The Read/Make Digital Writing Adventure


I’m popping in and out of an interesting adventure this weekend built out of last year’s Digital Writing Month. This year, over the course of a weekend, the goal is to construct a collaborative novel in a project called Digital Writing Makertext, or read/make. Sort of.

Check out the premise:

Prompt: The novel we construct will be driven by a basic premise — not a plot, but a prompt. How that premise changes and evolves during the writing will depend on the contributions and their effect on the overall narrative.

  • The author is dead. Print is dead. “Storytelling has changed. Stories are no longer told to audiences, but by audiences.” And now the very notion of the story is threatened.

  • You are part of a crack team of storytellers, educators, students, and concerned citizens sent online to investigate the death of narrative. For this mission, you’ll need all the resources of the Internet at the ready… and cooperation from every corner of literature itself.

  • Your job will be to write, film, record, and otherwise digitally construct a story about story itself — weaving your way through literary worlds and digital landscapes to write an account of the precarious health of narrative. It will also be up to you to resurrect the names, voices, and words of the greatest — and the most underrepresented — characters from literature, poetry, drama, television, movies, the Internet and more.

  • We intend this to be a truly global writing experiment. Therefore, all languages are welcome in the text, any form of narrative is welcome, and any and all hyperlinks should link to open (not paywalled or password-protected) sites.

The project is unfolding in a Google Doc and on Twitter, and who knows where else. I’ve been adding a few lines here and there, and created two “pieces” early on. The first is the video at the top of this post, and the second is this podcast poem called A Ransom Note from the Reader.

Watch me now:
As I fold myself up —
all arms and legs; mouth and mind —
into the swirling sounds of your story.

Your tongue unfolds;
I bend myself tighter.

Waiting — ever patient as always —
for the moment to pounce.
Sinewy muscles extended to grab the pen, and then
I wrestle the words right out of your head
in order to make what you wrote
my own.

Peace (come join us!),


Conversations with Anna: Of Constellations and Communities

This is part of a larger conversation I have been having with Anna Smith about digital writing and literacies (and which we are archiving at Jog the Web and the National Writing Project Digital Is site.) Here, I ponder how we “find” communities of other folks who are exploring, writing and teaching the things that we believe in, too. One one hand, accessing the digital world opens up doors. On the other, it has a tendency to create insular communities, too.

While Anna and I are having our conversation, we always and encouragingly invite the world in, too. So, feel free to add your thoughts to our voicethread. The second slide is where my main sharing is, just so you know.

And, as usual, I reflected a bit on what I was after and how I tried to achieve it, in comic form.
Reflecting on Voicethread Podcast

Peace (in the sharing),


Digital Learning Day: Not Everything Digital

This is part of an ongoing series of discussions I am having with my good friend, Anna Smith, about digital literacies. (You can follow the entire thread of our back and forth talks here.) The other day, Anna asked the question of “where isn’t digital” as she considered a quote by David Wees about the importance of digital literacies in a technology/media-rich world.

Here is an infographic that she created to make her point:

I could have gone in any number of directions here in response to her post, but I found myself thinking quite literally about the areas in my life when things are not digital, and how wonderful that is. It reminded me that technology can’t replace everything, and some experiences still require tangible connections (family) or intangible moments (dreaming).

Here is my infographic response:
Where isn't digital response

And, as per usual, I did some reflection via a webcomic about my thinking:
Reflection This Isnt Digital

Peace (in the learning and sharing),



Digital Writing: Jogging the Web with Anna

Jogweb Conversation Site
Anna Smith and I have been working on a digital dialogue about digital writing, and some friends and readers have asked for us to provide a more coherent “path” to those conversations. That makes sense. You should know our intention is to eventually create a larger curated resource at the National Writing Project Digital Is site, but for now — in the midst of our give and take — it is all just a series of blog posts at Digital Is. I created this Jog the Web as a way to create a sequential “path” so far, so if you are just jumping in to the discussions, you can track where we have been.

Jump to the Jog the Web project

As always, we invite you to join the conversations over at Digital Is.

Peace (in the sharing),


More Conversations with Anna: Acknowledging the Naysayers

This is part of an ongoing discussion across digital platforms, about digital writing, that I am having with my friend, Anna Smith at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. So far, we’ve exchanged video talks, and then screencasts, and now, I am inviting her to create a webcomic via Dan’s Awesome Ragemaker Comic.
The topic? How do we acknowledge the opposite view of our discussions: the fear that digital writing is not unique, or that it is bad for our students to be composing with digital tools and spending time on digital spaces? This stems from a long discussion I had with a parent the other day, who supported my work with technology but expressed worries, too. Those concerns echoed ones I have as a parent, too.
Here is mine:
Acknowledging the Naysayers
And as has been my custom, I created a webcomic reflection, with a little twist. I created Anna as a character and added her into my comic. I am hoping she is OK with that (I’m pretty certain she will be) and it will give me a chance in the future to do more reflections my talking to “her” in my webcomics.
Peace (in the discussion),

Responding to Anna: A Screencast Challenge

Anna Smith and I are in the midst of a “digital conversation” about digital writing. Most of this is taking place at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, but I am also sharing my end of the activities here. We’re moving across platforms and strategies as part of our conversation, and adding a reflective piece to our role as writer/composer.

The other day, Anna shared a video screencast, and challenged me to do the same. Here it is:

And here is my reflection, which I am doing in comic form:
Reflection on Screencasting with Anna
Peace (in the writing),


Digital Conversations: Responding to Anna Responding to Me

Anna Smith and I have started up a cross-platform conversation about what it means to write and compose in the digital world. This stems from our participation in Digital Writing Month. We wanted to continue, and nurture and model, how discussions might unfold about the idea of technology, by using technology, and documenting the experience (including how we are making our end of the conversation). I started it off with a video that talked about a time when I realized that technology and digital media was affecting my view of writing, and Anna responded the other day with her own video. (You can see the entire threads of the conversation as blog posts at the National Writing Project Digital Is site.)

I decided to add another layer to how I wanted to respond to her, so I took her video and popped it into Vialogues, which allows you to comment at different parts of the video. We’re inviting you, and everyone else, to be part of our conversation, either at the Digital Is site or at the Vialogues, or at either of our blogs (Anna’s blog is here).

Here is the embedded Vialogue:

Peace (in the chatting),


After Digital Writing Month: A Continued Conversation

(Note: When Digital Writing Month came to a close, Anna Smith and I decided that we wanted to keep the conversations about digital writing going. Our plan is to do it multimodally — using various platforms to engage in a discussion about the ways technology is influencing our perceptions of literacy. We’re doing this as a series of blog posts over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site, and when we are done, we will collect them all into a Resource at Digital Is. — Kevin)

Creating Conversation: Composing in the Digital Age

One of the many potentials of the shifts in envisioning writing in multimodal spaces is the chance for new conversations — for stretching out thinking beyond your own physical space and joining in discussions about the changes now underfoot. During November 2012’s Digital Writing Month, educators and writers and others from across many teaching levels and learning domains — from public schools to college universities and beyond — were engaged in a deep exploration of digital tools and ideas, and many participants shared reflective practice on what those digital choices were doing to their conceptions of writing.

As two explorers during Digital Writing Month, Kevin Hodgson and I, Anna Smith, have decided to continue that conversation through consideration of digital literacies and contemporary composition by coordinating a multimodal conversation that begins with the idea of Digital Writing Month and then stretches outwards from there. Kevin, a sixth grade teacher in Western Massachusetts and a member of the National Writing Project, and I, Anna, a secondary teacher, teacher educator and co-author of Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, will be jumping, leaping and diving from digital media platform to digital media platform in their conversation, as we first reflect on literacies in the 21st Century and then ask, and respond to, each others’ questions.

We also encourage YOU to join us in these conversations. Take part in this digital tapestry of ideas and reflections! You can find these conversations on our Digital Is blog posts: Kevin’s Blog Posts and Anna’s Blog Posts. Feel free to comment and respond in kind. We will then be curating these conversations, including YOUR contributions in a Resource Page. Kevin is up first, so check out his blog to see how this conversation gets started!


Here was the first salvo in our conversations. I created a video piece for Anna, remembering an experience that opened my eyes to the possibilities of online writing, and I end by asking her to respond. But you can, too, either here or at Digital Is.

And part of what we are doing is reflecting on our experiences. I created a comic reflection of what it means to use video as your canvas for this kind of talk.
Reflecting on a Video Conversation

Peace (in the convo),


Gathering The Reflective Threads of Digital Writing Month

digital writing twitter essay
I jumped on board with the Digital Writing Month because the idea of National Novel Writing Month intimidated me and yet, I wanted a challenge that might push me in few different directions as a writer. A challenge that matched writing with technology, and deeper reflective stances, was right up my alley. I knew right from the start that I would not be counting words, since the 50,000 words of Digital Writing made no sense, particularly if I was going to be making comics, and videos, and other media compositions in which words were relatively meaningless. I still find it odd that folks are sharing their counts as they reflect on the work they did during the month. But I suppose we are a culture that is goal-orientated, and words are something one can tally up.

For me, it was more about the exploration of ideas, and the “creating” of media that became the heart of my inquiry with Digital Writing Month. I was hoping to get inspired by the community, and maybe offer up some inspiration myself. To that end, I think the month was a success. I dove into a lot of waters (swimming with the duck) and forced myself to continue to expand the notion of what writing and composition is when we engage with digital tools.

I keep returning to this question: is our definition and conception of writing shifting in the age of technology? I still don’t know. But I keep that question in mind as I experiment, tinker, write and then bring those ideas into my sixth grade classroom, where appropriate for the learning objectives that I have in mind. But I often feel like two people: the teacher, exploring to understand and use technology with my students, and the writer, exploring to communicate and develop ideas in new digital spaces. Sometimes, those identities overlap (I’m thinking of webcomics and game design). Sometimes, they don’t. I’ve come to understand that those dichotomies are fine.

So, what did I dive into this month:

  • Many webcomics. I began the month by thinking it would be neat to have an evolving webcomic featuring a teacher and two students who were also taking part in Digital Writing Month. They could be my foils, and the comic — featuring Mr. Andrew, and Shirley and Dave — gave me a chance to poke fun at what I was doing. I used that idea for a few meta-comics, too, so that I could reframe the idea of webcomics in an interesting way. Not sure if it always worked, but it was an attempt to stretch out the writing.
  • I sought to use audio and podcasting in slightly different ways. In one instance, I layered audio on top of one of the comics to give “voice” to my characters. Later, I wrote a poem about multiple voices of a writer, and then used audacity to record myself in various frequencies, weaving those voices (of the same me) into a poem.
  • I created and published a video game about Digital Writing Month, using the hashtag of #digiwrimo as my entry to adventure, with the player having to scale through and in the letters as they sought rewards. The game — Inside Digital Writing —  is still available for play, if you want to give it a try.
  • I took part in the collaborative Novel in a Day event that the folks behind Digital Writing Month hosted, adding a few vignettes to a 50,000 word story that emerged over a 24 hour period. It was a fascinating experience to be part of something that huge, and to feel as if you were helping to weave an odd narrative together with strangers. Odd, but interesting.
  • Another odd experience was the Twitter vs. Zombies virtual  game that unfolded on Twitter over one long weekend. Another collaborative idea from the Digital Writing Project folks, and completely new terrain for me, the game involved a “battle” between friends on Twitter who were either zombies trying to convert humans, or humans running from zombies. It’s hard to explain the appeal, but there was a real playfulness to the event, and the ending – the brokering of peace and the splintering of alliances – was really intriguing to watch unfold in Twitter real time.
  • I reformatted some old projects as a way to refresh them (I hope), including this video poem — Capturing Myself in Hyperlink – that used to be housed on a large webpage, with anchors and hyperlinks connecting ideas together. But I decided to explore a bit more about the annotation feature in YouTube to create the links to elements of the poem right inside the video itself. I’m not completely happy with it, but it sure was interesting to reconceptualize the project.
  • And I used Thinglink to try to break apart and define some of my ideas about digital writing (as well as took part in the final Twitter Essay about our ideas on digital writing — which is the screenshot embedded above). I like this multmedia defining of digital writing, though, because it allowed me to use media to explain the ideas.

Another thing that comes to mind is the concept of community. Every so often, I bump into a group of people who are doing interesting things online, and I wonder: how come I am just learning about them now? It can often feel surreptitious, this chance knocking into other folks on similar journeys but outside the normal sphere of community. That’s how I felt this month with the Digital Writing Month crowd. There were few folks that I knew prior to the challenge. Mostly, I think, it is because the majority of participants are graduate students in New Literacies programs. I suspect a lot of them already know each other, or know of each other. (I may be wrong about that, though).

I didn’t get the real sense that other elementary school teachers were taking part in the challenge. Or any other school teachers of any K-12 levels, to be honest. So, this made my experience different from the writing and connective work I do with organizations like the National Writing Project, where we have an affinity that binds us together. Here, in Digital Writing Month, I was surrounded by some incredible smart and talented and insightful people, but our visions diverged at times from our different experiences, I think. I find myself (as noted above) thinking in terms of exploration as classroom possibilities — how to bring my young students into the digital age as writers of media. They were mostly thinking of rhetorical stance, and deeper underlying issues of digital writing. Both perceptions are valid, of course, and yet, I often felt like an outsider crashing a party of grad students and University folks.

This was most evident in the ways that folks taking in the Digital Writing Month challenge commented on other’s work. Mostly, they didn’t, at least as far as I could tell. Oh sure, there were reactions to work on Twitter, but the deeper, richer conversations that I thought would emerge along the lines of the shifting nature of digital writing rarely took place on the blogs and posts and places that I went to. I tried my best to leave comments to what other folks were writing, to stoke a topic, but only rarely did that thread go anywhere, and they never really seemed to evolve into a full and ranging discussion.

I’m not saying that’s bad. But it is interesting, particularly as so many of the folks were writing about the changing nature of community in digital spaces in their own posts and Tweets. It seemed like a case of a theoretical view of the potential of digital writing spaces clashing against the reality of much of our writing still falling into the familiar pattern of “I write, you read.” Instead, I’d like to see more of the “I write, you react, we write together.”

But it was a blast, this whole Digital Writing Month adventure. If you took part, or just followed along, thanks for staying with me and indulging my strange forays into different tools and topics. I invite you to add your own thoughts to my post, and start a conversation. I promise to engage you in an exploration, too.

Peace (in the writing),