Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be  donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or hermanbetsy@yahoo.com for more information.

For Your Architect: Smile! You’re Onto A Thesis Statement!

As a piece of writing begins to take shape from the random scrawl of your madman, your architect begins to control the activities as you move to the next stage of Flowers’ paradigm of the writing process. Like most architectural tasks, having a blueprint will ease the process. The thesis statement is one such blueprint, or road map that you can use as a guide.

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Your goal transforms from simply generating and including any and all disparate ideas, to narrowing and honing your topic, viewpoint and purpose for the writing task at hand. One important step in articulating your topic, viewpoint, purpose, as well as how you will achieve such a purpose, consists of composing a thesis statement.

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A thesis statement can also be known as a main idea or controlling idea. In academic writing, it also often helps to foreshadow the supporting evidence that you will use to support your idea or viewpoint as you develop the rest of the paper. This can also help you establish an organizational scheme, because the order in which you mention your types of supporting evidence can mimic the order, or sequence, in which you will present the types of evidence in detail.

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Another way to visualize the relationship between the thesis statement and the support for that idea is as an umbrella with many smaller points at the outer edges and corners, all merging into one main point at the top.

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It simply works well when the supporting points maintain a solid connection with the main point, so that none of the spokes of the umbrella stick up and disrupt the ability of the shield to protect what is underneath. You’ve walked through rainstorms with a broken umbrella, right? The effect on your essay is similar when a connection between the support and the thesis reads tenuously.

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Staying dry becomes much easier with an umbrella that has solid links between all of the points, and that’s the best kind of an essay, too. Everything you say needs to read like it hits the target that you establish in the beginning with your thesis statement.

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At the same time, the thesis statement needs to be wide enough in scope to make for enough interest to keep the reader reading. If the reader already knows that your thesis statement is an irrefutable fact, then why take the time to explore why you support that fact with evidence? There is no reason to investigate a topic you already agree with unless the author offers a unique point of view and an interesting rationale for taking that unique stance.

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Overall, you may need to experiment with several different thesis statements before you find the right one for your particular writing task. And sometimes you may use the thesis statement while you write, without including it in your final product. Each case will be different, but for academic essays, a good architect will start with a good thesis statement!

Journaling— A Madman Technique For Health

Why do so many people find it helpful to write journal entries regularly? For one thing, writing whatever comes to you repeatedly on a regular basis is a practice in finding perspective on life.

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In order to write about your own life, you must consider it, and choose which aspects to include in any description you put on paper. What is it about your life that you find most interesting? When taking the time to put life into words, the most interesting tidbits seem most worth re-creating via language.

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As soon as you note something on paper, the emotional charge attached to that experience changes. For instance, if there are workplace issues happening, you will be less likely to elevate your thinking and anxiety about them if you write down what events have taken place and when. Keeping a record gives you a way out of the sometimes aggravating involvement causing worry and anxiety.

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The relief of stress that comes from writing about your life helps give you the strength to face challenges with humor and enthusiasm. This process becomes more and more significant over time, as the skill of keeping a journal for the sake of your own health will become more easily applied to greater varieties of situations.

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Another context in which journals help pertains to the way we eat, the way we exercise, and the way we relate to loved ones. For parents who would like to learn more about their children and how to handle them, writing observations of their child’s growth can make a big differences in areas such as discipline, potty training, tracking food allergies, etc.

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All in all, life becomes more manageable when you use writing to handle ongoing challenges in many areas. From food, to child rearing, to self-improvement, to your job, you can gain healthy perspectives and generate ways to address them by writing about them regularly over time. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself!

Incubation, Inspiration and Invention: Meditation and the Madman

In my research, I have written about how meditation, particularly breathing meditation, can aid the invention stage of the writing process, during which Flowers’ theoretical self-image of the madman dominates the writer’s psyche.

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In her research on creativity theory, Ronda Dively pays particular attention to how incubation helps to encourage insightful “aha!” moments to take place for writers. I believe meditation to be one way of allowing for incubation and insight to take their natural course.

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To incubate ideas effectively, writers set aside their tasks and allow sub-conscious processing to take over. The more positive emotional states they can enter outside of writing activities, the more likely it is that new ideas and insights will arrive spontaneously to support the invention necessary for good writing. Meditation practiced regularly, as shown widely in both spiritual and scholarly texts, supports a positive emotional outlook.

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As writers develop personal agency, or an ability to accomplish tasks, three aspects of this agency stimulate the writing process: affect (emotion), self-image and focus. For the students who participated in my study on meditation in the writing classroom, the technique of closing their eyes and breathing steadily had the most impact on their emotions as they took time to learn to complete written assignments.

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Also, the emotional changes that the students identified as occurring in response to meditation seemed to positively influence their ability to generate ideas, or invent for the sake of their writing. The meditation, in other words, appeared to support the activities of their “madman” archetype as Flowers describes it.

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In the conclusion to my dissertation, I state that “student writers wrote detailed descriptions of meditation’s role in handling early stages of the process with greater ease.” The activities of free writing, pre-writing, journaling, brainstorming, felt sense and looping, as well as other invention exercises, happen more smoothly when the writer also meditates, as the evidence in my research seems to indicate.

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References

Dively, Ronda Leathers. Preludes to Insight: Creativity, Incubation and Expository Writing. Cresskill: Hampton Press, Inc., 2006.

Flowers, Betty. Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process. http://www.ut-ie.com/b/b_flowers.html 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2015.

What Are Invention Activities? For Your Madman

In the last post, I gave you four lists of activities to be used in each of the four roles in Flowers’ paradigm. For the madman, any invention activity will do, as long as it makes any idea or word acceptable.

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When we brainstorm, we usually make a list of anything that comes to mind. Nothing gets eliminated yet. Making such a list can take place in a group setting or individually.

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Automatic writing involves keeping the pen or whatever writing instrument you use in constant motion across the page for a pre-defined length of time, such as 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Even scribbles are acceptable. The point is to keep writing without stopping for that period of time, whether the product makes any sense or not. In fact the product has very little to do with the point of this exercise.

Looping means stringing together several automatic writing exercises by choosing a single word, phrase or sentence from each writing, and using that chosen bit of text as the topic or inspiration for your next round of automatic writing, and then repeating the same procedure again and again, until there are several pieces of writing that came from one.

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The “Felt Sense Guidelines” guide the writer through an invention process that was inspired by the “focusing” process invented by Eugene Gendlin. Sondra Perl has written and recorded a set of instructions that use breathing and the body to determine the most relevant and interesting topic that writers can choose at any particular time.

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One very sensible piece of advice that I got often when I first started writing was to keep a small notebook with me at all times. In case any ideas come, it is always great to conveniently note it down and then develop it later if it sticks with you. Also, deciding to compose an informal journal entry regularly and repeatedly also makes a lot of sense.

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All of the above activities constitute what I mean by pre-writing activities, and all can be enhanced with the creative madman as an archetypal mindset for the behavior of practicing them. In my opinion, you will find your writer’s block diminished and your writing flow enhanced by the practice of all of these methods.

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Activities for your Four Writing Roles: Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge

I offer you some lists of writing activities for each of the four roles in Betty Flowers’ paradigm:

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Madman

Brainstorming, Automatic Writing, Looping, Sondra Perl’s Felt Sense Guidelines, Keeping a Notebook, Writing Regularly Scheduled Journal Entries, Pre-writing Preparation

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Architect

Clustering, Outlining, Composing a Thesis Statement, Cutting Unnecessary Ideas, Shaping the Overall Plan, Revising Major Aspects of the Text

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Carpenter

Drafting, Constructing Paragraphs and Sentences, Composing Support and Elaboration for Major Ideas, Transitioning between Major and Minor Ideas

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Judge

Proofreading, Revising, Editing, Identifying and Correcting Local and Global Errors, Looking for Patterns of Error, Changing Wording Choices to Avoid Repetitiveness and Redundancy, Making the Text More Concise

The Flowers Paradigm: A Writer’s Roles

A helpful way to think about your writing process involves separating out your various roles when you write. For instance, at the beginning of the process you really do not want to be overly critical of your own ideas or language.

You want to include all of your thoughts and expressions in considering directions for a possible text, and wait until later, until some good material has been generated and decisions have been made, before you “judge” what you have produced.

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In a picture of the four necessary roles that writers play when they engage in the stages of invention, drafting, revision and editing, Betty Flowers outlines in her article, “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process,” a conversation between herself as writing teacher and writing student.

In this conversation, she describes a paradigm by which writers change roles as they move through the composing of a text.

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In the madman role, creativity is king and everything is allowed, with no attention to following any rules or correcting any so-called mistakes.

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In the architect role, the ideas generated by the madman begin to take more of an ordered structure, as the writer in this role begins to organize by eliminating some ideas and words and highlighting others deemed to be more important to the overall purpose of the piece of writing.

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You can probably guess what happens in the carpenter’s role. The work of the architect gets even more structure from the carpenter, who creates the building blocks, the sentences and paragraphs, which bring the sketchy idea for the piece of writing more clearly into focus.

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And finally, the role of judge makes an appearance, as the work of the first three roles has reached a the stage of readiness to be perfected, and corrections can be made to improve what has already been written.

But the use of these roles does not always happen in the suggested order. At times, the writer may need to go back and forth between the functions in a recursive manner.

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Not only are the stages of the process best seen as recursive in nature, but these imaginative ideas about a writer’s identity also need flexibility in terms of choosing the chronology of their use.

When Mistakes Actually Work

Even though we don’t intend something that happens, that “happening” may not turn out to be wrong, or a “mistake.”

A mistake not only must be unintended, it must cause some harm to the world or our sense of order in some way. But often, what we perceive as harm may be necessary in order to help others grow and learn.

We may only need to look at the “mistake” from a different angle in order to see how fantastic it is, how it helped someone that never could have predicted it would.

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