This paper reports on Mapping the transition from page to screen, a one-year research project (2002-3) funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Board's new Innovations Awards. It facilitated examination and analysis of a unique body of material, the trAce membership and discussion archive, alongside a programme of experiential research involving a collaboration between Kate Pullinger, a print-based author keen to investigate the potential of electronic literature; Sue Thomas, originally a print-based author but now working in both media, and the trAce team of specialists. Pullinger's engagement with the project was a combination of training and support as she learned how to read and create works in the digital medium. Online writing is poised in a very transitory moment in its own development. It currently stands outside most English Studies and at this point it is not yet known what contribution, if any, it will make to English Literature. Nor is it known how New Media Writing will affect the way writers approach the making of texts, or the way they are read.
Our Research Questions were:
1. Is it possible to identify common key moments of change for a writer moving to writing online?
The internet has provided a new creative environment for the writer. When trAce was founded in 1995 very few writers were working with experimental computer texts, but today the practice is growing rapidly. This project proposes to capture a fleeting moment of literary revolution when authors are developing a new kind of writing and finding new ways to read it. Currently, there appear to be two specific ways in which writers engage with the internet, with an increasing amount of migration between them. For the purposes of discussion, they can be divided into two groups:
Group A uses the web purely as a distributive and communicative tool. They conduct research, publish their work online, and gather in communities where critical and social interactions occur. They come from a print-based background and their focus is upon the individual author.
Group B contains writers and artists from a range of disciplines including literature but also the visual arts, film, programming, science and engineering. Their work appears in digital formats rather than print. Their interest in the web is as a medium for new forms of artistic expression and their projects are often collaborative and/or feature public contribution and interaction.
2. Is it possible to identify common key skills which must be acquired for this to occur and what kind of support is required to facilitate it?
Although Group A writers use technology on a regular basis, they often consider themselves to be unskilled in this area and have little confidence or interest in programming or building their own websites. Group B writers tend to be self-taught, keen to experiment with new hardware and software, and prepared to fail. Kate Pullinger's experience as a 'control' subject, coupled with data from the existing archive, will help to identify a model of good practice for supporting writers new to online writing.
3. Are the opportunities for collaboration provided by the web causing a significant move away from the single-authored text?
The methods of [B] are sometimes similar to those of TV and film, based around a production team of specialists. We will seek to quantify the spread of collaborative works among writers who formerly worked alone.
4. How can writers using the medium as [A] be brought to work with writers and artists utilising the medium as [B]?
TrAce has already managed a number of online mentoring projects and the archives will help to identify best practice for that and other kinds of collaboration and support relationships. Our interviews with web-based writers will seek to further identify their views in how this might operate to best advantage.
The project ran from March 2002-February 2003 and produced a short online guide to the differences between print and new media literature plus a practical online toolkit of support materials for writers new to the medium. This paper outlines key issues which arose during the research period and proposes further areas for investigation.
About the Author(s)
Sue Thomas is a novelist and founder and Artistic Director of the trAce Online Writing Centre. She has managed numerous significant web-based creative writing projects including the creation of the trAce Online Writing School and the development and management of the trAce Online Writing Centre itself. Her books include the novels 'Correspondence' and 'Water', plus an anthology of contemporary short stories 'Wild Women'. Most recently her writing was featured in 'Reload: rethinking women and cyberculture'. Her online work includes a 'web-configuration of Correspondenc'e at Riding the Meridian; 'Imagining a Stone' at Ensemble Logic and Choragraphy; and 'Lines' at Lux: notes for an electronic writing. With Teri Hoskin, she co-edited the 'Noon Quilt' website and book, and she recently completed 'Essaying Virtuality', a study of virtual life. http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/suethomas/
Alphabetical list of papers, by author
Alphabetical list of panels