The rhythms of writing a book in a digital age

So, in my last post on #museumchallenges I announced my intention to write a book on the challenges around creating compelling museum experiences in a digital age. Hence, my New Year’s tweet. The initial idea was to combine all my research on digital age storytelling, immersion, gamification, and emotion (along with a heaping dose of larp, experience design, and immersive theatre) to posit what kinds of things create meaningful, content-rich museum experiences that are able to combine authoritative research with authentic community participation and (hopefully) deep engagement to build something valuable to the field.

As the subsequent replies demonstrated, my initial framing was a little too limited. Responses ranged all over the map, from climate change to systemic overwork, pay inequity, decolonization, and more. The challenges of making museum spaces in a divisive, media-rich age, where competition for time and attention is at an all-time high, are many and varied. The very idea of “museum” is contested and appropriated by some, abandoned by others as too dated and compromised. Plenty to think about.

Figuring out how to rein it in enough to be readable will be a challenge. Which is where y’all will come in. The most exhilarating and frightening part of writing this book will be doing a lot of it in public with the help of a community of interested people. It may seem like a strange decision, but I have seen it done. I was amazed (as I so often am) by Nina Simon’s willingness to work in public. Her decision to write The Participatory Museum in a participatory manner was daring, and I valued being part of that book immensely. Being invited into her thought process and discernment taught me a lot, even more than reading the final manuscript did. If you’re interested, there are a series of reflections on that process over at Museum 2.0 that go into great detail.

So, having seen it done once, I’m going to apply what she learned and see what I can do with my tools, techniques, and subject matter. So welcome to my process! I hope you’ll stay and get involved! I will post occasionally throughout about the process as I think it will work, and as it actually does. There’ll also be permanent pages set up that will serve as the landing page for the book, with information on the subject, and the invitation to participate and instructions on where to find the book site.

My rhythms of writing

Knowing how I want to make this book was a big jumpstart to the process, and gave structure to big piece of the process, but that public part is only one part of the larger workflow. Part of the appeal for me as the author is the process, and personally, I want it to be as intentional as possible, so I spent some time pondering how I write, and how I’d like to write. As I mulled over all the various steps involved in trying to go from idea to book, I sketched out three different writing workflows that I tend to go through that fall in roughly sequential order, though with overlap. These are the major rhythms of this book.

Consuming

To write this book, I will need to find, read, synthesize, and organize a ton of research. That fodder will then need to be turned into the hierarchy of ideas and arguments that will become the framework of the book. That tends to happen in private, though I’m prone to use Twitter and the blog to test ideas or ask questions.

Synthesizing

Having gotten enough of a clue to build an initial framework, I will share it publicly with people for their thoughts, suggestions, examples and references, etc… that will become a first draft of the book that will be subjected to another round of community input. Am I forgetting important things, does the structure hold up, are the arguments sound? That feedback will doubtless result in more consuming and thinking.

Crystallizing

From there, I will go back into a more focused thinking process that will result in a new draft of the book being written by me and edited collaboratively to produce a final text, complete with images and illustrations. Then, publishing, which is in itself a process worthy of its own post later.

I’ve decided to call these rhythms rather than workflows since they tend to be persistent throughout the project and vary more in intensity than duration. I may be deep in one rhythm and get pulled back into another because of a question or comment or thought.

That’s how think it’s going to happen. We’ll see…

Having sketched out the major chunks of the process, I started digging into tools. Next post, I’ll look into tools I intend to use and how I use them. 

4 comments

  1. Hey Ed,

    This is great news, that you’re writing a book through the fascinating process you’ve described. The world needs another Ed Rodley book!!! I know it will be a huge success.

    Sounds like your new year is off to a splendid start.
    Warmly,
    Lisa

    Lisa Monrose
    Producer, Adult Programs
    Lectures & Special Programs
    Museum of Science | 1 Science Park | Boston, MA 02114
    p: 617.589.0419 | f: 617.742.2246 | http://www.mos.org/adults
    Check out our Winter/Spring 2019 lineup!

    [/var/folders/1s/qbk8nvcs2wj4my13lfcl7f6h76xf92/T/com.microsoft.Outlook/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/cidimage002.png@01D4AC18.3E53AA10]

    From: Thinking about Museums
    Reply-To: Thinking about Museums
    Date: Monday, January 14, 2019 at 8:05 AM
    To: Lisa Monrose
    Subject: [New post] The rhythms of writing a book in a digital age

    Ed Rodley posted: ” So, in my last post on #museumchallenges I announced my intention to write a book on the challenges around creating compelling museum experiences in a digital age. Hence, my New Year’s tweet. The initial idea was to combine all my research on digital age”

    Like

  2. I like how the first two rhythms mirror the process of creating content for exhibits, too. The synthesizing part is what I usually describe as “shaking my head around until all of the stuff I crammed in there falls into some kind of order.”

    Like

    1. I suppose it’s not surprising since most of what I learned about writing I learned developing exhibitions. Grad school pales in comparison to getting back comments from an advisory committee.

      Like

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