Back to Blogging: NaNoWriMo & DigiWriMo

Tonight I’m reflecting on the power of writing – and on the power of blogging. I thought it might be appropriate to share some of it here.

For the last three years I’ve had my eye on National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). The writer in me has looked on with jealous interest as over a hundred thousand people each year attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I once wrote a great deal of fiction, science fiction actually – and perhaps ironically, a great deal of poetry as well (which eventually became song lyrics during the years of 1996 to 2003). Sometimes I think the work I do now is also something like a marriage of these two genres, but since starting my Ph.D. in 2003, I haven’t written a new song… or new poetry… or a story (at least not a complete one of any of these). I sometimes thought I would write more again when I was done with the Ph.D., but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Of course I still write. I wrote a 215 page narrative for my dissertation. On many work days I easily spend 6 hours or more writing email, planning documents, etc. – and many more hours than that writing tiny bits of whatever as I complete my work at my keyboard. But it’s very different.

So each year, NaNoWriMo captures my attention. I consider doing it, but I back out due to my workload. This year, I decided that it was more important to practice the spirit of it than to stick to the 1667 words a day (which would take me about two hours… time I don’t have every day). For now, I’ve settled on 30 minutes… and I’m not even holding myself to doing it everyday. So far my record has been abysmal, but… I’ve written more this November than in any of my previous “attempts.”

Most of it has been false starts and most of it has been crap. I’ve really struggled with what to write (or more accurately, I’ve struggled with committing to writing something). I started two stories. I started a blog post. I started a more personal journal. And I broke out my two book outlines for Educational Technology books (one based on my workshops over the past ten years, and one on based on my vision for what schools could be today).

Naturally, I’m questioning whether or not I want to write fiction at this point in my life. I love the idea in the long run… but in 2012, for the most part if it’s not family or work, I’m not doing it… and it seems hard to write something (oh I don’t really mean this, but) frivolous… something that doesn’t directly support my goals. I still fancy myself a science fiction author (with rejection notices to show for my early efforts – so I am a “real” writer in that sense), but it’s been years… and it may be a few more yet.

That being said, I may still benefit from something less structured than writing a book in my professional field. That doesn’t exactly help me “write things out” or explore other parts of myself. I find myself ripe for discovering a twist on NaNoWriMo… Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo), which encourages writers to produce 50K words – in any digital medium. More importantly, it encourages writers to play with the medium (and most importantly, the effect) of their words. Anything online counts – blogs, twitter, wikis, etc.

This happens to correspond pretty closely with my long ignored goal to blog more regularly again.

I won’t have the time for 50,000 non-work related words in November… and I won’t spend the nearly 2 hours I used to spend on most “true” blog posts. I won’t even write for 30 minutes a day, and I won’t even post everything I write. But, I could actually write 30 minutes (or more, as usually happens once I’m rolling) on most days. And if I keep that up through to the end of the year, I might really have something to show for it… or even lots of little somethings, since I’ll certainly journal things I don’t post – and I may even write some fiction (perhaps for my two little boys).

It turns out I’ve had a very healthy approach to annual resolutions (or more accurately, habit changes) the past few years… and I’ve often used November and December to “try out” changes before committing to them for a year. It’s in keeping with the “lean learning” or “lean living” philosophy (as in “lean manufacturing” or “lean start ups”) of “testing early and often.” In any case, after trying this for two months, my hope is that writing 30 minutes a day might be something I’ll feel comfortable committing to in the new year.

30 minutes can be a long time if you’re just writing. This post was written in about 20… after I screwed around deciding if I would compose in wordpress or a Google Doc… and after updating plugins and themes on my wordpress blog. :)

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to focus (primarily) on blogging as the form for my writing this month (and perhaps beyond) is that I’m a big believer in (and evangelist for) connected writing. Durring my dissertation, I found the writing experience was much more powerful and valuable when I posted what I was writing to my blog than it was when turn it in to my advisor. And I continue to see that the value of my writing for others grows over time when it is shared. If any piece of writing is searchable and discoverable online it may be “accessible and useful” to others. It may help like-minded people to connect… and it may help those of differing opinions (or different resources and experiences)to challenge each other – and to grow. Even though I’m sure I’ll journal some personal things, too, I suspect I’ll find the same is true with this new writing process. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll share your own thoughts in the comments below.

And maybe you can weigh in on whether or not I’m really just avoiding committing to a 50K word project that requires actual planning – and avoiding putting myself on the line by writing something so substantial that others will actually judge.

More soon…

2 Responses to “Back to Blogging: NaNoWriMo & DigiWriMo”

  1. Kevin Hodgson Says:

    There is a lot of power in writing, in whatever shape it takes. The key turn is always to see writing as something powerful for the writer or composer (if we are talking about digital). At least, that’s my perspective. I like various challenges because they give me a fresh view of myself as writer. Good to have you writing alongside, too, Mark.
    Kevin

  2. Mark Wagner, Ph.D. Says:

    Another earlier reflection I had along the same lines:

    I had a moment recently when I thought with some clarity that I would prefer to be a blogger than a novelist. A few days removed, I don’t know if that’s true in the long run, but it may be true right now… and it may help me get back into the habit of writing (something other than emails, IMs, and status updates). It’s been one of my goals to blog more anyway… and this might also help me reach the goal of writing a book, even if it’s not fiction. I’d like very much to write non-fiction as well. I think fiction (and poetry) will remain important to me in he future (as they were in the past), but for now, a blog will help me establish a writing routine for the first time in a long time.

    I also think blogging (even if it is fiction at some point) might be a writing medium that is more in alignment with my values, who I am, and when I am. And I think posting my writing might allow me to take advantage of an audience, frequent feedback, and the social nature of the web… helping writing not be yet another solitary pursuit.

    I know, though, that writing fiction (or even writing more focused non-fiction) is an entirely different and more difficult endeavor, requiring planning, revising, and mistakes of many many words. Writing for a purpose and an audience is not just a matter of typing words. I feel bad about shying away from this, but again, perhaps the routine is the first step.