This month, as I am involved in Digital Writing Month, has me thinking about what I mean when I say Digital Writing. It’s not easy to define. Maybe you can help. I have started up a Thinglink image with a word cloud of terms related to digital writing, and I have begun to “tag” the image with ideas and media related to the terms. I’ve opened it up so that anyone can collaborate, so feel free to add your ideas to the mix, too. I’ve added assorted media — a podcast, an audio poem, a “choose your own adventure” video experiment, and more.
Yesterday, I wrote about using the Google Search Story creator. Then, in the afternoon, I stumbled on a link to yet another Google story tool — Google Docs Story Builder. it’s .. pretty neat. It “captures” a Google Doc in video time, although you are really writing the doc as a story, and not necessarily as a real collaboration. In honor of Digi the Duck, the mascot of Digital Writing Month, I created this short piece with the story tool in which Digi gets stuck in a Google Doc.
It’s been fascinating to take part in the Digital Writing Month adventure, particularly as it has forced me to consider how my writing practices are impacted by technology. And that exploration has raised the question once again: is technology transforming and changing the way we write? I’ve noticed, as I follow others in Digiwrimo, that much of what we are calling digital writing is mostly blog posts — texts on a page. Or Tweets. Sure, a digital page, but still, I would not term it something all that different from traditional writing, except audience. So what does it mean to write digitally, then? I don’t have that answer, although the question intrigues me. But this morning, as I was trying to think about how I might compose with video, I returned to the Google Search Story site. Here, you can create a short digital story with search engine queries. I was curious about the process that I would put myself through to try to tell a story or make a point, with limited text and with the video coming from somewhere else. In other words, I had less agency as a writer than I would have liked. (And, admittedly, I was contributing to Google’s bottom line by making a video with its search engine).
Here’s what I noticed as I was creating a search story about Digital Writing Month and the act of writing digitally: I found myself in a constant wrestling match with Google. You’d think it simple enough: write five or six search queries and let Google do the rest. But Google wasn’t doing what I wanted — its search results were different from my vision. I tweaked words. I revamped phrases. I worked harder on those five search phrases than I am working on this reflection piece. Seriously.
And I am still not satisfied, and it made me think about the compromises we make with technology when we compose with the tools available. Yes, it would be nice if we were all programmers with enough coding expertise to create our own tools for our own purposes, but most of us are not. I’m not. What I am left with is this feeling that while technology allows me to stretch in new directions, it also hinders my sense of expression. And I can’t shake the feeling that we are not yet close to the promise of being real digital writers, when all of the agency of expression is in our own hands.
When we can write what we want to write, and say what we want to say, in a medium of our choice and with all the flexibility we desire, I’ll be doing a happy dance as a digital writer. Until then, I push as far as I can, and hope that I can live with the sense of compromise that often is the result of the conversations between me, the writer, and the various tools of technology that are at my disposal.
Peace (in pushing boundaries),
PS — I want to apologize for putting my own book — Teaching the New Writing — into my search story but it seemed pertinent. Right? Well, I was also using Google for my own aims there, too. If they can monetize my story through my use of its search engine, I might as well turn it back on them and use their search engine to publicize our book.
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.
Ok — so, not a real hack of the Digital Writing Month website. But still … hacking and remixing are modern literacy skills, right? Check out what I did with Mozilla’s xRay Goggles tool that allows you to revamp and remix websites. You can’t yet publish the changes (that seems to be coming soon, though), so I had to take a screenshot of my hack and upload it as an image.
See the larger versions of the hacked page if you want a closer look at how I, uh, tweaked the page. I was poking fun at what we are up to this month (and the duck … you know, the duck is fair game in a hack).
See what my friend, Rafi Santo, has to say about hacking as a way to understand content, and how remixing what we find gives us more agency as writers/composers, and the strong connections these skills have to authentic youth literacies. I’m still investigating. You should be, too.
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.
I had this urge to write a poem about hyperlinks for Digital Writing Month. You know, hyperlinks are the most powerful feature of the Web, in my opinion, for the ways they can connect texts and ideas together, and we often take the hyperlink for granted. But it is a powerful idea that allowed content on the Web to become … well, the Web, and not just some assorted random content.
I’m the link inside the seam
with the power to attract this idea to that idea and then off again to the next –
I’m underlined and powerful
sitting here inside this text.
You might think me odd
as I transport you from your spot –
an elevator shaft of movement
in associative thought.
But take a breath and look around
and see where you have landed
and tell me, reader of this link,
if you are not now standing
deep inside the chamber
of some other writer’s mind
which is where you needed to find yourself
after a bit of time, so …
I embed; You interact.
We weave ourselves
inside this map.
We create this journey, you and I.
You, the reader, open to adventure
as I, the link, draw the lines.
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.