Make Some Noise: Voicing Our Written Words

15052074311_7f7717d9c3_h

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.]

Painting with Light Weekend Challenge

7169222187_9b3b6ce914_z

This weekend, we’re leaving words behind. In what will be our most hybrid digital writing challenge yet, we will be painting with light and posting our successes, flubs, and creative failures on Twitter. The goal here is to get outside our comfort zones as people who are accustomed to creating, producing, and writing on computers, tablets, phones. This challenge asks us to stand up, take a place in the world (at night, or in a dark room), and make art using light.

You can create dynamic pictures, drawings, ecstatic images, and more. Anything that takes advantage of technology to make the world around you — and the very air itself — into a digital canvas.

For information on painting with light, check out this video. And this one. And this one.

And if you’re painting with the camera on your phone, check out Lightbomber or LongExpo, or search your local app store for more options.

Plan to post your first attempts Friday night, your second attempts Saturday night, and your very best-in-show before the end of the weekend on Sunday. As always, be sure to use the #digiwrimo hashtag.

This weekend, we’re leaving words behind. Unless, that is, you can paint them with light.


[Photo, “Here’s the message, do you care about the medium?“, by Kevin Dooley licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

DIY Zines: Not Too Trivial

Tiffany Kraft teaches English Composition and Literature at Clark College. Her research interests include 19th-century British Literature, creative writing, Rhetoric and Composition practice and pedagogy, and adjunct advocacy. “I teach in a way that leads to an awareness and appreciation of the craft of writing.” You can find more at tiffanykraft.me.

2512983749_ee38b41e0d_zDIY Zines: Not Too Trivial

by Tiffany Kraft

In The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), Wilde subverts social, intellectual, and sexual paradigms to expose the ethos and materialism of the age. In title and intention, my zine takes its cue from Wilde’s playbook, and attempts something similar, though on a smaller scale that is fit for the digital maker (author, editor, self-publisher, and promoter) of the 21st Century. In the Preface, I come out in character:

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

Digital Writing Prompt: Listening with New Eyes

15672488976_318098c854_zThis week, we’re going to pull back the curtain a bit and twist around our methods. We’ve been working on projects in different media, with those media in mind. What can happen when we look at those projects with the wrong medium?

At some point this week, take a few minutes to examine your work with a tool you’ve not been using much. Look at what you’re doing from the vantage point of a different medium. See what you find/create by changing your perspective.

  1. Choose a different medium. For instance, if you’ve been working with text, pick audio or video.
  2. Look differently at what you’re doing. If you’re usually using audio or video, consider looking at the things you’ve written as a product, rather than just as supporting material. If you’re usually using text, consider vocalizing or recording your process, or consider adding images or sounds to your creative process.
  3. Document the difference. Record something about the change of perspective. What do you see that wasn’t there before?
  4. Share what you saw. Publish the off-the-norm text, audio, or video, and tweet a link to it with the #digiwrimo hashtag.
  5. Watch what others create, and comment on the perspective, the work, and/or the discoveries.

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

Message in a Bottle Prompt

Close up of black dogOver the next several days, much of the nation will be gripped in a polar vortex. Flights will be cancelled. Snow will pile up; bitter cold and ice storms will wreak havoc. Loved ones will be stuck inside. There’s no better time to practice sending messages — of humor, support, wisdom, frankness, or love. And there’s no better way to send those messages than through the digital tools at our fingertips.

This weekend, November 15th and 16th, your challenge is to create unique audio messages that you can or would broadcast. Use Soundcloud or another recording app. Or push even further using Highlight (for iPhone and iPad) to annotate your audio messages with text and image. Record spontaneously, script yourself, sing a song, read a favorite poem… Choose whatever sort of message you want to send, and who you’re going to send it to.

Continue reading

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.

409543412_5bd888e444_o
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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Digital Writing Month Launch Party!

And away we go!

Welcome to the Digital Writing Month Launch Party! From 12:01 to 1:00 AM UTC, we’re gonna spend some time getting to know one another and getting ready for this 30-day challenge… all while mucking about in the digital.

If you haven’t already, open a new window or tab and start following #digiwrimo on Twitter. That’s your go-to spot for conversation, information, and collaboration.

This year’s DigiWriMo has redefined what “writing” is by opening up digital projects to the visual and audio. And so during this one hour romp, we’ll be tromping around in three different media: text, image/video, and sound… not necessarily in that order. Below, you’ll find three micro-projects that will help us get to know who you are, where you are, and what your plan is for Digital Writing Month. Feel free to do these during the first hour of the event, or whenever you happen upon this post and want to get started. Continue reading