This post is being broadcasted from my bed, where I’ve been spending a lot (but still not enough) time the last couple of days. This is part recovery from an awesome publishing-related trip to New York City, and part some awful virus. Hopefully by my next post, whenever that may be, I’ll have something better to say about my health.
On Thursday, April 10th, I will presenting at the annual Ithaca College Whalen Symposium (it is also my father’s birthday, but I digress). This marathon of research-related presentations is an Ithaca College tradition, now going 17 years strong. Thursday will be my second time presenting–last year, I read an essay about my dog. This year I will be discussing my experience as a blogger.
Now if you can go to my live presentation on the Ithaca College campus in Emerson B at 10:50 am, then you should stop reading now. The following is basically what I will be reading for my presentation, which is entitled: “Becoming Digital: Being a Writer in the Digital Age.”
When I presented for the Whalen Symposium last year, I was presenting an essay about my dog that I wrote in Writing as a Naturalist. I was not thinking about technology at all. Then, all I had was a Facebook, which I used in a personal way, and a pretty professional-looking email. I thought, for writer who only wanted to be published in real printed books, this was enough of a web presence. What would my writing be worth if it could not be held or placed on a shelf? It was a sentiment I shared with many of my peers.
Last summer, I was lucky enough to obtain two internships in Washington, D.C., both of which involved writing. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, I researched and wrote copy for five webpages, representing the most words I’ve had published to date. My other internship, Island Press, was a publishing house. In my editorial position, I drafted digital correspondence to authors and photographers as I worked on a major image research project. I also sat in on meetings in which the staff considered book proposals. At my first “decision to publish meeting”, I sat in the corner eagerly with a pen and pad of paper, not exactly knowing what to expect. I thought, maybe they’ll discusses the books theme, or audience? Or perhaps they’ll consider printing cost… Those, I tht, were some of the more important features of a book proposal.
The intense trade of ideas and opinions that transpired over the next hour was mind blowing. Of course the concept of the piece and the logistics of color pictures were discussed, but the loudest voice was that of the marketing team. “Does this author have a web-presence?” was the main question. It all boiled down to how much time/money/effort it would take to make this book marketable. What kind of email contacts did the author have, and did they have a Twitter? How many followers? Did they have a blog, and how much information did said blog share with the book? Would they be open to publishing their work just as an ebook, a market Island Press was looking to rapidly expand in? Basically, it was all about the internet. I saw more than a few projects be pushed off because their lack of viability in terms of social media marketing and staunchly technophobic writers. I took furious notes and later started panicking: was my own opposition to the online ruining my chance at ever being an author?
Later on at my time at Island Press, I was given the duty of copy editing the ebooks on the Nook. I groused about the assignment, for at the time, there was nothing I loathed more than ebooks. I was stuck in the physical world. I thought the object of the book was sacred while digital text seemed temporary, flippant and worthless by comparison. I, like many of my colleagues, gave a plethora of excuses for my blatant stubbornness. “Its just not the same if you can’t turn the page,” I would say, or “It’s easier to pirate that way.” But, being an intern, I accepted my duty without comment. When I received feedback on my work on that particular project, it turned out my performance was stunningly awful. Some things that I pointed out as “mistakes” were standard for an ebook; other errors were matters of text size, which I had no idea I could change; then, there were issues I had missed entirely. My aversion to ebooks had actually made me useless in that department. I was a dinosaur.
By the end of the summer, I realized that the author-internet relationship was one I barely understood and needed to explore further if I ever wanted to be a successful writer. In the fall semester of my senior year, in attempt to shed my technophobic ways, I entered an independent study on technology, rhetoric and composition with Professor Mary Lourdes Silva of the Writing Department. I read books and articles and watched presentations on the topic of technology, the internet and social media, and then responded with analysis through multiple web-platforms. Particularly, I kept a reading journal in the form of a blog at recoveringtechnophobe.wordpress.com–my still-going blog titled “Becoming Digital.” Later, using books such as Datacloud by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Alone Together by Sherry Turkle as resources, I rhetorically analyzed the sites I was using for these responses.
What I learned over the last eight months, 37 posts and 606 Tweets is that technology is an integral part of the writing process. Writing is technology. In the Phaedrus, by Plato, there is a dialogue about the follies of the technology of writing. Using the technology himself, Plato complains that writing creates a false memory that is actually just recollection, and that it imitates wisdom while not actually creating knowledge. Most, including me, would define writing as a way to facilitate critical thinking now. As writers, we must accept writing as a technology, or else be as curmudgeon-esque as Plato. Technologies advance. And although nothing will ever be quite like the tangibility of a book, digital books are so much cheaper, environmental, portable, accessible and convenient. And the truth is, the value of a book is the words it contains, not the binding it is set in.
Additionally, the internet and the digital does not replace the writer, as some may say, as I have said, but creates a platform for a lot more text then could ever be contained within a book. The writer is not snubbed out by the internet–the web represents more publishing opportunities for authors than ever.
Overall I found that all the sites I was using (WordPress, Facebook, LinkedIn, TaskStream and Twitter) have a purpose in the writer’s tool-kit both for both marketing and innovative modes of composition. I’ve finally learned how to use Twitter, a technology which once escaped me. Due to its high-paced and brief nature of each posting, organizing posts with good tag grammar and consistent posting are the keys to being noticed. I have garnered 76 followers since I started promoting myself on the web. For a writer, Twitter is an invaluable resource of free advertisement, and the 140-character post limit forces writers to be innovative with composition. WordPress, or a blog in general, is useful in the way that it gets a writer writing on a weekly basis. Despite how much of a curmudgeon I was at the beginning of this project, I have now fallen in love with blogging. I’ve always been a fan of essays in general, and when I could make it personal or narrative in any way, that just made things even more fun. For a cheesey punsmith and rambly, over-explainy person like myself, a blog has been a near ideal platform for me. Knowing these mini-essays have been glanced at by 1200 users since September is the stroke that my writer’s ego desperately needed.
It is important to realize that web platforms are not there to usurp or destroy our current cultures of writing, but rather embolden them, and make them more accessible. It is up to us as writers to use these tools effectively to make ourselves louder, more creative and more readily shared. We are given this free megaphone, notepad and publishing opportunity, why not use it?