T + 798 Writers Toolkit Part Three

The second session I attended was about the use of digital media and tools.

Doing Digital

Working on digital platforms and using social networking is now part of our lives. How can writers make it work for them, both creatively and to manage their careers?

Peggy Riley: writer, Director: East Kent Live Lit
Chris Unitt: Managing Director: Meshed Media
Ros Robins (Chair): Regional Director, West Midlands: Arts Council England

This was probably my favourite session of the day which I guess might be performing to type for me as a professional Geek, but even so I think it is a subject many writers are interested in today.

Chris started by explaining a little of his background and what his company does, which you can find out more about via the links above. He was keen to point out digital tools should be just that tools to achieve another end. Tools to be used imaginatively by creative people and they need to be "taken out of the hands of the geeks".

His other main blog Created In Birmingham which has a readership of about 3000 is an example of how tools can help to reach an audience that would be far harder to build up via more traditional means.

Chris was also interested in how digital tools could be used to create new forms of the writing arts. He was particularly interested in using twitter and mentioned that thanks to how the Japanese language works the 140 character limit was effectively close to a 140 word limit and so some authors were now writing twitter novels and issuing them in daily instalments. That might not be directly applicable to English but it showed the sort of inventive uses to which digital technology can be put. ( I didn't get chance to mention at the time that the Drabble Cast actually runs a 100 character story competition for what are known as twabbles. )

Other areas on interest and ones which Peggy Riley would expand upon included the use of digital tools to allow audience interaction with the creative process and the use of non-linear story telling.

Peggy Riley's opening remarks addressed two areas. Firstly the use of social media such as blogging, Facebook and particularly twitter as a tool to help writers network and secondly tools that can be used directly in the creative process.

Peggy said the social networking and blogging tools were ideal ways to help a writer build up a network of contacts and establish relationships with both readers and people in the publishing industry. In particular it was useful to follow various twitter feeds from publishers and editors to get a feel for what was happening right now in the industry.

The blog for Peggy was a place to lodge a quick impression of where she was with some aspect of her novel to be of interest to her readers but also as an archive for her own use later. It was also fascinating to see the statistics of how people got to her site and what they were searching for to find it.

For the actual creative process Peggy mentioned a number of sites and pieces of software that can help with both traditional and new forms of story telling and a few are listed below:-

  • DreamingMethods.com is a site that describes itself as "...... a fusion of writing and new media exploring imaginary memories and dream-inspired states" it allows for the creation of interactive link based non-linear fiction that can be guided or completely free form. They also licence the source code for their tools so you can implement them on your own site. Peggy said the projects on this site could be particularly useful for "reluctant readers" (which usually means teenage boys I guess ) as the writing could be made to feel more like a game.
  • TheLiteraryPlatform.com is ".... dedicated to showcasing projects experimenting with literature and technology. It brings together comment from industry figures and key thinkers, and encourages debate." Peggy described it as a great place to find out about tools for digital technology in the creative writing arts.
  • Two sites she mentioned that showcased the way digital fiction could be used were webyarns.com and stayconscious.com . Ether Books is a company that publishes new works directly to people's mobile phones and they are looking for more authors to take on.

In the open discussion section there were a number of interesting points made.

One person was concerned about the copyright issues and if it was possible or advisable to subsequently submit material published online to a traditional publisher.

Peggy was quite firmly of the belief that you should not publish the entirety of a work online if you wanted to get it picked up subsequently by a traditional publisher, though it was perfectly reasonable to put extracts on line to build interest .

I can see the logic of this especially for full time writers but I did chip in to say the author Drew Gummerson wrote a series of short stories about two characters and published them on abctales.com ( where I publish my stuff ) and they subsequently formed the core of the novel Me and Mickie James published by Jonathan Cape. So it needn't close down a traditional publishing route if you publish online. Of couse the risk is the publisher just sees the free online content a diminution of potential readers for the printed book.

The $64,000 question about how to build an audience for a blog came up and the advice was to decide who you are blogging for and try to keep a focus and then becoming involved by commenting (constructively and legitimately) on other blogs that have an audience you would like to address is a way to get "click through"

One person in the audience said she felt in something of a quandary about how to balance time spent Writing ( i.e. creative writing) and blogging. In her case she really enjoyed blogging about the writing process but felt it kept her from the actual writing even though people had commented very positively about her blog. (As I write this post my eye is drawn to the Creative Writing Workbook for the Open University course I should be studying right now.)

Peggy was very astute in pinpointing that one of the attractions of blogging was the immediacy of the tool itself, after all you get to click a button that says publish whereas the time between writing a piece and it being delivered to an audience could be months or even years. She said one option is to use the blog as a creative writing notebook as well as for writing about the writing process so you can get the quick hit clicking the publish button whilst still moving your writing forward.

She also mentioned the excellent product Scrivener which I have used on the Mac to write most of my fiction and is currently in Beta test on Windows. ( But all writers use Macs surely?) This writing tool first has an excellent full screen no internet access mode to stop the distractions and also allows use of, for example, cork boards for moving individual scenes about to aid in the creative process.

What I liked about this session is that it avoided the rather tired debate about "are eBooks a good thing or a bad thing for writers?". The delivery or consumption method for eBooks may be different but the content is largely the same. Chris and Peggy were talking about new and exciting ways to create whole new forms of literature.

Chris Unitt used a distinction I have heard before which I think is just a brilliant way to describe the difference, books be they on paper or a digital device are "leaning back media" where as interactive non-linear digital literature one accesses on a screen is a "leaning forward media."

...and so to lunch.


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