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.
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.
Robin Wharton is an editor for and contributor to Hybrid Pedagogy. As well since 2005, she has been a collaborator on the <emma> project. Her interests include medieval and early modern law and literature, critical legal studies, and the Digital Humanities. In this piece, Robin reflects on her experience as a dancer, and how our creativity can be one of our most reliable and powerful collaborators.
In a former life I was a dancer. A former life, or a previous era: BGS (Before Grad School). This is how I used to think of the countless hours I spent studying ballet in New York and Seattle, and performing with a university-affiliated company as an undergraduate in New Orleans. My dream life ached with what I misinterpreted as nostalgia for that lost age, grief over my dead self. Then, after a long hiatus, during which I got married, started a family, and completed a dissertation, among other things, I started taking dance classes again. And I realized what I thought had died had not even—not really—been dormant. Continue reading …
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
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.
Skip ahead a few years, and we now find ourselves writing like mad as part of a digital exploration ostensibly led by a duck. And nobody questions it. By the time you read this post, the secret identity behind the little quack may or may not have been revealed. But regardless of whether you know who tweets on behalf of @digiwrimo, the duck’s persona has a life of its own. (Can I get a “Yip” from the congregation?) That’s the beauty of online writing: We can use created identities to say things the way we want, from a specific or even fictitious perspective. These created/creative identities allow real-time responses to events and ideas in new and engaging ways. Research projects in space have a rubber-chicken mascot, emotive exploration vehicles, and humble assistive humanoid robots that tweet live and participate in Q&A sessions with young audiences. Fictional, digital-only characters permit widespread distribution of social commentary, as well: the rubber chicken has a bitter nemesis, the Mars rover had an evil alter-ego, and presidential debates spawn accounts on behalf of inarticulate moderators and laid-off childhood mascots.
The ability to create personae such as these lets digital writers powerfully leverage a intentional sense of perspective and allow audience members to interact with a presence that seems more real on account of its being completely fake. I confess: I’ve cherished conversations with both the rubber chicken and the robot, I’ve been yipped at by our duck friend, and I’ve been petted by the duck’s monstrous sibling. The immediacy, flexibility, and obscurity inherent in digital writing can facilitate imaginative and distinctly personal connections between author and audience because digital writing allows authors to connect to—and interact with—that audience using whatever persona they desire. Those created and performative personae, whether “real” or fictional, give authors an opportunity (or a challenge) to construct their ethos very directly and literally.
On the other hand, connections formed from manufactured personae, while they offer creative and engaging interactions with readers, also establish the vexing separation inherent in digital writing. Because digital text necessarily must be both transformed and executed, the distance between author and audience can seem greater than ever. An author creates writing that is recorded, encoded, transmitted, decoded, and displayed, often with various duplicate or residual copies being created in the process. We can easily conclude that writers lose control of their digital creations. Once a digital work has been published (whatever that means, given the context), the text can seem completely out of the author’s hands.
What may seem a lamentable loss of control can actually serve as another means of connection. Digital writing allows both writers and readers to connect with technology in very personal ways. Once a digital text is distributed to the end user, it can be presented to each reader in the most appropriate format for that reader. For instance, the same digital writing that appears to you in the default font of your favorite web browser could appear as braille to another user, with no changes or involvement from the author or publisher. Or consider eBooks, which allow the reader to change color and typeface of a book on the fly. To be sure, those are superficial adjustments, but those adjustments allow each reader to connect with the text the way they want to. The intermediary functions of technology being applied to digital writing allow writers and readers to connect across otherwise formidable barriers.
As we write our ways toward the end of our journey together, I encourage you to revel in the vibrant flexibility and connectivity that digital writing provides:
Writing digitally allows us to create our content, target our audience, and even choose our delivery method. We can distribute our words through myriad channels, becoming our own publishers.
Writing digitally allows us to customize the creation and consumption of text using the technology of our choosing. Our writing and reading tools can adapt to our needs, or even our moods.
Writing digitally allows us to explicitly create our role, identity, and persona as a writer. That persona can be whatever best serves our writing exigence, and it can be as ordinary or extraordinary as we want. Because online, nobody knows you’re a duck.
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 …
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
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 …
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:
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.
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.
Once that 10 minutes was over, participants had 20 minutes to collect the #NoWDigi tweets on Storify, and arrange them into a poem.
When the 20 minutes was up, they posted a link to the Storify poems on Twitter.
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:
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.);
All in the group will collaborate for 10 minutes — no more, no less — to write the opening paragraph of the short story;
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.);
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.
This process continues in rounds of 10 minutes until the documents return to their original owners, who then must write the conclusion.
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.
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.
“I find nothing so singular to life as that everything appears to lose its substance the instant one actually grapples with it.”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables
The author is dead. She is become as a specter. Faceless, genderless, subject not now only to scrutiny within her own text but to exorcism from it. That text never again will be her own, but a relic of her fondest desire, her wish toward something that mattered, something that made her matter. Yet, she becomes no more than a wisp behind the words, a half-embarrassed face in the mirror, bodiless, wordless.
Photo by joctaviothomas
Authors drain all their lives into their words. They die into them sometimes, and then resurrect themselves within the fashion of letters, phrases, and sentences that describe what they know, what they’ve seen, how their bodies have felt, what their ears have heard, and also what they cannot know but pine to know. Anyone who has committed to paper the story that woke him at night understands the plight of author, desperate for vivid, livid language to deposit that dream, that narrative, that true true story into the mind and heart of a reader. Anyone who has stared unblinkingly at the deep, dark line of the cursor for minutes and hours, deliberating and waiting on the next word — which. will. be. the. right. one — would happily share a beer, a shoulder, a cry with any other author. For the writing process, in the end, is always the same. Write what you know, and hope your readers will know what you’ve written. Continue reading …
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.
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 …
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.
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. Continue reading …
Jesse Stommel is Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the Division of Continuing Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this post, he illuminates the reasoning behind word counts, and the ways in which counting words can be both useless and fruitful.
Good writing is not reducible to numbers; the word count for the expression of an idea can’t always (or even usually) be determined in advance. Ideas fit all kinds of containers, some small, some large, some book-shaped, some made of 1s and 0s. When I aim for a specific word count (or ask students to aim for a specific word count), it’s not because I think there’s something intrinsically meaningful about lining up a certain number of words. It’s not because 500 words amassed are somehow better than 25. But knowing the size of a container can give us a sense for what and how we might fill it. 500 words looks different than 25 words, and 500 words feel different coming out of our mouths or fingers. For the same reason, it’s sometimes (but certainly not always) useful to pre-determine the genre for a piece of writing, the shape of the container, before sitting down to construct it. Continue reading …
Tanya Sasser‘s interests include social media, digital humanities, and hacking educational paradigms and systems. She is also the author of the Remixing College English blog. In this guest post, Tanya explores the ways in which digital writing can be considered a handicraft, along with the likes of woodworking, knitting, ceramics, and more.
Digital Writing as Handicraft
by Tanya Sasser
Digital writing is political. It democratizes the act of writing in the sense that it both allows open participation in the creation of cultural content and redefines public writing as work that anyone–not just professional writers or academics–can do. From blogs to mashups to Twitter, to the greatest extent ever, we have the tools and the opportunity to write our own story, rather than suffering someone else to write it for us.
Some mistakenly correlate digital environments with a virtualism (i.e., artificiality) that diminishes the real (i.e., human). Such a belief understandably engenders a nihilistic attitude towards all things digital. The mindless banality of late-20th century white collar work, such as that depicted in Dilbert and Office Space, is often seen as the outcome of an over-reliance and over-emphasis on the technological over the human. In Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford argues that one effective cure for the existential malaise of postindustrial society is the practical act of making: “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely [as opposed to virtually] in the world through manual [as opposed to informational] competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth” (15). Instead, the craftsman finds himself subsumed by what he is trying to create: “Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right” (19). Such a relationship with our material culture, Crawford points out, empowers rather than enslaves us, as it repositions us from passive, dependent consumer to spirited creator and curator. Continue reading …
On November 3, 2012, the bravest digital writing experiment of all time took place: over 60 writers attempted to write a 50,000-word novel, collaboratively, in one 24-hour period. Following the tremendous, if slightly surreal success of DigiWriMo’s midnight launch collaborative poem exercise, the army of DigiWriters pushed the limits of what’s possible in communal, digital writing. Are two heads (or five hundred) better than one? How many cooks is too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the adage about monkeys and typewriters finally proven right?
Photo by Victor Nuno
24 hours. 50,000 words. Plot, characters, setting, action. How many words will you contribute?
To get us started with Digital Writing Month, we worked up a collaborative digital poem. Poetry is especially susceptible to the digital, as semantic and lexical connections made in poetry can be reflective of the connections made between words and people on the web. In this exercise, at least 60 participants joined forces to create a work of words and connections that turned out to be unique and surprisingly lovely. And, because it was a collaborative work, everyone got to count all the poem’s words in their word count for the month.
Here were the rules:
1. We must complete this poem in one hour — from 12:00AM to 1:00AM EDT.
2. Each contributor must contribute one word — no more, no less.
3. Each contributor must move one word — no more, no less. Continue reading …
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 …
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 …
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 …