Ten Reasons Why I Write Digital Literature

For this third in a series of ten posts on digital literature, I asked myself, as one would interrogate a terror suspect, Why do you write digital literature?

At first, I choked (it was a kind of psychic water boarding), and then I came up with this….

(1) Because I like it.

I like the excitement of an empty Flash page waiting to be filled. I like the challenge of starting something new, and hoping it will be different than anything I’ve done before. I like playing with text, images, and audio, looking for ways to synthesize them into a single, cohesive whole. I like the puzzles of code, the goal of lower load times, the fickleness of browsers and portable devices…

Sure, I curse at the ceiling, tear my hair out, and contemplate suicide when things go wrong. But mostly I’m happy, and, as it is with so many writers, that’s enough.

(2) Because I feel special. No kidding, I do. There’s something about working in an emerging art form (and yes, digital literature is an emerging art form), exploring the undiscovered territory where the signposts are mostly the ones you put up. And you put them up not for others, but for yourself so you know where you’ve been, and how to get back, so you can go someplace else. For sure, it’s a kick, marching among the avant-garde….

For years, I wrote traditional text fiction, lost among the many, and now I find myself among the few. Somehow, that’s reassuring.

(3) I’ve got to write something, don’t I? and…

(4) If I stopped now, what would I do with my time? I’ve tried tarring roads, teaching (I still do that), grave digging, nude modeling, parking cars, ghost writing, driving a tractor, fixing fences, giving blood, donating sperm, collecting trash, life-guarding, illegal merchandising (years ago), library shelving, writing specifications for the Gallup Poll, selling Italian ice, changing bedpans, washing dishes, salad prep, cutting grass, delivering newspapers, delivering flowers, grocery bagging, and so on, but none of it works.

There is no substitute. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work.

(5) It’s expected of me. Yeah, I know, not too many people are out there reading digital stories for the web–it’s not high on their To Do list. But there are some who read my (and other digital writers’) work on a fairly regular basis, and after the first few years, they expect us to produce. It’s not a written contract, and it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece every time, but it has to be something so they can drop in, take a quick look, and be satisfied that, yes, the world still turns. The sun still rises and sets in Buffalo, Portland, Sydney, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Rome, Bergen, Barcelona….

You name the place, and the sun rises and sets. The seasons change, the watch ticks, the world turns.

(6) Because digital literature is an art form that I enjoy reading. My policy as an artist/writer (one which is sometimes difficult to adhere to) is never write anything I would not want to read myself. I tell it to my students, invest its importance with biblical resonances, and expect them to follow it.

My hypocrisy does not extend so far as to exclude myself, but it’s no problem, because for me, digital literature is the thing. I am constantly reading it, studying it, bookmarking it, creating it, and talking about it with anyone who will listen. I’ve taught it, curated it, performed it, published it, and copied it. I admire it, hate it and, in the end, there is only one word that sums up my relationship with it: obsession.

Do I always write what I would want to read? Yes, unless, for the moment, I’m someone else.

(7) Because text is not enough. For years, I wrote stories for the static page, relying on print to say it all. I had fun, worked hard, and had some success, but in the end, it was a wall which I wailed on so many times, it was impenetrable, I lay broken beneath it. I was a wreck, and looking for a way out, and digital literature was it. Maybe one day I will go back…

(8) Because I only have seven reasons so far. Which is to say, I don’t need a reason….

(9) Because I don’t have a hobby, and although digital literature is not a hobby for me, if I did have a hobby, there might not be time for digital literature. My time would be taken up with, well, you name it: knitting, golf, drinking….

(10) I want to be rich, and digital literature is the only way I can imagine to make it happen. This tells us two things: one, my imagination is so deficient, and my awareness of real-life economics so lacking, that I could laugh (or cry); and two, I am a fiscal romantic, one who, in the face of all the facts, denies them with the ferocity of a hedge fund manager.

By which I mean, digital literature may soon make money for its authors. In 2007, of the year’s 10 best-selling novels in Japan, five were originally cell phone novels. Sure, they may not be exactly what we consider to be digital literature, and they’re still ultimately selling as hard-cover books, but they were originally read on cell phones, and by LOTS of people. Cell phone novels (or keitai shousetsu) are already being serialized for money. If Japanese authors can do it, why can’t we?

So, why do I write digital literature? It’s not for money, it’s not because I’m bored, and it’s not because I want to be famous…. It’s because, for now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

(July 23, 2010)