Bonus n00b, Jennifer Mills adds a final adventure just in time for tonight’s Sydney launch of The N00bz: New Adventures in Literature, at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. The brand new second edition of the book containing both Jennifer’s chapter and our crowd-sourced twitter-submitted blog post chapter is now available from Editia.
When Sarah Tooth from the South Australian Writers’ Centre approached me about being a “digital writer in residence”, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Over coffee, she explained her plan to have one writer from each of the six writers’ centres (those loosely connected by Writing Australia, for funding reasons) become a writer in residence online. The role was going to be three pronged: educational, experimental and community-building. I’d share tips on my writing process, try new things and build connections with regional writers in SA and beyond. There’d be a blog and maybe some social media presence and perhaps we could try to do something live. Although I had no idea what any of this was going to look like, I said yes. Correction: I said yes because I had no idea what any of this was going to look like.
Sarah caught me at a good time, because I’d just finished a novel. Writing books wrings out the imagination, and between them I need to do something that isn’t so draining but still releases excess creative energy. After my first book I built a dining table and a biscuit tin banjo. My second sent me on a complicated cross-platform residency. I am often seized with an urgent need to uproot myself, as if everything I’ve previously done and known has become suddenly irrelevant. It’s not the most convenient part of my character.
I’ve learned to mitigate the upheaval by incorporating a degree of experimentation in the work itself. I love short stories for the opportunity they provide to try new forms, structures and voices. In some ways, social media has many of those same attractions.
Our first move was to start a new twitter handle, @digitalwir. Although I’d been blogging since 2004, my social media uptake was relatively slow. I’ve never been on Facebook; I joined Twitter in late 2010 after a stint in Beijing convinced me of the political usefulness of microblogging platforms for sabotaging spin and “message”. I was quickly addicted to the neat, collaborative literary form and the community of writers that came with it – the people I’ve come to think of as water-cooler comrades.
Although I’ve started other accounts in the past (some have snagged and gone under in the rushing tweetstream; others, like @paythewriters, have found longevity in collectivisation), beginning again as @digitalwir felt like finding a whole new voice. The project demanded I pay fresh attention to the process of living online, and I wanted to tread carefully and find my way. Not to repeat what I do at @millsjenjen, but to really see it from the outset as a new perspective.
When I start a new story I usually don’t know how it’s going to end, or even what it’s about. I have vague ideas, images, shadows of feelings and characters. It always feels like walking into the dark. On the other hand, my non-fiction writing tends to be planned over time, collecting bits and pieces of data which are chewed over, given a shape through long attention. Twitter requires the shortest attention span of all the literary forms I use, and for that reason I find it already has an experimental quality. Twitter writers tend to be pro-trying new things. I thought it would be the best place to focus my energy in a daily sense. For everything else, we had a blog: writersinresidence.wordpress.com.
As the first of the six residents, I was charged with figuring out what shape the project would take for myself. In terms of content, I ended up releasing four formal fiction experiments, and accidentally finding a fifth, non-fiction form. Briefly, I’ll describe the four formal fiction pieces that I made, and why I chose those forms. Continue Reading →