Bracing for Insanity

“What, are you nuts?”
“Not yet. But I think that’s one of the side-effects.”

Starting in just over three days, I’m participating in the Digital Writing Month, or #DigiWriMo on Twitter. The official goal of the project is for participants to write 50,000 words while learning about digital writing inside and out. I want to make my participation—and my personal goals—more public, so here’s a jump-start post to get me writing before I’m writing “on the clock”.

My Goals

Starting November 1, I will be participating in what I think is an absolutely insane goal: I will attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. It's all part of the Digital Writing Month (#DigiWriMo on Twitter) run by Marylhurst University's English and Digital Humanities program and Hybrid Pedagogy. The point is to get people writing – and learning — about digital writing in all its forms. People will be exploring the relationships between writing processes, writing tools, and writing environments; they will be thinking about different websites to use to write with and different formats in which their writing can appear.

I'm on board with this, but for a slightly different purpose. The next major step in my degree process is to take the comprehensive final exams for my program. From the day I signed up, these exams have been the most formidable and intimidating of the requirements for the degree. I don't like the idea of tests, much less final exams, and I am frankly out of practice with the whole ordeal. Additionally, there is just too much at stake with this one test. My mind is telling me that it essentially is my one opportunity to prove that I am worth being considered an academic. A friend of mine (who passed her exams earlier this year) said that she felt like all 20-something years of her educational experience and background had led to this one exam, and that the prospect of being able to fail the exam could mean that those 20-something years had all been for naught was a little more intimidating than she would've liked. I tend to agree.

So why am I signing up for something that is designed to get me to write an ungodly amount of text on a topic that is not directly related to my exams? My rationale is threefold:

My Rationale

One. I need to write more. If you read my blog previously, you may have noticed that I've stopped writing. My last post was a month and a half ago. I would like to say that I have been working on other, more grandiose, and more profitable projects than keeping up with my blog; however, it's a simple case of letting things go. At this point, slacking in my daily writing habit is a luxury I can no longer afford. I need to get back in the habit of writing regularly and somewhat prolifically to be able to produce the text that will be expected of me on my comp exams. After that, I am one of those sick and twisted people who is actively trying to get himself into the "publish or perish" world of academia. These companies and is are designed to intimidate me and make me write a lot because academic careers are designed to intimidate people and make them write a lot. I am going to use November as an opportunity to force myself to start fighting the intimidation with progress on my writing volume and habit.

Two. I need to think more. While the topic of digital writing may not explicitly be a part of my dissertation topic or current research interests, it is certainly tangentially related. My dissertation is exploring how the first-year composition courses at my university work when they transition from face-to-face to online delivery modes. Students in the classes I am studying are doing some digital writing, but no one in my department's FYC program is making a big push for digital writing and all of our courses. I want to learn more about how our existing program can adapt to include newer writing styles, which may give our teachers a new approach to some standard assignments. Additionally, I suspect many of the participants in DigiWriMo will be digital humanities professors who will share their theoretical views on issues of composition, identity, and writing and digital spaces. I expect I will be given plenty to think about this month, and I'm sure plenty of it will connect with my research.

Three. I like the people who are running it. A few months ago, I took part in a massive open online course about massive open online courses, affectionately referred to as the MOOC MOOC. That course got me thinking about how people interact online to create things and how teachers can be effective with less control than I'm used to exerting in a physical classroom. Two of the people responsible for that monstrosity have teamed up to create DigiWriMo, and I am already looking forward to working with them. Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris are delightfully creative people who have a knack for pushing others to think, create, and produce. No matter how much I write this month, I already expect to learn a bunch about facilitating large-scale online projects just by watching what they do.

My Tools

50,000 words in one month is a little insane, and I honestly don't believe I will be able to reach that number. My writing habits have been so shoddy recently that going from 0 to 50k in one month doesn't seem realistic. However, I'm going to give it the old college try because, hell, I'm still in college. I've found that I don't like doing things unless I have some kind of technical support to help me reach my goal. (I started running many years ago only because Nike worked with Apple and developed their Nike+ system that allowed me to geek out with my iPod while I ran.) In order to get 50,000 words behind me, I will need some serious gadgetry to keep myself interested. Here's what I'm using so far; if there's something I should use that I've forgotten, let me know.

Dragon Dictate. First and foremost, I'm going to save my fingers and type with my voice. My dexterity sucks, and writing 50,000 words with fingers that don't cooperate as well as I want them to would be a recipe for frustration and general disaster. Therefore, I expect that all of these 50,000 words will have been written by a handy-dandy program listening to a microphone. I need a place to dump some text where it doesn't matter and track how much I write. This website is designed to get people to write every day and reward them for consistency. Scoring — yes, you get points — works like bowling, giving bonus points for continual streaks. It also will send an email reminder if I haven't done my writing for the day. I am hoping this site will convince me to get a little writing done every day, even if it isn't the 2000 words per day I would need it to meet the lofty 50,000 goal. This is a simple counter app which may prove superfluous and annoying more than anything, but I like the simple presentation of clear numbers that will help me see my goal as it gets closer. It's also a very public way of displaying my progress, which leads me to my next type of technical support…

You. I am publishing my goal for the month on my website. I am posting my goal on Facebook. I am tweeting about my goal. I am trying to get everyone I know to see that I am trying to write a stupid amount of words in November so that there's a chance people might ask me about it or encourage me to continue. Yes, I am giving you permission to nag me. Take advantage of it.

I should say a thing or two about the twitter community and particularly about Twitter-based writing goals: people who participate in massive, open projects like these seem to be really good at providing basic support and encouragement for tasks that otherwise seem impossible. I look forward to developing professional connections and new friendships with digital writing buddies across the globe. Regardless of whether I actually hit the sacred target of 50,000, I expect November will be a month full of new ideas, new perspectives, and new confidence in my ability as a writer, a student, and an academic.

Here goes nothing.

[Photo by mmmáté on Flickr]
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