I’m going to try to take part in an offshoot Digital Writing Month activity this weekend called Twitter versus Zombies, which is described by some of the organizers as “epic zombiefied experiment in Twitter literacy, gamification, collaboration, and emergent learning.” I have no idea what will entail but I have wanted to dip my toes into this kind of emergent game and see how they unfold.
So, I am in.
And it made sense to have the kids in my comic in, too. Plus, there are plenty of little zombie-like creatures in the comic creator site that I use (Stripgenerator). In fact, it’s almost as if it were built for zombie comics. Hmmmm.
There was someone in my twitter stream of folks participating in Digital Writing Month who was wondering how to merge that challenge with the National Novel Writing Month, and I whimsically suggested that they just make their novel just one huge hyperlink, and cover both challenges with one piece of writing.
It would work, right? (Although this gets to another post on another day about what digital writing is and should be, and all of that)
Then, I got to thinking about what link would you make a piece of writing like that lead to? In the case of my comic, Dave just wants to have fun.
I’m sure others will have a better insider’s look at Digital Writing Month‘s monumental collaborative project from yesterday entitled “Novel in a Day.” The goal was to use a Google Doc to create a novel of 50,000 words in 24 hours by as many people as possible, writing vignettes. In the end, it was just over 41,000 words, apparently. And about 55 writers were writing on the document yesterday throughout the day (the theme was using the mascot of the month — Digi the Duck — in vignettes.) A collaborative planning session in another Google Doc the night before narrowed down the focus of the novel, which I thought was a neat way to bring many voices into the mix.
I added two pieces — Vignette 9, which was about the duck trying to write a poem but he can’t reach the keyboard, and Vignette 28, told through a text message in which Digi asks Mickey Mouse for some advice. I had an idea for a third piece, but my oldest son was hogging the computer with some friends (ironically, they are writing a collaborative movie script) and by the time they were done, I was nearly asleep. Ack.
Here are some observations from my own experiences being inside and outside the Novel-in-a-Day idea:
The novel is long. I know that is a “duh” moment but I was so caught up in the writing that I barely had time to read what others were up to. In that situation, the vignette concept was brilliant. But it often felt like I was more of an isolated writer than a collaborative writer. I also had a lot of other things going on during the day, so I wasn’t fully immersed in the experience. I’m pretty sure a few folks were working to tie threads of the stories together. I made an attempt in mine, but I am not sure I was all that successful.
At some points, there were more than a dozen folks just lingering around in the document. I think some people wrote elsewhere and then pasted their text in. I wrote directly in the Google Doc. I had this feeling of being watched. I didn’t mind it so much but it was an odd experience. Another time, I was trying to start a new vignette, but the person writing the piece before mine kept on typing, and as I was trying to write, I was messing up their text. I could “see” them pause, try again. I’d wait, try, and mess them up. After two times, I gave up, thinking Google Docs must be on a bender. I hope that other writer forgives me.
The collaborative element was a key component but I was hoping for more ways to push barriers with text, as part of the inquiry with Digital Writing Month. One writer did something interesting: using the idea of anchors, he created a series of “make your own adventure” choices for the reader. I may have missed it, but most of what is in the novel is traditional text. Odd storytelling, and very creative, but still very traditional: words on paper/screen. The third vignette that I did not write was going to be a story converted into html code, with a message embedded within the code. I really am sorry I missed that chance. I was hoping for a video vignette, or maybe some audio. There were some images sprinkled here and there. Of course, it was just 24 hours. I need to be realistic with my expectations.
Does this translate to the classroom? Yes, and I have done collaborative stories like this with my sixth graders on wikis, using colors to show a change in writers. What this kind of activity does is allows you to talk about voice, and collaborative technology, and the focus of a story (which often gets lost).
Was it worth it? Heck, yes. I love how technology can bring collaborators together to try new things. Although I was not one of the planners or organizers, who should feel pretty good this morning about the novel experience, I feel connected to the success of the writing experience. It’s not about the word count; it’s about the experience.
As I have mentioned, I am going to be following Digital Writing Month, and I am creating a series of webcomics to go along with it. I don’t expect to meet the 50,000 words. But I hope to do some exploration and tinkering and playing around with mediums.
Here is a comic that I created yesterday:
But then, I thought about the idea of using a webcomic platform to create a comic in a comic, in a comic. It was sparked by the thought that code might be text in this kind of challenge.
I never did try National Novel Writing Month. Thought about it … but never did it. Now, an offshoot is Digital Writing Month in which folks are encouraged to compose 50,000 words of digital words over the month of November. (Words, I hope, meaning text, image, video and multimedia … and comics). I might try it … or maybe I already do it? In either case, I hope to add some webcomics about the month to the mix every now and then.
Bill Zimmerman, whose Make Beliefs Comix site is a great place for students to begin to learn how to make web comics, has just put out a book called Laptop Letters. Zimmerman, whose aim is always to strengthen literacy, has assembled many of his comic-based writing prompts into one collection for parents as a way to encourage them to write to their own children. This is a great idea worth considering, as a parent and as a teacher connecting with parents.
And the book is offered up as a free ebook, too, from Zimmerman (although I think it might be even more valuable as a real, paper book where you could use the prompts and visuals a little easier.) Throughout the book, Zimmerman (with illustrator Tom Bloom) offers advice for how to write letters from parents to children, on themes of memories and experiences and shared hopes and dreams. There is a certain spiritual element to some of the prompts, but mostly, they are centered around sending forth a message of caring and compassion and thoughtfulness.
What’s fascinating is how Zimmerman is trying to frame the letters from a technology standpoint, noting that parents should find ways to reach their children through communication means that the children will read. In the introduction, he notes that while some bemoan the lack of traditional letter writing, many of us (adults and children) now use email and text messaging throughout the day, and why not use that medium to send words of love and support and wisdom to our kids?
I was wondering what my older boys would say if I started writing them stories via their cell phones. Would I be invading their space? Would they write back? We certainly have our struggles with our oldest son around communication. I guess I am not sure what the impact would be if I used some of the prompts here. And while Zimmerman notes that the power of these laptop letters is in the sharing of words and wisdom that last as family memories, there is such a temporary effect with text messages. Nothing gets saved beyond a moment of time. It had me wondering if texting is the medium for these literacy moments.
Still, one can’t argue that any suggestions for strengthening the bonds between parents and kids, particularly during this age where technology seems to cut off some of those interactions, is a good idea and one worth advocating. Zimmerman has provided a path for those kind of connections in Laptop Letters with some wonderful prompts to consider and starting points from which to begin.
Here is the entire collection of my Walking the Web comic that explored the history of the World Wide Web, from start to finish.
You can also view it as an entire series on a single blog page over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site.
Peace (in the history),
And so, it ends. Sort of. The boys in my comic — Walking the Web — have made it back home. I wanted to reference the movie, Looper (and if you know the movie, you know how this last comic could have gone), but could not bring myself to go that far. So, I do have the boys meeting themselves, and left it at that. But it made sense to have the soundtrack of Timbuk 3 running in your head as the series comes to an end. (Depending on your interpretation of the lyrics, that could be good or bad.)
Peace (on the web),
PS — I have one more comic to run tomorrow. It’s not technically part of the series, and yet … it is.