Author, Audience and Parts of Speech

by Sherri Spelic (@edifiedlistener) Educator, Coach and Facilitator at home on the edge of the Alps in Vienna, Austria. I blog at https://edifiedlistener.wordpress.com/ and teach elementary physical education at a PK-12 international school by day. (Sherri’s #AltCV)


flickr photo Captive Audience shared by Singing With Light under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

For much of October I have been mentally wringing my hands over exactly how I want to contribute to Digital Writing Month, especially as a featured contributor. I gladly accepted the invitation to be a part and was flattered to be included among a fascinating cross section of participating contributors. And I kept asking myself – what do I have to share? What’s my angle? What’s important to me? What matters? And going a level deeper – what’s at stake?

Let me start here. I write regularly in public online spaces. I blog, I tweet, I comment. In fact, if I google my name, I get 4 pages worth of results which refer almost exclusively to one of those acts. So foremost in the digital warehouse of frequently accessed data points related to my name, writing pops up as if it were all that I do. So if Google’s main clues suggest “Sherri Spelic writes,” then that must make it so, right? Hmmm…

I realized only very recently that I want to talk about audience here. Because when I write, even when I say I don’t think much about who is going to read whatever I put out there, of course that’s a lie. I often consider for whom my words are intended. I care about reaching certain individuals and groups with my message. This thinking shapes, too, where I choose to publish – on my own blog or on a public platform like Medium.

Digital writing – in my understanding, the act of creating texts or other products through digital tools which are designed to be shared with readers via digital means- diverges significantly from the private hand-written journaling I did for years. From my laptop and occasionally from my tablet I draft texts which I primarily publish immediately. And when I say publish it means that I post it on my blog which triggers a least two separate tweets and sends out about 100 e-mails to subscribers of my blog. If I choose to publish on Medium I can either submit it for review to the editors of a specific publication (like Synapse) or I can post it independently. In both cases, these texts are out there for anyone and everyone with reasonably free internet access to see, read, and also ignore.

But here’s the thing: that “out there” business can be misleading. Just because anyone could find my beautifully crafted reflection on ‘the joy of whatever’ does not mean that many, or necessarily anyone will. We kind of assume that because the user base of the internet is so vast, diverse and active, that we who brave the waters of such relentlessly fast-paced media will be showered with attention from all angles, positive and negative. When we write our provocatively snarky think-piece on ‘the rise and fall of you-know-what-I’m-talking-about’, we can be so convinced that the masses will jump up, click and re-click their immediate approval and even the trolls will come marching into our comment stream to illustrate the vital nerve that we have touched. That, however, is so rarely how this digital writing thing actually unfolds, at least in my corner of the internet.

Here’s where I think we can fall into a trap. We want audience. We want readers. We’d like to win over subscribers. We want to feel useful and appreciated and worthy and maybe even important. And audience seems like a way to get there. How many subscribers to your blog before you can call your writing endeavor a success? What’s the critical mass of Twitter followers required to be considered a “thought leader”? How do you get to be listed as a LinkedIn Influencer when you post an article?

Because in digital media we like to let numbers and metrics tell the story – the story of reach, of clicks, of views, visits and referrals. These metrics are then readily folded into narratives about popularity, trends, importance, because in the economy of attention, these things matter. These metrics tell us many things but they fail to tell us as writers and as people enough of what we really need to know: Whom did I reach? What was it that resonated? Where was I misconstrued? Then, going a little deeper: What is in this piece for me? What lessons do I want to keep for myself? What would I do well to let go of right now?

The information that we most often crave about audience reaches us typically through other avenues, if at all: through comments, tweets and retweets, shares across different platforms. And so much of all that will remain unknown. And in digital writing as in other forms expression we need to be okay with that.

So how do we find audience, after all?

If we want audience, then we must first and foremost be audience. We need to read widely and astutely. We need to pause as we read the work of others – and become permeable. Being an audience means letting others into our worlds, leaving space for the sparring and dancing of  ideas. Being an audience means listening – dropping defenses, setting aside our emotional reactivity for a moment. When we do these things, we become an audience of value and increase the likelihood of helpful and constructive interaction. We acknowledge a response within and perhaps also ‘out there’, privately or publicly.  

For me, this slow and steady acculturation of being audience while growing audience has afforded me the opportunity to mature into this writing practice at my own pace. In fact when I examine the bulk of my digital work, I quite simply would characterize it as “writing back.” So much of what I write emerges as necessary and somehow urgent responses – to something I read, saw, experienced, heard. I write back to authors. I write back to my students. I write back to my professional/personal learning network (PLN). I also write back to myself.

When I’m not writing I do many other things: I teach, I coach, I parent, I facilitate, I move, I read, I lead, I follow. And by now these aspects flow freely into my writing. The immediacy of the digital – the risk and opportunity of exposure coupled with the potential speed of engagement and response -for me, this underscores the imperative of being the audience I want to have. Remaining focused on the distinctly human dimensions of our lightning fast communication channels stands at the core of what, why and how I choose to create.

It may seem that we are all born under the sign of algorithms’ ascendency and that the astrology of our common future may be reduced to a handful of branded provider platforms.  Yet it is and will continue to be our choice to uphold and broaden the reach, impact and benefit of the irreplaceably human in each of us whether we are reading, writing, listening, speaking. We need to think about our offer as both/and instead of either/or. Writer and listener. Reader and speaker. Being the audience that makes positive waves requires more from us as writers, educators, activists and contributors and also serves to regularly remind us of what we are in fact here for.

What matters to me in contributing to this year’s digital writing month? Supporting audience in all its forms and iterations; making audience a 30-day verb.

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:

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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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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