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.

After an exciting weekend in San Francisco (followed by a redeye home and a fair bit of jet lag) we have finally returned to Eastgate with tales from Tinderbox Weekend.

The talks were varied and interesting, with wide-ranging topics. I gave an overview of using Tinderbox in lightweight applications; a popular example of using Tinderbox to keep up with my teenage sister’s changing social life.

Tom Webster gave a wonderful talk on Tinderbox and qualitative research, and demonstrated a creative method for using agents and adornments in organizing data. Dr. Jonathan Leavitt’s talk on integrating Tinderbox with the iPhone covered ways to build an iPhone-accessible Web site as well as some interesting iPhone apps that work well with Tinderbox, and Mark Anderson’s talk on export ranged from the basics of text and HTML export to more complicated examples like exporting to Keynote.

Weekend-goers were also offered a sneak peak at Tinderbox 5 and its cool new features, as well as a look at Twig, an upcoming lightweight tool that specializes in capturing and organizing information and that will be great for students and beginners.

The talks were impressive, but more important was the terrific caliber of the participants: intelligent, cultured, Tinderbox users from an amazing variety of backgrounds—from data management to theological studies. All had great ideas and even better questions, and inspirations for new Tinderbox facilities.

Back at Eastgate, we’re working on demos and screencasts from the weekend; we’ll have more details shortly.

Lilia Efimova examines blogging as an ecosystem, discussing the connections “between people and online bits.” She offers a look at how these ecosystems are formed, how you can participate effectively, and offers great links to fascinating work on blogging and networking.


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?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve called friends, bosses, but especially parents, only to immediately regret calling. Call at the wrong time, and they release hours worth of pent-up frustrations on me. If only it were possible to know what kind of mood they were in before I called! According to Margaret Morris, the idea might not be so far-fetched .

In a recent post on Quantified Self, she details plans for mood mapping through touchscreen phones. The goal is to keep mood logging painless enough that people will actually do it. The mood phone is designed to let the person on the other end know what kind of a mood you’re in; if it’s to be useful, it must be used. This means it can’t rely on annoying surveys or one-dimensional sliders.

When I first heard about this technology, my mind started immediately ticking off interesting ways this could be incorporated into a mobile hypertext readers. What if the story could adapt to the reader’s mood?


De Nieuwe Reporter’s Eric Ulken brings us news from Infocamp, an “unconference” in Seattle which focused on gathering and exchanging information. The article notes that there were surprisingly few journalists in attendance, and that the approach taken was broader than that normally taken by journalists. Ulken returns with several tips for online reporters to incorporate ideas familiar to information architects and online communities, including:

  • giving the audience personas to understand their needs
  • understanding that users don’t want what they say they want
  • A/B testing helps optimize content
  • Letting the community moderate content

The fact that journalism is taking notes from online sources is not new, and in a culture of converging media we’ll be seeing more and more examples of the necessity of cross-disciplinary knowledge. Years ago reporters had to know how to find information, fact-check, and write*. These days a blogger probably knows basic networking, coding, design, and of course how to find information, fact-check, and write.

Then there was the day Art Petacque and Hugh Hough won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Valerie Percy murder case. Hough was a superb rewrite man. Petacque was our mob reporter. I don't know if anybody ever actually saw him typing, but he had great sources. He even knew all mob nicknames of the top Chicago mafioso. If it was rumored that he sometimes invented the nicknames himself, nobody ever complained. What was Joey (The Clown) Lombardo gonna do? Write a letter to the editor complaining that his real mob nickname was "the Joker?"
Petacque and Hough were a familiar team in the city room. Petacque would walk in looking like the cat who ate the canary, take a chair next to Hough, pull out a sheaf of notes, and start whispering in his ear. Hough would type, stopping occasionally to remove his cigar and say, "You're kidding!" Then Hough would write up the notes, and the story would appear under a shared byline, often on Page One. The day they won the prize, Hough was on a golf course. Petacque walked in, got a standing ovation, climbed up on a desk, bowed, and said, "I only wish Hugh Hough was here to tell you how happy I feel."

The 21st century was all the rage a decade back, but already it’s still hard to forget that we were at the end of an era way back then. But it’s really the technologies of the last few years have brought us sprinting into the new century. The experimental arts started the move online. Business and popular culture were soon to follow. Now, we all Twitter and Facebook, and old media suddenly seem old.

The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
Are just passing fancies, and in time may go.

Media seem to be emerging from an era of theory and of Theory. What comes after theory? New media, as yet, has no answer.

Brian Eno argues that the absence of data breeds theory, and we now exchange data in ways that were previously unimaginable. He raises this and other interesting points on our shift in cultural mindset,

We’re either at the start of a renaissance, or at the end of civilisation. Increasingly, from facts and figures and arithmetic, we’re building the intellectual tools to decide which it will be. While some shrill conservatives cling to the past, the rest of us are moving forward to something still in the process of being defined. That’s why, compared to them, we look a bit untogether. They know precisely what they don’t want, but we can’t yet clearly articulate what we do want. That’s the nature of the future—it’s a collective act of informed imagination. And the quality of information is improving.

Not only is the internet reducing our attention spans, attacking our minds, and threatening our children, Ben Macintyre says, “The internet is killing storytelling.”

The internet has evolved a new species of magpie reader, gathering bright little buttons of knowledge, before hopping on to the next shiny thing.

Ben Macintyre’s article accuses our attention of incontinence, and claims that the creation of MIT’s Center for Future Storytelling was “aimed at protecting the traditional tale from oblivion.” The CFS site seems to tell a different story, one of a collaboration between the Media Lab and Plymouth Rock Studies, an East-coast film and television venture that is itself experiencing some complex narrative lately.

Though Macintyre does note that “what is needed is a machine that can combine the ease and speed of digital technology with immersive pleasures of narrative,” the article also boldly asserts that “the internet...does not really ‘do’ narrative.” “Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet,” he worries – a concern that would seem to argue that 20th century newspaper writing was also a doomed literary concern and its practitioners – Hemingway, Runyon, London, O’Henry – were just grinding out birdfeed.

Meanwhile, a generation is tuned, increasingly and sometimes exclusively, to the cacophony of interactive chatter and noise, exciting and fast moving but plethoric and ephemeral. The internet is there for snacking, grazing and tasting, not for the full, six-course feast that is nourishing narrative. The consequence is an anorexic form of culture.

In the battle for the eBook market, Google, Amazon, and Apple may have some new competition from the Internet Archive: BookServer .

According to a demonstration of the new platform, this initiative offers a wide range of features:

  • Bookserver provides access to a variety of open formats. In particular, it uses ePub. 1.6 million books are available in the ePub format, making them accessible via Stanza on the iPhone, Sony eReaders, and many other reading devices. ePub will reflow text if the font changes, providing better adaptation to different devices. (Of course, this raises interesting issues for scholarly citation, where reference to page number would no longer make sense.)
  • BookServer has a database of Mobi files, which can be downloaded to a Kindle .
  • These books are also available on the Daisy format, which allows for the creation of braille and text-to-audio copies.
  • Other media include 100,000 hours of television recordings, 400,000 music recordings and 15 billion archived web pages.
  • Bookserver allows iPhone users to purchase books (via Stanza) directly from the publisher, not from Stanza.
  • Libraries can loan out an eBook in a finite number of copies, depending on how many copies of the book that library has purchased. This point resolves many of the legal copyright issues that arose from the easy duplication of electronic material available to “borrow.”

We’re all tired of buzzwords that have no clear meaning or make no sense. Those that do have a clear meaning are generally misused. Often, buzzwords start as meaningful concepts like “Agile Computing”, and then are stretched and misused and repeated by managers who can’t bother learning what they mean until the phrases are drained entirely. See also "service oriented architecture.”

Today, one buzzword rules them all: The Cloud.

At this point seems to have a different idea of what “the cloud” is, which seems appropriate for the metaphor. Writing in Ars Technica, Jon Stokes tries to save cloud computing from dissolving into fog and vapor. Highly recommended, both because cloud-based tools are here to stay, and because you, as a writer, want to cherish the terms instead of knocking their corners off.

Jill Walker-Rettberg recently gave a talk, Personal Stories, Corporate Templates, which built upon an essay, “Freshly Generated for You and Barack Obama,” which is in press at the European Journal of COmmunication.

This presentation discusses contemporary personal media and narrative practices, such as those we see in social media. Some of these practices are constrained by corporations such as Facebook or Twitter, which steer our expression in specific ways. Others appear free, yet are heavily influenced by cultural templates, copying and voluntary rules. Often, corporations or organisations provide systems to automate some of these voluntary rules. We’re also beginning to see some examples of social media sites that take our contributions and create their own visualisations and representations of an aspect of our life

The talk, as well as many others at the Network as a Space and Medium for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Art Practice, was well-received. Nick Monfort offers a set of analects in place of the customary trip report. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is Raine Kaskimaa’s change of heart:

“For a long time I advocated that we have two classes of electronic literature – Class A which represents that work which is truly programmatic, and the other which is traditional writing. Increasingly, I don’t see this distinction as important.” -Raine Koskimaa

Reviews have been widely debated in literary bar rooms of late. You can’t get reviewed, you can’t get a fair review, and you can’t even get a job reviewing. The maladies of peer review have been even more widely debated in the scientific community.

Recently, the CHI 2010 rebuttal period has ignited an interesting discussion of the review process. James Landay lashes out with a harsh opinion of the process.

The reviewers simply do not value the difficulty of building real systems and how hard controlled studies are to run on real systems for real tasks. This is in contrast with how easy it is to build new interaction techniques and then to run tight, controlled studies on these new techniques with small, artificial tasks

He’s backed by several commenters, many prominent in the computer science community, who offer intelligently written responses.

Gene Golovchinsky responds to Landay’s post with an apt assessment of the problems with the current review process and an interesting alternative.

The [new] scheme works like this: a paper is published on some open-access site such as People read it and comment on it. Other people rate the comments. In the end, you have a set of high-quality comments that comprise the review of the paper. Authors are free to add new versions that address some of the comments, thereby improving the paper. A subset of these papers that receive positive reviews can then be selected for presentation at conferences. Reviewers who consistently write good reviews should be rewarded by recognizing another class of contribution in the tenure review process.

CHI 2010 rebuttals are currently under review.

Rudi Seitz has created a place for logophiles to rejoice and share their love of words: Quadrivial Quandary. Each day the Word of the Day from Wordsmith, Wiktionary, Merriam-Webster, and , are listed. The challenge is to use all four words in a sentence that demonstrates their meaning.

Some of the participants come up with very interesting sentences! Such as:

The regimen required to retrain the atavistic Hulk Hogan as a sommelier was a continuing daymare for Hulk and instructors alike. (by Mouse)

This is, clearly, four times as difficult as the old quiz-show challenge that elicited Cerf’s famous answer:

Q: Use “meretricious” in a sentence.
A: We wish you a meretricious and a happy New Year.

I’d say the Quandary is more fun than a crossword, and more importantly you can stop sounding pretentious to all of your friends who are tired of you using unnecessarily big words; you’ll finally have a more healthy outlet!

Christian Swinehart reintroduces us to the old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that we know and love, and uses a beautiful new visualization to do it.

Swinehart color codes pages of different types: red for catastrophic endings, orange for disappointments lighter orange for mediocre outcomes, yellow for favorable results, and blue for great or “winning” endings; grey pages represent branching decisions or choiceless story pages. He then uses this color system to map readers’ choices through the story. The new visualization for traversing choices is fascinating, and emphasizes the elevated level of author control available through computer constraints versus the constrains of the codex; the codex author may not want you to look ahead to page 83, but she can’t really stop you.

This constraint is most apparent in the gallery, where the site offers readers a chance to read the old adventures, restricting them to the choices presented in the text. The reader can track her own progress on a thumbnail map. The presentation of the pages, particularly scrolling over darkened pages when the reader makes a choice, adds an interesting new dimension to these texts. Not showing any text at all on these pages emphasizes the fact that we are completely “missing” those pages, emphasizing Terry Harpold’s old hypertext dictum that we understand links not only for what they lead us to, but also for those things from which they turn away.

In my first undergraduate semester at UF, a business professor asked a packed auditorium of students to look their left and right, laughing that one of those students would drop or fail out that year, but it was likely that both would not graduate. He was probably right.

The Chronicle of Higher Education consulted a “panel of experts” on whether too many students are attending college. The consensus seemed to be, “Yes.” This oversimplifies things a bit, but there are certainly good arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. On one hand, the number of students applying to college right out of high school is very high, and many of those students will fail or drop out. This wastes both the students’ time and money and deprives the work force of capable resources while perhaps soaking up tax dollars in the process. On the other hand, American culture greatly values the idea of not restricting opportunity based on socioeconomic class, and not encouraging students to attend college limits the opportunities of the under-privileged.

Whichever side of the debate, the panel seems to focus completely on return on investment, a metric which many of the article’s comments disapprove.

Electronic Arts, one of the largest console and PC game studios, recently announced the acquisition of Playfish for $300 million. The same day, EA announced that it would be laying off over 1500 employees and cutting a dozen new game titles in development in an effort to save $100 million annually.

This seems to suggest that EA believes the future of gaming to lie more in the future of social networking than console and PC gaming. After all, Zynga (the creator of Mafia Wars and Farmville) and Playdom (the creator of Mobsters and Sorority Life) bring in millions of dollars, despite recent debates over the ethicality of their business practices. But this idea is interesting in light of our recent discussions on Twitter fiction and the prospect of the literary shift toward the oral tradition.

Manu of our narrative forms seem interested in social interaction. Of course, online social gaming has existed in MMOGs for a decade, but the prospect of gaming moving to social networks opens up possibilities of mass-authorship, social inter-dependence and levels of immersion that could blur the line between role-playing and reality. A look at alternate reality gaming shows how some of this is already underway, but with huge gaming corporations focusing on social media, it will be interesting to see whether Facebook games will be emerge from their current spam-scam doldrums.


A team at Google (including Ken Thompson and Rob Pike) have release Go, an intriguing programming language that features extremely fast compilation.

The demo builds 120,000 lines of parsers and compilers in less than 10 seconds, on a laptop.

Also interesting: no inheritance and no overloading; instead, Go relies on lots and lots of templates.

(The debugger, apparently, will be called Ogle.)

Go is designed to have an extremely fast edit-compile-test cycle, which could make it an exceptional tool for building new hypertext tools and new literary machines.

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.

It’s no secret that Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source of information on the Web, but the demographics of its contributers did surprise me a bit, mostly because I hadn’t previously given it much thought. However, according to Evgeny Morozov in the Boston Review:

In [cofounder Jimmy] Wales’s own words, Wikipedians are “80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, around 70 percent under the age of 30.”

Morozov, reviewing Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution, is quaintly concerned with the brow height of these lonely young Wikipedians.

Thus the standard criticism of Wikipedians: they are obsessed with popular culture and less equipped to document the high-brow. The 711-word entry on nouvelle vague filmmaker Claude Chabrol, for example, is much less impressive than the 1867-word article on Transformers-director Michael Bay.

The article argues that these facts contribute to the site’s lack of credibility, causing large gaps in information which might be brought for by a more diverse contributing population. It also argues that the business model may be encouraging less-than-reputable sources and discouraging experts whose sources aren’t easily linkable.

As long as an hour of research yields less “Wikipedia value” than an hour spent planting one hundred commas, few enthusiasts will do the intellectual heavy-lifting. Besides, one cannot learn much about Chabrol from a cursory Google search. Thus, the real tragedy of the Wikipedia method is that it reduces intellectual contributions to such granular units that writing a 2000-word entry on Chabrol in one sitting feels like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And if you do go to such lengths to improve the site, you do not want the bureaucrats—who may know nothing about Chabrol—to judge your contribution. There is something unappealing about the value system of a project that prizes, say, movie reviews quoted from college newspapers over elaborate entries in the authoritative Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, simply because the latter does not have an easy-to-link Web site.

Of course, I don’t think Wikipedia’s lack of credibility as a reputable source surprises many, but it the inner workings detailed in this (admittedly sensationalistic ) review are interesting.

Motorola’s release of the Droid, the first cellphone to feature Google’s Android 2.0 operating system ,has a lot of people talking. Sitting patiently in the cloud of Android buzz is the future of publishing. Android’s growth might lead to an increased push eBooks.

In addition to the general explosion of mobile devices there are some Android specific factors that will help Android spread its reach and impact reading and ebooks -
  1. Android is arriving in a lot of Devices. Much more than we realize.
  2. All these devices form one giant platform i.e. they can tap into Android Apps and vica versa.
  3. Google Books, Google Editions and Google can and will leverage all these devices.  
  4. Open works both ways – An eBook company other than Google might be able to take over the Android platform with an eReading innovation.
So what possibilities does Android offer for eReading?
  • Every author/publisher can sell their book as an App. 
  • Every ebook store can add their own ebook app.
  • It’s open so neither the carrier nor Google can block apps (in theory). 
  • Google does take 30% of revenue on paid apps (as Apple does). However, it’s less than what authors/publishers would pay retailers etc.

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.

Today’s scholarship has generated a host of vast Web sources from The Victorian Web and the Rosetti Archives to the Henry III Fine Rolls Project and Perseus.

The HTLit wiki is cultivating an annotated guide to these Hypertext Compendia. While we’re at it, we’re also building one on Twitter Fiction.

We’re working on extending these wiki resources. We'd would love help! Send your suggestions to And if you'd like to contribute a sentence or two to point out interesting or unique hypertextual features of any of the sources already listed, that would be terrific.

Want to help paint the fence? We’re restricting write access to keep out the cranks and spammers, but send us an email and we’ll tell you more.


The FTC has released new guidelines for endorsement of products. Starting December 1, 2009, bloggers must disclose if they have been paid for an endorsement or received a free product for review.

Reactions have been mixed. Some writers are up in arms, fearing that this is a step toward internet censorship. Others believe that the FTC is doing the public a service by making endorsements more transparent. Still others rejoice that the regulation as a sign that blogging has now been established as a legitimate medium.

Theater critics have long received free tickets; now, boggers are expected to disclose gifts and spiffs. photo: House Theater Chicago

"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.

Carnegie Mellon University is conducting a study using cellphone games for teaching English to students in rural India. The study will span two years and, backed financially by Nokia and by the Macarthur Foundation, will distribute 450 cell phones to students in Andhra Pradesh. Project MILLEE seeks to use the 4 billion mobile phones in the world — of which half are in developing countries — to engage kids who cannot afford private classes.

The MILLEE web site is also a nice mix of gloss and scholarship, useful to students, contributors, and to the press.

“In particular, we adapt the traditional village games with which our target child learners are already familiar, so as to ensure culturally appropriate game designs. ”

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.

E-Lit Camp: Write, Code, Create

Dec 11 - 13, 2009

E-Lit Camp is an informal weekend gathering for writers, artists, and programmers currently involved or interested in electronic literature. Work on your projects, give a presentation, collaborate, and learn from others.

If you're a writer, artist, journalist, coder, or some combination of the above, E-Lit camp is for you. Have a project? Bring it. Don't have one? Bring your skills and creativity. Fiction is fab; documentary is cool. Bring your camera, laptop, projector, ideas, and anything else you need to be creative. Bring electronic works, Interactive Fictions, and videogames that you like, so we can try them out!

eLit Camp

December 11-13, 2009
Registration: $50

This is an Unconference, loosely based on BarCamp and RailsCamp. Think of it as a weekend-long writers colony for electronic literature. If you have something to share, bring it along; there's no approval process.

Sunday evening, many of us are hoping to see "Sleep No More", a hyperdrama at the American Repertory Theatre.

Cost: $50 for supplies and snacks. Theater tickets extra.

Google Group:

  • Bill Bly
    • We Descend, Volume 2: an artifactual novel in hypertext
  • Mark Bernstein (Eastgate Systems)
    • Tinderbox
    • StorySpace
    • Card Shark, Thespis, and the Generalized Stretchtext Library
  • Nathan Matias (World University Project)
    • Tinderbox
    • Emberlight, a web publisher for Tinderbox
    • Ruby on Rails
    • WordPress
    • Inform 7 (a bit)
    • Electronic documentary
  • Sarah Smith, novelist
  • Stacey Mason (Eastgate Systems)
  • Steve Ersinghaus (Tunxis New Media)

Fictionaut s a social networking community for writers of short fiction and poetry. Founded by Jürgen Fauth, the site offers a place for writers to share their work, and discuss it with a discerning audience:

Part self-selecting magazine, part community network, Fictionaut is a way for readers to discover new voices and for writers to share their work, gain recognition, and connect with their audience and each other.

Susan Gibb has started a Fictionaut group on hypertext fiction.

Meanwhile, a comic choose-your-own-adventure book by Jason Shiga, uses a series of tubes to transport readers from one decision to the next. And probably not the series of tubes you’re thinking of. Rather than say “turn to page 85,” at the end of a panel, the reader can follow a tube image to the edge of the page, choosing different tubes for different decisions. The tubes correspond to tabs which take the reader to the next sections of the book.

One complaint sometimes advanced about hypertext is that there is no real way to gauge how much further you have to read. This is, of course, also a strength, but it is useful for a work to be able to communicate whether it is exhausted or you have merely reached a resting place. Since Meanwhile is about time travel, it would be interesting if the book utilized its form by actually listing events (which might or might not happen in the story based on the reader’s decision) chronologically in the book, and then having the reader move through time by flipping to different parts of the book.

For its limitations the comic is interesting and its presentation meticulous . Meanwhile is also available online .

Jason Shiga, self portrait.

Last Sunday kicked off National Novel Writing Month, or, according to Merlin Mann, National Read Endless Superficial Advice About Writing Month. Mann cautions procrastinating writers to stay away from the plethora of Web sites that will be offering advice to NaNoWriMo participants in an effort to distract them from their work.

And, the warning? Don’t read too many blog posts like this.
The hounds are out this month, guys, and they smell your fear and self-doubt. So, shovelbloggers will be offering you a tantalizing Vegas-style buffet of endless writing “help” that will range from the indispensable to the stupid to the unconscionably poisonous. And, smile though they might, those folks could care less if all those page views end up killing your word count or distracting you at the one delicate moment you were about to figure out your troubled third act. Their job is to make you stop working. Don’t let them. Okay?

So get those fingers moving, type your heart out, and if you’re going to take advice, make sure you take it in moderation and only take it from the greats. Mann suggests that most advice worth taking will cover the same basic points:

  1. Set reasonable goals and honor them
  2. Draft with complete abandon; edit with surgical precision
  3. When you sit down to write, focus without distraction; when you’re not writing, keep it off your mind
  4. Read great books (actual big books, not blogs or magazines) as often as you can
  5. Just write, and just keep writing, and just keep writing, writing, writing. Then write more.

John G. McDaid, author of Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse , gets ready for the excitement, labor, and stresses of NaNoWriMo. McDaid notes that he already has an outline for his novel, and promises to keep us updated as the writing gets rolling.

Some other hypertextual NaNoWriMo participants include Steve Ersinghaus, who plans to do a stretch text for the event, and Mike Wrenn ,who plans to do a choose-your-own-adventure, using Tinderbox for the structure mapping.

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.

Even with my own rereadings I’ve missed it too.

This post got me thinking about editing and proofreading hypertext. Since so much of the experience often depends upon the order in which different lexia are read, how difficult is it to anticipate how readers will interpret things coming from different paths? Is it more difficult to write and polish passages while considering the reader’s potential ignorance of pertinent parts of the story?

Philadelphia magazine office, c. 1908, Ray Stannard Baker, NYPL 1232072

I’d love to hear your responses; email me

Meanwhile, Susan Gibb has opened a hypertext writers’ group at Jürgen Fauth”s Fictionaut.

Some people argue against electronic fiction because the codex book offers a certain tangible manipulation. There is certainly something to be said for having a product in your hand, especially for children who learn spatial reasoning from their physical interaction with the world. David Merrill and Jeevan Kalinithi’s Siftables respond to this critique.

Siftables are programmable interactive blocks with screens. They respond to movement, orientation, and each other’s presence. They can also produce sound. As you can see in the demo, these blocks show amazing promise as a learning tool for kids, allowing them to practice their multiplication tables, as well as hone their authoring skills. (Also interesting: the Taco Lab Blog)

Matt Welch acknowledges that the fuss over subsidizing the failing newspaper industries seems to ignore that these papers are already receiving subsidies.

Like baseball and movies, newspapering, no matter how frowny these days, is still powerful and noisy enough to qualify for the too-big-to-not-give-free-stuff-to exemption that most business over a certain size enjoy. Only through some fading sense of church/state separation propriety are those deals mostly limited to siting issues instead of direct cash handouts for newsroom operations.

The site points to an article by Ira Stoll of the New York Sun, which details millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies handed out to newspapers in recent years. And it’s worth remembering that, in the early US, the national postal system strongly favored newspapers, giving them greatly preferential rates at a time when postage costs were significant and even the wealthy wrote on the backs and insides of envelopes to reduce costs. Indeed, the enshrinement of the US Postal Services in the Constitution was primarily intended to subsidize the press.

While the cliche “information overload” is a tiresome exaggeration, I would argue that we may be a bit information-disjointed. We’re constantly trying to communicate with each other. Between Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, instant messaging, and email, the different social media can be a bit overwhelming. Sure, there’s Google Wave, but it seems like most people are using it for work ; what about personal communication?

Mozilla has tackled this problem with Raindrop, a prototype which combines communication media into one neat little package. The best part about it seems to be that it doesn’t want to compete with what we already have; it simply brings it all together and perhaps organizes it for us along the way.

Raindrop UX Design and Demo from Mozilla Messaging on Vimeo.

Every few years, in an attempt to make us all feel we haven’t seen enough old movies, the AFI announces a new list of the 100 best movies of all time. Time and The Modern Library have notorious 100 Best Novel Lists. even offers the 100 best video games of all time.

But in a culture of ever-converging media, why has no one combined these lists and offered a 100 Best Narratives of All Time?

Of course, these lists are subjective anyway. Ebert argues that they’re arbitrary and misguided, serving only to start arguments. The Godfather is always in the top 3 of the AFI list, and I can’t get through it. But still, no informed scholar has tried this? No hack on the net? Not even ? Why?

I have some theories:

  • it scares people to think about books and movies as different means to the same end because they have always thought of one as the more challenging or as a high-brow version of the other.
  • people don’t want to put the thought into it
  • people really and truly believe that you can’t compare apples and oranges.

So I challenge someone out there to put this together–not just because I want to know who would win in a 4-way wrestling match between Francis Ford Coppola, James Joyce, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Frank Miller–but because I really believe it’s time we start really thinking about different forms of media as what they are: different ways to tell a story.

Lilia Efimova recently gave an introduction to Personal Knowledge Management at St. Petersburg State University.

She's particularly interested in knowledge management at intersection of individual, their job, and their communities. This is, perhaps, pitched at such an abstract plane that we accept the diagrams too readily. Is the purpose of having ideas to generate tasks? Is community life an endless cycle of relations and conversations that beget more tasks? And are ideas really coequal with conversations and relations?

In any case, it’s good to see people like Efimova thinking seriously about the ways individuals manage knowledge work, not only about enterprise repository strategies.