Traces

By Kate Bowles (@KateMFD):

a writer and educator working with students who blog at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She writes online at Music for Deckchairs (musicfordeckchairs.com) and is co-editor of the CASA blog for academic casuals and sessional staff in Australian higher education (actualcasuals.wordpress.com).

Network of Marigolds with a lego man in the middle

Flickr photo: Lego Marigolds by Qwen Wan. Under CC-BY 2.0 license

The fact remains that to write is to trace, and to trace is within the reach of any hand

Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts

1

Digital writing: is it really different from all the other traces made with hands, that we leave in the material world? At one level it feels as though there’s been a decisive break. The writing that you’re looking at right now consists in the continuous act of digital becoming, reassembling itself as it makes and remakes the network that it travels around. It’s stored, it’s over there, it’s immediately here. There’s no shape to it that conveys directly the grip of a pencil, the strength of a wrist. It could have been spoken. And this isn’t trivial: this digital writing comes to you apparently weightless, placeless and cleaned of time.

We’re so used to this, sometimes we can only see it by looking at what is different. So what do we remember now about the feel of a piece of paper that was held in the hand of the person who wrote it, whose fingers pressed the crease, whose tongue sealed the envelope, delicately and skilfully avoiding a paper cut? What can we explain about how long it took for that envelope to reach us, still sealed up and considerably protected in law against falling into the wrong hands.

When was the last time that you held in your hands a piece of writing that was dear to you because of the hand that touched the paper before you?

2

I’m walking in company, following a trail up into a small gorge of redwoods. I’m using my hands to balance and feel and push myself along. As I’m walking and looking down, keeping my footing among the uneven rocks, I notice that someone has recently placed—with deliberation—handfuls of marigolds in odd places along the path. They don’t call to us, or demand to be looked at. I sense we’re in the presence of a private ritual, no more than a day old.

In 1967 conceptual artist Richard Long created A Line Made By Walking, by walking. He walked along a straight line in a field repeatedly until he had made a path, then photographed the path. He was 22 years old. For the rest of his career he continued to make versions of this straight line, in other places. Sometimes he made small arrangements of stones. His lines made by walking are deliberate and austere, imposed like the boundaries in Africa and Australia drawn by the colonial straight edge. As he describes it, each walk extends the conversation with time and place that he began with the first line made by walking.

The thing is, though, that real human walking is continuously troubled by the ground we walk on. On the ground we detour, swerve and scramble. We take wrong steps, and back up, and try again. And over time we make paths by following each other’s line of thought: that way is the shorter line between points, that way avoids the tree, and so on. Gradually these paths become visible to everyone, and then they tell us something important about the gait, the weight, and the lean of our bodies. We call these desire paths, and many other names—vernacular paths, goat trails, elephant paths—but it seems to me that they’re a kind of collaborative writing of our common selves onto the surface of the earth.

I was just here. We all were.

3

Noticing the dried marigolds tucked into cracks in the rocks, I found myself thinking about how we write ourselves into places that we understand as somehow shared, even if we experience them alone. Digital writing doesn’t seem to me to be fundamentally different to this. Sure, there’s writing online that’s theatrical, highly polished, and demanding to be noticed. It’s virtuoso digital writing, taking advantage of all the dazzling things the network can make possible, linking and embedding and calling up. It expects a crowd.

But there’s another kind of digital writing that’s the trace of a small private ritual, a pile of stones left in public for someone who might come along. We write alone online in tiny or substantial ways, just as we write our names on walls and trees and stones and desks and in wet concrete. We write to put ideas to the test, and to make sense of things that are hard to fix on. We write to say that we were just here, thinking this thing.

This isn’t the deliberation of writing letters, or even the deliberation of making conceptual art by walking, but it’s deliberate in its own way. And it isn’t quite the privacy of the paper notebook, the bedside journal. We don’t know who will care about what we have written, but we form the sentences and craft the shape. So who are we writing for? Who do we hope will see these traces of our thoughts?

4

Arthur Frank writes, following a path trod by Levinas, that what is written has a capacity to lay some kind of moral claim on those who come upon it later. I feel this practice of writing as moral claim has to do with the here-I-am of all the traces we leave in the world.

The moral moment is when the text calls on the reader–on me–just as the patient calls on those who offer care. The here-I-am of the writing is a generous offering of self as witness. The generosity calls for a response of here-I-am from the reader. … The dialogue of author and reader is the beginning of other dialogues; in the multiple sites where medicine is offered and received, where care is given, and where healing occurs.

This then is the real weight of digital writing: the persistent and polyphonic dialogue with digital reading. We hardly notice this, fast movers that we are, but in networks we have created astonishing practices of simultaneity, a new form of writing that exists at all because of its willingness to be continually surprised by what it comes across. We write in the first instance to put our here-I-am into some kind of shape. But it’s in the network that we fill our writing with grace, when we become one another’s strangers, coming upon marigolds and small piles of stones, and taking time to think with care about the hands that placed them there.

Sources

Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts, Univocal Publishing, 2015

Arthur Frank, The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How To Live, University of Chicago Press, 2004

Tom Lubbock, Richard Long Walks on the Wild Side (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/richard-long-walks-on-the-wild-side-1694454.html), The Independent, 2009

(Flickr photo: Lego Marigolds by Qwen Wan. Under CC-BY 2.0 license)

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.

Digital Writing, Paywalls, and Worth

Lee Skallerup Bessette is an English Instructor at Morehead State University in Kentucky and writes regularly at Inside Higher Ed‘s College Ready Writing.

Black and white frames

Digital Writing, Paywalls, and Worth

by Lee Bessette

I’m tired. Scratch that: I’m exhausted. I’ve been writing for my life, like my life depended on it, like somehow if I could find the right words, my life would finally be what I wanted it to be. Words, the public kind, done in all sorts of digital medium, were my lifeline, my lifeblood. I wrote once on Twitter that “You can write yourself into existence. The person you are and the person you aspire to be.” But what happens when you stop?

It’s strange for me to be invited this year to contribute to Digital Writing Month; my digital writing, compared to previous years, feels like it has slowed down. I write “feels like” consciously, because if I were to actually look back at my writing from the past year, it would probably match, if not exceed, last year, but with one significant difference:

Much of it is behind paywalls.

Continue reading

Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

Jen Yates used to be a Jungle Cruise skipper, a cash office accountant, a children’s book inventory expediter, a house painter, and a clown — not necessarily in that order. Today she’s a blogger, which she says is kind of like “clown” and “expediter” mashed together. You can find her writing at Cake Wrecks and Epbot. Today Jen lives in Orlando with her hubby, John, and their cats Tonks and Lily. She enjoys dessert first, as well as quoting Ghostbusters and The Princess Bride. A lot.

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Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

by Jen Yates

About two months after I started my “funny little cake blog” back in 2008, it went viral. In a single day, Cake Wrecks went from less than 200 readers a day to over 50,000. It was the kind of thing every blogger dreams of: immediate, overnight success.

But after a day of being internet famous, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I just felt like crap.

I never set out to be a professional blogger. Heck, the only blog I’d read with any consistency up to that point was Cute Overload, and the only online writing I’d done was for a private journal – which my mom assures me wasn’t half bad. I didn’t understand online culture, I’d never heard of a meme, and I was completely unprepared for internet notoriety.

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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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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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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

#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!

Blogging Is A Choral Act

Bonnie Stewart writes memoir, academic papers, and social commentary non-fiction. She speaks about blogging, social media, digital identity, branding, 21st century education, grief, motherhood. And also, jellybeans. In this touching post, she relates how digital writing allows us to give voice to ourselves and to others, in sometimes unique and unexpected ways.

Blogging Is A Choral Act

by Bonnie Stewart

Photo by Benjamin A. Smith

I was going to start by saying that digital writing was, for me, a Pandora’s Box.

But that would not be fair, or true. The jar Pandora opened held the evils of the world; her act unleashed them into the commons forever.

My story is not such a cautionary tale.

Like Pandora, I learned that what is opened to the world cannot be closed again.

But unlike Pandora, I am not sorry.

***

When I left the hospital for the first time after nearly three weeks of bedrest, it was raining. I’d been airlifted in during winter’s last April gasp, but in my hermetic isolation, the ground had transformed into a carpet of green. I was Rip Van Winkle, out of sync with time. Continue reading

Digital Writing Prompt: Twitter vs. Zombies!

Part flash-mob. Part Hunger-Games. Part Twitter-pocalypse. Part digital feeding frenzy. Part micro-MOOC. Part giant game of Twitter tag.

This weekend your word count goes rabid!

Band together your most trusted Twitter allies to defend against a virtual Zombie horde. Collect canned goods, store water, watch your hashtags, and sleep with one eye open. The rules will be deceptively simple; however, DigiWriters should plan to ply their creativity against those rules. We don’t want to change the game, but we want the game to be as beautiful as possible. Think of the game as a haiku: a carefully structured form, that nonetheless allows for flexibility, invention, and beauty. This is digital writing at its most suspenseful! Continue reading

Plant a Tree, Start a Forest

Lee Skallerup Bessette writes the very popular College Ready Writing blog at Inside Higher Ed. As well, she is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus. In this inspiring post, Lee encourages us to consider the nearly ecological nature of our digital writing, how it spreads and grows and populates the Internet almost of its own accord. It’s a lovely piece, and we’re glad to share it.

Plant a Tree, Start a Forest

by Lee Skallerup Bessette

Photo by Aaron Escobar

I’m absolutely horrible at telling stories.

This might seem like a strange admission from someone who reads and writes about (among other things) stories, as well as having a pretty high profile blog that melds the professional with the personal. But if you were to ask anyone who knows me in real life, they will all have at least one unfortunate experience with me trying to tell a story and doing it badly. When I speak a story, it grows and grows, twisting and turning, full of tangles like an out-of-control vine; my stories are less unified, linear narratives, more a long series digressions, asides, and tangents. The vine will overrun whatever space is left for it; my words overrun the silences and spaces with their unruly form.
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You, 99 Others, Digi the Duck… and Doughnuts

What do you and 99 other DigiWriters have in common? Well, other than the toils and hardships of making 50,000 new words appear out of the ether, you all have the opportunity to join Digi the Duck and the entire creative team behind DigiWriMo for a spectaculendous, marvarific, super-inspiring, all-ages live event in Portland, OR: The Night of Writing Digitally!

For one night only — November 17th from 6PM to midnight — Marylhurst University and the English and Digital Humanities degree program will host an event of delicious proportions!

 Throughout the evening, we’ll not only provide all the sustenance you could ask for — fresh, catered food, gallons of coffee and tea, a table weighed down with word-inspiring candy, and Portland’s world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts — but you’ll be treated to special writing challenges and motivational speeches. What’s more, you’ll get to meet DigiWriters of all ages and walks of life with whom you can collaborate, commiserate, and celebrate. Continue reading

And Away We Go!

Starting at midnight tonight (Eastern time), Digital Writing Month goes into full swing! We’ll be starting off the month with a special midnight launch (9:00 PM for all you Pacific coasters), which will feature:

  • A special writing exercise designed to jumpstart your word count;
  • A bleary-eyed but excited Twitter chat under the hashtag #digiwrimo;
  • A chance to register for our free live event coming up on November 17th;
  • A peek at the community who will challenge, support, and commiserate with you all month long.

But that’s not all! This week is full of serious kick-off activities, including: Continue reading

30 Day, 50K Words, Can You Hack It?

Digital Writing Month has people all over the country are preparing for their challenges. In case you need a little inspiration, here are a few folks who are rarin’ to go!

A Few Questions about DigiWriMo

1. Do I have to write 50,000 words? Really? Can someone even do that in 30 days?

You do not have to reach 50,000 words. No police officers will show up in the middle of the night, Kafka-style, if you don’t reach the goal. No one will look down at you, or shake a finger your direction, or decide not to share their chocolate milk at lunch. The real goal is to write, to discover writing anew, to invent it in ways you haven’t done before, to allow yourself to set aside your editor, your critic, your perfectionist. Stop asking your writing to behave, and give it permission to go a little crazy. Continue reading

4 Steps to a Successful Digital Writing Month

In this post, our fearless leader, Sean Michael Morris, offers up some ideas for getting ready, as well as some insights into what to expect from your first DigiWriMo!

1. Get Creative!

Digital writing isn’t like other writing. Anytime we sit down to the page to express ourselves, tell a story, or make poetry, our first challenge is to determine what we want to say. But with digital writing, the challenge doesn’t end there. Because it’s not just about what you want to say, but how you’re going to say it! Will you write your novel in Twitter, 140 characters at a time? Will you and a friend collaborate in a Google Doc? Will you get your word count up using Tumblr? Or will your words consist of the invisible text of behind-the-scenes code? With digital writing, the medium is half the message! Continue reading