Jimmy Butts teaches writing and the teaching of writing to university students, and is always looking for novel ways of doing those things. He has worked with students from Charleston County High Schools, Winthrop University, Clemson University, Wake Forest University, and now LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as Director of The University Writing Program. He received his Ph.D. from the transdisciplinary program known as Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design at Clemson University. His research interests include postmodern composition strategies, new media, rhetorical criticism, defamiliarization, and writing pedagogy. He has published multimodal work in The KB Journal, Pre-Text, as a proud instructor in The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects, The Cybertext Yearbook, and for Pearson Education.
1. μῦθος (mythos) or Fable
“So, what is a pro-geeem-nassss-matah?” asked Mouse. And Owl looked up at the moon and had a hard time answering. He first said mysteriously, “The progymnasmata is a key…” But then, he relented and added impetuously, “The progymnasmata is a set of fourteen  exercises that the Ancient Greeks used to learn to write . The first of them was a Fable, like the writing of Aesop.”  Mouse squeaked and ran back into his hole for some paper. When he came back, Owl had flown away, and left a list of exercises behind him in a huff. After a few years, Owl came back to eat Mouse, but Mouse couldn’t be found. His writing had made him clever and able to think differently than the one who hunted him. The moral? Keep composing new ways out…
2. διήγησις (diagesis) or Narrative
Once upon a time, you may know, when the progymnasmata was being used in some ancient country or thereabouts, a young man thought he had learned how to write well, but he only wrote in one way. “Invention, invention,” cried his teacher, named Theon or Hermogenes or Libanius or Aphthonius  or some such. A sophist. But the young man thought knew what to do and kept on doing it. When he was asked to stand up in a court of law to defend himself over the death of a dragon or a hippogriff, he followed the same set of rules and the same process he always used to construct his argument without any interesting figures. Well, children, do you know what happened to that unclever, young man? He ended up in prison and eventually died upon his own sword.
3. χρεία (chreia) or Anecdote
Ah, in the book of John, that gospel, we hear about a relevant approach to thinking about using language in these different ways—retelling what others have said before. On hearing the Christ speak… His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech.”  This line is also translated as “Behold, now You speak in openness, and You do not speak allegory.” And the מָשִׁיחַ, well, he was talking normally, like you and me. Why do that? And when are we supposed to speak normally, and when are we supposed to speak with a twist? Jesus done both, I guess, glowingly. That must be why he was called the λόγος.
4. γνώμη (gnome) or Maxim
The pen is mightier than the sword.  This is a gnomon that we might question some days, but it seems true every time we write it down. We have heard this many times, but now what might it mean? What can we make it mean? There are certainly more pens than swords in the world. Pens exist in multitudes.  We writers contain multitudes. We might imagine armies of pens. What can they do? Swords, guns, bombs, pens, and the goal of peace. There is rhetoric’s great purpose: ad bellum purificandum—or the movement toward the purification of war. Rhetoric not bombs. Ink not blood. And how many things can you make with a sword? How many things can you make with a pen? Ultimately, we might undergird one maxim with another. This one is from the poet Robert Southey: “By writing much, one learns to write well.” I cannot help but believe that this is true. Pens multiply possibilities; swords, not so much.
5. ανασκευή (anaskeue) or Refutation
It must be impossible to write as much as so many authors have suggested with so many intoxicants. Ernest Hemingway (or any of the others) cannot have written as much as he did and drank as much as he did. I mean, brain cells are killed. I am preaching to the choir here. Guilty as charged. What words or sentences have been lost or eked out against the fluid resistances of alcohol? The logic of sense would bar any likely writers from actually being good drinkers for long. Stephen King quit. Poe, Capote, and Faulkner did not. Borges was a teetotaler, and Kafka & Lovecraft, and Asimov & Arthur C. Clarke. Mind over body. Oh, but also Stephanie Meyer—not a drinker, but a Christian. Still, we can see the intoxicating nature of both sides of this glass half full perspective. Intoxicants bring things out and can prevent writers from being as productive as they might be. It’s just unbelievable to think how much work has been generated by talented alcoholics. But who needs drugs when we have language? Just make sure that coffee—another fine drug—and water are also on the menu.
6. κατασκευή (kataskeue) or Confirmation
Now, what about writing much and differently might we confirm? How can we learn to write so much and so well? We might reify a story that has been doubted to be true by some—though it must be—because it is so fanciful. It is said, Victor Hugo famously could not finish The Hunchback of Notre Dame—admittedly a long word requirement. He was distracted with the dalliances of social life. He liked to party; that’s not hard to believe. Who doesn’t love a party? I know a few writers who would rather stay home, but still. Distractions do keep us from writing. People can keep us from writing. (People can also spur us to write.) Anyways, Victor locked up his clothes, and wrote without them for months so it is said, and finally hit his deadline for the novel to keep the payment.  True? Isn’t it pretty to think so? 
7. κοινός τόπος (koinos topos) or Commonplace
Let’s find a common critique in all the bad writers of the world—which is to say, the boring ones. Make no mistake, we are against mere gimmickry. But we are against mere normalcy. We resist those who resist novelty. We are against those who hug banality. We are against those who are against interestingness. Let us attack the worst kind of writer: that one who takes on an occasional writing task without a care, hell-bent on it being read merely for accuracy. The un-unique writer who never stops to consider word choice. Or resists sentence fragments in the spirit of judgment. They are not strange. They are xenophobes. They are not worth noticing, perhaps, and resist being noticed, but we must pay attention to the ones most who never have wrinkles in their sheets of paper. Those who write perfectly uninteresting work are the evil conductors of what seems good. The most commonplace evil, of course, is being rotten with perfection.  Homo seriosus, through and through.
8. ἐγκώμιον (egkomion) or Encomium
Now, who was the finest writer of all? And how might we measure such a one? Let’s think presidential. You may ask, “Which president was the best writer?” And you might attempt to claim Abraham Lincoln because he is so beloved and because of his speeches. But the man never wrote a book. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence because he had a way with words, although it was edited by John Adams and Ben Franklin. The strikethroughs are praiseworthy. The fact that there are versions of
The Declaration of Independence is praiseworthy. Those edits still stand today for the everyman. But let us also praise that everyman, Johnny, who can actually write after all. Let us praise the bumbling, late student who still cannot see subject-verb agreement. He knows a thing or two. Such a time! Such a place! But we must also praise the tree that grew to eventually soak up the ink that would become that Declaration, still standing, tall and hard and oaken. Shall we edit it ever again? Or is that .docx too praiseworthy?
9. ψόγος (psogos) or Invective
In the post-meta-blues (see ?uestlove), it is tough to find one person who is perfectly guilty… Who is the most censurable writer of them all? Mein Kampf’s author is the likeliest, easiest, target. The ghostwriter for Trump’s books is especially pitiable. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books are fairly poor. Amanda McKittrick Ros is perhaps famously known for being overly purple, or Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night…” But let us leave them alone. The best worst writer might be the one we never see, someone overly bland—a technical writer for Microsoft. No. Who can blame them? Let the writer who is without typo cast the first noun. The only writer I can think of truly guilty enough of Invective might be me: shameful portmanteau-maker, a lame, trying-too-hard hack. I confess, “I am as guilty a writer as anyone I know.” If you don’t hate this author, you are reading wrongly. I apologize.
10. σύνκρίσις (synkrisis) of Comparison
We might compare two writing teachers. One says, “Write a few things for me, but polish them and make them really good.” The other might ask, “Write a lot, and I don’t care how it comes out!” Who would be the better teacher? But here is the real comparison we want to make is to the benefits of muscle confusion. Workout systems like P90X, I am told, work by doing lots of different exercises to build muscle more quickly. Variation. The same, we might say, could be said about writing by analogy. When one writes a lot of different texts in a number of different ways, the writing improves—in a number of different ways. The exponential value of composing progymnasmatically or variegatedly is natural. The comparison is not unsurprising. Doing different things makes one savvy, quick on their feet. We develop all of the tiny muscles in the hand and the brain, and writing well ensues. You work it all out by changing it all up. The 21st century rhetor must be just as flexible as the 1st century one, perhaps more so.
11. ήθοποιία (ethopoeia) or Characterization
Let us imagine Shakespeare’s teacher. Shakespeare was prolific. He wrote a lot. He wrote different things. He made up quite a few words and phrases. (Of course, he borrowed his plots, but still.) His teacher must have been patient and had quite high expectations. He would be found working early down the lane there at the King Edward VI School. We might imagine rough hands (a nail biter?), but clean shirts. Shaved. Passionate, of course. What questions must this teacher of teachers have asked?! Eating something simple at the end of the day. Apples, likely. Soup. Bread. Beer? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Maybe he was a teetotaler. Catholic? Anglican. Perhaps he was an abstainer of all vices, but then where did Shakespeare look for vices for his material? Barba tenus sapientes. There seems a natural expectation of reservation, not flamboyance, care and precision that led to creativity—not stifling, but asking, asking, asking with a healthy, kindness in challenging, nay inviting, his student to perform well, you might say. He may have said something along these lines, if we were going to act him out:
Young man, tut, tut, tut, now, now, now, you mustn’t quibble there. Make your choice in word or phrase. Stand firm. Take care now that it is the right term. If it does not exist, use your knowledge of languages to concoct the appropriate conceptual deployment. Remember your Ovid and your Horace. Recite your parts of speech. Caesar non supra grammaticos. Stay in your desks. What declension? Open your horn-books. Now, recite!
That is how we might imagine Shakespeare’s teacher may have spoken. If he could come back to us now as a specter, he might say this: “Write! Write more! Write differently!”
12. ἔκφρασις (ekphrasis) or Description
Now, let us picture Homer’s wine-dark stylus standing out in fine detail… no no no… let it be a woman, Emily Dickenson’s solitary pen, skittering across the demanding page, flowing in that inkiness, ending in sweet dashes of thought as she peered out that lonely window—
Or Anne Frank’s remaining pencils, probably nicked up a bit, but prized possessions, or Harper Lee’s favorite typewriter, an Olivetti, which she wanted buried with her. Lee began on an Underwood typewriter though. Why the shift? Those black keys plunking hard and pushing through the waiting air hard to get those especially poignant pages out, when they did come. Sylvia Plath too wrote with an Olivetti before she put her head in the automatic self-cleaning oven with the lethal gas left on. These various tools made and upended the prodigious work of these writerly lives. And now here we are, glowing electrons flowing across bright screens at our eager eyes late into the dusky night—something about blue light, they say, and affected sleep and unending thought—
13. θέσις (thesis) or Argument
Here is our central claim: writing must exist in its multiplicities. Be different. Be diferent. Be diffferent. We welcome a xenic progymnasmata, strange combination of forms and figures. We combine texts, and find new combinations, new texts. We can discover and create a network of meanings, circuitously. There is a logic here, but it is a conductive one. The method is exponentially explosive, divergent. It is a thoroughfare practice that follows the injunction of exploratory drafts. As Anne Lamott writes, “Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational; grown-up means.” This is a process of sp(l)it decisions that we are advocating being embraced. Be weird, kid. The thesis is a suggestion toward strange arrays.
14. νόμου είσφορά (nomou eisphora) or Make a claim about a law
What legal stake shall we claim? The foundations of educational structures? There are many cultural laws having to do with commas and somesuch standardization of letters. There is an actual set of rules set out by plainlanguage.gov that have good intentions, but plain language as a requisite for writing… Stupid to think that we can always clean things up, or that we should. There should be a law against perfection because perfection is a fiction. We have to be so careful about how we allow ourselves to be schooled, how we get written. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from purification/petrification/putrification. That’s not good policy. We must not always end there. We must end here instead. Break the law, man. Amen?
[*] This is, in essence, a progymnasmata about the progymnasmata. Here, this exploration attempts a practice of Ulmerian reasoneon as set out in Electronic Monuments (248, 262). See his exploration of flash reason, which is a practicing of what he calls conductive logic and is a relational move beyond the classic essay. The internal linkages to be discovered here offer a secondary layer of this in practice. (Hint: begin by looking for the swords. Then, go from there.) All images in the public domain.
 14 is the number of days in a fortnight, the number of lines in a sonnet, and the atomic number of silicon, and the number of letters in progymnasmatas. It likely has other magical properties as twice 7.
 See George Kennedy’s Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. This experiment follows Aphthonius’s model. The προγυμνάσματα or “fore-exercises” are an ancient tradition.
 Please see The Aesop for Children (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co)
 These are the names of the main sources of the progymnasmata. See Libanius’s Progymnasmata translated by Craig A. Gibson (Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 2008), with which I have spent the most time. But also see The Progymnasmata of Aphthonius translated by Ray Nadeau (1952) or The Progymnasmata of Theon translated by James R. Butts (1986)… Now… how many James Buttses out there are writing about the progymnasmata?! Seriously. This is the very heart of flash reason, the logic of conduction and mystorical discovery.
 John 16:29 New American Standard Translation
 John 16:29 Berean Literal Translation
 From Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu, 1839.
 Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself.”
 Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 319-20, 442.
 Noted in many places, but particularly in Graham Robb’s book, Victor Hugo: A Biography (New York: Norton, 1997), 154.
 Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York, Scribner, 2006), 250.
 See Kenneth Burke’s definition of man from Language as Symbolic Action(1966)
 See Richard Lanham, 1976, p. 1-9.
 See Garry Wills Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, (New York, Knopf, 2017)
 See the original Newsweek report from December 8, 1975 by Merrill Sheets: “Why Johnny Can’t Write” followed up by a host of counterclaims, including this one.
 See Lynne Enterline’s Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion and Kate Emery Pogue’s Shakespeare’s Education: How Shakespeare Learned to Write for fuller descriptions. Many thanks to Chris Barrett for the first reference.
 See Marjorie Garber’s Profiling Shakespeare (New York, Routledge, 2008) for a little freedom in historicizing too closely. She writes, “Whatever modes of reading are on the way, I hope that they and their practitioners will dare—at least from time to time—to be historically incorrect” p. 213.
 Matthew Speakman “Sincerely Yours, Harper Lee.” Mosaic. Mar 19, 2015.
 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (New York, Anchor Books, 1995), 23.
 Do it.