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…

Away… Training, Commenting, and Contributing (Plus the Blogging Process)

I’ve been busy training face-to-face this summer, which has resulted in something of a slow down in posting to this blog. As I noted on twitter* the other night, “the more I contribute face-to-face, the less I contribute online.” I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

I have, however, been inspired by recent face-to-face experiences and I have more to write than I’ll ever get around to. Still, I hope to have some posts up in coming weeks (especially when things slow down for me in September) about such things as: my experience filming another video with the Orange County Department of Education (complete with teleprompters – and is that a 21st century skill? Or has it’s time come and gone?), my experience leading an intro to Tablet PC workshop after a year with a pilot project, and my experiences leading Blogging workshops… in Blackboard.

Now, strangely, when I find myself with an evening free to blog (Eva’s at a cooking class and I have no workshop tomorrow – though I’ll be back to working on Walden, CUE, and catching up at my desk), instead of jumping in and writing posts, my RSS feeds are pulling me away. I’ll never get through the 1200+ posts in my aggregator (even skimming them) at this rate. I keep commenting on blogs and contributing to wikis. But it feels good. I’ve always felt a little inadequate compared to some edubloggers who seem to comment and contribute all over creation. I think there’s a lot to say for contributing to other’s work and leaving comments (other than trackbacks from your own blog). And of course, wikis don’t work without contributors.

Obviously, the pull of the blog has brought me back for this on-the-fly reflective post. I suppose it’s yet another example of the quintessential blogging process. Will would say that true blogging begins with reading something, includes a period of processing the input, and only then moves on to writing about it and sharing it online. I’ve been expanding on this blogging process in my workshops lately with this model…

The Blogging Process

  1. Read (Or Do)
  2. Reflect
  3. Write
  4. Respond (Giving and Receiving Comments)

Does this capture the process? I’d be interested to hear reactions to this. Am I missing part of the blogging experience? Or have I included too much? Or, more likely, has this articulated better elsewhere?

In any case, I feel this post has now made some sort of contribution, however small, so it passes the “should I post this?” test. For what it’s worth, when I talk about “Better Blogging” now, I stress making a contribution. I also stress making connections. Hopefully my commenting elsewhere is doing the later – and I can always hope others will comment here. Thus the inviting questions. ;)

*Incidentally, my twittering hasn’t slowed down much since I picked it up in June – arguably some of my blogging time has now gone to that, and I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. I have a smaller audience there, but it’s certainly high impact. Follow along if you’re interested… and starting tweeting yourself if you’re not already. :)

PS: I’ve added my twitter badge to the side column of this site so that casual web visitors can see what I’m up to (if they’re interested). It’s slow loading tonight, but twitter did announce that it was napping…

Boredom and a Ph.D.

While I’ve always assumed that a doctoral degree is supposed to be somewhere near the pinnacle of intellectual engagement… it turns out that actually writing a lit review is mind numbingly boring, at least the way I’m doing it. It’s very hard to stay focused (this post is evidence of that), and I find it hard to stay motivated by anything other than the thought that “I’m going to be Dr. Wagner.” That, and I want to actually conduct my own study already!

Unfortunately, I’m almost certainly reading and writing more than I have to… and yet still not covering everything I need to – or feel like I should – and still not writing as well as I should – or would like to.

Thankfully, comments like this are motivating, too… so the blog remains more motivating and stimulating than writing a dissertation, even when it’s the same material. :)

Threaded Comments for WordPress Blogs

Comment On: Reintroducing Discussion Boards Here is my comment on one of David Warlick’s other recent posts. After reading about his reintroduction of bulletin boards (primarily due to the advantages of threaded discussions over traditional blog comments) it got me thinking… why don’t blogs have threaded comments? A quick Google search later I had learned that there is a plug in for threaded comments on WordPress, which I use. Next time I play with my blog I’m going to try it out. For now, I’m sharing it here:

Brian’s Threaded Comments

EdBlogger Meet Up

The EdBlogger Meet Up at NECC was a success – and a blast. I think thanks go to Will Richardson for posting the idea, David Jakes for suggesting the location, Steve Hargadon for creating the wiki (and the support blogging buttons – here’s mine), and all the participants for using the wiki and, well, participating.

I got to meet and talk with a lot of people I’d been wanting to meet face-to-face for sometime, including Will Richardson, David Warlick, and Adam Frey (of wikispaces). (This picture is Adam, Will, and I). I also got to meet David Jakes, Jeff Utech, Janice Stearns (from LAUSD), and many many others. (Here’s an image of Warlick standing behind Janice, Jakes, and Jeff – Warlick was taking pictures, too – with the coolest phone I’ve ever seen).

It’s funny. I left my bag at the hotel when I walked there and forgot to reload my business card holder before leaving. I was bummed I wouldn’t be able to hand out my new cards, but in the end I’m bummed I didn’t get to trade with people and bring home a stack of cards as reminders of everyone I met… and their blog address. I hope they all add their links to the wiki.

Here is an OPML file of everyone who has added their link so far (I’ll update this as time goes by – I’m subscribed to the changes at the wiki):

EdBloggerMeetUp.opml (UPDATED: 07/09/06 9:09am)

My OCDE colleagues Ranjit Mayadas and Stacy Deeble-Reynolds crashed the party. They’re not blogging (yet), but it was great to see them. (See Ranjit, and many edbloggers in this image.) Also, I was glad to see Courtney Peagler again before she left the conference. Now that we’re linking to her, she’ll have to start blogging again. ;)

The next morning Will called this the largest meet up of educational bloggers ever. I’m glad I was there. The conversations that happened there – and the connections made – were among the highlights of the conference for me. Perhaps the best thing to come out of it was the suggestion (in the comments of Will’s post) that we organize an edblogger conference. I suggested something similar (including elements of Dave Winer’s Hypercamp concept) a few months ago, but timing wasn’t right, as everyone was hard at work trying to get the online conference rolling. I’m sure it will be some time yet before we’re all ready, but I’m looking forward to it and am ready to contribute when the time comes.

Meanwhile, we’ve got our work cut out for us…

Thank you to everyone who was there for a fun evening.

Lessons to Learn from Amy Gahran

Clearly I have a few lessons to learn from Amy Gahran. With over 400 RSS feeds in my reader, I am now suffering from Conversation Overload (Via AMY GAHRAN: The Right Conversation.) Amy offers some thoughts and coping strategies. I tried to select one to quote here, but if you’re suffering, too, they are all worth reading.. following the block quotes it’s good point after good point.

Ironically, since I’ve stopped using FURL so folks can comment on my referrals here, I’m afraid Educational Technology and Life is in danger of becoming a Link blog (Via AMY GAHRAN: The Right Conversation.) Amy discusses the pro’s and con’s here, and I’ll need to weigh them carefully.

Meanwhile, I’ve posted everything I have on CUE tonight. There are still 56 links saved as drafts. I think I need to start thinking in terms of contributing rather than keeping up. But for now, its back to phd work for me… until my 10pm hockey game that is!