Hypertext Writing

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?