Digital writing created opportunities only possible in the digital age. How writers think about audience, process, voice, and scope changed drastically with the introduction of new digital mediums, such as Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, and Tumblr. Many people reading this probably cannot remember a time when these platforms did not exist (myself included). With all of the changes that digital environments have created and are creating for writers, the impact of these changes are heavily contested. Some critics argue that digital writers tend to publish casual and underdeveloped ideas, but others view their pursuit as constructive and positive. Proponents of digital writing argue that it allows writers to expand their ideas and explore possibilities that go beyond those of traditional writing, such as: connectivity, feedback, and development of authorial identity.
Digital writing provides the opportunity for writers to create a sustained authorial identity. Digital writers are able to constantly post content as a result of easily accessible self-publication platforms. James P. Zappen observes the opportunity to build a digital identity in his article, “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory”. In addition to digital writing’s constraints, advantages, and communal power, Zappan notes the “opportunities for creating individual identities” it creates (Zappan 319). The ability for writers to post content frequently enables them to better develop their authorial voice. When authors post in real-time, they develop a voice that can respond to events or cultural trends as they occur. This advantage of digital writing better connects writers to current concerns and creates a better idea of personality and authorial identity for readers.
Digital writing completely transforms old ideas about authorial identity and a writer’s connection to readers. Online platforms create spaces where authors can easily connect with their readers, and this connection affects the development of authorial identity. Reception and commentary can be posted immediately after content is up. This immediate feedback allows the writer to quickly adjust the content of future posts based on the reactions of their audience.
Adam Plunkett explores the effects Twitter and digital environments have on the poet Patricia Lockwood’s writing in his article, “Patricia Lockwood’s Crowd-Pleasing Poetry.” Lockwood has been called the poet laureate of Twitter, and rightfully so, she boasts 47,000 followers and posts frequently.
Plunkett observes Lockwood’s uniquely perfect fit on social media, but raises the concern of how authorial identity might inevitably be altered as a result of digital writing’s unique reader/writer relationship; “Lockwood fits uncannily well on social media, especially Twitter, but I worry that she fits herself to it” (Plunkett). He suggests that she might be catering to her audience too much and that she is limiting her writing by doing so. It is hard to believe that the reinforcement and input of online readers does not affect an author’s future work. That is like saying a public speaker’s content is not affected by the cheering or booing of his/her audience. The real question Plunkett’s observation raises is: Does digital writing’s close interconnection between author and reader have any negative effects? Does it constrain the author’s voice too much?
Digital writing creates diverse online communities in which people engage with their own work and that of other writers in a variety of ways. Although there may be a point at which audience reaction becomes too restricting for individual authors, the new community-driven possibilities digital writing offers are very exciting. Leigh Wright imagines what it would be like if famous authors, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, had been able to participate in communal writing in her article, “Tweet Me A Story”. In addition to connectivity, Wright emphasizes digital writing’s utility as a developmental tool for young writers. She notes the opportunity Storify, a tool used to create stories out of various tweets, offers students to “experiment with their own writing style and immediately share it” (Wright). Experimentation is crucial in digital writing, but that does not necessarily mean the work is not meticulously crafted. Digital writing is often labored over and held to a very high standard of quality.
Amanda Hagood and Carmel Price explore the advantages of digital writing communities in their co-authored article, “Sister Classrooms: Blogging Across Disciplines and Campuses.” They observe that blogs have “a strange mix of private thought and public comment,” suggesting that both the private and public are interconnected (Hagood, Price). They believe that blogs enhance student learning through connectivity; “class blogs can help students to become more conscious of just what holds that community of inquiry together” (Hagood, Price). Similar to Wright, Hagood and Price discuss the possibilities of digital writing for the purposes of teaching. All three authors emphasize the benefits of digital writing’s connectivity and enhancement of communication in the classroom. Although there are many ways that digital writing benefits education, its opportunities are not limited to the classroom.
Digital platforms change the traditional construction of authorial identity by offering professional writers the opportunity to stay constantly connected to their readers. Writers may not be able to include every interesting thought they have in their book or essay, but they can tweet as often and as disjointedly as they want. (Just take a look at Adam Roger’s Twitter —he is the editor-in-chief at Wired magazine.) Notice the random nature of his tweets, but also the extremely social function of Twitter.
Digital environments provide connectivity, especially Twitter, which allows writers to engage with both their audience and fellow writers. Popular author Jennifer Weiner offers her insight into how to keep online readers interested and stay connected on Twitter in her interview with Mallary Jean Tenore, a writer with Poynter. In the interview, Weiner states that she uses Twitter to stay connected to her audience and to express her tangential thoughts. She says that Twitter is “like a great big freewheeling conversation” and she thinks carefully about how she wants to present herself in that conversation. She urges writers to consider the audience (to steal a phrase from Wright) and craft their content accordingly. In other words, only post what is interesting to your desired reader. In addition to being interesting, Weiner believes that online content requires as much attention as anything a writer would publish. She contests the idea that web writing is inherently causal and emphasizes the importance of editing and polishing web content. Weiner emphasizes the attention that must be paid to digital writing because she knows it’s potential to connect writers and make great ideas even better.
Writers benefit from a variety of digital writing’s capabilities, but connectivity is perhaps the most significant. Great thinkers can produce great ideas, but without collaboration and connectivity, those ideas are limited. Steven Johnson, an American popular science author and media theorist, argues that interactive and communal environments result in more innovative and creative ideas in his TED talk “Where good ideas come from” (Johnson).
In his presentation, Johnson begins by talking about coffee shops and their role in the Enlightenment. He continues by investigating social spaces and questions what steers us toward idea creation. Although he is concerned with a more general application of his ideas, his ideas concerning connectivity translate well into discussions concerning digital writing. Digital environments provide the same opportunities for connection and collaboration that Johnson seeks in his investigation of different spaces’ creative opportunities.
Digital Writing in My Own Life
Lately, I have thought a lot about how I am currently using digital writing and how I can use it in the future. This semester I am involved in two new experiences that are extremely useful in answering these questions: my Writing In/For Digital Environments class and my editorial internship with the magazine America in WWII. Both experiences have challenged me to think about how digital writing functions and how it might be useful in my personal and professional life.
My class Writing In/For Digital Environments, taught by Sarah Kersh, involves both learning about digital writing and practical application by means of our individual blog projects. I decided to create a blog (Art for the Artless) all about art in Carlisle. I write my posts with a sense of care and attention Weiner would be proud of and consistently consider my audience in the writing process. The public nature of my blog motivates me to captivate and inform my audience in the best way possible.
Since starting my blog, I have realized how much there is to learn about digital writing. I am especially interested in forming a community around my blog. How can I make my blog a space where people share and develop ideas? What tools can help construct and maintain a community? I have started to investigate these questions, but I recognize that there is a lot to learn. With Art for the Artless being my first serious blogging project, I understand the value in experimenting with content and voice online. Finding an audience and figuring out what content they want to see are both tasks best accomplished through a process of trial and error. In other words, anyone can blog, but it takes time and experience to learn how to blog well.
My editorial internship with the magazine America in WWII challenges me to consider a very different audience than I am used to in my academic writing. Although the majority of my work is published in the printed magazine, I have created some web content, such as a photo gallery on the Hürtgen Forest. America in WWII’s online audience is different than its print audience. The Facebook site for America in WWII is liked by almost 97,000 people, and many of them engage with other followers by commenting on posts, forming a lively and diverse community. All of the writing I am doing enhances my understanding of audience. I am currently writing a more traditional article about the current condition of the Cobra King tank, the first tank to relieve the American troops in the Battle of the Bulge.
In writing the article on Cobra King I must take into consideration the online audience I am writing for and the possible interaction it will inspire in the comments section. The article will immediately be public, whereas print articles are submitted weeks before they are ever seen printed. In the remainder of my time with America in WWII I will continue to think about how digital writing functions in the magazine industry.
This semester’s amazing opportunities to learn about digital writing have inspired me to begin planning long-term projects that employ those skills. I am very interested in the publishing field and I am hoping to regularly maintain a writing blog after graduation that would allow me to keep my writing skills fresh and be a great portfolio item for potential employers. I really enjoy blogging and the possibilities it presents, especially as a young professional entering the “real world.”
In addition to my plan to maintain a writing blog post-graduation, I hope to create a collaborative creative publication. I am an active poet and collage artist and I really enjoy getting to read/see other artist’s work. The publication would only be digital (at first) and it would bring creative people together in the way only collaborative projects can. After all, the best projects only exist in a community full of creative energy and new ideas.