In the 1990's and early 2000's, there was a lot of buzz about ideas like "hypertext literature" and "electronic literature". Nowadays, it's easier to create those things than ever before, and there are plenty of digital texts but it just doesn't seem like authors are writing any new "hypertext" literature these days. Why?
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Several days ago, I posted some sloppy notes about the craft involved with the management of a project like this website. I have since recieved some comments.
I would prefer to address one of the more constructive comments, which gave me some pointers on how to address the question of how best to manage things written electronically:
- The best way for a writer to go is to team up with an information architect / graphic designer.
Well, I really wish I could do that.
- Information Architecture
As for teaming up with a Web guru... well, I work with several of them at the moment. The company I am interning for, Eastgate, is responsible for a little wonder called Tinderbox. Unfortunately, it is only available for the Macintosh at the moment, and so I only use it for work. I think I could probably manage a way to use Tinderbox in a way that gives me thinking control over how my ideas are arranged, stored and presented, and without wasting a ton of my time with technical tinkering.
I have a short and sweet list of architectural needs for my writing project(s), but I won't detail them here. You can see my earlier post for the rough sketch of that list.
It probably would be great if I could team up with a graphic designer. I have for some time thought that it might be nice to do that. If I had a designer friend who needed the exposure, they could use my site to show off what a design like theirs can do. Just as my work can showcase their design, the reverse would also be true, so the teaming up would be mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, I don't know any designers, not any that need the exposure anyway. I have one friend who has an estabolished portfolio, and that's it. I have posted a request on Craigslist for anyone who fits the bill, but the responses contain links to sites that aren't very impressive, for the most part.
Perhpas I should spend a paragraph on the kind of design that I do like. I like minimal. I was raised Quaker. I've studied Zen. What more can I say? I ahve noticed though, that minimal comes in two flavors: gross and deliscious. I am actually looking for something that is a good comprimise between the two.
the gross flavor of design
By "gross" I mean that it looks that way. It looks crude. I don't want to spend very much time thinking or writing about design, and that's part of my point. The nice thing about "the gross flavor" is that it doesn't waste any time. It gets right down to the content.
Well, I don't mind taking some time out to think up a template before getting down to the content, and I have some thoughts on how it should look. Maybe I want to have my cake and eat it too, but I want a template that doesn't look like one. You know what I'm talking about. You know a template when you see one in action.
That said, there are certain things that tend to go in certain places; that is fine, proveded they are still interesting to see. I have two examples of minimal designs that I really like: MoCoLoCo, 37signals, digital web magazine and Gizmodo I like the first one best.
- planning sequence
It is getting late, and I am gedtting sleepy. There's a big week ahead of me and I want to do things right, so I am only going to summarize the rest and come back to it probably tomorrow night or so. This summary is taken from the comment I recieved. Granted, this is all about a "web site" and I am much more interested in my body of work as a writer, but I think I can find a useful harmony between the two things.
What's the purpose of your Web site? What are you trying to accomplish? What will a site visitor get out of it? Do you really need a Web site in the first place? Does the world need your Web site when it already has so many? And if you don't like the answers you give yourself the first time, is there an angle on the problem that will change those answers to something you like better?
- The usual planning sequence for a Web project is:
- Define your objective and figure out how to tell if you're succeeding, failing, or moving from one state to the other.
- Figure out the first thing you need to get working that will make the site worthwhile on its own.
- Do that first thing and measure the results. Did you achieve what you set out to achieve? How do you know, one way or the other?
- If Step (3) doesn't work, decide whether to (a) fix the problem, or (b) scrap the effort. Decide how to decide in advance.
- If Step (3) works, think about what you can do next that stands on its own, but also contributes synergistically to the whole. Repeat the cycle.
next:: I'll go through that planning sequence and think of what to do with this whole thing.
My Creative Problem
I always thought it would be easy to have my very own Website. I thought, gee wow, now I can write whatever I want and have it right up there for all to see, my very own "writing on the wall" I get to be William Blake when I grow up, passing out my work however I wish... and all at the push of a little button. Yay! desktop publishing, information superhighway, blah blah blah...
It isn't that easy. The first difficulty I have encountered is that I can think of what I would like my "book" to be, but I cannot make it. If I really were more like William Blake I'd have a press in my basement. If I could picture a book of a certain size, I would cut the paper to a certain size. If I wanted certain pictures, I would draw them. I would ink the plates myself, print with them, etc. well, I don't have a press in my basement; I have a laptop on my bed. Things are a little different. It's as if the press is too new. The thing I am to use to make my book is not so self- explanitory as a physical object, and it relies on code, which can be... counterintuitive, to say the least. I get confused in the space between what I can think of and what I can bring into being. For this reason, I thought I would take a moment to talk about that space, and my frustration with it.
The Raw Materials
What kind of thing am I writing anyway? The big trend these days is to call it a "blog." If I'm lucky, some of my readers won't even have heard that silly sounding term: Blog-short-for-"web-log." The electronic journal is just one more step in the right direction, toward a pushbutton press... but it has already taken on some genre qualities that make it different from what I want to do. There are the superficial qualities, which are really the only things that separate the thing from a conventional diary, and then there is the one big quality that a web blog site seems to have: it takes over. It becomes all that there is to say, and pretends to be the best way to say anything. Its as if, if we would write in this new way, we would write like Anne Frank -- The way she wrote, in stolen moments, in a diary - it can't be the end all and be all of writing., and perhaps even she would have gone on to put her observations in another form, an even more powerfully captivating one. This newer kind of writing is both melleable and instantaneous. I prefer the former to that later, and this is where I differ.
For a writer, the journal is only a part of the art. There are several different kinds of things that I write, and all that I really want for them is a place to keep them all together, and a way to put them there as easily as is absolutely possible. At first this might not seem like too tall an order, but, in a moment, I describe things that I want to be able to do with them that I am not able to do. I am writing these thoughts out for two reasons: to think the problem through carefully in order that it might be solved carefully, and in case anyone else out there might be able to help or sympathesize.
Here is a map of my "whole journal"
- The things that I have written:
- Short Stories
- A Play
- A Zine
- A Journal
- General Observations
- Research Notes
- A Thesis
- A Hypertext/Novella
- A Newspaper Column
- Accounts of my travels
- There are other things, too. I don't think of them as "writings" but perhaps I should start...
There are lots of writers who save their letters, and I am one of them. However, about a year ago, I had all my emails deleted. Years of correspondence disappeared. I'd like a "backup"to guard against this. Now, letters are personal things, so perhaps I want to be the only one who can get at them. Perhaps I don't even want them to be online, but so far as I am concerned, they are also a part of my whole journal. I want it all in one place.
- In that vein, I might also like to have:
- Instant Messages
- Comments on blogposts
- Discussion Board Contributions
Now, as soon as I start to think about putting this stuff in an electronic format, I start to think about some redundancies. I can think of two redundancies, appropriately enough.
The first redundancy is that certain things are like the others. For example, research notes, general observations, and a journal: these are essentially just your average web log. They are only categories of the same thing. 'Nuff said.
The second redundancy is: once things are arranged online, certain things might end up appearing in the same place at the same time. What I mean becomes apparent once you start making that list above into the map of a website.
- For simplicity's sake, lets say there are three directories that contain my writing:
these directories have contents, of course:
I want to be able to do "magic" things with my new kind of book. If I write on page four that I have just added a new "rant" to go along with the stories and the essays, I would like that writing to magically, also appear on page seven, which is my journal. Also, I would like my writing about that new rant to serve as an incantation, of sorts. Obviously, a rant is unlike a story, or a letter to the editor or whatever, and perhaps it is unique enough to deserve its own "section" with the "chapter" that is full of prose.
There, that little bit of magic, that one little imaginary paragraph that I wrote on a hypothetical page four... I described it in one paragraph. Now, does it really have to take hours and hours of my time in order to make it happen? This stuff is supposed to happen at the push of a button, but, in my experience, it has been more like the push of a button, the scroll of a menu, the correction of an improper command, the purchase of a manual, and the waste of a weekend that I would rather spend writing. Can't I have it so that "it just works!"
My (vague) Ideal Solution
I don't want to spend my time building a printing press in my basement! I want to hand interesting books to my friends! And that brings me back to the idea of William Blake again. He wasn't just someone who made his own books. If it were just that quality about him that I wish to evoke I would have defered to the term "self-publishing".
Another reason I picked him as my model is that he made his books with a certain appearance. He illustrated them the way he saw fit, with colors and drawings and typefaces of his choosing, and every copy of every book was unique in its own way. That's beautiful!
Why can't I have that! I want to focus on what my book looks like. I do not want to focus on learning a new mathematical kind of language, one which represents a visual way of things... I'm a verbal person dammit!
I guess what I am asking for is more "magic." I want to say: "make it blue" and have it be blue. I want to draw it and have it be there, just the way I can write it and have it there.
Sadly, this second kind of magic is one that I am definitely going to have to wait for. Instant publication, built-in redundancy creation and control, automatic categories... these things can probably be done for me with existing technology, if only I had it at my fingertips. As for design considerations... I am so tired of trying to do that work myself that I am willing to comprimise total creative control for a whole lot of help.
And, speaking of a whole lot of help... That's why I am writing this. I am hoping that maybe there are some friends out there who can help me build a press in my basement, so to speak. I know that there are lots of technical aspects to the nature and solution of my creative problem, but I have deliberately avoided them here, on the off chance that someone out there who is less technically inclined might be more able to sympathize with me.
Stray ideas backup....
I said before that electronic text is malleable and that I enjoy this quality. On the other hand, I hate it. I've had too many school projects dissappear at the flick of an electron, and I have seen everything I have ever written go dark, most of it lost forever. For this reason, I will never entirely entrust my whole journal to the internet. I do love the ability to change, rearrange, etc. in quick easy ways, but I would like an archive, too. I don't even trust CDs. They will probably become obsolete within my lifetime, or soon thereafter. Once a year, or so, I want to be able to print my work for the year, and store it in a nice box somewhere. It would help me sleep at night. I'll print to paper, and I'll "print" to a CD an electronic version of the state of the thing at that time. So, this thing that I'm building, it must be built for that.
as a related note... I wrote this document in Microsoft Word. Now, if I were printing this document and passing it out to my friends, it really would be that easy. And I would have gloriously simple spell-checking bad-grammar underlining and formatting controls to help me get the document to be the way I want it to be. However, when i want to "print" to my webpage, there is a whole can of worms that open up... "Save As..." even to the sparse html
I can't even talk about my frustrations without encountering them! (i suppose its also too much to ask for that i be able to retain the links to these footnotes.)