Submissions are open for this year’s New Media Writing Prize. The deadline for submissions is October 5, and a shortlist will be announced November 1.

In addition to the main prize and a student prize, this year will also award a People’s Choice prize, awarded through an online voting system.

Now is an excellent time to write.

HTLit returns from conference season with this takeaway: there is a lot of work to be done out there.

A common theme that I heard at the conferences I attended and followed on Twitter last month (which covered many overlapping, if distinct, disciplines) was that there’s nowhere to publish and that nobody appreciates what we’re doing. People say they want to write criticism, to write papers, to write fiction and make art, to do science, but there’s no audience, there’s no outlet, no money, and we haven’t yet tapped into some huge pool of readers that would surely appreciate this work if only we could find them.

I think most of these are just excuses. We have, at our fingertips, an accessible medium capable of publishing with unprecedented ease. There’s no excuse for a lack of web-criticism. Tales of the deaths of publishers and art galleries have been greatly exaggerated.

And that mysterious audience? Despite the arguments that no one reads anymore, a ride on the subway suggests that more people are reading on their tablets and smart phones than was the case even 2 years ago. There will always be a market for stories and art. Perhaps eLit hasn’t tapped into our magical fanbase because either we’re restricting the definition of eLit too narrowly and not acknowledging the fanbase we already have, or because we aren’t making the work accessible enough; the debate over our audience is a discussion for another post.

As for publishing our research, it’s true that eLit doesn’t have an established journal, and perhaps it’s time to start one. This mostly comes down to an institutional problem of research metrics, but argument for research blogging notwithstanding, several other disciplines are sufficiently related that their journals welcome our work. And while we’re looking at those fields, let’s invite them into the discussion. ELO could certainly have benefitted from more computer scientists, librarians, web researchers, and publishers; and the Hypertext and Narrative workshop at Hypertext 2012 would have loved to hear from more artists and creators. These conferences once had the same audience; perhaps it’s time to reconsider over-specialization.

I urge the field to simply write. Create. Read, explore, critique. Do the work. If you’re not sure where to submit it, ask.

In getting ready for my upcoming talk on agency and narrative immersion at ELO 2012, I’ve been reviewing some of hypertext’s seminal texts and taking notes in Tinderbox. It’s a much slower reading process—which is good, even if I occasionally get impatient with the pace—but I have amazing notes to show for it at the end.

These aren’t just mind maps; they are searchable, mine-able, and links (within and among text sources) can be implicit or explicit. Logical fallacies are easy to spot, and counter-arguments are easy to produce. All notes from text sources include page numbers (and a handy agent reminds me to include them if I forget). Figures from the texts can be easily added as image adornments with notes close-by to explain them.

I don’t know how I got through undergrad without Tinderbox.

The schedule is out for Narrative and Hypertext 2012, a workshop slated for June 25 in Milwaukee. Papers include:

  • Geoffrey Draper: An Approach to Hypertext Fiction for Mobile Devices
  • Heather Packer: MemoryBook: Generating Narratives from Lifelogs
  • Charlie Hargood: The Narrative Braid: A Model for Tackling The Narrative Paradox in Adaptive Documentaries
  • Alex Mitchell: The HypeDyn Hypertext Fiction Authoring Tool
  • Carolyn Hill: Hypertext as an Expression of the Rhizomatic Self
  • Mark Bernstein: Gothic
  • Anne Canavan: We Interrupt This Broadcast: Highly Reliable Narrators In Radio Drama
  • Stacey Mason: Glitched Lit: Possibilities for Databending Literature

Over at the New Media Writing Forum, Andy Campbell started a wonderful discussion in response to my recent post on Scott Rettberg’s history of the ELO. Campbell rightly worries that eLit will not “evolve […] without being exposed to an audience outside of academia.” It’s a legitimate concern, and other eLit writers Christine Wilkes and Alan Bigelow have added sound thoughts to the discussion. Bigelow writes

If we have any hope of encouraging our students to read electronic literature outside the classroom, or our young creative writers to try their hand at this kind of "writing," they must see it has a broader audience, with both an aesthetic future and (for the writers) at least some potential for financial gain, either outright or through jobs in related industries. They can not see it primarily as an art practiced, and favored, by those of us in academia: for a new form struggling to gain its larger identity, readership, and practitioners, the academic world, while a necessary part of the overall strategy, is too small.

Academia, though vital for educating and broadening the audience cannot be the whole picture. There’s a lot of work going on out there and a lot of it isn’t getting the “eLit” cred that it should. Still other work is only tangentially related, but really should be part of the discussion. As advanced as we might hope our field is, eLit is still very young and is changing rapidly; we can still learn a lot from other forms. We can and should be looking around to learn from the aesthetics of digital comics or ask what eLit might take away from the publishing practices of the music industry. There is a lot of interesting work going on out there, whether we’re calling it literature or not.

Many people disagreed with my argument that theory is dictating (or replacing) aesthetics. The solution to this debate is simple: it comes down to a lack of writing about craft. We would all like for there to be more eLit works to discuss, but we are desperately lacking good (recent) writing on how to do it. Some writers protest that their work isn’t demonstrating theory; that’s fine! Write about why you chose that strange syntax, that interesting point of view or strange tense.

And we can always use more thoughtful criticism.

One thing is certain: no matter where you stand, these are questions we need to ask and discussions we need to have. Nodding our heads isn’t going to cut it; we need to face the issues head-on and do the work. There is still much real work to be done.


Mark Marino has posted the transcript from his recent Twitter Netprov fiction, “The Last Five Days of Sight and Sound,” written with Rob Wittig. Each day, Marino and Wittig posted a prompt to help keep participants in character and focused on the general arc of the story. The result was impressive.

Some of my favorites:

iTweetErgo_iAm: “@markcmarino @scottrettberg ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA?! What I wouldnt give 2 hear mr blue sky! Alas poor earlobes, I knew them well #l5dosas”

(In response to markcmarino: “ELO's @scottrettberg has joined the play in our netprov! #l5dosas Want to join? Check out”)

toritaylorz: “uhhh is it still raining? last thing I remember is LA flooding like it was the end of the world...uhh help...? #l5dosas”

Jerome_F_Salas: “Yanno, if we're gonna be blind but we're hooked into the internet, couldn't they give us a stream of our rooms? #3rdPerson #l5dosas”

scottrettberg: “And I was left in this still point, not quite remember the details of the novel, trying to recall the shade of brown of my sandals #l5dosas”

This fabulous talk by mathematician Richard Hamming reminds us to do good research, ask the right questions, and to work hard and effectively. The talk, from 1986, holds 10 takeaway points that are still valid today across disciplines:

  1. Drop your modesty; admit that you want to do first-class work
  2. Prepare your mind.
  3. Age is important.
  4. Brains are not enough; you also need courage
  5. Make the best of your working conditions
  6. Work hard and effectively
  7. Believe and doubt your hypothesis at the same time.
  8. Work on important problems in your field.
  9. Be committed to your problem.
  10. Work with your door open.


Ian Bogost reviews the latest game from art game studio Thatgamecompany, Journey, arguing that the game reveals the maturation of an artist. Though thatgamecompany's previous artistic successes, Flow and Flower, carried the conversation of art games forward, they exhibit a certain immaturity that is not apparent until viewed in hindsight.

Bogost’s review doesn’t even indulge the possibility that games are not art. We no longer need to argue this, but many reviews of “art games” still nod to the debate. Journey is certainly a beautiful work of art, and the review is superbly written like a thoughtful book review. If only more game reviews were like this.

I've recently discovered the New Media Writing Forum, a "hub for digital writers to share ideas, resources, and discussion." The forum is still young, but the quality of the posts is remarkable (take, for example, this post by Andy Campbell) and everyone there seems to be serious about the medium.

Elit has lacked an online meeting point where writers could come to discuss work, criticism, and theory. I’ve noted a desire for more cohesion as a community, but individuals seem lost on how to find one another beyond the usual cliques.

This endeavor is a good reminder that people want to be talking to each other and are always looking for ways to bring the community together. Perhaps this forum can evolve into that shared space.

HTLit spent the weekend at MIT for the second international Web Art Science Camp, Dangerous Readings.

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, and initially tried to closely model E-LitCamp. However, the group was very active and participatory, and the space was very good for fostering more informal discussion. Influenced by Alan Dix’s description of Tiree Tech Wave, it soon became clear that enforcing a session structure would only dissuade productive conversations.

The weekend opened with Bill Bly’s excellent presentation of We Descend Volume 2, which set the tone for interesting discussion that continued through the weekend. Bly’s demo confirmed that hypertext literature has indeed come a long way from the StorySpace works of old, while still embodying the very essence of hypertext literature. The text, like the first volume, is very much exploratory, and the spatial relationships of the interface encouraged an excellent discussion of authorial process—should form follow content or vice versa?—that became a recurrent theme throughout the weekend. It also raised questions of what should be shown to the reader, which bits of text are reserved for the author’s personal notes; if hypertext affords some overlap, how does it shape the work?

MIT’s Angela Chang demoed an interactive iPad narrative for children that encourages parent-child reading and interaction. The work met much adoration from the group, and spawned an interesting of how interactive narratives and interfaces encourage different reading and thought patterns, particularly in young children. Chang explained that children were able to recognize a relationship between text and meaning from a much younger age while engaging with the work.

Jonathan Brandl and Nick Apostolides starred in a dramatic reading of Mark Bernstein’s hyperdrama The Trojan Girls, an interesting spin on The Trojan Women that takes place in the not-so-distant future during the second American Civil War. The work argues that hypertextual recombination of dramatic dialogue can yield identical plots while changing other facets of the text (adding subtext, changing inter-character relations, etc). A fruitful discussion followed the reading, which examined the nature of reordering plot events and the relationship of constraints and narrative building.

Remix aesthetics and cross-media adaptation were recurring themes of discussion, seen in informal presentations of Meanwhile for iOS, Steve Meilleux’s 100 Days work, and The Trojan Girls. A reader takes a unique pleasure in recognizing familiar elements in a remixed work—discovering and recognizing implicit links—and there was much discussion over how much an understanding of context adds to a work. Other recurring themes included publishing models, sources for new work, the role of the institution in fostering creation, the value of criticism, and anticipating reader experience in the writing process.

The weekend was very successful and, personally, very helpful for clarifying and focusing ideas for future research. Huge thanks to Eastgate and MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Writing and Humanistic Studies programs for sponsoring what was ultimately a very productive and engaging weekend.

Twitter archives are available, as is a trip report by Andrew Plotkin.


Lee Rourke tells us why creative writing is better with a pen. Surprise: it’s not the smell of paper! Rourke argues for writing with a pen, MOVING beyond the standard stationery fetish, and he’s not alone in his preference.

"Pen and paper is always to hand," agrees Jon McGregor. "An idea or phrase can be grabbed and worked at while it's fresh. Writing on the page stays on the page, with its scribbles and rewrites and long arrows suggesting a sentence or paragraph be moved, and can be looked over and reconsidered. Writing on the screen is far more ephemeral – a sentence deleted can't be reconsidered. Also, you know, the internet." 

The real message should simply be “write.” It doesn’t matter if you dress it up in fancy paper or bang it out on a screen.

Just write.

Christine Wilks’s Out of Touch is an exploration into the detachment and superficiality of virtual interaction through video poetry reminiscent of the Expressionists. The piece opens with a black screen, ambient typing noise, and inviting phrases that the reader will recognize from various social networking platforms. As text appears and disappears, the nebulous background coalesces into two ghostly images, faces reduced to abstractions.

The audio, video and starkness of the piece serve the mood very well, imparting feelings of loneliness and uncanny horror. Brian Kim Stefans’s assessment that there are “echoes of The Scream” in this piece is certainly founded. The ghastly monochrome visuals evoke feelings of detachment, curiosity, and repulsion that are all a part of the online experience.

The lines of text often complement the other media well, but the places where they don’t are too numerous to ignore. I’m reading this with acute awareness of the postmodern, and the aesthetics that generative works have contributed to digital poetry, but I grow tired of the poets—presumably caught up in the quest to combine words in new ways—forcing the reader to decipher or impose meaning onto nonsensical phrases.

Some lines are clear and resonant: “Do I mean anything to you?” But these are often overshadowed by cryptic lines like “You’re too touchy typey” or “Dream me texts” that are grammatically on par with generative poetry. The words themselves are not sufficiently emotionally charged, not effective forms of rhetorical devices, and not presented in such a musical rhythm as to excuse the lack of clarity. There are many arguments for why these lines might work—fractured language symbolic of fractured relationships, a reflection of online communication, it’s fashionable in digital poetry—but the piece does not gain anything from such grammatically fractured lines that couldn’t have also been achieved through clearer language.

Still, the visuals are powerful, and the work as a whole successfully explores loneliness and the fetish (and artifice) of human connectedness inherent in social media, a theme to which many of us can relate.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article about a group of programmers who were trying to create music through very small programs. The article recalled Nick Montfort’s poems, generated from a single line of code, but in reading it, I ended up revisiting glitch art and the creative possibilities inherent in code itself.

Thus began an ongoing fascination.

Databending is a form of glitch art in which the artist intentionally corrupts the code of an image file to create art, either by altering the raw data in an editor, or by opening a file in a non-compatible program that will alter the file’s data as it tries to read it. Though the output from such processes is, itself, an artistic object, the aesthetics of databending seem to overlap remix aesthetics and those of electronic literature. A work may be beautiful on first view, but the value of the work grows somehow upon seeing both the source material and understanding the process that the piece underwent.

Databending also has the potential to foreground the aesthetics of the source code itself, an ideal for which many eLit researchers have often argued. Files can be glitched by the injection of creative text, like poetry or prose, into the image’s raw data. This insertion creates a cognitive bridge for the viewer between the largely illegible machine language—which serves as a transitional step between what the machine understands and the higher-level languages with which modern programmers work—and our native language and the critical practices we apply to it. We create a new image and a poetic source code rich with repetition, rhythm, allusion, and other rhetorical devices.

Diane Greco posts some fine advice for new writers from Ira Glass:

What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

The Electronic Literature Organization celebrated its move to MIT Monday night with its Open Mic/Open Mouse event. Several prominent digital authors turned up to read their work, as well as some very promising student authors. John Cayley demonstrated a version of his speaking clock. Fox Harrell presented his Loss, Undersea project as well as bits from his Living Liberia Fabric project.

Eastgate author Robert Kendall presented his poem Faith, published in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1, which features an interesting application of stretchtext using color, animation, and sound. He also premiered a followup work that looks promising but which is only partially completed.

Aimee Harrison presented a a digital poem with audio and video accompaniment. Though I’ve complained in the past about video illustration, this was not the awkward videos of the vook, and the verse itself was good. Starting with hypochondria and dealing with issues of sanity and perceived health, the images of medical tests that look for neurological disorders were creepy and disquieting.

Samantha Gorman—who will be reading at a Purple Blurb event later this fall—read from an interesting poem that explores the idea of the machine as a coauthor. With a methodology reminiscent of John Cayley’s presentation at the Future of Digital Studies conference last year, Gorman translated an original poem from English to Spanish using Google translator, then translated the piece back to English. The resulting poem, though changed in wording and (in many ways) also in meaning, still held a certain metric beauty and metaphorical meaning. It’s an exercise that probably wouldn’t work with prose, but because a reader approaches poetry with the expectation of metaphorical and lyrical language, the result was convincing.

The open mic platform is an interesting idea for digital literature, and it worked well. I wonder if the format would work as well with more game-focused works like Every Day the Same Dream that focus on agency, discovery, and frustration. ’m generally a fan of showcasing IF through readings even though it offers a completely different experience from actually playing the work. Overall, the event went well and I look forward to another season of Purple Blurb events.

Poems for Excitable [Mobile] Media (P.o.E.M.M.) is a series of digital poems designed for touch interaction on mobile platforms. The various poems consist of floating letters or words that emerge or combine to form phrases when touched. Most of them don’t make sense, or only vaguely make sense, and themes of confusion and misinterpretation seem to be common. The context for both the Speak and Buzz apps (the two I’ve played with so far) incorporate this confusion into their narratives by explaining that you are dealing with a language barrier and a madman respectively.

I think these a only an intermediate step on the way to something much better. We have already celebrated the dissociation of word and meaning. We’ve recognized letters and characters as objects of art in themselves. We’ve recognized how animating them can also be playful. We’ve recognized words for their musical beauty apart from their meaning. We’ve begun generating poetry, and have started to explore co-authoring poetry with machines. Now we appreciate the act of moving letters and manipulating beautiful animations for ourselves, but we can’t stop there.

Understanding the pleasure behind dragging some letters around a screen is the key to moving forward. Sure, there are the usual suspects, fantasies of control and power, but surely there must be more to it. It’s fun to drag letters around, to create phrases, to destroy them. However, really taking advantage of the medium involves not only employing touch interface because you can or because it’s fun, but because the emotions you’re eliciting fit the message of the work or add to it in some way. Until then, creating poetry that you can move around a screen is no different than books with embedded video—superficially cool and perhaps even groundbreaking, but not quite taking full advantage of the tools at our disposal.

IF:Book’s Bob Stein predicts that the future of the book will be collaborative. Codex books will exist only as artifacts on a shelf—a point with which I agree if CDs, vinyl records, VHSs, DVDs, and obsolete console game cartridges are any indication. And as our understanding of collaborative authoring process changes, so too will our understanding of academic “truth.”

Think of going to history class as a kid, fifty years ago, fifteen years ago, it doesn’t matter. The teacher gave you a book and the first impression you were given is, Here is truth. But we’ve developed a much more sophisticated understanding of truth – it is something each one of us constructs from various perspectives. In the future we won’t be as interested in one person’s synthesis. Transparency is part of that but it is about coming at problems from different perspectives.


Portals to other dimensions are popping up all over the town of Arkham, MA and you must enter the portals, defeat the horrors you find there, and rescue the town before you go insane. This is the premise of Arkham Horror, the hugely successful Lovecraftian board game by Fantasy Flight Games ,who are known for deeply complex and heavily narrative themed games.

Recently I stumbled upon @ArkhamHorror on Twitter, one of the most interesting cases for emergent narrative in games. Each tweet is a microfiction retelling of solo play-throughs. Talk about remediation: fiction prose based on a game based on fiction prose.

Blake Butler shares what he has learned from submitting writing for publication:

Early on I sent out a lot of bullshit. I mean I would send out almost anything that seemed done, whether I loved it or not. Later on I began to realize that not only did I rarely receive acceptances for things that I hadn’t put the work on in, I also realized that boy does it suck when you accidentally get something published that you don’t even like.

Vinay Chilukuri presented an interesting paper at Hypertext a few weeks ago. Starting from the cognitive theory that a certain level of achrony in narrative keeps the reader more engaged, Chilukuri details an algorithm that can arrange story events in an order that makes them comprehensible, while still being complex enough to keep the reader engaged.

The paper sparked an interesting debate. Our ability to understand narrative devices is a learned skill. We don’t tell asynchronous stories to our kids. Children have to learn the conventions of storytelling, and though they do this at a very young age, the way we process narrative is shaped by our environment. This becomes particularly important when we start discussing the correct way to read hypertext literature. Ten years ago, we needed to teach students how to read literature with links, though today that is less true.

Studies like Chilukuri’s are interesting because we don’t know the background of the subjects, though we assume they are probably people who use the internet on a regular basis. But how fair is a comprehension study that is based on a learned skill if we’re not controlling the skill level of participants? Perhaps it’s more fair than it would have been 10 years ago if we believe the people who say that the Web has made us better at processing information in small bits and connecting them. Or perhaps it’s less fair because it goes against Web habits—like pausing while reading to search for missing information, a reference, a definition, etc—that have by now become well-ingrained. Or maybe it’s a third option, and we don’t understand our Web habits as well as we think we do.

The strong narrative presence within the hypertext community of computer scientists has always impressed me. The computer scientists seem to embrace the artists more than one would expect. Using Russian formalist narrative theories to build computers that can tell stories isn’t an obvious research approach if you’re a computer scientist, and it’s this kind of interdisciplinary work that the Hypertext Conference fosters.

HTLit spent the last couple of weeks in a whirlwind of travel and conferences, but we have finally returned with much to report. There’s a lot of great work going on out there, and the conferences led to many new ideas and fruitful discussions.

Traveling directly from Hypertext 2011 in Eindhoven to Web Science ’11 in Koblenz, though demanding, provided a solid couple of weeks of stimulating ideas. There are several good writeups of the conferences: Clare Hooper gives an interesting impression of the overlaps between the two conferences, David de Roure gives a good introduction to Web Science as a discipline, and Jean-Rémy Duboc offers great observations as well.

The main thing we realized at both conferences is that there’s a lot of interest in computers and narrative (whatever we’re calling it). Several groups need to be talking to each other but are only peripherally aware of the others’ existence. People want to make things happen but aren’t sure where to start. Over two weeks I heard murmurs of no fewer than 4 ideas for future meet-ups, unconferences, workshops, etc. that would focus more on discourse and collective creation than presentation. People want more discussion.

Blogs and Twitter will never replace a conversation over a coffee or glass of wine, but we, as a community could be doing more to foster discussion in online environments. I’m not talking about building another directory or repository for work. Even just linking to each other, discussing each other’s ideas, and using the familiar hashtags to have better conversations would be a start.

More thoughts from the conferences to come.

Jim Emerson gives an interesting and insightful analysis of how young children instinctively “know” when a movie is ending before the last shot. There are several non-obvious aspects of scene framing and social conventions that situate us within a narrative arc, and Emerson gives a good introduction to how these work. The comments also contain interesting examples of famous closing shots with good discussion of why they did or did not work.

ADM for Fimoculous discusses anonymous blogging and asks whether blogging is dead. Citing the increased popularity of “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read), he concludes that blogging is on its way out, in favor of Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook—that we would rather simply hit the “Like” button than pursue thoughtful discourse across blogs.

This is yet another “our attention spans are getting shorter” jeremiad, and like most of its kind, the article itself is pretty long. When I got to the end, I realized my attention span appears to be intact.

The author does bring up interesting questions on the value of skimming.

A confession before I continue: for every one of those sites I mentioned, I have often found myself getting the gist of a post, thinking "that's a good insight," and then skimming the rest of it. Does that matter?

The post also includes a list of some blogs that are alive and kicking and worth checking out.

If one 16-year-old boy’s story is any indication, questions of digital archiving are plaguing more aspects of our life than just the archives of digital literature. The young author fears that indeed much of his personal history has been carried out through a digital medium and will consequently be lost.

What happens if, in three years, I want to go back through all my communications with my girlfriend? I may not be using an iPhone in three years, so all of my messages on Whatsapp Messenger will be gone. I definitely won't be using the same mobile phone, so all of my SMS's will be gone. My Gmail storage will have filled up, so I won't have any of our emails any more. I doubt I'll even still be using Facebook - there's all of that communication gone.

This kind of thinking is provocative, but realistically the personal historical records we used to have in the good old days were letters. We didn’t record phone conversations or face-to-face talks. Much of this anxiety seems to stem from the fact that so much of our communication now can be archived in ways that were never before possible.

Leave history to the historians. Save as much as you care to, but don’t stress about losing those conversations, kid. You’ll still have the memories, and your writing will endure whether it’s on paper or not.


Neal Hoskins discusses “Stories in Layers” – fiction (or, in this case, illustrations) with easter eggs that are revealed after a specified date or when designated events occur.

Earlier in October 2010 we released our latest story – Scruffy Kitty – with a special time-locked layer of artwork that became visible just in time for halloween, so to all our readers who opened the app on October 30th – surprise, surprise! – a pumpkin and many other fun halloween objects magically appeared for the first time.

Avila Beach is a Twitter fiction that gradually unfolds with a few posts a day.

Yes, her husband is the esteemed owner of an award-winning boutique winery off See Canyon Rd., so talented and oblivious of her deception

The story is not entirely pastoral.

Inside the yacht, two lone figures sit across from one another, assuring the other that there is no other choice. Pelicans, meanwhile, dive.

The story is, it appears, being told to promote tourism in this California town. It’s an interesting genre, although the some passages (like those above) suggest that Twitter fiction needs to be very finely honed indeed if it is to appear to be natural in situ and to stand up to close reading in isolation.

In keeping with my recent interest in choice in narratives, I found an old Pixel Poppers article that differentiates between meaningful choices and trivial ones. What is it exactly about a choice that gives us a sense of control? Some level of choice appears in games (and hypertexts) that does not exist in cinema or a novel. But not all of these choices can be said to constitute a metanarrative.

With a movie, you can only choose whether to proceed. With a game, you choose how to proceed. Even subtle or trivial decisions, such as on what path to move your character, or which weapon to use on enemies, or where to position the camera, engage you in the creation of your own experience [… ]
Yet few would argue that Super Mario Galaxy tells a story about the player, rather than one about Mario. It presents the player with choices, but this is not enough to make it a metanarrative - a story about its own audience - any more than crossing out a character's name in a book and writing in the reader's name instead will cause the book to be a metanarrative about the reader.
So what does make a metanarrative? What must the decisions be like in order to confer narrative power, responsibility, and focus to the player? What do they have to do?

Yesterday, I asked if we really want branching narratives, and this, I think is an important issue in the hypertext literature community. After all, if our narratives aren’t branching, how can they be rich and interactive without forcing arbitrary Flash games into our stories? Is there a way for only text to be interactive without forcing choices?

I am a completionist. I like to watch a movie and then go back and watch it again to make sure I catch all of the interesting foreshadowing. I like to play a game and then play it again—walkthrough in hand—to make sure I found every item. And I like to read a hypertext multiple times, to make sure that I’ve explored as much of the text as I can.

Naturally, this leads to anxiety every time I have to make a decision that might close off other explorable areas or plots. But this anxiety does not arise in narratives in which I know it’s only the order of the information that changes. It’s the tree-like ones—the ones where your decision now will determine whether Fluffy lives or dies.

It occurs to me that there seems to be a correlation between the time I have invested in a narrative and the willingness with which I make these types of decisions. For example, Em Short’s Alabaster is a short Interactive Fiction that portrays a conversation between you, Snow White, and the huntsman who has been hired to kill you. Once you’ve selected an answer, your options will change. However, because of its length—and the knowledge that exhausting all possible endings will not require much of a time investment—this sort of narrative does not incite the same anxiety as, say, Bioshock, in which your decision on whether to harvest or save the Little Sisters, a conspicuous early choice, will play out over the next 70 hours of gaming. If you want to see what the consequences of that one decision were, you might need to spend another 70 hours playing it out.

Of course, anxiety can be a powerful tool in aiding storytelling or enhancing the text’s aesthetic, but it does need to be recognized that this anxiety exists. So perhaps we need to approach these kinds of texts with more focus on the anxieties about depth-first readings of long narratives.

Meanwhile, insightful comments on Susan Gibb’s dancing sentences remind us that “All art must evolve. But no one wants to throw away the Mona Lisa as being obsolete.”

Jill Walker posts an interesting YouTube video that crosses several levels of diegesis. The beginning of the narrative features something of a CYOA-style interaction, but after a choice is made, the character breaks the fourth wall and the video allows the viewer to type in how she would like the action to continue.

I had never seen this sort of prompt in an interactive video, presumably because this sort of interaction is expensive. Still, I was very impressed to find that not only did the parser recognize my request (for the hunter to tickle the bear!), but that a short clip had been prepared for just such a request. Still, because the parser is not perfect and lacks a “we didn’t understand your input” response, the viewer will often see puzzling, unrelated clips.

Nonetheless, the video is an impressive bit of interactive narrative.

For those of you that have been keeping your eye on The Mongoliad, the new serial fiction from Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear, new information has appeared at last.

The narrative is set in 13th century Foreworld, a universe very much like our own, and will be released in weekly installments with annual or semi-annual subscription fee. Premium subscribers will receive extra bits of art, video, and music, and the story will be available through mobile platforms. Stephenson and Bear invite readers to expand the story through the site’s forum and wiki. Interesting ideas will be added to the official canon.

The Mongoliad sounds like an interesting dive into multi-media linked storytelling, but the execution is going to be critical. Currently, the chapter texts exist separately from the media extras; the reader is presented a menu from which she can choose to view the text or the illustrations . On one hand, this format allows for immersion into the text without the distraction of the other media. On the other hand, clever integration would allow for a richer reading experience, and we’re all pretty accustomed to illustration.

It’s still too early to tell if the project is going to be a great success or an interesting footnote, but either way it’s worth following.

Rudi Seitz, the creator of Quadrivial Quandary , offers Pictorial Matter, a word-challenge site that looks to engage creativity through associations of image and language.

Last Spring, Eastgate dropped into Leancamp, an unconference for young startups who subscribe to lean business principles. The conference was a sea of Mac-toting 20-something males in jeans and sports jackets. The buzzwords of the day were “lean,” “agile,” “collaborative,” “cloud,” “social,” and all of the other familiar words of today’s internet businesses. All of this more or less met my expectations, though I I was surprised by the gender imbalance.

The unexpected part came from talking with people about what they are looking for in software. Everyone wanted collaboration, sharing, and all of the social media virtues. But within this microcosm, there seems to be little room for the individual. People scoff at client-side software designed for individuals. As we’ve seen in social media, everyone contributes but no one is heard.

The question has been bouncing around electronic literature for years, Is our emphasis shifting from the single author to teams? Is the idea of the artist obsolete? Is it ridiculous to expect an individual to create a brilliant work? Collaboration is interesting, but it can run the risk of reducing art (and software) to a mess or a mob. It often takes an individual to reinvent the way the everyone thinks.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opens in Indianapolis this November/ It will contain first edition copies of his books, a replica of his writing studio, several items he collected during his service in World War II including his Purple Heart, and a collection of rejection letters encouraging him to give up writing forever.

In the era of social media, many of us have become accustomed to the performative nature of tweeting and blogging our thoughts and work. Writer Matt Bell is taking this to a whole new level, however, with an exhibitionist writing assignment: he’s writing a story live for an online audience over the course of a week .

Sunday he wrote:

Starting today, I’ll be working on a story that I started during this last “writer’s block,” a story that didn’t take off then but that I still think might be worth writing. Monday and Tuesday, I’ll be attempting to write a full draft of the story, starting with only a single paragraph already written. To make it more interesting, you’ll be able to watch as I write, seeing each of my decisions in real-time. The software we’re using—Etherpad—will allow you to see each word I write and delete and rewrite at the same time I do it, and the built-in chat software will allow you and anyone else watching to chat alongside my writing if you choose to.

But that’s not the end of it. Later in the week, Michael Kimball and Lily Hoang rewrite the story. Then Bell invites the audience to edit the work before Bell undertakes a final rewrite.

And we thought the Lapham’s chart of writers’ connections was complex!

A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble are sisters?! How did I miss that memo? — ed.

To complement and promote In Their Own Words: British Novelists , the BBC and Open University teamed up on an interactive map of modern British writers. The map explores personal relationships, literary themes and genres, and background.

In Their Own Words: British Novelists airs Mondays at 9pm on BBC, and promises such fascinating moments as William Golding addressing a schoolroom of boys on Lord of the Flies and the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolfe.

Bill Bly (We Descend) stopped by Eastgate to talk to Mark Bernstein and me the other day. At lunch, we talked about the knowledge of hypertext writing the discipline has accumulated over the last twenty years. “We know a lot,” someone said. “Which is to say that you and I and twenty people we can point to know how to do use links.”

As I sat and listened, it occurred to me that this information doesn’t actually exist for the people who weren’t there to witness it, for those who aren’t numbered among those twenty writers.

Perhaps this argument goes back to Mark’s essay on Criticism. But for someone entering the field 20 years late, it would be nice have literature on writing well with links. Today, few writers use links thoughtfully. But how do we expect the next generation of writers to build on the foundation that hypertext literary pioneers have laid if we aren’t teaching them?

If we can teach creative writing, we can teach creative electronic writing. Mark Bernstein recently blogged on this very topic , and other hypertext writers have echoed the sentiment. This clearly is a topic that the writers want discussed.

A world of newspaper and magazine sites are chopping their writing into short snippets in order to garner more ad views. But do they take advantage of the opportunity? No: they are all threaded in an endlessly inconvenient necklace of “next page” links.

Sure, there’s good old-fashioned close reading. Good writers are good readers.

“Read broadly. If you want to write hypertexts, you should know the work of people who have written good hypertexts. That your work might not resemble theirs does not matter; know what they sought to do and learn how they accomplished what they did.” (Judy Malloy, interview with Mark Bernstein)

As more and more literature is added to the pool, how are we to attract new readers to the possibilities eLit offers if we can’t show them which pieces are best? And how can we get fresh talent to write good works if we don’t know ourselves what’s good and what isn’t?


Undum is a fascinating new open-source framework for interactive narrative designed for HTML 5 and CSS 3. Though it retains the ideas of nodes hypertext narrative and of rooms or spaces from interactive fiction, clicking a link to leave one space and enter another simply adds more text to the ever-growing main narrative. This design encourages the reader to go back and read the narrative as a cohesive whole rather than thinking of it in terms of small narrative bits strung together. It also seems to encourage shorter texts; a novel-sized text which on a single scrolling page, even if it were presented in small bits, seems cumbersome.

Links disappear once you pass them to prohibit the reader from retracing her steps, and the author can make other text disappear when a new node is entered. This lets the author ask a question,

"Do you slay the dragon or do you run away?"

and then, having received the answer, efface the stage business of the question and replace it with a seamless continuation.

Undum does not limit the author to branching-narrative links. It also offers a dynamic character state, or list of constantly changing attributes, which can be influenced “action” links. These links the reader in the same node—or “situation” as Undum calls them—but allow for changes to character states, for example raising experience. There is no explicit support for dynamic links or guard fields, though adding them should not be difficult.

The system, which offers a nice tutorial, strikes an interesting hybrid balance between the classic hypertext fictions and IF.

In a stroke of genius on the level of the SarcMark, a new Outlook plug-in can track the tone of your emails and alert you to words with emotional charge or ambiguous connotation.

And like the SarcMark, the issue could be avoided with a bit of better writing.

Grammar nerds on both sides of the debate (and the Atlantic) have pretty strong feelings about the serial or Oxford comma. Some musicians, it seems, feel strongly about not having strong feelings about the Oxford comma. However you feel about it, Lacrimae Rerun presents some humorous cases in which it’s useful for clearing up ambiguity. Good for a light chuckle and a grammar school refresher.

In Paris, I met the filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard, a gourmet chef, and a collector of vintage pornography.

Last weekend’s Readercon hosted a panel on Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy. Though all of the panelists identified themselves as “western,” they wrote about cultures into which they had not been born. How can one invent a non-western culture without falling into the colonialist or orientalist traps?

Panelists warned that writing was always about “being outside ones own skin,” but that there is a difference between exploring Otherness and exploiting it. With Edward Said’s Orientalism as a starting point, the panel focused on how to write about Otherness without reducing a culture into stereotypes or assumptions. Darrell Schweitzer noted that writers “are always writing about the Other; the key is to not suck at it.”

To this end, the group offered several tips:

  • If you’ve only been somewhere a few times, it’s easiest to write from an outsider’s point of view. While this is certainly a valid point of view, be mindful of how you are exoticisizing or reducing the values of that culture.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your knowledge. Don’t assume to know more than you really do.
  • Read works written from within the culture you’re studying, preferably in the original language.
  • If at all possible, spend some time immersed in the culture you’re writing about. Even if you can’t travel to another country, spend time interviewing people and asking them for their stories.

Nalo Hopkinson stood out as a bright spot on the panel. As the panel dove into anecdotes on how western and non-western cultures were different, she reminded us to not always focus on the differences between us. She commented that one of the things that irritated her was being approached and told that somebody could never write about the same issues she could, as they could never write from the point of view of a black woman. She reminded us, “you may have never been black or never been a woman, but you know the joy of biting into a fresh piece of fruit. Remember that we have more in common than we don’t.”

Hopkinson observed that often when people research another culture for their writing, they aren’t searching for the value of that culture’s beliefs; they’re looking for a way to avoid offending people. She assures writers that “there will always be people mad at you, people who don’t like your work. You must find your own moral compass as a writer.”

Science fiction writer, ARG writer, and storytelling pioneer Sean Stewart discusses the art of storytelling , asserting that not enough emphasis is placed on the “hardware of storytelling,” or the platform upon which the story is told. Stewart reviews several fascinating examples of stories that straddle the line between games and literature, and he concludes that narrative is shifting toward a dance between author and audience for a shared control over the story.

Electric Literature has just released the first literary magazine for the iPad. Cover stories by Aimee Bender, Rick Moody, and Michael Cunningham. Good submission guidelines.


For much of history, writing has been considered a solitary act. I would be lying if I didn’t have the occasional fantasy about being a romantic caricature, writing in some ivy-strangled brick workshop that I would call my fortress of solitude whenever friends came to visit.

Jed Perl questions the way we’ve come to view writing in the era of blogging and tweeting. Has the reading public begun to feel entitled to all of a writer’s writing whether it was intended to be published or not?

The strange thing about Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems—which contains 163 poems discovered among Schuyler’s papers in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego—is that the editors, James Meetze and Simon Pettet, feel no obligation to explain why this book exists. Didn’t anybody wonder why these poems were not published during Schuyler’s lifetime? There are many possible explanations. Schuyler might have thought certain poems were not good enough. Or he might have thought there was some virtue in publishing less rather than more. Or it may be that an editor prevented him from publishing things he in fact wanted to publish. But none of these questions is even considered, at least not in the brief introductory texts that the editors have included with Other Flowers. The idea—extremely simple, even simplistic—appears to be that if it was written it needs to be read.

The magic of writing is the intimate one-on-one connection between writer and reader. Are we losing that intimacy and depth when the writer knows that this work will be read by millions as soon as she presses enter? Perl argues that writers must “to some degree believe they are alone with their own words.” Otherwise, if writers are always aware of their audience, can they really let their guard down and write with the raw emotion that can be beautiful and ugly, but is always inevitably true?

I’m not arguing that there are no emotional weblogs, but the majority of them are written on emotionally safe subjects or are written in a guarded manner. But if a blogger can actually write with their guard down, you probably have an exceptionally good weblog on your hands.

About Us

William Hertling, a consumer support strategist for Hewlett Packard, recently gave a talk on “rethinking the link: social jargon.” The talk raises interesting points about linking, wikis, and micro-writing, as Hertling takes advantage of these insights with the new site, AboutUs combines a glossary of social jargon with a site for Twitter-sized reviews about other Web sites.

Hertling examines that digital culture has already had a huge impact on writing by making it inclusive and giving more subject background through links. Text messaging has shortened our messages. He predicts that services like AboutUs will accelerate the evolution of language and allow specialized language to be used more freely, as more people will have a concise definition and context for it. He also predicts that as more people are used to having context for words, non-digital reading will become more difficult since you won’t be able to look up words as you go.

While in London last week for Tinderbox Weekend, I had the pleasure of a couple of walking tours through secret gardens and the familiar haunts of many writing greats. Throughout the tours, the guides asked us to imagine London as it was 300 years ago, and (though I’m a little embarrassed to say so) I found myself wishing for a locative media app more than once so that I really could get the feel for it.

The narrative flow of the tours was interesting, too. I noticed a distinct narrative arc in our guides’ historical accounts. Each stop of the tour would begin with the necessary dates, flow into a story—often with a gossipy and speculative tale, give way to what history is known for sure, and then offer a tantalizing hint about the next tour stop. Because of this, each stop felt distinctly like a book chapter.

There is also something to be said for locative narrative during these tours. Aware of Brian Greenspan’s work on the subject, Mark Bernstein and I both commented on how interesting a locative narrative would be in London’s narrow, winding streets.

Amidst Orwellian arguments on the degradation of written language in the digital age, a strange brand of tweeper emerges.

A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them — tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette. (NY Times)

I’m not entirely sure this classifies as the internet using its powers for good. It kind of just seems like some stranger telling you to keep your elbows off the table while you’re at the local pub with your friends. After all, even Homer nods.

100 Days

After enjoying growing success over the past couple of years, it’s almost time for a fresh 100 Days Project   with Steve Ersinghaus, John Timmons, Carianne Mack Garside and the gang .

Timmons will lead off this year, creating a short film each day for 100 days from which all the other artists will draw inspiration. The crew hopes that this year will be even bigger than last year’s impressive turnout. The quality of many of these pieces is astounding, especially considering how difficult it is to churn out original creative work every day for 100 days.

100 Days 2010 kicks off on May 22.

Perhaps rooted in anxiety over the digitization of the page, I’ve noticed an increasing trend toward the veneration of the physical page. The idea of carrying a paper notebook with you now feels romantic, and it makes what you have to say feel more important when it’s hand-written in a leather-bound codex.

Di Mezzo Il Mare focuses on the visual appeal of the written page. In addition to poetry and other reader-generated content, the new online journal offers images of hand-written notes and page-art ranging from chicken-scratched notes to doodles in the margin to elaborate notebooks of talented artists.

In the past, there has been literature on the relation of handwriting to psychological state and identification with the self, and perhaps people fear losing that individuality. Whatever the reason, I find myself in a frustrating tug-of-war between wanting to write beautiful things in a beautiful book and the frustration of that apparatus not being able to capture my thoughts as quickly as I can think them.


Over at, a discussion is taking off on whether writers should worry about originality. After all, tropes are tools, and every story has already been told. rRight?


Katherine Hayles sits down for a discussion on electronic literature, the problem of archiving, the trend toward collective authorship, and her thoughts on the state of the publishing world.


Susan Gibb reports back from the Tunxis Art Marathon where, bleary-eyed and high on pancakes, artists worked for 24 hours straight. Gibb notes that by the end of her stay she was “feeling a bit grumpy,” but she was able to finish a new hypertext fiction, On the Very Last Day, He Imploded.

Steve Ersinghaus also writes on the ordeal, revealing how these sprints can be beneficial, despite placing writers outside of their comfort zone.

I really had to squint, but, interestingly, I didn’t solve the real problems until 3:30 AM, when I started to drag and say, “Oh my god it’s only 3:30.” It was at this time that I should have gone into the new media lab and cranked up HL2 on the PS3 system and chilled some. Next year I’ll be better prepared.


John August remembers the joys of writing an antagonist and the challenges of writing about monsters or other-worldly forces. A good villain often has fuller backstory than the hero, even if it is only hinted at, and the villain’s motivations are often just one decision away from being heroic .

But should you make your monster human?

A certain balance must occur, between giving your villain depth and rationalizing away the villain’s impact. Also, there’s something very unsettling about a villain that we don’t fully understand. Monstrosity often comes down to Otherness, and there is nothing more Other than actions we can’t begin to rationalize due to their sociopathy or perceived insanity.

Of course, the best way to establish that an object of desire is lovable is also to give him or her no hint of an inner life. No matter how hard we work or how wonderful we are, one cannot understand, predict, or control the beloved.

In The Times Literary Supplement, Mary Beard asks, "Can women write reviews?" There are relatively few women writing book reviews, perhaps because (in the words of Mary-Kay Wilmers who edited the Londongh Review of Books) they have “a tendency to be either a bit jargony, or a bit breathless.”

(Thanks, Diane Greco !)

In “Digital Bibliography,” Ryan Trauman ponders the shift toward abstraction in computing and writing technologies. Inspired by a discussion of “cloud computing” (a term Trauman acknowledges has many meanings), he discusses the ways that our thoughts drifted from the tangible book to the abstract screen to the even more abstract Web.

What I’m talking about is our ontological relationship to texts. The move from static to dynamic. The move from actual to virtual. 20,000 pages of text used to mean a full bookshelf. Two years ago, it might have meant a small USB drive. We can’t possibly understand the modes of a textual “existence” in the ways we used to. It just doesn’t make any sense. First, and maybe most important, is the fact that now, the FACT of a book as paper-ink-binding is now remarkable (as in “worthy of remark”). In fact, almost any mode within which a book is instantiated is worthy of note. It becomes part of the text’s rhetoric. This is the first note I wanted to make. Digital texts tend to bring the “mode of delivery” back into any analysis of a text. There IS no longer any default.
The second ontological consequence of digital textuality has to do with the material existence of a text. To transition from the physical space occupied by a shelf of books to the tiny usb drive is a radical experience. Most people, I think, tend to experience it as a transition from actual to virtual. And while this model has some merit, it’s much more apt to stick with the idea of a shift in size and material. The books got smaller. Not just by shrinking but through reorganization, too. But they still exist in the material world. (Matthew Kirschenbaum probably makes the  best case for this.) We still need to “store” them someplace. We still “send” them from place to place. We cannot make them appear from the ether. Screens. Hard Disks. Processors. Random Access Memory. The are “inside” our computers and portable drives.
But this cloud thing is different, right? Now it really is like our files exist out there in the ether.

These transitions have interesting implications on our perception of writing. Once thought to be permanent and static, writing is now considered dynamic and to some extent infinitely-sprawling and connected. We expect the Web—and therefore what we read—to be ever-changing and impermanent.

The computer is always reread, an unseen beam of light behind the electronic screen replacing itself with itself at thirty cycles a second. Print stays itself–I have said repeatedly–electronic text replaces itself. – Michael Joyce

Margaret Atwood recently post a lovely piece for the New York Review of Books Blog on her introduction to Twitter. In addition to being clever and insightful, the article is peppered with the lovely little phrases that only she could assemble:

Anyway, there I was, back in 2009, building the site, with the aid of the jolly retainers over at Scott Thornley + Company. They were plying me with oatmeal cookies, showing me wonderful pictures, and telling me what to do. “You have to have a Twitter feed on your Web site,” they said. “A what?” I said, innocent as an egg unboiled.

The iPad has been heralded as the savior of newspaper and magazine publishing, but much of the hype has been focused on consumption of media, not creation. Indeed, the input methods for generating substantial quantities of text on the go seem cumbersome.

Tablet computing pioneer Gene Golvochinsky examines the tablet computers of 1999, which were heavily dependent on a stylus, and compares the iPad’s touch controls. He concludes that the stylus is superior for applications that simulate digital ink, while the fingers are great for manipulating data once it exists.

For writing on the go, having the keyboard input (external and screen-display), stylus input, and touch input would be ideal. I can imagine a word processor that would let the user type in text with the keyboard, edit with a stylus, and highlight, cut, or move text as—well as inserting links and other forms of media—with the fingers.

The closest I have seen to this ideal is the demo of SketchNotes that Golovchinsky references, but as he notes, the motor control over the touch-input markup is noticeably inferior to that of the stylus.

Responding to a recent Seton Hill initiative to give every student an iPad , he also reports that the iPad is also not capable of multi-tasking—like running reading and writing programs at the same time—so the iPad may prove to be less desirable than a laptop for many students. (Of course, most students will also have a laptop, too.)

Whitney Anne Trettien presents her Masters thesis for MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program on early modern text-generating poems as a hypertext card-linking piece. The work “forces the reader to participate in the process of making meaning” by presenting nodes linked to adjacent nodes on a map. As the reader traverses these nodes, a master document is created under the heading “Your Text,” which successively adds the text of each node as it is visited.

Though the work raises the much-debated questions of authorship—does the reader really have as much authoring power as she’s lead to believe through the implications of “Your Text” and “You” placed next to Trettien’s name?—the recombinatory practice employed by this work was of particular interest. It has become modern practice to serialize, remix, link, tear apart, and piece together. This thesis views 17th-century poetry through the lens of a culture accustomed to this way of thinking.

At first, the approach seemed ill-suited. After-all, isn’t the attempt toward cultural relativism—including contemporary cultural relativism—one of the first things we learn as scholars? However, Trettien makes a good argument that narrative history tends to oversimplify the complex, and the work proves that even 17th century works were experimenting with the complexity and intricacy we often credit to the emergence of digital work. The medial form of the thesis is appropriate; the hypertext platform is well- (though as she notes, not perfectly-) suited as a platform for expression of complicated similarities and linked ideas.

Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing , The Guardian posted rules on writing offered by several prominent writers, a list spanning from Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaiman. (Previous entries in this series: 1 2 3 4) Here were some of my favorites:

AL Kennedy

3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

Neil Gaiman

8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can.

Esther Freud

1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

Anne Enright

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

Camile Scherrer presents a new look at Augmented Reality and its relation to narrative through her “magic book” Le Monde des Montagnes (World of Mountains). The set-up requires a book, a lamp, and a laptop, objects all familiar to the reader but that strive to avoid the artificiality of the tech-systems that serve as the barrier before typical Augmented Reality narratives. The lamp contains a hidden camera that captures the book, allowing the reader to view additional layers on the laptop screen.

"A book is essentially an ordinary object. As this is the first element of the set-up to draw the viewer’s attention, [it's] placed in a position of trust and availability. The same applies to the desk lamp whose familiar shape puts the reader/viewer at ease. The installation therefore stands out from high-tech set-ups with obvious technological devices such as cameras, goggles or tags which tend not only to discourage the viewer, but also to erect barriers between the visible and invisible worlds."

Though arguably not as immersive as a phone-based AR system that uses GPS technology (rather than camera capture), the installment demonstrates the artist’s desire to reconcile the tension between the screen and the page. "The core of the project […] is to generate interaction between two originally conflicting worlds in order to create a new source of creativity," says Scherrer. "Between paper and screen."

Serial fiction plays an central role in narrative today. The serialized novel started in the 19th century, driven in part by the cost of books: people who could not afford to purchase an expensive novel instead bought one piecemeal, in weekly or monthly installments. Recurrent characters in short stories also proved a reliable source of readers, and then radio and television series preserved the tradition of the serial. Whether we’re talking about television episodes, webisodes, or the fact that every film and video game blockbuster seems determined to have a sequel before opening day, serialization has certainly crept into our lives in a very powerful way.

Jo Walton examines the joy of an unfinished series , arguing that an unfinished series leaves us wondering, speculating, and (in my opinion most-importantly) talking about what might come.

If you come face to face with James Clavell in the afterlife, my advice is to tell him first how much you like his books, before asking if he’s had time up there to finish Hag Struan.

Of course, many of us read hypertext narratives serially. Hypertext naturally lends itself to open-ended narrative, and the joy of an unfinished series is relevant whether we’re talking about a hypertext series or just an exceptionally long hypertext. And with the immediacy of Web publishing and hypertext’s ability to be constantly changing and expanding, there’s very little real difference between the two anymore.

Our friends at ElectricLit posted an interesting essay by David Shields on remixing . The essay itself is remix, combining original work with excerpts from Emerson, Picasso, and Godard to the pop-culture offerings of Wikipedia. It offers a musical blend of written voices (as only an expertly-remixed work can) while providing useful insight on the history and practice of remixing. The work’s successful use of the technique is enough to justify the merits of remixing.

The piece is excerpted from Shields’ Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010).

MemoryMiner is a software application that allows for easy image sharing and publishing with a plentiful metadata and commentary. Users quickly import photos, add tags and tag-comments for faces or any area of the image, attach time and location data, and publish to Flickr or a MemoryMiner gallery that keeps much of the desktop application functionality intact. Metadata can be automatically; for example, if GPS data is embedded in the image, as on the iPhone, MemoryMiner can situate the image on a Google Map. Similarly, it can import face-recognition data from iPhoto. Photos can be located by searching for one or more people in the image, location, time, or relative time in a person’s life (e.g. John as a toddler)

The software bills itself as “Digital Storytelling” software “used to discover the threads connecting peoples’ lives across time and place.” Indeed one could certainly see it as a database of the links between people, times, and places and the natural narratives that emerge from these intersections. It could also provide a useful tool for creating visual hypertext literature that takes advantage of linking people in images, adding text, and using Google Maps for a fun added dimension of realism. A Carmen Sandiego-style mystery immediately comes to mind, however I’m sure a clever author could come up with a very interesting way of using MemoryMiner’s tools to create an immersive narrative experience.


Brian Greenspan was one of the most fun and colorful people we met at the Future of Digital Studies conference. In addition to seeming to always be at the center of the most interesting conversations, he proved to have very interesting ideas on electronic narrative. His current project, StoryTrek, looks to provide fascinating and immersive possibilities for the future of digital storytelling.

The idea behind StoryTrek is that authors could combine their digital texts with geospatial location systems to provide location-specific text. Reading the text on her phone, the reader might be traversing the text as she walks, only to read a passage about arriving at a brook as she does so in the real world. Going a bit further might reveal a passage about dipping one’s feet into the water and so forth.

Tax season is upon us, and for many free-lance writers or those running a successful weblog, deciding what can by deducted might be a little confusing. An article in Freelancing and More! provides tips . See also, Wisebread’s 101 tax deductions for bloggers and freelancers.

Ed Blackham answers our post on Editing Hypertext with an insightful look at how software debugging relates to electronic literature and the issues therein.

Your description of the problem made it sound similar to the the problem of debugging a program. We write (or sometimes auto-generate) tests, and we have tools that try to assess the quality of our test suites by (among other things) pointing us at areas of the code that no test has yet looked at. But even those tools can't really get at the fact that a line of code that's innocuous when arrived at along one path is deadly when arrived at along a different path. […]
If indeterminacy is part of the hypertext, of course, it all gets very difficult. […] It's all very fine to say in a postmodern (or pre-Socratic) sort of way that no two readers ever read the same text (or no reader ever reads the same text twice), but what can fairly be said of a "text" whose words make this philosophical conceit literally true?

November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been over for a couple of months. Now, many writers are returning to the novel for which they sacrificed blood, sweat, and their carpal tunnel. Many are casually editing and revising for their own sake, but others are looking to actually publish.

The NaNoBlog as posted an interview with Smashwords founder and eBook enthusiast Mark Coker on why electronic publishing may be the most viable format for many.

An ebook author doesn’t need a publisher to gain mainstream distribution into the largest online ebook stores. Amazon’s Digital Text Platform allows authors to publish their books directly into the Kindle store, and my own Smashwords recently announced ebook distribution agreements with all the major online retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Sony. We also have distribution into the online catalogs of mobile platforms such as Stanza on the iPhone, Aldiko on Android phones, and Kobo across all mobile phone devices.
Millions of book buyers now prefer reading ebooks over print books, and this trend is likely to continue in the years ahead.

Of course, matters chiefly to those who have interested readers queued up in sufficient quantity to make publishing worth while, but cannot easily reach so many as to attract a conventional publisher. And do we know that millions of readers now prefer ebooks? Still, distribution is good to have.

After finding out today that my favorite Runner’s World weblogger will no longer be posting, I was deeply saddened and touched in a way that felt very unique to the medium. It’s funny; the retirments of many of my favorite writers, composers, and artists haven”t touched me deeply. But Web reading is a different experience; one doesn’t often go back and read (someone else’s) old archives just for fun to see how the story unfolds with knowledge of the future, despite hypertext literature’s emphasis on rereading.

So when a blogger retires, that’s it. Runner’s World may choose to take the all of the archives down in a couple of months, cutting off my access forever. With reading a book, looking at a painting, or listening to a song—even though those pleasures exist in a finite space of time like reading a weblog—the experience is repeatable in a way that reading social media updates isn’t.

Where is the line drawn? I wouldn’t read a newspaper a second time, though I would reread the anthology of an interesting columnist. And I would argue that the interesting columnist is the closest analogy to the blogger. And indeed, though I’ll never browse the archives, if the blogger’s posts were bound into a book, I would probably reread them. So why the difference? What is it about the Web that makes this distinction?

And in the age heralded as the birth of universal publishing, does the achievement really count if people won’t ever reread those works?

In revising some of the hypertexts she wrote during the 100 Days project, Susan Gibb noticed that some words were missing on one of the pages in a story. She remarks:

In straight narrative, this would tell me that nobody read the story. But in hypertext, they honestly could have read it and may have taken another path and missed this space.

It seems that, even with my own rereadings I’ve missed it too!

This post got me thinking about some questions regarding proofreading hypertext. Because the experience often depends upon the order in which different lexia are read, how difficult is it to anticipate how readers will interpret the text as they arrive through different paths? Is it more difficult to write and polish certain lexia while considering the reader’s ignorance of pertinent parts of the story?

I’d love to hear your responses; email me!

In all forms of art there is the compulsion of the artist to want to perfect her work, which may often delay the work’s release indefinitely. This example is even more true of technology-based arts, as the technology curve can sometimes outrun the work’s progress, rendering it obsolete before it’s ever revealed.

Clive Thompson of Wired explores the reasons for Duke Nukem’s perpetual delays and ultimate abandonment. The culprit in the game’s death, he suggests, was its designer’s inability to release an imperfect game. The article focuses on the gaming industry, but its lesson applies to software developers and technical artists alike:

It’s a dilemma all artists confront, of course. When do you stop creating and send your work out to face the public? Plenty of Hollywood directors have delayed for months, dithering in the editing room. But in videogames, the problem is particularly acute, because the longer you delay, the more genuinely antiquated your product begins to look — and the more likely it is that you’ll need to rip things down and start again. All game designers know this, so they pick a point to stop improving…

Jesper Juul’s A Casual Revolution offers an excellent approach to the gaming industry’s shift toward more “casual” games like Bejeweled, Rock Band, and Wii Sports. Juul contrasts the design approach of more hardcore games with these newer casual games, revealing interesting insights about what brings so many players who detest “traditional” video games to spend hours with Farmville or The Sims.

Hypertext literature faces similar difficulties: many see it as too challenging or too time-consuming. As a hardcore gamer, I can certainly appreciate the refusal to lower one’s intellectual standards in order to make a narrative more attractive to a wider audience. But the numbers speak for themselves; companies that are embracing a casual audience are making millions of dollars, and some of the most successful games— Rock Band, Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft—are flexible hybrids that fit into both a casual and a hardcore mindset.

This possibility exists for hypertext too, if it decides that it wants to become more mainstream. However, if “serious” games are any indication, it might take us a long time to decide if that’s actually what we want.

Susan Gibb writes of her experiences with hypertext style

While I’ve sort of been accused of using an old fashioned form of hypertext narrative–and this may be true since I’m a bit behind the times learning on my own–I’m still very much aware of the fact that folks need to be eased into the concept of hypertext story.

Text-only hypertexts may not take advantage of graphics, video, and audio, but when did having all of these things together become a requirement for literature? To ask this is to require a painter to use every color of the spectrum at once.

One of the joys of reading is being able to imagine things exactly how we want them. Images can take this away from a reader.

As for folks needing to be “eased into” hypertext, I think this is becoming less true as time goes on. Weblogs already combine text, links, and other media in ways that make sense to us. I recently showed Morpheus Biblionaut to someone who had never seen a hypertext before, and she had no problem understanding what was going on.

Hypertext pioneer Cathy Marshall has just written Reading and Writing the Electronic Book. Marshall offers a brief history of electronic books, and focuses on what facets of reading eBooks inherit from print, how they are written and read, and how they are presented, and what they do to advance the future of literature. In contrast to much of what’s appeared to date, Marshall doesn’t base her opinions of books on received wisdom, nostalgia, or press releases, and this book’s explanation of how we can study actual readers is at once rigorous and accessible. Based on extensive research and thoughtful consideration, this volume is clearly the authoritative source on new ways of reading and new reading tools.

Roo Reynolds of BBC Vision uses GraphViz, a program for representing structural information as graphs and diagrams, to create a map of Leila Johnston’s choose-your-own-adventure Enemy of Chaos. Cory Doctorow loved the book:

[a] geekily hilarious modern choose-your-own-adventure novel in which you play a middle aged bitter geek who is drafted into a branching narrative in which your goal is to save reality, while negotiating many of the familiar indignities of modern geekish life, from over-exuberant role-players to nuclear apocalypse.

The map shows the overall structure of the work, revealing all of its loops, dead ends, and branches.

I often forget how linear choose-your-own adventure tends to be, perhaps because I’ve become accustomed to working with complexly structured hypertexts. As with most works in the genre, there are really only substantial choices to be made in the middle of this text; the beginning and end is strikingly linear. Also it seems that there is only one “true” end, while the other endings seem to just be deviations from the story--a game over, not a saving of the princess--and it might have been nice to see a couple of different true endings.

Just as I was getting ready to go home, dreading the two hour commute by train, bus, and foot—thank goodness it’s not really snowing yet— I saw this article on the subway as a writing environment. Many people, including me, spend hours a week on the subway reading; few write.

I do occasionally write on the train, but I prefer not to since the random passenger glancing over my shoulder is distracting. Emily St. John Mandel has a different view:

There’s a certain paradoxical privacy in working on the subway. It’s New York City, and we’ve all seen everything down here: if you start writing on the train nobody’s likely to give you a second glance, unless of course you’re writing on your laptop and they’re planning on stealing it at the next stop. Except on the rare elevated sections of track, your phone won’t ring. The odds of running into anyone you know are fairly slim. . . You’re out in the world, surrounded by other people, but there’s enough solitude in that crowd to get some writing done.

The California NanoSystems Institute at UC Santa Barabara has been researching interactive environments for research and artistic expression since 1997. Their efforts have yielded the Allosphere, a 30-foot diameter sphere built inside a three-story cube. The Allosphere was built to be anechoic, minimizes all background noise and light-interference, and contains thousands of speakers to create an immersive interactive experience.

The Allophere’s project website speculates some of the possible uses for such technology:

Scientifically, it is an instrument for gaining insight and developing bodily intuition about environments into which the body cannot venture: abstract, higher-dimensional information spaces, the worlds of the very small or very large, and the realms of the very fast or very slow, in fields ranging from nanotechnology to theoretical physics, from proteomics to cosmology, from neurophysiology to the spaces of consciousness, and from new materials to new media.
Artistically, the AlloSphere is an instrument for the creation and performance of avant-garde new works and the development of entirely new modes and genres of expression and forms of immersion-based entertainment, fusing future art, architecture, music, media, games, cinema, and more.

The project, which recalls Cave Writing project at Brown, is ongoing; designer Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin and her colleagues are working on the computing platform and interactive display portions of the sphere.

As the NaNoWriMo deadline approaches, here are a few more quotes to motivate you to push to the last word:


By the end, you should be inside your character, actually operating from within somebody else, and knowing him pretty well, as that person knows himself or herself. You’re sort of a predator, an invader of people.


Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.


Trollope said, “On the last day of each month recorded, every person in a work of fiction should be a month older than on the first.” We go with our characters wherever they lead us, and as time makes its mark on us, so it must on them.


It would be crazy to begin revising immediately after finishing the first draft, and counter to the way the mind likes to create. You’re exhausted. You deserve a vacation. Go away from the project for at least a week.


With one exception, any publication opportunity you can seize is worth seizing; ever-widening ripples move out from even the smallest splash. Something more like a self-contained plop is all you’re likely to get, however, if you resort to a vanity press. Vanity publishing is not the same as either subsidy publishing or self-publishing, though the terms are often used as if they were synonymous. Subsidy publishing is best defined by its guaranteed audience; self-publishing is partly defined by its realistic efforts to find an appropriate audience; vanity publishing frequently involves no audience at all.


One of the great rules of art: Do not linger.


Paul Foreman encourages writers to avoid building walls where none exist, stifling creativity and creating unnecessary barriers.

Would-be hypertext readers and writers sometimes create barriers to protect themselves from the unfamiliar. People believe that they “can’t understand” hypertext, that they don’t like to read on the screen, that it’s all “too complicated.”

If we didn’t appreciate complicated works, neither Joyce nor Stravinsky would be considered masters. Why, then, put up barriers to creating the next amazing piece of literature simply because you haven’t grasped the gravity or impact of your own work?

Forman asks provocative questions:

  • Could the difference between success and failure be as simple as a thought?
  • What will you choose?
  • What might you be capable of achieving if you never see walls?

photo: Marius Watz

Searching for inspiration in any medium can be a daunting task, and it can easily turn into procrastination if you’re not careful. Smashing Magazine has given us a guide to finding inspiration.

No designer should ever feel that taking time to find true inspiration is time wasted. This article explores offline sources of inspiration and discusses how they can be treated as a part of the design process. Furthermore, we’ll look into a few methods of deriving this inspiration, so it becomes an active part of creativity and be done more effectively.

Though the article focuses on digital design, its advice can really be applied to any form of art. Besides, those visual design principles are quite useful for the hypertext author.

Belt Up’s production of The Trial, an interpretation of Kafka’s novella, lies in the same vein as Sleep No More, the immersive drama of which Mark Bernstein recently raved.

Reviewing The Trial for The Yorker, Miranda Crowhurst writes:

Blind, I felt a hand clutch mine. I was tugged forward into the dark. Fingers brushed up my leg, a voice whispered and breath blustered across my neck. I was surrounded.
Finally, the blindfold was yanked down. I saw shapes, a figure caught by wires, twitching, his hands suspended. I looked to the man next to me. His face was glistening, and I brought a hand to my own damp forehead. “What have I done?” I thought. But this was no Bacchanalian orgy; this was The Trial.

Lyn Gardner in The Guardian reviewed the same production, part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Trial has many flaws – it is messy, frenetic, a little in love with its own virtuosity, and the white-faced actors and physical work looks a trifle dated. But who cares, because it is also exhilarating, ambitious and manipulates sound, space and the audience with real verve.
It doesn't so much inhabit the venue as haunt it, as if what you are witnessing is a terrifying vision conjured from your own warped imagination. Even the way you are moved around the playing area makes it feel as if you are on a labyrinthine journey from which there is no escape. It doesn't all work, but there are moments of real potency. As you race for the door, you must step over the prone body of Josef K, lying in the darkness with his hand outstretched towards the light.

Ed Siegel wrote in The Boston Globe that

I loathe audience participation. The purpose, most of the time, seems to be to humiliate, not engage, the spectator.

But he found the Sleep No More compelling.

It’s been a tough year in the arts for the area. The Rose Art Museum fading, the North Shore Music Theatre closing, other organizations and troupes struggling. We needed this. Boston has never seen anything quite like Sleep No More before. Neither has any North American city, New York included. The streets of Brookline seemed alive to new possibilities; so did the world of theater.
To paraphrase Rodgers and Hart, we’re wild again, beguiled again . . . bewitched, bothered, and bewildered are we.

"Bookless Libraries" asks whether the brick-and-mortar library is dead, or simply in transition. Reading it, I asked myself, “What is a library?” And the answer was not “a place that holds books,” but “a place that celebrates books.”

I love libraries, I always have. In elementary school, going to the library meant a break from spelling and fractions to sit cross-legged with friends while a librarian read stories to us. When I was nine, I even got to meet a real life author in a library, and though I can’t remember who he was, I felt extremely privileged to have met him.

In high school, the literary journals were dangerously close to the music section, and I was sure to come across a book on the history of rock n’ roll or composition or books of sheet music. I would sit on the floor for hours and thumb through the books, pausing to occasionally return to my work.

In college, I didn’t get a single book at the library, though I spent many, many hours there. I would meet friends, study groups, and work on calculus or programming . The library wasn’t a place for books, but it was still a place for learning. Now I work right across the street from a library, and I eat lunch outside of every day. The library still has books, but I go for the atmosphere: the wonder of the kids trying to calm their excited stage-whispers; the fun, outdated decorations, the readings, and the monthly displays that advocate literacy, oppose censorship, or agitate in favor of knowledge.

Just about anything I need is now online. I don’t go to the library any less often. The library is not a place for the obsolete codex to rest from its labors; it’s a place to celebrate the knowledge that the codex brought and to facilitate a date with that knowledge. When you say, “I’m off to the library” what you’re really saying—whether you’re going to meet a study group, do research, or work on today’s assignment—is “I’m off to gain knowledge.” And as long as there is a place in the human spirit for the thirst for knowledge, the library won’t be going anywhere.

As NaNoWriMo really gets underway, count on our continuing Writers on Writing series to keep you motivated. If you’re falling behind schedule, take advice from the greats and head back to work, you slacker!

(Correspondents: send us your gems!)


In a longish life as a professional writer, I have heard a thousand masterpieces talked out over bars, restaurant tables and love seats. I have never seen one of them in print. Books must be written, not talked.


Never tell your reader what your story is about. Reading is a participatory sport. People do it because they are intelligent and enjoy figuring things out for themselves.


A good style comes primarily from lack of pretentiousness, and what is pretentious changes from year to year from day to day from minute to minute. We must be ever more careful. A man does not get old because he nears death; a man gets old because he can no longer see the false from the good.


If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. Basho, the great seventeenth-century Haiku master said, “If you want to know about a tree, go to the tree.” If you want to know poetry, read it, listen to it. Let those patterns and forms be imprinted in you. Don’t step away from poetry to analyze a poem with your logical mind. Enter poetry with your whole body. Dogen, a great Zen master, said, “If you walk in the mist, you get wet.” So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice.


If you are going to learn from other writers don’t only read the great ones, because if you do that you’ll get so filled with despair and the fear that you’ll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that you’ll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It’s very encouraging. “Hey, I can do so much better than this.” Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isn’t so great, too. Great stuff is very discouraging.


Don’t market yourself. Editors and readers don’t know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life. Play at the serious questions of life and death.

Narrativist role-playing games, an esoteric spin-off from Dungeons and Dragons, turn the conventions of games upside down. In games, you play to win, the rules regulate your action, and the story is a hook meant to draw you into the game. In narrativist games, you play to create a story, the rules constrain the ways the story can evolve, and winning is beside the point.

In many ways, narrativist role-playing games are collaborative writing exercises or storytelling workshops. They might also be useful laboratories for social software design.

For example, everyone talks about Twitter and the role of its 140-character limit. Is 140 characters enough? Could we manage with less? Would we be happier with more? What can’t we achieve in the face of the limit? What can we achieve that we wouldn’t be able to do with unlimited message length?

Robin D. Laws game, Og: unearthed edition, explores the extreme case. The players in the game are a band of cavemen. They face various dangers — wolves, mammoths, forest fires, hostile tribes. They work together to achieve heroic triumph, or at least to survive.

They do this with 18 words. That's all you can use amongst yourselves, though you can say anything you like to the GM. You, me, rock, water, fire, stick, hairy, bang, big, small, shiny, thing. And it gets worse: no one knows all 18 words, so you start out with a few words selected from the 18.

And one of those eighteen words is “verisimilitude".

A blogger writes:

For some reason, though, it works brilliantly. There's a real sense of satisfaction in managing to explain (comparatively) complex ideas with your tiny vocabulary. Once you get the hang of it, you can hold entire conversations in cave-speak, and string together ever more inventive forms of abuse. Essentially, you're combining elementary puzzle solving with searching through a foreign dictionary for all the curse words, with an occasional time-out to massacre bunch of cavemen from a different tribe (without any of the pesky moral considerations of whether it's OK to kill a bunch of pygmies). There's also some pride to be taken in engineering breakthroughs in caveman technology; by the end of our session we had invented both the wheel and the scarf, and possibly scrambled eggs. Every roleplay scenario should end with a communal omelette.

Og is available as a pdf download ($7.95) from Steve Jackson Games.

With NaNoWriMo starting this weekend, thousands of fingers will begin pounding furiously at the keyboard. Since the first Writers On Writing was well-received, we thought we’d share some more thoughts with you to really get you going! (Correspondents: send us your gems!)


You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.


I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.


Sometimes people say to me, “I want to write, but I have five kids, a full-time job, a wife who beats me, a tremendous debt to my parents,” and so on.
I say to them, “There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait. Make the time now, even if it is ten minutes once a week.”


Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency . . . to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.


Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.

So if you’re not sure what to do with your Hallowe’en afternoon before the trick-or-treating and costume parties really get into full swing, lock your doors, pull the shades, and try to hold on to your sanity as you invite the Elder Gods into your Twitter account. The theme couldn’t be any more perfect for the holiday. Here’s how to join the parade of horror.

A friend sent us the a link to a site about retouching photos. It was, she said, the scariest thing she’d ever seen. In the spirit of Hallowe’en, we expected people retouched to look like zombies or ghosts; instead we found this. It appears that people are retouching photos of children to make them look “better.”

In “Editing Children Into the Uncanny Valley”, Bryan Alexander raises interesting questions about anxieties toward digital manipulation of images that are supposed to represent reality. All digital art—and indeed all art—is a departure from reality. It is not the fact that this isn’t life-like that makes it disturbing; it’s the fact that it should be. Something has been lost in the editing process that has completely taken away the essence of life and realism that the photos are supposed to capture.

So where do we draw the line between acceptable digital art and that which affects us negatively? At what point do these girls stop looking real? As Alexander also points out, there are also some interesting issues of class, a topic which has already garnered attention in the digital world.

“At Pixar, they have a word for almost human but not quite: monster.” – Alvin Ray Smith

Just in time for NaNoWriMo’s new Young Writers Program , Puffin Books has created We Make Stories, an interactive digital writing site aimed at children. The site offers different applications in which kids can create narratives, one even allows kids to record their own sounds to add to their stories. Other applications allow children to make eBooks, treasure maps, interactive pop-up books, and comics.

At Puffin we believe that storytelling is an important skill which aides in the development of a child's literacy. The tools here have been designed to promote a range of storytelling skills and give children confidence in their ability to create stories. There are currently six different storytelling tools available with the possibility of further tools being added in the future.

The site may have been created to stress literacy, but it also has the added benefit of fostering electracy and introduces kids to the creative process behind simple forms of electronic literature. The site is innovative, cute, and engaging, and best of all gets kids creating born-digital narratives.

A while ago we raised some questions about whether Twitter narrative needs to weed out the cheese sandwiches. After all, cheese sandwiches are, in fact, a part of our daily narrative. Unless you agree with David Mamet that cheese sandwiches aren’t tasty.

While these questions have not been answered entirely to our satisfaction , Susana Zaragoza has some interesting points about Twitter as a platform. Zaragoza argues that Twitter goes beyond the typical social networking site to offer proof of the emergence of Secondary Orality, the shift from the values of print literature to combine many of the values of both print and oral culture. She also seems to suggest that Twitter uses hypertext and multilinearity in a way that bridges the gap between social media and wikis, the future of which could be a complex narrative which promotes reconfiguration of the text, author, writing and literary education. The emergence of such a narrative is precisely the idea behind Mark Amerika’s suggestion of a Hypertextual Consciousness .

With the beginning of NaNoWriMo looming on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to recall the wisdom of writers who’ve been there:


The worst thing a writer can do is to think. The best thing to do is to react, which includes thinking but doesn't let it act as an impediment or a censor. When you read something, you think something—write that down. That's what I'm always trying to do, –


If you start to edit as you write, you are climbing into your “editor” self, the self that reads. You’ve done plenty of reading, you don’t need practice right now.
Just write.


When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.


Any fiction should be a story. In any story there are three elements: persons, a situation, and the fact that in the end something has changed. If nothing has changed, it isn’t a story.


If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn’t expecting it.


Don’t write stage directions. If it is not apparent what the character is trying to accomplish by saying the line, telling us how the character said it, or whether or not she moved to the couch isn’t going to aid the case. We might understand better what the character means but we aren’t particularly going to care.


Breslin’s Rule: Don’t trust a brilliant idea unless it survives the hangover.


Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make.... They make them for their own protection, and to Hell with them.

Harvard’s The American Repertory Theater and Punchdrunk are performing Sleep No More, a hyperdrama rendition of Macbeth with a creepy, Hitchcock feel.

I was recently able to attend, courtesy of the ART, and it was truly one of the most memorable theater experiences I’ve ever had. I had never been to a hyperdrama before, but I was familiar with the concept and, having a fair amount of experience with hypertext, knew that my choices on which characters I decided to follow would influence my experience.

One problem I couldn’t figure out was how the audience could watch the action without getting in the way or detracting from the experience. The solution is brilliant: each guest wears a white mask. In the dimly lit rooms, the masks make us seem like spirits gathering around a group of mortals who were only faintly aware of our existence. Though we were asked to be silent, the occasional stifled giggle or whisper between other ghosts added to the ambience. As the action moved down a hall, groups of spirits would break off their exploration of scenery to join the larger group on the move, and as more and more spirits gathered and followed, the action seemed to take on a new sense of foreboding. The experience created by the masks was incredible, like watching a scene from beyond the grave.

I was also struck by the authenticity with which the play space was transformed: smells, temperatures, textures, and sounds brought the experience to life. The choreography was impeccable, and the cast did a wonderful job of helping the audience understand exactly what to do. I may even go back to catch some of the things I missed the first time.

If you’re in the Boston area, treat yourself and go see this production! Shows run through January 3, 2010.

One of my favorite English professors once told me that being a writer means that it’s harder for you to write than it is for the average person. At the time, when “writing” meant churning out a ten-page paper on Conrad in the two hours before class and breathlessly running to class with wet ink, I had no idea what he meant. Today I don’t think I can write my phone number on a napkin without revising it .

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was designed for people like me. The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel (about 175 pages) in one month. According to the website,

“By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down. ”

NaNoWriMo also offers a Young Writers Program , which allows kids to set their own writing goal for the month. I hope plenty of teachers will participate with their students!

The event kicks off November 1st and ends midnight, Pacific Time, November 30th.

Editor Daniel Menaker discusses the impossibility of contemporary book publishing his recent essay, Redactor Agonistes.

The essay covers everything from the perpetual gloom of the book business to the psychological dependency of writers. Reviews are often arbitrary. You can’t get reviewed anyway, because there are few reputable review outlets left. You don’t have time to read all the good books that come out; You don’t even have time to find them.

Menaker thinks that books today are becoming shorter due to shorter attention spans. We’ve all heard this before, usually about kids and teenagers: the Internet is decreasing everyone’s attention span and kids don’t read anymore. If this were true, I couldn’t say that my 13-year-old sister read 12 books this summer (no, they were not assigned readings, nor was the TV broken, her cell-phone disconnected, or her laptop inaccessible). But the fact that books are getting shorter may be true even if his reason for it is not.

Which brings up an interesting point that Mark Bernstein pointed out to me: “how long should a salable unit of literature be?  In the 18th century, people bought and sold pamphlets and even broadsides. What law of nature or economics prevents one from buying a novella?” Similarly, how long must a hypertext work be?

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project is dedicated to the recording and performing of new orchestral music from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Often even the experienced concert-goer will complain that these pieces are strange, experimental, disjointed, or hard-to-understand—many of the same complaints that plague new media. What struck me about the project was the unusual critical and commercial success the group seems to be enjoying from playing these pieces. In a time when music CDs are tough to sell, and the enterprise of classical recording seems almost at an end, BMOP has launched an ambitious, award-winning (and apparently profitable) catalog of new works on CD (some downloadable from their site for $0.99), including John Harbison's ballet Ulysses and Gunther Schuller’s Journey in Jazz.

Inside Higher Ed interviews Dennis Baron of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign about his new book, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution .

The interview discusses the digitization of writing, addressing claims that technologies like email and text-messaging are destroying children’s capacity to write and disputing the idea that computers and online learning will replace face-to-face teaching. Baron also discusses Google’s book project .

In a new post to her blog, Susan Gibb discusses revising her latest hypertext, Blueberries. She describes how slight changes to wording can alter the meaning of a particular node, allowing for possible interpretations that even the writer didn’t catch the first time.

Meanwhile, Diane Greco (who has just taken up a new post at Boston University) talks about the obstacles to starting a story — and also about how writing letters builds identity. She picks out a wonderful comment from another writer’s weblog:

How many layers of imagination are piled in this buttery biscuit of a note?

In her blog, Susan Gibb discusses the process of writing and revision for her new hypertext, Blueberries:

“So what is the impetus for selection [of which link to follow]? Does it depend upon the individual as far as style (first, second, third link in order) or experience either of reading hypertext or of knowledge of the author’s style? Is it the text itself that creates desire to go further in that direction, whether it be the single word (or phrase) that is obviously the link, or the context in which the link resides?”

Gibb is able to trace the path of her readers, finding out which link they clicked on and how far they went afterwards. She uses this information to revise the text— fascinating!

Be sure to check out the comments as well, as she brings up interesting points of discussion on the fact that a reader might be done with the piece and not have visited every link:

“As far as am I okay with a reader missing many of my most eloquently written spaces, I’m getting used to it. There are two evident solutions for the author to take: 1) ensure that the paths lead through the story in a way that would both please the reader and satisfy the writer, and 2) more importantly, make each and every writing space a piece of art.”

In a showing of true creative fortitude, Steve Ersinghaus and friends have finished the 2009 incarnation of the 100 Days project. The project invited artists of different fields to create a new work in their respective area of interest each day for 100 days. Susan Gibb, who was tasked with creating a new work of hypertext each day, explains how the project began:

The 100 Days Project started as a spinoff from last year's collaboration between Steve Ersinghaus and Carianne Mack , Steve writing a poem to match Carianne's watercolor paintings. As teachers, they both had some time during the summer to be creative and decided to produce work every day for 100 days and posted each one at Steve's Media Play Site. This project was later turned into a book .
Wanting to continue the idea this past summer, Steve decided on a short story each day, with Carianne doing watercolors and invited a number of photographers, storytellers, cooks, poets, graphic and coding artists to join in. My role was in hyperfiction. Steve has some information on the beginnings of the project on the sidebar of the Media Play page. And here is the link to the main project page where everyone's work is collected and we kept up with each other's daily creation. Basically, Steve would write his story and post it early (or early for him!) in the morning and from there, the others would sort of take inspiration and follow their own trail into a related work.

Ersinghaus is scheduled to speak on the project at Tinderbox Weekend San Francisco, November 21-22.

Brand Savant features a great article by Tom Webster on using Tinderbox to write questionnaires. Webster, who is VP for strategy and marketing at Edison Research, observes that writing effective questionnaires and surveys can be exceptionally tricky. All of us who have ploughed through endlessly dull market research surveys understand the frustration of irrelevant questions that are obviously irrelevant but that a clumsy script insists must be asked.

Though the article is limited to questionnaire design, it’s quite easy to see how the same practices could be applied to hypertext creation, or even to administering examinations where students are given a list of works and asked to discuss a selection.

Webster will be speaking on using Tinderbox for opinion research at Tinderbox Weekend San Francisco, November 21-22.