See the boy, crawling forward to the front of the stage. He carries a bundle of shimmering papers. See him stand, open his arms wide and fling them out to the audience. He takes a bow…
In my last non-fiction blog post here I detailed a few of the tips and tricks I use to dig words out of a brain clogged up by a barrage of Netflix and computer code. I talked about sticking to a daily schedule (oh, the hypocrite that I am!) and not letting yourself be overwhelmed by the monolithic library of media we have at our fingertips. Both pretty simple tips, right? Sure, but they’re important ones that warrant repeating.
Of course, these are tips that apply to all forms of writing, everything from essay writing to poetry, so let’s get a bit more specific then, hey? How can we become better and more knowledgeable digital writers? By making the most of our medium, of course!
Digital Purism or Hybrids
A good question to ask when you begin thinking about digital writing is: how digital do you want to get? Do you want to just post a traditional tale on an electronic medium or do you want the medium to dictate the tale and let it transform into something unexpected because of it? You have to ask yourself what level of digital purity you want to achieve.
As an example, a precious Digital Writer in Residence here created a wholly Twitter-based choose-your-own-adventure tale, another used the blogging platform as an ever changing and constantly update-able book of poetry and short stories. Operation Electric Forever, my own project, strikes a balance between the two, using the blog as the pages of a digital book that can be infused with digitally “pure” elements like Facebook and Google Map embeds. You can’t really do “interactive” on the paper page, so why not have some fun with the electric one?
The Code to Success
You may have already seen that Operation Electric Forever has employed the digital “voice” of one Luke Bracken, the protagonist at the centre of the story, and also interactive “Street Views” (thanks to Google Maps). The reason for these features will become clearer as the story unfolds, my dear reader, but while I’m writing I’m always trying to think up new ways to add interactivity and interest using simple digital media features.
WordPress allows for great post customisation through HTML. I know that I won’t have to explain this to most of you cyber-generation folks, but HTML is one of the many code languages that computers read and use to display and organise things on your screen. Everything from changing the colour of text to complex scripts can be created with a bit of coding here and there.
The great thing about mediums like WordPress, Facebook, Google and Youtube, is that you don’t even need to know that much coding to create new and exciting forms. Heck, most sites simply give you the pre-written code you need. All you need to do is learn how to copy and paste. It’s never been simpler to add fun little extras to your text.
Of course, a lot of problems can crop up by experimenting with this sort of thing. It’s all to easy to muck-up a bit of code and then lose your mistake amongst the crazy landslide of numbers and symbols. And, let’s be honest, WordPress is hardly perfect. Sometimes you’ll come across problems with no simple answer. Glitches and bugs still haven’t been eradicated from the web.
The tip is, as always with this sort of thing, to Keep it Simple, Stupid! Have a goal for what you want to achieve and do a bit of Googling to figure out the easiest way to do this. You’ll often find people have come up with the solution already!
Gratification and Feedback
One of the great things about digital writing is that you can get immediate feedback, statistics of engagement and gratification.
If you’re currently into any forms of Zen, mindfulness or Ego-reduction, it’s probably best to overlook what I’m about to say but… “Likes”, dedicated fans and comments are incredibly important for writers of all stripes and digital writers are lucky in that they can receive feedback on their work immediately, either directly (through comments) or indirectly (through “likes” and statistics).
Sure, often times the comments received aren’t the comments you want, but the ability to see how your writing is being read and engaged with through stats and numbers is very helpful in tweaking your craft. That’s not to say that you should be basing your creative writing on the opinions of others, but it can be helpful to drive views and publicity towards your work.
Take the time and pay attention to your WordPress statistics page and Facebook Analytics every now and then. Figure out when your posts are being read in the day, by which countries and on what day of the week. You can begin to target your posts to these times and areas and boost your readership through all manner of focused digital media communication.
Go Forth and Prosper
I hope I’ve sparked some sort of digital renaissance in your own minds tonight and got you thinking of ways to either spice up your projects or even begin new ones.
There are no hard and fast rules to digital writing. There have been so many different forms of electronic text published since the early 90s that a specific “genre” of digital writing has never emerged. Sure, the medium dictates the text to a large degree, but its also very easy to go as wild as you can with experimentation these days.
So be free, write free, go wild! Electric writing is all sparks and whizz-bangs and magic. Have fun with it!
Operation Electric Forever, was created during the SA Writers Centre Digital Writer in Residence program during 2016.