Just Another Writing Hack

Shade TreesWhen I saw the challenge this week on Making Learning Connected was hacking your writing, I knew that it was the week I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and into the realm of glorious bumbling.  Despite the growing popularity of the term “life hack,” which is quickly widening the idea of hacking to apply to almost any clever solution, I wanted to rewind the definition of hacking a bit. So, I share with you a writing hack that combines the thirteenth century definition, “to cut roughly, cut with chopping blows,” with the late twentieth century definition that involves computer technology. Or, in layman’s terms, I share with you a poem I wrote in high school that I chopped up using a virtual platform called Piktochart.

Just Another Street

My original poem, unchanged since 1996. Until now.

While new technological platforms are not my forte, platforms like Piktochart have been at the forefront of my thinking this past year as I and a core group of staff at Philadelphia Young Playwrights have been asking an important question: do virtual technologies deepen or add to the traditional writing process, or do they just provide a different avenue to accomplish the exact same creative process and learning goals?  Or, in terms of Piktochart, if I’m teaching a student to use Piktochart as a means to map his protagonist’s backstory, what is Piktochart bringing to the table that a piece of paper and some colored pencils do not?  Furthermore, what does a virtual technology have to bring to the table to make the additional time it takes to teach a student a new platform worthwhile?

Big questions to be sure, and this week it was time to make myself my own guinea pig. Over the course of two nights, I took the poem to the right that I’d written in high school and challenged myself to replace as many words with images as possible while keeping the story, rhythm, and tone of the poem intact.  Want to see it?  You can find the results of my exploration here.

Was I successful? Can someone look at my Piktochart poem and see the “same” narrative I constructed in my free form poem back in 1996?  Is keeping the “same” narrative a reasonable goal, much less a hack-worthy goal?  I have no idea, but after I was finished I felt like I sure hit the thirteenth century definition of hack right on the head.  Maybe you have some answers to these questions (feel free to share them in the comments), but at the very least I feel like I came away from this with an interesting basketful of questions about poetry.  In particular, I found myself thinking a lot about poetic structure, narrative, and the transition of meaning from poet to reader. Here are some of my juicier questions, in no particular order:

  • How do you represent the rhythm of a poem through images and layout?
  • How do you represent the stanzas of a poem through images and layout?
  • How can narrating a poem through images encourage the reader to think on a greater or smaller sense of scale and meaning?
  • How does adding moving images (video) to a poem affect the rhythm and structure of the poem as a whole?
  • How can adding moving images contribute to the intended tone?
  • What about words that defy image, are they really necessary to convey additional meaning?
  • If I think I’ve successfully figured out a way to visually represent a comma, but my reader doesn’t understand that subtle visual as a comma, was my interpretation of a comma unsuccessful?
  • Will anyone realize that the yellow star is a link to a .gif?  What is lost if they don’t?  Is it okay if that is lost?

This list of questions that were going off in my head during my experience using Piktochart ultimately came to mean far more to me than the finished product. That tangled moment of, “Oh, crap! How the heck am I going to make the commas happen?” Or that exciting moment of, “Sure, I could just find an image of the sun as we see it on a regular day, but what if I use a video that shows its burping, fiery reality, what does that mean?”  Those were the best moments of my Piktochart Poem experience.

Many of the street images in the Piktochart, including this blurred beauty, were actually taken by me in 1996 and were the original inspiration for the poem.

Many of the street images in the Piktochart, including this blurred beauty, were actually taken by me in 1996 and were the original inspiration for the poem.

As I continue to reflect on this writing hack, I return to the core question I and my staff have been asking: DO virtual technologies deepen or add to the traditional writing process, or do they just provide a different avenue to accomplish the exact same creative process and learning goals?  Would I have been thinking about the scale of meaning within a poetic image in the same way, for example, if I wasn’t exploring the idea of embedding video into my poem? Were the two nights it took me to finish my Piktochart Poem worth it to butt heads with the questions that arose about poetic structure? Is the goal of having a student create a piece of writing the piece of writing itself, or is it the questions the student asks about form and content while she is writing? Is there a revision activity embedded in here somewhere, challenging a student to look at her writing through a new visual medium in order to explore the meaning and goals of her piece in a different way?

So it look like I’m still just asking questions when it comes to writing with technology; however, I feel like these new questions are many steps closer to the questions I really want to be asking. So thank you CLMOOC, and thank you Piktochart, for providing the platforms to hack through them!

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8 thoughts on “Just Another Writing Hack

  1. I’m new to writing poetry, but I’ve been an artist all of my life. I love to do pencil, charcoal, and water painting. I haven’t had the time or energy to draw in several yrs. I have 4 children only 3 1/2 yrs apart (the two youngest are twins.) so, a few months ago I had an urge to start writing poetry, I have no idea why. I think maybe because I needed release and I couldn’t do it through drawing, so it just came out of my head out of necessity. I started doing poems; sometimes I can’t write them fast enough, and will do several in a row. I posted them on fb, and got many good reactions, but some people were having a difficult time understanding some. so I started posting quotes or pics from web pgs. that related to my poems, or I would give a few sentences of what inspired the poem, for ex. “this poem is for my daddy,” etc. as far as grammar and sentence structure I have no idea what’s considered “the correct way.” so I just write them however. and I’m a terrible speller. lol! I think it’s nice to give something to people to help them understand art forms. and I think some just aren’t able to think visually in their minds; plus, in schools now they have cut back so much on the music and arts curriculum, this is a way to have the younger generation not only understand the writing but also to get them interested in knowing more about it, and possibly wanting to become a writer themselves. I do believe using a computer to replace handwriting is not good for developing brain developing. so sorry for such a long reply.

  2. OK, here is the zeega that translates your poem. Now ask your question again: do virtual technologies deepen or add to the traditional writing process, or do they just provide a different avenue to accomplish the exact same creative process and learning goals? In my work here, there is not a shred of doubt that for good or ill this is more than a parallel track, the whole process has been deepened. The question might be the wrong one to ask. The question for me goes back to purpose and audience. Why are you creating and who are you creating for? Which tool to use depends upon the answers one tentatively gives to oneself in answer to those two questions. IMHO.

  3. I enjoyed the process of your poetry transformation, and especially the questions that you considered — I’m sure there were more. Here’s what I said on my reblog:

    This is how writing teachers think. These are the questions we are asking today– of ourselves, of our students, for our students. Consider the impact of media on our composing, on our expression of ideas, personal, narrative, informational, persuasive. The concept of writing is much deeper and more nuanced than ever before. Thanks, Mindy, for sharing your poetic journey to help us consider more deeply the implications of our teaching and our learning.

  4. Reblogged this on So. Consider and commented:
    This is how writing teachers think. These are the questions we are asking today– of ourselves, of our students, for our students. Consider the impact of media on our composing, on our expression of ideas, personal, narrative, informational, persuasive. The concept of writing is much deeper and more nuanced than ever before. Thanks, Mindy, for sharing your poetic journey to help us consider more deeply the implications of our teaching and our learning.

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