The Dilemma of Digital Writing

By Rusul AlRubail (@RusulAlRubail): a writer on education, teaching and learning. Her work focuses on teacher development and training, English language learners, and pedagogical practices in and out of the classroom.

Pine marten peeking out of a log

flickr photo by Property#1 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I didn’t become a digital writer until last year. Then I realized that there is more to digital writing than revise, edit and polish. Digital writing is also about digital presence.

I figured this out only after I created my own digital presence on several social media platforms. Before that, my presence as an educator, and as a writer existed through third party mentions of my name and my title: RateMyProf, a college quarterly I helped to edit, and a few other journals to which I contributed to as an editor. But those links lead you nowhere. Other than my name and title, nobody could tell who I was, what my interests were, or even how I look like.

Then I became connected, and my digital presence started to exist.

Does this mean that as a writer I didn’t exist at all because my digital presence did not exist either?

Most of us who live on the digital realm as writers and educators experience two realities. Many might question that their actions, behaviours and interactions online are even considered a “reality”. But I think there’s more to it than us being “online” and “connected”.

People, writers, and educators are connecting everyday to digital realities that are outside their own physical reality. These digital realities come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They are digital hubs, communities, and professional and personal learning networks. They also take the shape of forums, comments, responses, highlights, live conferences, favourites and retweets. They even take form through your bio and profile shot.

Digital Dualism, a term coined by Nathan Jurgenson, speaks about our two separate realities: our digital world and our physical or IRL world. Jurgenson makes an argument that both of these realities are in fact conjoined, and are not separate from one another. So how does writing digitally impact writing?

Writing Platform

Digital writers have to consider the platform they use to display their writing. There are many platforms as well as text editors that quickly become writers’ favourite tools to use when writing. Many digital writers start to feel so connected and acquainted with the digital writing tools they use, they start to have a preference. With platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Medium, and text editors such as Sublime and Ulysses app, digital writing is now about the experience itself. Where do I write? Is it an easy to use platform? What do I like about it? All these questions come to mind for digital writers that are trying to create writing.

Social Media Sharing

When a post is finally published, after a few edits, including images, and citing, digital writers share their work on social media and their local networks. The act of sharing adds an extra layer to digital writing. We share so that our writing is read by others. We also share to start conversations, connect with like-minded people, and get recognition for thoughts & ideas. Most people do not like to admit the last point, for many reasons, but in reality, it holds a lot of truth. A major aspect of digital writing is digital audience. Who is reading my writing? What would they think? should I change something to fit their mindset? Many of these questions might be pondered when writing, but I learned to not worry about what others think when it comes to what I write about. This doesn’t come easy, especially for beginner digital writers, but eventually it’s something to overcome.

Community & Engagement

Another great aspect of digital writing that directly impacts the writer is the community and the engagement that results from writing. As mentioned above, digital presence often accompanies digital writing. When a writer joins a digital community, or professional learning network, they’ll be inclined to share the discussions that occur with the community. These discussions often happen on Twitter and Facebook in the form of posts, conversations, tweeting, retweeting etc. Many writers like to reflect on these discussions by writing their own thoughts.

Digital writing merges traditional forms of writing with the digital world. “Digital” does not refer to the tool. “Digital” refers to our presence on these tools and platforms, how we exist, behave and interact with others using the same space we are.

If you have any questions about digital writing, digital writing tools/platforms, please don’t hesitate to connect with me and ask (@RusulAlRubail)

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.


6 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Digital Writing

  1. Consider the platform:
    I’ve been known to toss words
    onto the wall
    like spaghetti
    in hopes that something sticks;
    or to submerge an image
    beneath water
    in hopes a story might float;
    Nothing works – not yet anyway —
    for the ideas seem imperfectly
    planned for any platform I choose.
    Still, I write.

    — Kevin
    PS — Some line lifting, Rusul, and building off to create poetry to honor your post.

  2. Thanks, Rusul, for these insights on the dual realities embedded the writing we do and the avenues we choose. I think often about the contrast between my online presence and my in-person presence – there I find both parallels and differences, although I am but a single person. One difference for me is that the digital realm has more space and, I suppose, all the time in the world for my contributions, whereas the time and attention constraints of here and now in my day-to-day seems to shrink the opportunities to “live large” and “write large”. My family is not necessarily interested in my extensive thoughts about ed reform or Silicon Valley fallacies but I have friends on Twitter who probably are. And of course there is more beyond this duality – there’s the challenge of staying human throughout our digital spaces, of remaining attuned to the natural world, keeping ourselves healthy and safe under varied conditions – all of these as we write, reflect, share and join.

  3. Rusul, thanks for this. And I am so happy that as a researcher and academician you have taken the creative risk to enter the digital writing world. Keep going. Stretch yourself.

    We at have been doing it since 2006 — before social media, before, even, Mimi Ito’s seminal White Paper on youth behavior. What we saw in 2006 was astounding — youths loved the digital space, the socialization of writing, the incorporation of digital media. They dove in and built community around words and the public display of words that actually were linked together in a way that made sense. And inspired. And moved us. And I would say that there has not been any dualism at all in this process. Kids write what they see and feel. They are. And as most of them spend every waking moment searching for identity, digital writing is perfect. They can experiment and see what their thoughts look like and what their peers think. They grow, learn and develop their true voice.

    As an adult, as an adult who was for 33 years a professional writer, I feel digital writing is a shift in writing as momentous as going from a typewriter to a computer. It changes the way you write and, even, how you think. Like kids, we adults try harder if we think our peers are watching. Or listening. But we have more baggage; we really care about preserving our reputation, as it were. But kids don’t. I don’t. Now. Because, at first, it is rather terrifying. My writing identity was a byline; people knew me. But I had editors and copy editors to help me out. I was part of an institution. When you write digitally, you are out there in the buff, no question. But it is fun to skinny dip. And it is fun to sometimes know that your piece will only get 20 readers and there’s a good possibility that all 20 are bots from eastern Ukraine. It’s fun, too, to know that your piece might get 350,000 readers. (The same audience you might get for a Sunday newspaper back in the day, but that speaks to the need for a “digital presence” as you say — to gain the audience you need, whatever that might be.)

    I would disagree on the dualism thing, though. I don’t think I or the thousands of kids we know are living two lives — the “real” one and the “virtual” one. And, youths get better at writing and at expressing themselves, which usually springs out of their having gained confidence and voice and skill from having written for years in digital spaces, I think they settle in on one voice, one existence, one identity pretty comfortably.

    The dualism confusion, I would argue, is that many of us inhabit many digital writing spaces that have different types of community members and different types of technologies. The former results in our receiving different types of reactions or we focus on different topics or we are stimulated by different types of ideas. So I write on cowbird and medium and ello and newhive and, well, a bunch of other places. (And as a side note, I would say the different platforms are less likely to affect your digital presence as much as they affect how you present your ideas, but that’s a whole different matter.)

    To paraphrase my friend Alan Levine (@cogdog) it’s not that the digital world has resulted in our having different identities or separate existences, but it has given our lives more texture and experiences and connections. I would argue that our lives are now defined both by the way we mow our lawns and what we write online.

    I hope all this makes sense. It is late. I am digitally written out today.

    But if you want to see more about what I do or the kids we work with do, here are some links: or or and see what those kids are doing or the digital mag version at and see and hear what they are thinking and, even, what they say about the experience of digital writing.

    Explore. Have fun. Write a poem. Share it. And as a New Year’s resolution, get all your friends to go rate you on Rate Your Prof and then you won’t have to worry about it anymore! :)

    cheers and thanks for making me think.


    • I am conflicted on the duality of our lives, particularly in the lives of my young students. But I do see the way they are starting to view their identity in different lenses. This identity issue is made clear when you do an activity around avatars, and reflect on what choices do we make to reflect ourselves in online spaces.
      Maybe that could be a writing activity here …. make an avatar and reflect on your choices. Do you create a new persona? Or just another reflection/refraction of you?

  4. Interesting conversation on digital writing – lots of food for thought. The impact of community and becoming part of a sort of hidden community you never knew existed is something that was mind blowing to me when I first started a blog. I never knew there was this whole blogging community out there, of strangers who were just instantly supportive of what you were doing – it was almost like instantly entering this secret club. And once you’re online, and start connecting with others, this whole world just opens up.
    I think Geoffrey’s points about adults caring about protecting their reputation vs kids not is quite true (…or perhaps up to a point – as kids get older and become teens I think reputation and social standing becomes a big thing that they do think and care about – they become a lot more like adults). I see lots of parallels between this and the degradation of natural curiosity and exploration as kids become adults. And how not caring about reputation, and maintaining an attitude of curiosity is liberating – it makes you braver, to take more risks, and be more creative. I see the impacts of people making decisions and judgements to protect their reputation in the workplace all the time – and I’m not sure I want to be one of those people. Thanks for the inspiration to care less about reputation and just act, and do what feels right. I feel like I’m at a crossroads with work (and parts of life) at the moment, deciding whether to continue on a path or change. It’s interesting the meaning you extract from a conversation, based on what’s in your mind at the time. I’m increasingly feeling a bit jaded and cynical about my life at work – partly because there is such a seeming disconnect sometimes between what I do at work and the communities I interact with online: the discrepancy between ‘real life’ and online identity, if you like. And an increasing desire to merge the two – to be as engaged and interested there as I am here. So perhaps that speaks to the point of those two identities not being separate – and some uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance when it feels like they are.

  5. I find it so interesting that just a few minutes ago I posted to my new blog about how conflicted I am at understanding digital writing and what it really is and consists of, and now here I am, reading your entry and feeling like I may have stumbled upon an obstacle that I was once trying to get over. Between Facebook and now Twitter, I share my daily thoughts or comments with the general public. I mean I have privacy settings on FB, but I never considered that what I post online is more than just person-to-person conversation. This piece from your post,

    “A major aspect of digital writing is digital audience. Who is reading my writing? What would they think? should I change something to fit their mindset? Many of these questions might be pondered when writing, but I learned to not worry about what others think when it comes to what I write about. This doesn’t come easy, especially for beginner digital writers, but eventually it’s something to overcome. ”

    I mean, on FB I post things near and dear to me and on Twitter I post because it is a part of my class assignments. However, now thinking about how I write or comment stresses me out a bit because it is not just those close to me that can access my messages. Reading your post has assured me that it will get easier to create, share, and interact with digital writers if that is what I am interested in doing. I just find it so interesting that I only feel this sense of optimism now, verses years ago when I got involved in social media and grand stand communication.

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