A Report on the Night of Writing Digitally

Saturday night I spent 4 hours in a dimly lit room with strangers. We wrote digitally and ate too much chocolate. It was the in-person Night of Writing Digitally event hosted by and at Marylhurst University.

Arriving I set myself up at one of the tables. I pulled out my laptop, placed my water bottle in its position at 2 o’clock to my keyboard, and made sure my glasses had been properly breathed on and lenses wiped clean of smudges.

We were offered a pretty standard campus catering dinner. Pasta and salad. Lemonade and iced tea. And in the middle of the room, a table spewing candy candy candy.

The first hour or so of the night consisted of us working, following more tweeps, getting the energy going. I got to talk a bit about open peer review with Jesse, one of the organizers of Digital Writing Month and asked about the web design behind Hybrid Pedagogy.

Then it started. The prompts. The first: a collaborative poem. It started with the same rules as the midnight #digiwrimo launch. And then it quickly devolved.

After the exercise there was some discussion. Jesse posed the question: “What is digital writing?” I took some notes:

inkless
fluid
mutable
public
anonymity makes it less scary– for some
rules were emergent
digital writing is constantly pushing on the boundaries on what it is and what it isn’t
impulsive. Nothing is ever closed, it is drafty.
it doesn’t have to be finished
iterative publishing. Notion of public is different. unfinished things are published.
accessible
it can be found by people who don’t visit libraries.
spontaneous
opportunity for collaboration in a way that traditional writing doesn’t.
almost demands collaboration.
Hypertext is a collaboration– tweets, etc.
instantaneous influence, motion
good exercise in surrendering control. (zen)
this particular one became an absurd surrendering of control
power can be had in digital space. you can make things happen with words.
list of rules became the nice structure.
chaos in rules, but the poem itself wasn’t as chaotic, poem itself seemed to relatively follow rules
instinct to impose form and order on the poetry to make some sort of coherent sense of it. and then to disrupt the form of the rules.
Breaking rules within the rules, but it still was keeping it in a numbered list. virality happened.
digital writing and digital space is like a snowball
the poem is boring
did this change because we were in a room together?
this poem went crazy chaotic in a way that it didn’t the first time this experiment happened.
some people had done the first exercise before, so that may have been different.
not as fun because it had happened before, but because the rules changed it got more fun.
communication that is lost over digital media is present.
deleting someone’s sentence when you’re in the same room with someone sometimes feels like an affront

Around 9pm the second collaborative writing project began, the short story relay. And I learned about myself. And my table mates seemed to learn about themselves, too. Our story started and it was going great. We were riffing off of one another. They were good with dialogue, I was not. While they wrote conversations I put in some descriptions and colored it up. And then the 10 minutes was up and we worked on the next story. And then the next. We got handed stories that were ridiculous. Zambonis were rampant, Barney the purple dinosaur made an appearance. And somebody enjoyed writing about the scatological a bit too much.

The three of us, we realized that we are too control-y, too anal, too tightly wound to let go of our writing. Do we take too much pride? Writing is work, after all. But this collaborative digital environment challenges ownership and it challenges control. Others in the room or others online can morph our vision, or even take it over. In this digital environment no one knows which sentence is mine. No one knows which word I added to the poem and which word I moved. And no one cares. I might be too proud for this. I might be too competitive. Or, I might just be so indoctrinated into the academic system where we each need to get credit to get ahead.

Collaborative digital writing is something in which I participate regularly. We do it for Lead Pipe all the time. So what’s the difference? Is it our shared collaborative vision? Is it the end goal we wish to achieve? Is it that we attempt to work collaboratively with respect for individual contributions? But the NIght of Digital Writing wasn’t about individual contribution. It wasn’t about perfection or end goals. It was about experimentation, crowdsourcing. It was chaotic. As a result I know my writerly self better, and I know how to challenge her.

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