Sooner or later, all writers struggle with invention. Finding something to say about any given topic involves a lengthy process of thinking, reading, contemplating evidence, and considering your means of persuasion. Aristotle, who first systematized rhetoric, argued that rhetoricians needed to discover all available means of persuasion in order to communicate any real truth about a topic.
Ancient rhetoricians used stasis, questions used to establish the specifics of an argument, and topoi, topics of invention meant to organize thoughts into specific patterns. Although we still use these today, most of us rarely study them explicitly, and when writers begin writing about truths with a capital “T,” most folks shudder.
Naturally, one of the available means of persuasion writers must consider is medium. If we’re talking fiction, the writer finds the best way to communicate the truth of the story; if we’re talking essays, the writer finds the best way to communicate the truth of the experience, memory, thought or perception.
Say, for instance, I wanted to write about David Bowie. Where would I start? How much material already exists about the Thin White Duke and his works? Quite a bit.
In order to write about it without rehashing what’s already been written, I would need to investigate and research thoroughly. I might scour the web for interviews and footage, I might read Paul Trynka’s David Bowie: Starman, and maybe I’d even conduct some interviews (perhaps while wearing a different Bowie-era costume for each one, just to make the interviewees comfortable.). Still, I might struggle to make it interesting or relevant, especially from that platform of this blog.
But the “Truths” I find most satisfying arise from my own perceptual biases. I might reflect on the moment I first heard “Space Oddity” on the radio while sitting shotgun in my father’s Cutlass Supreme, my brother in the backseat, my father telling us both about Bowie after the song ended, a note of reverence in his voice. In his next breath, we learned about Ziggy Stardust, a fiction created by a rocker who knew that imagination and myth fed a longing for heroes.
Or maybe, years after my first encounters with Bowie, I might write about how the music still charms me because I never became the kind of avowed fan who played the records endlessly until he internalized them. Bowie’s music always held an air of mystery. I kept it at some distance, and I chose to hold onto that initial sense of wonder.
From mystery and wonder, I can invent.