Make Some Noise: Voicing Our Written Words

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Writers should talk more. We write to make ourselves heard. We use writing to tell a story, contribute to conversations, add our voices to a chorus, raise the alarm against injustice, call for help. Readers, then, look for a strong voice from authors or get emotional over a text that speaks to them. In each of these cases, text evokes a sound. Indeed, the very word audience originates from the Latin word meaning “to hear”, same as audio. Writing allows us, in a fashion, to hear words and language. As we read, we recreate what the words might sound like, rather than exactly how they sounded to the writer. Reading transforms print into sound, even if it’s all internal.

This is a call for authors to make more noise with their writing. I mean that literally: Use vocal sounds to convey words, not just text. Let readers become listeners. Tell your story to their ears—spoken word demands a synchrony of attention that written words cannot duplicate. When confronted with written text, we can skip, skim, scan, and speed-read. With audible speech, we can skip to a different spot in a recording, but we lose all the content we skipped; there’s no way to get an overview of spoken text. While at first this may seem a limitation, I believe the opposite: Spoken text offers an opportunity for a richer involvement with the text than the printed word can. Jonathan Sircy will discuss this idea in the context of teachers reviewing student papers in an upcoming article on Hybrid Pedagogy. In it, he will explain how listening to student work creates a more genuine appreciation of student texts.

Writing teachers, especially those in K-12 schools, often work to help their students develop a voice in their writing. (I would argue that academic writing is often specifically intended to eliminate that voice, but that’s an issue for another time.) Writers who express their voice use words distinctly and purposefully, crafting a unique style recognizable as their own. But why do we limit ourselves like this? Our perception of writing should expand to include the spoken, not just the written, word. We deserve to hear one another’s meaning.

The sound of language helps readers. I’ve been an avid fan of audiobooks for decades; my blind grandfather got me hooked on them, often bragging that he could read a book while doing the dishes while those who used their eyes to read couldn’t pull off the same trick. Audiobooks take the written word back to the oral tradition of storytelling, allowing the narrator to infuse the text with expressiveness and emotion that, for all the wonder of written language, is nonetheless challenging to capture in print. Think how much texture and richness are added to poetry when it’s read aloud. The sound of words endows language with beauty and meaning. Those of us who read books with our ears hold a dual-layer appreciation for the text, and it baffles me when people claim—as I often hear—that listening to an audiobook isn’t “real” reading. Listening to text is more real than reading it.

I’m also a huge fan of podcasts, listening to them in my car any time I don’t have an audiobook queued up. Unlike traditional radio programs, which require an audience to listen at the same time as the program is broadcast, podcasts allow the audience to listen to a program on their own schedule, with a caveat: The program still takes the same amount of time to listen to regardless of when it is played back. Timing is integral to audio programs; good programs captivate audiences with well-timed narrative and keep listeners involved in the audible world they present.

Speaking of timing, silence is underrated. When we tell stories to our friends, we pause at certain points and rush at others, to help deliver the story the way we intend. Audible storytellers need to keep in mind that their audiences might need a moment for something to sink in. Silence is also a foreign concept for people who work in text. While paragraph breaks or visual dividers do a little to affect the speed at which readers experience writing, there is no way with the written word to force readers to stop and ponder an idea. Audio, though, needs to account for necessary time to think. Audio storytellers need to embrace silence on occasion so that listeners can digest.

Audible texts create an intimacy that doesn’t exist in print. This document is a call for more of that intimacy. The spoken word works because the speaker makes vibrations in the air, which then tickle follicles of hair in the listener’s ear. Even if that sound is recorded by microphone, translated to 1s and 0s, saved as an audio file, transmitted over the internet, and played back through a set of headphones, whoever first spoke the words in that recording ultimately affected the listener in a physical way: Spoken words move people. As Anne Fernald put it in an episode of Radiolab, “sound is…touch at a distance.” I challenge you to do more to touch your audience more intentionally. Let’s get intimate with our words.

Take out your microphones, raise your voice, and make some noise.


[Photo, “Abstracted”, by Fio licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

Writing to Connect: Knowing the “Other” Outside Time & Space

Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo. She writes at blog.mahabali.me and is one of the facilitators of edcontexts.org.

7757863298_88953dd7fb_zWriting to Connect: Knowing the “Other” Outside Time & Space

by Maha Bali

I write and blog like crazy now, and people might be surprised to know that as of November 2014, which is #digiwrimo, I will have been blogging for only 10 months. I am amazed to be asked to guest-write a post for this event, given that I did not start seeing myself as a “writer” until around July 2013 when I was nearing the submission of my PhD dissertation and gaining confidence in myself as an academic. I started writing for magazines first, then realized I sometimes wanted to write my thoughts about something that felt a.) urgent and b.) not necessarily relevant to any particular magazine’s focus. So I first started blogging for myself, blogging to think, to give myself space to think aloud without imposing on others by flooding them with emails. But then I started using my blog for MOOCs, and soon, blogging became a way to connect with others. Here are some ways I write with and for others:

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Digital Writing Prompt: Revealing the Play, not the Polish

Typewriter hammersFor this challenge, we’re getting vulnerable.

When working in the familiar medium of text, many of us are used to having our not-quite-finished work reviewed by others to help the process of editing and revision. While it can be intimidating or revealing to hand over imperfect material to someone else, we do it with the expectation of improvement.

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The #prompt Prompt

Day 241 - Into the sunset

Over the last few years, DigiWriMo has thrown lots of crazy digital writing prompts at the web, like this one or this one or this one. We’ve co-authored a novel in a day, a multimedia novel in two days, and we even unleashed a few hundred zombies. Sometimes the rules of a prompt have been followed. And sometimes breaking the rules became the most imaginative and the most delightful response to the prompt.

Now, it’s your turn to wreak your own brand of havoc upon the Web.

The Challenge:

  1. Compose a prompt, your own digital challenge that you’ll set loose.
  2. Your prompt can be any length. You can write a blog post that sets the stage. Or you can craft a prompt that fits into a single meticulously-composed tweet.
  3. Consider making your prompt multimedia — a picture, a sound file, a video, a computer game. The more compelling the prompt, the more likely you are to lure unsuspecting participants and the better their results will be.
  4. Whatever its shape, wherever it lives, make your prompt beautiful. Assignments/activities/prompts have their own artistry.
  5. Don’t get too caught up in predetermining outcomes. Sometimes the best result is something you couldn’t have anticipated.
  6. Keep the instructions as simple as possible. Inspire, incite, encourage, and maybe even constrain (which can encourage improvisation). But don’t overwhelm or too narrowly control.

Once you’ve written, composed, drawn, filmed, or recorded your prompt, send it out into the world. Share it on Twitter with the hashtags #digiwrimo #prompt. Post it to the Digital Writing Month Facebook page. Link to it in the comments below. Send it to your friends and family by e-mail. However you can best drum up some excitement about it. Don’t be afraid to wave your digital arms around a bit. Sometimes people skip readily onto a playground, and sometimes you have to do some jumping up and down to get them there. And if and when folks start to do your prompt, show off the results by retweeting, linking, sharing, liking, favoriting, +1ing, etc.

And, now, the most important part: Rise to the challenge of someone else’s prompt. Check Facebook (posts to the page are on the bottom left), search #digiwrimo #prompt on Twitter, look in the comments below. Skip merrily onto the playground someone else has built.

Lastly, share this post and the prompts you find especially imaginative to get more folks involved. While this is officially our weekend challenge, we encourage you to repeat this activity throughout the rest of the month.

[Photo, “Into the Sunset“, by Brian J. Matis licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.]

When We Are Writers

Tiny mouseThere’s a thing I want to say. I heard it coming up when I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday. Watching the sun and the people in the sun and thinking this was as good a place as any for a writer and a teacher to be composing his thoughts. And I was imagining composed thoughts — organized and clear and inspiringly meaningful. And instead I was watching a father and his young son have an argument. The four-year-old boy wanted to climb the back of the booth he was sitting on, and then he wanted to lay down on the seat. And the father wanted him to stop. Whichever he chose, just stop and be motionless. The only solution for the father was for his son to sit still, to sit down in the chair and behave as — well, as he himself was. In all his age and sediment. The argument grew to a boil, with the son never quite getting the sitting in the seat right and the father getting more upset each time. Finally at one point he reached over to grab his son’s knee, force him upright, and threatened to take away his cookie. Which he did. Which he did because the boy didn’t obey. The boy couldn’t find it in his small legs and busy hands to sit still. And away went the cookie. And on came the tears.

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Maggie’s Digital Content Farm

Audrey Watters is an education writer (at Hack Education and elsewhere), recovering academic, serial dropout, and part-time badass.

Porcelain figurineMaggie’s Digital Content Farm

by Audrey Watters

Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I’ve felt a real shift in what it means (for me) to write – to work, to be – online. And let’s be clear: this affects me offline too.

I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the great promises of the Web – freedom! knowledge! access! egalitarianism! creativity! revolution! – are more than a little empty. I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the online communities in which we participate increasingly feel less friendly, less welcoming, more superficial, more controlling, more restrictive.

Online, we seem to be more and more short-tempered and sharp-tongued. It feels less and less sustainable. It’s taking a toll on me, personally – the status updates, the sneers, the threats, the responsibilities, the accolades, the comments, the deadlines. All of it.

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Digital Writing Prompt: Transcending Media

Typewriter keysWhen we tell stories to one another in a physical, non-digital space, we do so across multiple media. We use visual hand gestures to emphasize key points of a verbal narrative. The words we choose matter of course, and we sometimes create illustrations to help. (Many of us resort/default to drawing pictures when giving directions.) Emotional stories might lead us to break into song, or funny stories are resolved with the music of the audience’s laughter. We often transcend media in non-digital spaces, yet we rarely think about it.

Not so with digital writing. When authors sit down to create a blog post, they usually stick with the written word; photos provide occasional support when needed. When video of speakers is dramatically close-cropped, that person’s hand gestures may be lost. And how easily can audio be added to a good photograph? Flickr and many other photo-sharing services provide no means of attaching a song to an image; creating an audio track for a slideshow can be tedious.

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2 Days. One Novel. 100s of Writers.

“Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In November 2013, writers from all over the world participated in the Digital Writing Makerthon, a unique artistic, multimedia attempt to make a text that is more than a text — what we called a “makertext.” Hundreds of collaborators worked together to tell a single story using words, sound, video, hyperlinks, code, tweets, and more, in just 48 hours.

We began Friday, November 15 at 11:59pm EST and ended November 17 at 11:59pm EST.

Digital Writing Makerthon Formula

Concept: A text-image-sound hypertext novel written in 48 hours by multiple authors. More than a simple text novel, this makertext includes all forms of digital media: text, video, audio, animation, graphics, tweets, computer code, etc. As well, the novel exists in multiple places at once. While the narrative is primarily housed in one document, hyperlinks lead readers willy-nilly across the landscape of the Internet. Continue reading

What is Digital Writing? A Twitter Essay

We’ve spent the month doing big things, like this and this and this. Over 75 people wrote a 42,000+ word collaborative novel in a Google Doc. Over 150 people turned zombie on Twitter. We wrote poems. I wordled a month’s worth of e-mail (32,366 words). @Dogtrax made a webcomic series. And I cried twice (here and here). We did lots of big things this month in our quest for 50,000 words. Let’s end by doing something small. 140-characters small.

1. Write what I call a “Twitter Essay.” Here are the instructions:

What is digital writing? Answer in exactly 140 characters using #twitteressay & #digiwrimo. Play, innovate, incite. Don’t waste a character.

(By the way, the instructions above are exactly 140 characters, so this will give you a sense for how much space you have to work with.) Post your “essay” on Twitter. The only rule is that you include the hashtags “#twitteressay” and “#digiwrimo” somewhere in your Tweet. You can add additional hashtags or links, but you can only write one Tweet and it must be exactly 140 characters. Spend time carefully composing, making sure that every character of your tweet is necessary and meaningful.

2. Now, peer review. Search #digiwrimo and/or #twitteressay on Twitter to see all of the Twitter essay tweets. React. Respond. Retweet. (Peer review tweets do not have to be exactly 140 characters.)

3. Finally, tweet a link to this page so we can, as a group, gather together as many contributions as possible.

Your Voice in Mine

Anna Smith is an educational researcher and teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth. In this piece, she ponders the way that audience and author get blended in digital writing, and wishes DigiWriMo a fond farewell.

Your Voice in Mine

by Anna Smith

How can I hear my own voice unless it bounces off of yours?

I have had that single line in my mind for years. It isn’t particularly poetic, and I don’t completely agree with what it implies, but I’ve tried relentlessly to write the poem I hear inside it. It has something to do with the way the masses in NYC weave, avoid, embrace. I wrote another line once trying to get near it:

As a child I would drag my fingers through water or hold my arm out car windows to feel this–this particle rumba, this caressing, this giving and taking of space.

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Code:Poem

[Computer code] has its own rules (syntax) and meaning (semantics) … Code can speak literature, logic, maths. It contains different layers of abstraction and it links them to the physical world of processors and memory chips. All these resources can contribute in expanding the boundaries of contemporary poetry by using code as a new language. Code to speak about life or death, love or hate. Code meant to be read, not run. ~ From Code {poems}

1.  Start by working through all (or even just a bit of) “Getting Started with Programming” and/or “HTML Fundamentals” on Codecademy.

2.  Check out this really cool project. Here’s an example of a code poem. And one more. As you work on this exercise, give some thought to how computers and digital technology have altered the evolution of print literature, then experiment more directly with the relationship between writing code and writing literature. Continue reading

When Writing Digitally, Nobody Knows You’re a Duck

Chris Friend is a Trustees Doctoral Fellow at the University of Central Florida. As part of the Texts and Technology program, his dissertation will focus on how composition courses are adapted for online study. In this piece, Chris invites us to consider online personae — those we construct, and those we read.

When Writing Digitally, Nobody Knows You’re a Duck

by Chris Friend

As the Internet’s popularity and population exploded, issues of personal identity/ies gained traction in the minds of scholars and analysts. With the computer screen and virtual environment as a mediator, users can portray themselves however they wish. For people with social or physical disabilities, this masquerade allows an extra degree of equality. When real-time communication uses text instead of visual signals, physical differences become invisible (Stone/Turkle). The disconnect between the identity of the avatar/screenname and the identity of the user lead to Peter Steiner’s oft-repeated adage: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Anyone online can pretend to be anyone (or anything) else. Continue reading

Creative Beasts with Crayons

Digital writing is emergent writing. It mutinies at the imposition of form, the edicts of the grammars of old. It rails to change the rules. It raises the flag of anarchy. The council of digital writing is one of spontaneity, rambunctiousness, the aloof horror of invention, the frenetic joy of dismantling what came before, and the abdication of the author. It is audacious, demanding that we writers free it from the prison of specific rigor. It emerges. It revolts. Continue reading

A Public Literary Twitter Role-Play

Petra Dierkes-Thrun’s research and teaching interests include the European and transatlantic fin de siècle and modernism (including literature, the visual arts, opera, dance, and film); feminist and queer theory; LGBTQ literary and cultural studies; and literary theory. Her book, Salome’s Modernity: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetics of Transgression, was published by The University of Michigan Press in Spring 2011. Petra recently used Twitter for a role play exercise in her class on Oscar Wilde. In this piece, posted first on her own site, she discusses the effect of that exercise, and its relationship to authorship and digital writing.

A Public Literary Twitter Role-Play: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray

By Petra Dierkes-Thrun

On Friday, October 26, 2012, my Stanford class tried out a new and slightly crazy idea: a one-day public literary Twitter role-play, impersonating characters from The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The idea had come to me spontaneously one morning as I was musing about what new kind of close reading activity I could develop for my “Oscar Wilde and the French Decadents” seminar at Stanford: “The Picture of Dorian Gray is such a canonical text, we should get the public involved … It should be a creative and fun group activity, combining individual analysis with readerly and writerly collaboration … Could we do this on social media?  What if we brought The Picture of Dorian Gray in dialogue with Huysmans’ A rebours and Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus (two other French novels we had been reading, which importantly influenced Wilde’s novel)?  We could have them talk back to Dorian … ‘A Day of Reckoning for Dorian Gray’! I should write this up as a Twitter role-play exercise.” Continue reading

#NoWDigi: Found Storify/Twitter Poem

The Internet is teeming with digital words just ripe for repurposing. In this exercise, participants created a veritable pumpkin patch of words and phrases to be used in a found Storify/Twitter poem. Here’s how:

  1. Beginning at the top of the list of the list below, they responded to as many of the prompts below as they could, posting each response to Twitter as individual tweets, using #NoWDigi.
  2. They had only 10 minutes to tweet as many responses to the prompts! It didn’t matter how crazy or unusual the response might be.
  3. Once that 10 minutes was over, participants had 20 minutes to collect the #NoWDigi tweets on Storify, and arrange them into a poem.
  4. When the 20 minutes was up, they posted a link to the Storify poems on Twitter.
  5. Continue reading

#NoWDigi: Short Story Relay

When working with digital writing, collaboration can be both synchronous and sequential. During this activity, you’ll be co-writing parts of a short story with the group at your assigned table (if you are online, choose any table, introduce yourself to the group, and keep up), and collaborating with the larger group to complete several short stories at once.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Each table will begin their short story within the appropriate Google Doc (Table 1 using the Table #1 Doc, Table 2 the Table #2 Doc, etc.);
  2. All in the group will collaborate for 10 minutes — no more, no less — to write the opening paragraph of the short story;
  3. At the end of that 10 minutes, the group will “pass” their document to the next table (e.g., Table 1 passes their #1 Doc to Table 2, Table 2 passes their #2 Doc to Table 3, etc.);
  4. For 10 minutes, the group collaborates on the short story passed to them, writing as much as they are able in the allotted time before “passing” the story to the next table.
  5. This process continues in rounds of 10 minutes until the documents return to their original owners, who then must write the conclusion.
  6. As with all things digital, the rules are emergent. Writers may alter the way the game is played where appropriate.

All “passing” is virtual, and will be facilitated by links embedded in each document. Communication and collaboration, however, are very real, and will need to be negotiated within each group, whether on-ground or hybrid.

When the stories are finished, there will be time for each group to revise, if they wish, before the works are published.

To find your table’s Google Doc, click here.

Table 1; Table 2; Table 3; Table 4; Table 5; Table 6

#NoWDigi: Hybrid Poem

To get us started with the Night of Writing Digitally, we’ll be writing a collaborative hybrid poem inside of a Google Doc. Those of you who joined us for Digital Writing Month midnight launch will recognize this exercise. But tonight, there’s one added element: the folks on the ground at Marylhurst University! There’s no telling how being within earshot of one another will affect the collaboration.

Here are the rules:

1. We must complete this poem in 30 minutes, start to finish.
2. Each contributor must contribute one word — no more, no less.
3. Each contributor must move one word — no more, no less.
4. Each contributor may contribute or remove one punctuation mark.
5. No word may be deleted, except by its author, who may revise the word at will. Continue reading

#NoWDigi: A Virtual Dinner Party

Welcome to the Night of Writing Digitally! This unique hybrid event combines an on-ground celebration of writing with an online write-a-thon to create an experimental place for synchronous digital writing, collaboration, and general word-related fun.

If you are online, there are a lots of ways to join in the festivities. To start with, you need dinner, snacks, and a cozy spot from which to write, write, write. So, get yourself all snuggled in, and then get involved with some of the suggestions below:

  1. Report for the Twitter Roll Call! Announce yourself on Twitter using the hashtag #NoWDigi. Tell us why you’re joining the fun, or what you’re working on, or what your favorite candy is, or what celebrity you most resemble… Anything juicy will do to get the introductions started.
  2. Use #NoWDigi as your hashtag for the evening (you can also add #DigiWriMo, if you wish). Take pictures of your writing area, your dinner and dessert, your favorite books; write spontaneous haiku; make observations about your own writing and the night’s experiments… Post anything and everything on Twitter!
  3. Our first writing exercise will take place after 10:00pm ET / 7:00pm PT. Keep an eye on the DigiWriMo blog for each new challenge throughout the night. All of these activities are voluntary, but don’t let nervousness or uncertainty get in your way!

If you have any trouble or questions during the night, send a tweet to @slamteacher or @jessifer, and we’ll jump in and help!

Weekend Writing: The Night of Writing Digitally

On Saturday, November 17th from 6:00pm to Midnight (Pacific time), DigiWriMo and Marylhurst University will host the Night of Writing Digitally. This hybrid event is open to anyone with a computer, an internet connection — and plenty of chutzpah and stamina — who likes to write long into the wee hours.

If you’ve enjoyed the digital writing challenges of DigiWriMo so far (remember the novel-in-a-day? Twitter vs. Zombies? the opening night collaborative poem?), then you’re going to love what we’ve dreamed up for Saturday night!

We’re taking the notion of collaborative writing one step further: throughout the night, virtual participants will have the opportunity to interact and work with people on-ground who will also be working in groups during the event. You can join a specific group and stick with them all night long, or float between virtual tables, poking your nose in wherever you like.

As well, all writing events will be synchronous. So order up some pizza, get cozy with your laptop, warn your significant others, and buckle up for the busiest night of digital writing you’ve ever seen.

Kickoff will be at 9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT, and we’ll start with a Twitter roll call. To participate in the night’s activities, jump in, announce yourself, and start following some new friends. You’ll want to stay attentive to the DigiWriMo web site and the #digiwrimo hashtag all evening for announcements of writing exercises, photos of the on-ground event, and invitations to contribute your own photos, videos, and more.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out to @slamteacher on Twitter. We can’t wait to see you Saturday night!

On Brevity

We’re pleased to present a guest post by Jay Ponteri, Director of the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Marylhurst University. Jay’s post offers an example of the way that digital writing borrows from many sources. It serves as an excellent example of, and conversation about, authorship. It’s also super cool.

On Brevity

by Jay Ponteri

It requires you to look at it very closely, to engage it in an intimate way. It does not overwhelm you, it cannot swallow you up.

Your mind can encompass a short piece in a way it cannot grasp a novella or a novel. Like a hand closing over a stone with the word sadness painted on it.

Napoleon was a short man.

Make endless meaning using fewer words. Continue reading