326 Words in 9 Minutes: Defeating Dr. Wicked

I had a friend turn me on to this odd site called Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die, which gives you a time period to write and then prods you forward with your targeted word count with electric cattle prods, zapping hand buzzers … well, not quite. But the site does use colored backgrounds to let you know you are staring at the screen a bit too long, and then begins to remove your words one at a time until you start typing again. At least, that’s what it did in the category that I chose — you can be more forgiving on yourself, or more harsh, too.

(There is a desktop version of this, which costs a requested donation of 10 bucks, and a modified online version that is free. I did the free online version. Some folks are using this as part of the National Novel Writing Month projects to spur them on.)

This could be a killer for some writers who stress over every word but not for me, who writes quick (too quick?) and is happy to plow forward in the draft stage. I actually found it was a neat experience to know I better get things going. I had to move my story forward, and fast, or face the wrath of Dr. Wicked, and I didn’t even know what I was going to write when I started at the site.

I wrote the first line that came to mind because I was writing early in the morning and sleep was not far away¬† — By night, she was wide awake .. — and began.) The story unfolded in literally the ten minutes I had on the clock as I imagined the scene, this character and a possible backstory. I threw the cat into the mix for good luck.

So, I kind of liked the experience. The site let me know that I wrote 326 words in 9 minutes, so I beat the clock (10 minute limit) and exceeded my goal (300 words). Take that, Dr. Wicked!

My Story:

By night, she was wide awake, knowing that her anxiety would not let her sleep. Her day tumbled over her, weaving some strange magic. Her cat purred at her feet. She gently moved, not wanting to disrupt him, too, with her wakefulness. He barely stirred. She felt a bit of resentment now, and poked him with her toe. The cat just rolled over, stretched, and fell back into canine slumber.

She pulled on her slippers. Her toes wiggled to create warmth. The stairs were dark, but she knew every step. The light was unnecessary, although it would not have awoken anyone. It was only her now. Her and the cat. Still, she kept the light off, feigning some sleep pattern that she hoped would eventually lead her back to bed.

The newspaper was folded up on the kitchen table. The headline was no longer visible. She reminded herself that she had done this on purpose. Yet, she could not resist. She took the newspaper and unfolded it out, spreading out the entire two pages on the table before her. She bent over the news, elbows on the table, and read it again. She searched for any clues to the real story behind the story. A former reporter, she knew what to look for in what wasn’t being said.

Even so, the story in the story remained a mystery. She ran her fingers over his headshot and thought how funny it was that he seemed so contained in that little square box. He looked younger than she remembered, and figured the newspaper had grabbed some old headshot of his from its files.

“Developer Disappears, Money Taken,” screamed the headline. She sighed, telling herself again that he would not likely be coming back anytime soon. Something brushed again her leg. She reached down and scooped up his cat, the one thing he had left behind.

“Sandy,” she murmured, scratching the creature below the chin,”I guess it’s just you and me now.”

– The End

Give it a try. If you dare …

Peace (in the fast pace of writing),
Kevin

PS — I tried to create a podcast with Cinch of my story but Cinch is having some technical difficulties, I think. If it comes through soon, I’ll add it in.

From Bitstrips to Glogster: A Collection of Day on Writing Webcomics

Although the National Day on Writing was Wednesday, my students were still working on their webcomics at home, on their own time, in order to finish an assignment that we had to create a celebration of writing. I really loved what they were doing, so I decided to grab some of the comics and put them on a Glog Wall as a way to mark the 2010 Day on Writing.

In thinking of use of technology, here we used Bitstrips for Schools to make the comics, a Firefox screenshot add-on to download the comics as images (I use Fireshot), Flickr to gather the comics together, and then Glogster.edu to present the comics. That’s a lot of use of tools, but what it comes down to is that the students were the ones creating content. The tools were just helpful.

Head to the National Day on Writing Webcomic Glog

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Writing a Story in Reverse, with friends

collabstory2

You know that movie by director Christopher Nolan — Momento – where the action moves in sequence from the finish to the start? I’ve always been intrigued by how Nolan could not only conceive such a thing, but how do you pull it off? I was reminded of the movie yesterday as I launched a collaborative story project via a site called Today’s Meet.

Today’s Meet is a backchannel site that can be used during lectures and conferences. It’s a nice design. Easy to use. Each new post in the channel moves to the top, sort of like a blog. I was playing around with it the other day and wondered if it might be possible to use it for writing a story.

The trick would be that the story would have to be told in reverse by the writers, who would have to add their next part of the narrative in time sequence before the part they are reading. In other words, if a character is eating an apple, the next part to be written would be the character getting the apple and preparing to eat it, and before that, the character expressing hunger for an apple. Everything is one-step backwards.

Which means I had to start the project with the story’s ending and then allow folks to backfill the plot. Here’s my first post, which is actually the last few lines of the story: By the time it was all over, she wondered whether the device would actually work the way it was designed. She honestly did not know.

I know. Confusing. But intriguing as a writer who likes to explore the off-kilter world of composition. And eleven brave folks, mostly from my urgings over at Twitter during the day, joined me, adding elements of the plot during the course of the day. Oh, and each post could only be the size of a tweet — 140 characters. Thanks to: Tony, Cindy, Matt, Larry, Sabi, Linda, Gail, Dennis, Doris, and Mike for coming along for the ride. Your words were magic! (and thanks to connections with the National Writing Project, since a number of our writers are part of my NWP network)

The plot of our collaborative story revolves around a woman who has been given some sort of secret device and needs to meet her friends, who are not showing up. There’s a hint of danger in the air, and secrecy. A few minutes ago, I ended the story with the first line of the story: It all began innocently enough.

As we were working on it, I was reflecting on whether this is a possibility for the classroom. I suppose, but I think the backwards-design of the story would be way too complex for my sixth graders. Their critical thinking skill levels are such that they need to see things develop in proper chronological order. But it might be possible with high school students. A few of the posts to our story seemed out of sequence, or slightly jarring to the posts around it, and the problem with Today’s Meet is there is no editing. You write, you post, you’re published. That’s tricky business for writers.

Go read the Collaborative Story-in-Reverse(note: I had to update this as a PDF file because the Today’s Meet site expired on me.

It was a fun experiment, and I kept checking in to see where the story was unfolding towards. We never really answered crucial questions (what is this device anyway? And why such secrecy?) but I think the story is interesting to read.

Peace (in the collaboration),

Kevin

Plink, Plink, Plinky

plinky story

Thanks to my friend, Jpeg (Jenny), I wandered over to Plinky this weekend to discover another cool writing place. I suppose it is sort of like others, in which you are given a prompt (this morning: Use third person to tell about an awkward school experience), a box to write in and then you can choose from a selection of images from Flickr to go with your writing.

I like the simplicity of Plinky, and also, that I can either get inspired or ignore the prompt, and then wander back tomorrow. Maybe. The writing choice is up to me.

I’m not sure if this site has possibilities for students (maybe high school) but you could easily “borrow” the writing prompts for activities in the classroom. Drop another idea into the classroom. Plink.
Peace (in the writing),
Kevin

Distilling a Belief about Writing

A personal goal this summer is to create a friendly website for parents and families and students to provide an overview and an insight into my writing/reading/technology classroom. I have had handouts and I even have an html document that I link off our classroom blog. But it was so darn ugly and just text that I could barely look at it.

So, I am in the process of creating a website that will provide links to handouts and showcase student examples from the past. It’s pretty cool. I’ll write more about how I am doing it at another time and my thoughts on trying to keep a design in mind as I do it.

On the homepage, I want to provide a philosophical rationale for writing and what I believe. I am trying to distill it away from jargon. Here is my first draft and any comments on editing, deleting or adding to it is most appreciated.

Mr. Hodgson believes:

  • Writing is an important and critical way for students to learn by processing their ideas into coherent form;
  • Writing should be done across various curriculum areas and not taught in isolation;
  • Students should write for various audiences, including just for themselves, just for the classroom and sometimes, for the world;
  • Technology can be a useful tool for composing various forms of writing and media;
  • Writing should be authentic and have meaning for students so that they can make connections between school and the world outside of school;
  • Group projects not only draw on the strengths of all students but also allow students to learn to work cooperatively;
  • Art elements and the concept of design play a role in the way that young people compose writing and other media;
  • Reading quality books¬† and storiesof various genres provide an insight into the writing process and allow students to reflect, connect and utilize critical thinking skills;
  • All students can succeed and improve as writers if they are willing to put in the time, creativity and effort.

Peace (in the sharing),

Kevin

Dave Eggers says … Get Engaged

Here is another great video from the TED conference. It is a talk by Dave Eggers, whose writing both inspires me and sometimes frustrates me, but I am always willing to dive in with Eggers and see where he will take me as a reader (and if you have not read What is the What, you should … one of the best books about the Lost Boys of Sudan I have ever read).

In this talk, Eggers discusses his project for young writers, called 826 Valencia that is spreading into many cities in the country. I also want to push the Non-Required Reading collection that Eggers and a group of high school students pull together and publish every year. I am always anxious for the collection to come out — knowing that treasures that will be within — and then I am told by my wife to wait until the holidays and not buy it EARLY (thus, thwarting the elves).

I love this quote about Eggers’ work in Time Magazine:

“Many writers, having written a first best-seller, might see it as a nice way to start a career. He started a movement instead.” — Time


In thinking of ways to engage young people in the art of creativity, Eggers’ talk here is both humorous and also insightful as he meets them on their own level (I mean, a storefront that is a pirate booty store … how can one resist?). And his website — Once Upon a School — is another way to engage adults in helping to improve schools in their community.


Peace (in inspiration),
Kevin

What Writing Means … to me

One of the workshops I attended at the National Writing Project’s annual meeting in San Antonio was about a new venture called the National Conversation on Writing. A group of mostly college professors is trying to change perceptions of writing in the public mind and one of their ideas to collect vignettes from people about what writing means to them. In particular, they would like to have a collection of short videos, in which teachers and students and others talk about writing.
I decided to give it a go, sort of as a rough draft approach, and recorded some of my own thoughts.

What about you? What does writing mean to you?
Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Inside Kaleidoscope Dreams: A hypertextual collection

Since November, I have been working on Quickfiction stories and sharing them out here at the blog. It has been a really enjoyable writing experience for me and interesting experience, too. But I have been struck about what to do with the stories after they have been posted on the blog. I considered self-publishing via LULU, and then thought about creating a website.

Recently, though, I have been fooling around with Hypertextopia and it occurred to me that the platform might make sense for gathering all of the short fiction stories together under one roof, so to speak.

The result is something I am calling Inside Kaleidoscope Dreams — which is a collection of the stories gathered together under themes and also by narrative device. I have included audio readings of the stories, plus some photographs for illustrations. And I also wrote up a short author reflection about the project.

Head to Inside Kaleidoscope Dreams

(Note: The illustration above shows the concept map that I created, with links to various stories. It shows the connections of stories in a visual way. The readable version, however, is brought together in a more cohesive structure.)

I am interested to get feedback from people about the use of this hypertextual platform. Does it make the reading of the stories more interesting? Or just confusing? Do you have any suggestions for improving the design of the book?

Later, I will share out some of the nifty things that you can do with your writing in Hypertextopia, including re-arranging words, ideas and stories.

Peace (in linklinklinklinked text),
Kevin

Quickfiction: chapter 5

This is a continuation of my forays into Quickfiction writing. I am also completing an entire collection of my quick stories over at Hypertextopia and I hope to share that project and reflection out tomorrow. It has been another interesting adventure, to be sure.

Here are the latest stories (click on the little arrow to hear the podcast of the stories):

Ghost

It was on his walk to work one morning that Jack noticed the white ghost bike propped up against the tree. A long thin chain held it against the aging Elm that looked bent from the weight of its mission. As if it might just topple right over. A rusty padlock dangled from one kink in the chain. Jack was sure the bike had not been there the previous morning. Sometime in the night, someone had placed the bike here. It spooked the hell out of Jack, this ghost bike. It was Tiff all over again. A little placard was attached to the handlebars. This was not just a bike, he realized. This was a memorial. He didn’t dare get any closer. Fear kept him back, although he was aching to know what the little sign said. Would it be a memory of some stranger he did not know, nor ever would. A tribute, perhaps? Or would it be another reminder of the past life he had tried so desperately to leave behind so many years ago. Tiff, and her bike, and how he had followed her everywhere, falling in love so many times over as he watched her legs in motion. Everything back then seemed to be in motion. He could still see Tiff, in the white athletic suit that she always wore on outings, as if riding a cloud in the midst of civilization.She was pristine perfection. Back then, he would follow her anywhere. Even to the end of the world. Or so he thought, but when the time came to stand at the brink, he had hesitated, and she had disappeared from sight. Tiff had never glanced back, never even acknowledged that he had stopped. She just kept right on pedaling. Then, she was gone. To think of this now brought on the pain all over again. Jack shuffled past the white ghost of his past and, again, he tried to not to remember.

Smog

It’s true. I went to Big Sur for answers. I had gone to Lowell, too, and felt lost among the brick facades of the old mills that had become nothing more than monuments to the past. Everything seemed abandoned and set to rust. I even sat on the edge of the river that snaked through the worn-out downtown, listening for the prose that had long since been extinguished by time. I wanted to hear echoes. All I heard was silence. So it was on to Big Sur. My car complained the entire time, the muffler spoiling any sense of silence and contemplation I might have otherwise had or wanted. There was no Dean to keep me company. No bottles of booze littered on the seats. No scroll of endless white paper on which to scribble my dreams. My America was not Their America. My America was shopping malls, neon lights, and long stretches of conformity. Route 66 had become just a long stretch of traffic lights. You could not gain momentum or traction anymore. Still, Big Sur beckoned and I answered. It became yet another false promise, however, and in the forests and isolation of the California coast, I found little of anything of value. Nothing other than my own preconceptions of him in this place, writing with abandon. I, on the other hand, am always too careful. Too precise. Instead of gaining illumination, I left Big Sur with a deep-seated impression that my own writing days were over. So it felt strangely comfortable to finally leave Jack behind and descend into the smog of Los Angeles and begin my life anew.

ER

The wait is endless. Yet you can’t help but notice that the stream of people continues unabated, hour upon hour upon hour. Is there this much suffering, you wonder? You shift in your seat. The movement does little to ease either your pain or your boredom. Your head still hurts. Next to you, the man in the brown jacket nurses a finger, wrapping and unwrapping a bloody bandage. From time to time, he, too, shifts and bumps into you. This makes you uncomfortable — like the crowded feeling of the middle seat on an airplane — yet there are no other seats to move to. If you get up, you know you will lose the seat. All eyes covet the row of chairs. People are sitting on floors, leaning against walls, pacing the floor. The nurse just stares straight ahead. She seems to have perfected the art of never focusing on anyone. Her glassy, sleepy eyes just move forward in time. You feel another jolt to your temples. The force of it almost knocks you out of your seat. Your fingers clench the armrests to hold on. They all thought it was nothing. They all laughed. You can tell. You remember the accusatory looks they gave you, questioning your intentions. If only that were the case. You know the truth: your brain is in a state of severe disfunction. The little girl, in her mother’s lap, moans again. You watch the mother pull the girl’s head closer to her chest and she whispers some soothing words into the little girl’s ear. You wish that were you, that the words were for you. You wish someone would hold you and absorb the pain. All eyes look up as a doctor enters through the double doors. He beckons for the little girl and her mother. Brown jacket man swears under his breath and re-adjusts the bandage again. Another jolt hits your head. Stronger this time. The world that was once nothing but light is now darkening, and still you wait.

Elevator

He knew the time would come when he would die in an elevator. How many closes calls had there been? Too many to count. The most dramatic had been the time when he and his sister had gotten stuck in-between floors in their aunt’s low-rise. He had not meant to leave his toy truck in the gap. And he had been horrified to watch how the fireman, after dragging both of them up through the emergency exit in the ceiling, had presented their father with the mangled red fire truck and suggested that elevators did not make good play zones for children. There was the false alarm, too, in the office building and the scrambled rush to cram into the elevator to get to safety. He knew that had been dumb — no one rides an elevator in a fire — and it was that very stupidity that scared him. He did not trust himself to make the right decision in these situations and it was only a matter of time that the end would come in a vertical death machine. His sister had feared escalators. But at least on a moving stair, you can jump. You can’t jump to freedom from an elevator. He read books that reassured him that elevators were safer than cars. That engineers designed them to use counterweights. That it was rare than anyone might die in an elevator, as long as they stayed calm and were smart about it. That, of course, was what worried him. Panic made him stupid. And so, when the job he had dreamed about for years finally came his way, he was disappointed to learn that he would have to travel 45 floors up and down every day, in a so-called “smart elevator,” and after a nail-biting trip up to the interview and a harrowing trip back down, he decided he could not handle this. This tension was too much. The time might come when an elevator ended his life, but he would be damned if he would be a willing accomplice to the crime. His world was flat and level and he intended it to stay that way.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

What If … video

This video was part of the site for the Learning 2.o Conference that was held last weekend in Colorado and co-organized by Bud the Teacher (who did a nice “braindump” — his term — podcast reflection of the event). I believe the video was created by The Fischbowl Blogger?

Interesting use of facts and hyperbole.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-2855786550703993653" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in the end of writing … again),
Kevin