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The Journey



The exercises used by rhetors and writers are classical, spanning the centuries. In the course of reading two chapters in Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students by Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee I saw many parallels between the study of rhetors and writers. This paper takes the idea of the four stages of writers by Randy Ingermanson and adapts them to the four-stage journey a rhetor and writer must take to reach the ultimate status, master arguer and author.

Isocrates said "study and practice are in some ways superior to talent" (Crowley 353). This is absolutely true. A rhetor or writer may have an IQ off the index but if they didn't study anything we wouldn't have lawyers, brilliant works of poetry or the classical literature studied in school. Classical training for rhetors included an increasingly complex series of exercises the same way a writer progresses through different stages of learning. The more a person is trained and the more knowledge they gain, the better they are at whatever they are trying to accomplish whether it's becoming a rhetor in classical ancient fashion or a modern writer, which I am trying to do.

In the classical tradition a freshman would be a school age boy being placed under the tutelage of a grammarian to learn the basics of writing through imitating and expanding on fables, tales, chreia and proverbs. A fable is a fictitious story meant to teach a moral lesson used to imitate or paraphrase a story establishing basic skills. In a tale, students learn to retell stories or poetry in their own words advancing narrative skills. In the chreia the student amplifies a short narrative or famous saying that points to a moral or teaches a lesson. It's getting beyond beginning narrative and adding commentary on deeds or utterances. Chreia displays the rhetors knowledge and skills to adjust to situations and audiences the way a writer must know what story to tell and who to tell it to. A proverb is a common saying every member of a culture knows. The beginning rhetor would write a proverb or paraphrase them to develop beginning argumentative and logical skills. (Crowley 386-396). As the rhetor learns to write so must the writer.

Randy Ingermanson defines a Freshman author as one whom [has] "very fine content, but their craft is unpolished and they usually don't have any contacts at all. Some Freshmen are simply astounded that editors aren't lining up to write checks for six-figure advances. But most Freshmen are convinced that they will never sell anything and they might as well give up. It's fair to say that all Freshmen are very confused. That's OK!"

I spent six years as a freshman. Some days I was convinced I would submit a manuscript and immediately get a contract, other days I didn't think it was going to happen. A lot of times I was very confused and disheartened. I went for long periods without doing what writers do, write. I definitely did not take things as seriously as I needed to. I started and stopped at least a dozen stories. In the six years I've been writing the only things completed are a few short stories and those mostly because they were assignments for various creative writing classes. I decided if I really wanted to write I'd have to follow the classical method, study, lean and make contacts. In December 2004, I joined the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). I knew there were people there that would help guide and shepherd me in my writing career, the same way that the grammarian would do for the ancient schoolboy. I drifted around lost for a few months, writing and totally overwhelmed by all the terms being thrown around I didn't understand, that is until April when I got hooked up with my fabulous mentor, Jennifer Tiszai.

Jen started out teaching me the basics of characters and plotting. I went from a totally undisciplined writer who just wrote whatever came into my head, to doing exercises on characters. I also now have a detailed spreadsheet listing all major plot points and tracking scenes and my word count. It definitely made it a lot easier once I knew where I was going and how to get there.

She also drilled into my head a lot of the same things that ancient rhetoricians were taught: Read your stuff aloud, take someone's work you admire, copy a passage and analyze it, paraphrase or imitate, as long as it wasn't used for the purpose of plagiarism (Crowley 356). She also urged me to read books on writing, keep taking classes and above all practice writing. Using many of these techniques I've gone from a freshman to sophomore writer in the last year.