Collaborative Storytelling on a Grand Scale is CrazyFun

Day One Makeread wordcloud
I could not spend the entire day yesterday playing with the project known as Read/Make, or Digital Writing MakerText, in which people are invited to create a crowdsourced novel collaboratively in just 48 hours (see premise/rules). But after a lot of writing in the morning, I did periodically pop into the Google Doc where the novel (on theme of  how writing and reading is changing) is unfolding, just to see how things were faring. What was happening was magical and strange, and very fun to watch. (I created the word cloud about mid-afternoon from all the text, although there are links to videos and images and more, so it is merely a slice of the story in a moment in time).

I’ve been contributing to a few chapters, including a skit about a bear and some kids. I started that one, and watching how others have come along and edited my ideas (the bear eats the kids), added to the story and then shifted it in some very different directions provides a very interesting view of the entire writing process. I’ve gone back in to format the writing into a skit, but other than that, I have just left it alone. I did not want the bear to eat the kids, but it happened, you know? Here, you have to let words go, and you write them knowing they are merely “gossamer” (reference to another chapter in the story) that might take hold or suddenly become transparent and disappear when another writer enters the page.

How this entire document will hold together — what literary glue will emerge to bind the disparate parts — seems to me to be unknown at this juncture, mainly because we still have another day of writing. I suspect some grad student somewhere will have a blast with this 48 hour adventure, picking apart the way that distant collaborators write collectively in a digital age. It would be interesting to cull through the revisions, for example (if one had the time and inclination). One complaint about Google Docs for this kind of collaboration is that videos do not get embedded, which is a shame, since multimedia documents are anchored by video (and audio, which also do not get embedded into the story). You have to make links, which breaks the narrative. The reader leaves the page, and knowing how we read online, they might never return (particularly if there is a cat video in the YouTube recommendation sidebar).

I found myself weaving in and out of the stories, adding a line here and there, and maybe a part of two. I felt reluctant to remove text wholesale, even though I know that is part of what we sign up to do. It still feels like theft or vandalism. Someone put those words down on the screen. Who am I to remove them? And yet … we are both the collective writer, sharing the screen together on a single piece of text. I have as much right to remove as they do to add. I think. This is where the idea of a MakerText is intriguing and emblematic of the age we live in.

Who owns the words? Who owns the story? What role does the writer play? The reader?

A Ransom Note from the Reader poem

One of the chapters (which were set out through a collaborative brainstorming session prior to the launch of the story) had a term that I had never heard before: Harbl. It has to do with replacing words in text, partly in a snarky way to generate laughs and partly in a way to remind the writer to expand their vocabulary. I had to look it up. I created this visual, back of the napkin story, and here is where I was sort of wishing someone else would pop in and add to it. Yet no one has.

harbl word replacement app

The fact that no one else added to this chapter had me wondering about how different it is using image versus words here. If my words are in the text, you can change, add and remove my ideas. Not so with an image. You can completely remove it, but you can’t easily alter it. Maybe you can remix it (please, do) but it isn’t necessarily simple to do. Not like writing a word or paragraph. That story as image is mostly locked into place. I think I might go in and add some word buffers around the image, as a way to invite others to write with me. Will that change the collaborative nature of the chapter? We’ll see.

You come, too.

Peace (in the collaboration),

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),



Final Digital Writing Month Comic: Worlds Within Worlds

Today marks the last official day of Digital Writing Month, which has been quite an adventure. I’ll reflect more this weekend when I have time about the ways I tried to push some boundaries and take part in the activities, and what I think of it all. This morning, on the last day of the sharing, I have another meta-comic called Worlds Within Worlds. It echoes one I did earlier in the month, with ideas folded into ideas. But I think it captures a question that I often wonder about: how writing and ideas can take root in digital spaces, and remain there, in ways that are different from non-digital writing.

Worlds Within Worlds

Thanks for visiting during the month. I hope you tried out a few new things here and there, too.

Peace (outside the frames),


Digital Writing Month: A Hyperlinked Video Poem

As part of Digital Writing Month, I am refashioning an old multimedia poem piece using the YouTube annotation feature. With that tool, you can embed links in a video to other videos — in this case, all of the poems as videos are connected together in one larger project.  I’m not sure if this just gets too confusing to experience.

Peace (in the video poem),

Digital Writing Month: No Net Access

This has been me this week, as our Internet has been down for three days. I’m writing now in a cafe during a pitstop to a conference, and while I am enjoying the downtime (and yes, we are doing plenty of reading), my ideas keep on needing a place to sit.


Peace (in the comic),

Digital Writing Month: A Poem for My Multiple Voices

multiple me screenshot

I’ve been playing around with audio as part of Digital Writing Month, and wondering how I might be able to “layer” in multiple voice tracks for a poem about multiple aspects of personality. I ended up using Audacity, and tinkered with the pitch and effects setting to differentiate the layered voice — so that one is low, one is high and the main one is smack dab in the middle. A fourth voice gives a little echo to some of the lines of the poem. It’s very odd to compose this way, and yet, it is fascinating, too. It was as if I were splitting me apart and then reconstructing my voices back into the whole, but on different points of the spectrum. (although at times, it sounds like the Borg talking)

And actually, it’s pretty fascinating to see how your words become waves when you are using audio files in a system like Audacity. The peaks and valleys – the gaps of silence – all remind you that our voice is really nothing more than sounds on the audio spectrum.

Take a listen to the podcast of the poem:


And here is the poem, as text:

Multiple Me

Those voices I hear
have become a chorus in my mind –
reverberations of an identity:
the confident me
the meek me
the analytical me
the poetic me
tapping into tools that may move me beyond
the pen and out into the wider world
with our voices
all merging
together —

I speak from this space (space, space)
with those voices in mind (mind, mind)
I hear them reply to my query (of course, you don’t say, what did you expect)
as if my questions were nothing but mere tangled wires,
nodes of information running through these veins
away from my brain
down deep into my heart
where logic has long since been forgotten

Yes, they are me
Yes, we are one
Yes, these strands become me
becoming us
when we share this same page together
in sound
in image
in voice

Try not to pull too hard on me
as I close my eyes to dream
of how this fabric that rips so easily by the barbs of
words and wonder
can be woven back together again
in order to make me whole.

Peace (in the poems),


Come Play The Digiwrimo Video Game


I finished up the video game project for Digital Writing Month, and I want to invite you to play it and see what you think. You’ll notice from the above level map (which I shared yesterday) that I used the letters of the #DIGIWRIMO hashtag as the foundation for the game play, so your player has to move through and around the letters to get to the end, and collect jewels (nuggets of wisdom?) along the way.

Have fun. Don’t give up. I purposely did not make it too easy, but I hope I didn’t make it too difficult, either. (hint: use the letter Z to portal from one spot to another, and the space bar shoots freezing ice rays, and get all of the jewels. There are checkpoints throughout, in case you die or get too lost.) And I would love to get some feedback from you about how it went. And of course, this kind of activity raises the larger question: is my creating a video game a form of digital writing? Is your playing the game a form of digital reading? Where does gaming fit in our exploration of digital composition. I have some ideas but I would really love to hear from you.

(play the Digital Writing Month video game with this direct link, too)

Peace (in the game),


Digital Writing Month: Game off/Game on

Digital Writing Month game2
This really is what happened to me with my video game project for Digital Writing Month. I had begun to create a game in which I was seeking to represent some of my ideas around digital writing. I was two and a half levels into the game design when I realized: this is not working. If you have never dipped your toes into game design, the use of symbolism is important, and here, as I tried to “represent” digital writing within a video game format, it just fell apart on me.

So, I rebooted.

I deleted all of that work and sat back down with an empty piece of paper (interesting how a digital project originates from the tried and true, isn’t it?) and came up with a new idea. This one has to do with a single level, in which the letters of the hashtag of #digiwrimo would have to be navigated. Each letter would have some sort of challenge but the player would have journey through or over the letters themselves. Meanwhile, I would add a bonus level down below the main game where one could experience Twitter vs. Zombies, and also a place of collaboration with sprites helping the player through a maze.

It worked, and I am still tinkering with the game, so it is not quite ready for primetime. BUT, check out the map that the site I use — Gamestar Mechanic — has added as a feature. This new tool allows you to get an image map of the levels of games that you create. Which is perfect for sharing in this case, since you can clearly see the DIGIWRIMO letters that form the centerpiece of my game.


Peace (in the game),