This course is primarily about the evolution of creativity on the web, about the way in which creative writing has moved, in the last decade or so, from being focused mostly on the printed page, on paper, to the online space that we all inhabit many hours every day. So, the creative writing that we do in this class is focused on immersing ourselves in that world of online culture, internet culture.
Let’s assume that as a student, almost everything you’ve written for classes in the past has been intended for a single reader: your instructor. You’re used to doing that. In this class we’re going to turn this around a little bit. What you write for this class is focused on the general public as an audience; anyone on the internet as an audience. So, what I’d like you to do is to write a blog posting (or a think-piece). Hopefully you’ve been reading along as the course has been progressing, and you’ve now seen many good examples of blog posts. If so, you will have already have some sense of what this project looks like. And of course, as you traverse the web in your own life, you see any number of things that you read: topics of interest to you, blog postings, think pieces, and so on. You see this content every day in your newsfeed. Some of it you click through to read. And that online content is different from academic essays, right? It’s more personal, perhaps it’s less formal. It looks a little different. It sounds different from what we would normally see in academia. That’s what we're aiming for: a kind of creativity that would live on the web.
The simplest way to think about this is that you write a blog posting – a good, high-quality blog posting – that provides some information about a topic that you are passionate about. Hopefully, it’s a subject you already have some knowledge about (that helps). Include a few links – three, four, half a dozen. I don’t have firm guidelines and criteria about the number of links, the number of words, or even the topic. That’s up to you. But, just to get you started, here’s a suggestion:
As I’ve said consistently in this class, creativity has to come from you – from what you are personally and authentically interested in. Write about whatever you want. But here are a few suggestions for things to consider:
Read the Examples
The reading project page shows a list of websites with good web writing. (Yes, that list, the one that maybe you haven’t looked at since the first week, depending on how harried you are as a student). Go back, take a look at that list, and read some web writing. And also take a look at the weekly recommended readings; it’s all web writing. If you’ve been following along with readings, you will already have read dozens of pieces of good web writing, and that’s enough to get a sense of the form. And that form is varied, tremendously idiosyncratic, and far more diverse than any other form of writing. Web writing can be anything. That’s great, possibly, and very freeing. But also, perhaps, terrifying: how to choose when the field is so wide open? That’s the hard part. So, start with examples: from the recommended readings, from the weekly readings, and from the bottom of this page. More examples! We are awash in examples. And, as I’ve said throughout this course, reading is the best way to learn writing. So read, and see where it takes you.
You can create this project in Microsoft Word if you want. And, in that case, you just embed the links in the text. If you have a web presence already – a website, say, or a place that you blog – you can also place this project there. You could put your blog posting up on your own personal website, if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. You don’t have to do that; you don’t have to create an online space to post this. You can just write it in Word, or whatever you use for writing. And you can send it along that way. That’s perfectly fine. The main thing is to remember to add some links and to think about the audience. You’re not writing for me. You’re writing for a general audience – the people out there, on the web, who might comment or tweet or say something back to you. As you write, think about this. Consider how people might respond. This is actually a significant shift as compared to what you normally see in academic work. So, take your time. If you get stuck, reach out; I’ll try to help you in any way that I can.
The basic goal here is pretty straightforward: write something for the web. See what happens. And yet, many people struggle with this project because I am not telling you exactly what to do. Instead, I am suggesting a direction you might go (write something for web), and I am encouraging you to follow it wherever it may lead. I don’t know where it will lead; neither do you. In the study of creativity there’s a hifalutin’ word for this process: the liminal space, or liminal zone. Or liminality. The area of uncertainty, ambiguity, and perhaps even disorientation. The place of edges and peering over them.
The description of this assignment is supposed to be vague. That’s the point. All the assignments are like this. It’s your path, your creative journey. You need to follow it (or not) to where it takes you.
How long should it be? Good question. How long do you think? If you’ve been reading material from the websites I suggested in the first week – high-quality blog postings and think pieces – how long are they, typically? More than a hundred words? For sure. Five hundred? More, usually. More than a thousand? Probably. How long are significant blog postings that make the rounds in social media? More than a thousand words? For sure. More than ten thousand? Maybe not that much. See how it goes.
Take your time. Work your way through it one word at a time. It’s impossible to do this well the night before it’s due. If you rush through, then you will probably not be happy with the result. Instead, write this project over the course of a week or two, in several shorter writing sessions of maybe an hour each. That should do it.
Your project will be based on actual, real-world knowledge, research, experiences, and reflections from your life. At the same time, you may wish to add imaginary elements. Feel free to include dreams, speculations, and fictional elements. Please do not be concerned about genres; the distinctions between literary genres are entirely arbitrary and do not have any real meaning. Fictional narratives are inspired by the real world, and nonfictional narratives always contain fictional elements (as memory is informed by the imagination). Poetic narratives can be prose-like, and prose can be poetic. Mythic narratives are probably the best examples of narratives that are both fictional and nonfictional at the same time. They are both false and true, and much of their power derives from this seamless contradiction. Don’t worry about these details. Just write.
And a word of caution: any subject that is challenging for you to talk about openly (such as personal trauma) is a subject you should probably not write about. On the other hand, powerful personal experiences often provide excellent source material for writing, so it may be difficult for you to decide what to do. First, please use your judgment about how best to keep yourself emotionally safe within and beyond the classroom. Second, please discuss your plans (or your concerns) with me if you decide to write about personal or provocative subjects. In particular, be cautious of subjects involving violence, abuse, trauma, death, mental illness, and related themes (whether they happened to you, happened to someone else, or are imagined). These subjects reliably activate strong emotions and are often unsafe if not handled properly. While no subject is absolutely off-limits in this class, there are many subjects for which there is a risk of harm to you, to me, or to our shared communities. We must be respectful and careful of ourselves and our relationships with others. Please ask me for guidance if you are uncertain.
Double spaced? Single-spaced? Written with a chisel on a stone tablet? Up to you. Use whatever works for you.
If you get stuck with this assignment, feel free to reach out to ask questions. But really, getting stuck is part of the process. Getting unstuck is how you activate your creativity.
The writing project is worth 40 percent of your grade and is provisionally due at the end of week 8.
Further Readings for the Writing Project
This course is focused on web culture and digital storytelling, and it makes sense for us to think about our writing projects as being focused in those areas. So, here are a few suggested further readings to help you consider web culture and its implications in our lives (and the lives of everyone). Feel free to use these resources to deepen your knowledge and your writing. (If you only read one selection from this list, read the first one. But really, try to read them all.)
Eliminating the Human
Andrew Sullivan: Technology Almost Killed Me
Smart Phone Addiction and the Silicon Valley Dystopia
Your Smartphone can Reduce Your Brainpower, Even if it’s Just Sitting There
The Lost Art of Concentration: Being Distracted in a Digital World
The Machine Always Wins: what Drives our Addiction to Social Media
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?
A Note of Caution
You can write about anything you want. But please consider that any subject that is challenging for you to talk about openly (such as personal trauma) is a subject you should probably not write about. On the other hand, powerful personal experiences often provide excellent source material for writing, so it may be difficult for you to decide what to do. First, please use your judgment about how best to keep yourself emotionally safe within and beyond the classroom. Second, please discuss your plans (or your concerns) with me if you decide to write about personal or provocative subjects. In particular, be cautious of subjects involving violence, abuse, trauma, death, mental illness, and related themes (whether they happened to you, happened to someone else, or are imagined). These subjects reliably activate strong emotions and are often unsafe if not handled properly. While no subject is absolutely off-limits in this class, there are many subjects for which there is a risk of harm to you, to me, to others in the class, or to our shared communities. We must be respectful and careful of ourselves and our relationships with others. Please ask me for guidance if you are uncertain.
Ask for Feedback (or not; up to you)
Please remember to ask for feedback if you want it. If you do not ask for feedback, you will not receive feedback. For further details, please review the feedback page. You will see on the feedback page that feedback is a recirpocal process; it requires reflection and consideration. Appending a single sentence to the end of your project with the words “feedback please” is not asking for feedback.
Not everyone wants feedback. Some learners just like to see a grade. That is a completely reasonable approach and you will not be penalized for taking that approach. See the feedback page for details.