Composing vs. “Digital Writing”

I’ve had a couple of crappy days this week, so when it looked like things might be easing last night, I found myself sitting at my desk, itching to make something. Let me be more specific. I found myself craving the experience of being immersed in the process of creating something. Of composing.

blueconcentric ringsIt used to be that I would turn to writing when I craved this solace. I’ve used paper and notebook or typed on a digital platform–Penzu was one I used for a long time. (I think this would be a great tool for secondary students.)  Then I found OmmWriter, which incorporates a mellow background and soothing audio. It used to be free, but now it appears there’s a suggested contribution of $5.11. More and more, however, I find myself entering the zone of crafting something that relies on the symbiosis of alphabetic text and images. Short videos, for example, to share with family and friends. Captioned photos. Collages of image and word.

Most recently, I relied on that blend of visual & written language as I drafted my dissertation. I typed in sections in Scrivener, but when I needed to untangle Ideas, I turned to lots of colored pens and paper. The pens needed to be gel pens, the paper unlined. I organized and freewrote and mind mapped. The colors helped  me organize; they helped me identify trends in my thinking; they helped me feel I was tacking something down, even if it only for a fleeting moment.  Come to think of it, in my dissertation itself, I relied on the interaction of visuals & language to bring certain points to life in a way that would have been impossible with only written language. I wanted to embed URLs, audio, and video, but the academic genre of the traditional dissertation isn’t built for that. (Yet.) (Not that my dissertation was all that traditional.) The reward came during my defense, when my committee agreed that the document was a “page-turner.” You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Digital tools let me do more. But what & why? Is it the tools and/or is it something else? I use visuals to do more than simply illustrate. (Theories of multimodality FTW!) Something happens to my thinking when I am working in the space where image and language weave together. It’s like I can work in three dimensions instead of two. I think there’s a similar dimensionality in the ways in which I rely on imagery and metaphor in my writing. I do that, I think, because I can see or sense what I mean before the words take shape. Perhaps working with image is just another way of embodying metaphor.  And sometimes, as Foucault would say, language simple fails. laptop screen of aurora borealis seeming to flow around and envelop laptop

I think it’s more than thinking, though. For me, the absorption in composing in a multidimensional space via a multidimensional & multimodal process is often inextricably tied to the Web. I create and that creation goes someplace I can’t name or even describe. Message in a bottle? Space capsule? Huh, I wonder if in a way I identify with this space as an extension of myself, beyond the parameters of flesh and bone.

OK, let’s reel this in.

I need to read more of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory & will start with his TED talk.  I wonder what intersections might occur between the state of flow and the nowhereness (and other affordances) of the Web.

My experience of composing is clearly much more than “digital writing.”  I know there are rhet-comp scholars who are thinking and writing about expanded conceptions of writing, but I need to do a little more poking around to see how, or if, these ideas intersect.  For example, the work of composition scholar Andrea Lunsford, particularly her 2005 address to the Computers and Writing Conference. The Computers and Composition Digital Press  looks interesting. Jody Shipka’s work. Maybe Digital Humanities, although I have doubts….

Works I want to read & think about include:

  • Lunsford, A. A. (2006). Writing, technologies, and the fifth canon. Computers and Composition, 23(23), 169–177.
  • Shipka, J.(2011). Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from Project MUSE database.
  • Yancey, K. B. (2004). Made not only in words: Composition in a new key. College Composition and Communication, 56(2), 297-328.

I would love if anyone could point me to other works of interest, either here or via Twitter @klbz.

14 responses to “Composing vs. “Digital Writing””

  1. Karen, Love seeing your process of writing — it’s personal to you, and I think that’s the point. What we do as writers depends on us – our context, attitude, perceptions, talents, goal. I love the quote Kevin pulled out and shared on Twitter. And the sentence after that: ” Huh, I wonder if in a way I identify with this space as an extension of myself, beyond the parameters of flesh and bone.” See. It’s personal, and perhaps it is founded in our hopes for leaving the world a better place, our part of the legacy of humanity. Thanks for the thoughts and the resources. I would also consider Peter Elbow’s works. His work has had quite an impact on me.

    • Karen says:

      Yes! I meant to write about him and got sidelined. Thanks for that reminder. He has been an important influence on my writing and teaching.

      I appreciate that you recognize how the process of writing is personal for me. The same is true of learning, for me and I suspect for others; in fact, I believe that one reason kids turn off from school is that learning *stops* being personal for them. I like very much your connection of the personal to the hopefulness of “leaving the world a better place.” Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web was/is that the Web would make possible increased creativity, increased capacity for reflection on our places in the world, and ultimately, the transformation of society. Somehow that seemed to connect to what I was writing today, but I couldn’t work that out, so I canned it. But you did it for me– thanks!

      • I agree with you– we must make the writing personal for students. I think narrative writing must be written every year — and shared and discussed to learn from each other. Narrative allows us to take what we know and weave it into fiction that is sharable. It creates imagery and imagination, and points to perspective and point of view, which leads to our ability to know fact from fiction, so needed today. But it is the personal engagement and ability to write one’s own truth in one’s own way that will build authentic writing and create budding authors. Do you share your process with your students? Have they felt your struggles and your joy? I certainly enjoyed learning it!

        • Karen says:

          Absolutely! Isn’t that one of the most terrifying and important things we can do as teachers?

          I love this: “But it is the personal engagement and ability to write one’s own truth in one’s own way that will build authentic writing….”

  2. I’m interested in that thing that happens when words weave with images. Another dimension to create within. I’m fascinated by what our students do when they combine digital with composition.

    • Karen says:

      I would love to sit with students and have them do a talk-through of exactly how they are composing. Sort of a _Composing Processes of 12th Graders 2.0_.

      • That’s great idea. Perhaps they could do screencasts explaining their process — what they started with, changed, moved around, deleted, added. How words changed as they wrote and thought through their ideas. Upload it to dropbox or Google Drive and share it with you. Then you could sit with them and pause and talk it through with them, ask them questions. That would help develop more as writers — to learn their process and share it with another writer. Awesome.

        • Karen says:

          I’d be interested in hearing observations of what happened to their perceptions of the meaning making process as they wove different modes together. My grad students found that working with visual and audio and written language dramatically changed their composing process. There’s an English Journal article reporting on student process with video maing; turns out it’s recursive in ways similar to writing processes. Interesting to consider.

  3. […] also read Karon LaBonte’s post “Composing vs “Digital Writing,” which explained her personal process of and struggles in writing with all the digital and […]

  4. Check out NWP’s Digital Is site for more on ways digital is influencing writing …
    You can even create an account and add a post there, to expand your audience, Karen.

  5. While putting some image together and mixing in words, I am seldom “composed”, to use another meaning of the word. I’m eager, engaged, digging to find the right composition. The more visual I can make my words, the better. You are on an important track of thought, I am sure. Composing with a mix of components is fascinating fun.

    The web, especially when coded directly with HTML, CSS, SVG, JavaScript, etc. allows for very flexible mixing of components. While blogging and Twitter, etc. are great, they also have their own focus and limitations. Self-made web pages allow compositions of pretty much every sort, short of physical 3D objects, though coding for the new virtual reality VR headsets may even let us simulate that.

    I recommend beginning the challenging journey of making web pages directly. It is easy to start and constantly evolving new tricks inviting you to play. I suspect even pioneers like Berners-Lee are exploring the expanding Web potentials with excitement.

    • Karen says:

      I love your use of composed. Yes, there is something disconcerting about the process. A little more visual, fewer words, a sprinkle of audio– the shift in any element changes the final composition. Then the question of when to set it down, or, as one writer said, recognizing when it is done with you.

      I started a basic HTML/CSS class this summer but had to leave midway. It was fascinating– a new language system with new possibilities. I look forward to getting back to it.

  6. […] Composing vs. “Digital Writing” […]

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