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Digital Writing & Literature

Written by Lara Williams

There are host of ways for creative writers to engage with digital: from collaborating with larger organisations through to easy-to-use platforms that allow you, as a writer, to develop a digital product yourself. This is an increasingly accessible, innovative and challenging way to write. And if you’re interested in thinking about new and different ways to write or disseminate work, digital might afford you the opportunity to think about creative writing and your own artistic practice in an entirely new light. But first, what do we mean when we talk about digital writing opportunities? 

There are many ways writers are using digital to create works, and many devices through which to tell stories. Some of these options include…ebook, website, smartphone app, VR headset, augmented or mixed reality, networked glasses or earbuds, or voice activation software. Works might use data collected from, for example, a reader’s smartphone, in order to tell them a bespoke story. This is called “Ambient Literature and is defined as a “form of literature which uses digital technology to enhance the reading experience by responding to information about the reader’s location”. The skills from which you can draw from as a writer are evolving.

Planning & Development

If you have an idea for a piece of digital literature, the first stage is planning. And like all works of literature or writing, it still begins with you and the page. Begin by thinking about the format you are writing for. Are you writing a series of tweets in character? Might you be producing a piece of POV content? Will you be using information gleaned from your reader’s phone? Voice can be particularly important in creating digital works, and so spending time figuring out the tone of the piece might be helpful. Situating yourself with the reader by trying to imagine their experience is also very helpful. How might reader be consuming and interacting with your writing? Be willing to learn, experiment and be flexible.

Getting Digital

In terms of actually building or creating a digital product, writer have two main options: do it yourself or collaborate.

Subhead: Do It Yourself

There are a host of companies offering easy to use web and app templates. For example, you can easily build your own website using a platform such as Wix, WordPress or Squarespace. Sites such as AppyPie, GoCanvas and Kony.

Subhead: Collaborate

You might want to, for example, collaborate with a web programmer or an app designer. You may want to collaborate with a number of different people across differing expertise.

And when thinking about who to approach, take time in thinking about what it is that you would want from them. Ensure it is a constructive and collaborative relationship be encouraging a dialogue – what might they want from you? Beyond your collaboration, keep a dialogue open.

To search for collaborators based on their expertise, you can search for people based on their discipline on Academia.edu, or you might want to try reaching out to people you find on Google or LinkedIn. However, if you are interested in collaborating with the BBC, you would need to go through their Writers Room development programme, which is how the BBC find emerging writers, even for digital content.

Financing Your Project

There are a few options for funding a project. You could approach different public bodies, ideally one that you have knowledge of or expertise in, and see if your product could help them communicate – they might have some small pots of money available, and be interested in your project.

And while readers might not be willing to pay for a digital product, they might be willing to pay to see something live, and so you may have an opportunity to leverage your piece of digital literature for a live reading or show.

However, one of your best bets is Arts Council Funding.

Subhead: Arts Council Funding

If you are thinking about applying for Arts Council funding, read what you can on the current Project Grants scheme (which has replaced Grants For The Arts).

In terms of determining what category your might be applying for funding under, think about what the primary focus of the project might be (it is likely this will be Literature, unless for example, Visual Art or Music, takes precedence in the work).

The Arts Council are currently very focussed on their ten year strategy “Goal 2”: public engagement. And so be sure you consider the ways you will be accessing audiences, making your piece of digital literature accessible, and engaging with the public.

There is also a wealth of support and guidance on their website, and so, familiarise yourself with that.

Examples Of Digital Literature

Here are some examples of writers engaging with digital, or creative digital literature, to get your inspired…

Kate Pullinger is an author who regularly engages with digital. Her short story Breathe is delivered via a bespoke smartphone app. The story leverages data collected from your phone, such as the weather and your location, to tailor the story to the reader.

Joanna Walsh is a fiction and non-fiction write. Seed is a digital story “that grows and decays”, using a illustrated canvas and elements of game-play, through which the user can navigate the story.

Richard Evans is a writer, composer, director and producer. His work Aeon is a multi-platform digital story about the outbreak of a deadly disease, told across smartphone app., short film, and live.

David Varela is a writer, producer, theatre-maker and narrative designer. He created Sherlock: The Network, a spin-off piece of digital literature for the BBC television show Sherlock, and interactive story created for smartphone or tablet.

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