“Ahhhh, so this is what hacking feels like”: Ingenuity, Challenge & Glimmering Subversion

For the second July in a row I had the opportunity to participate in the National Writing Project‘s Making Learning Connected MOOC, or #clmooc as it is more commonly referred to across the webz.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.57.11 AMSet up as a massive (over 1,000 makers), open (free, no prerequisites, across multiple platforms including offline), online (hosted at Educator Innovator) collaboration (organic, responsive series of make cycles led by participant-facilitators), this year I was able to experience the ways that connected professional development can allow us to learn in what typically would be considered disconnected ways. Case in point: #clmooc officially ended on August 2nd. It’s August 8th, and I am now working on my responses to the Make Cycle that began mid-July. Mind you, there is power in learning in synch and in conversation with others, but the threads of my “classmates'” work and conversations lay available to me across cyberspace, and what I would have otherwise missed due to life interruptions, I can now contribute to, i.e. learn by making and connecting.

So, let’s get to it. In Make Cycle #4, we were invited to Hack Your Writing. This led to a myriad of various makes and forks and very cool conversations about what it means to “hack.” I was (and still am) especially influenced by several fellow participants who grappled with what it means to “hack” and whether revising written products should be considered “hacking” at all.

Composition is in the midst of a pretty sizable shift,Kevin Hodgson reminded us in a reflective post I recommend reading. He suggested that we are using the word “hacking” to try to describe what composing feels like when we have an immense range of composing tools that allow us to write with not just words, but sound, image, color, motion, etc. (This resonated with me as I have previously considered writing these days as 21st Century Bricolage.)

Kevin suggested that “hacking” may not be the best word to describe contemporary composing, as using it to describe revising or remixing a product doesn’t exactly fit its modern etymology which stems from computer hackers who focus not on the products, but the “inside workings of a computer/network,” or processes. I think Susan Watson also found this to be true. Taking on the challenge to hack writing, Susan tried remixing her daughter’s composition, and quickly found the experience quite unsatisfying. She then tried to shake up how she was composing by using an app she hadn’t tried before. The abrupt interruption to her normal composing processes was invigorating, and if I understand Susan correctly, there was a stark difference in the way it felt to compose. In the shift from trying to revise an existing product to using an app to dislodge her typical writing practices from their established habitual processes of making, she glimpsed “hacking,” leading to the exclamation I borrowed from her for this post: “Ahhhh, so this is what hacking feels like.”

Terry Elliott similarly took “hacking” to task (in at least two posts—and several comment threads—that I recommend reading), arguing for critical discussions about personal and institutional power, and questioning the focus on products rather than processes. He also layered these conversations with the suggestion(getting to the historical roots of “hackings'” etymology) that when considering what we’re doing as “hacking” versus revising, we are discussing acts of violence, and as composing is making with our minds and bodies, this is embodied violence. He reminded us that “Hacking is both anabolic and catabolic...” His discussion, and Susan’s experience hacking her writing processes, reminded me that composing and interpreting are (or can be) whole-body experiences—sensing and feeling—not simply manipulation of disassociated, disconnected words floating hither and thither. The best of revision is probably similarly a re-sensing and re-feeling. He reflected:

For me that means taking something already done and refeeling it, re-embodying it. This is extremely difficult to do to my own writing, but am able to do that with others’ writing… 

It is not a revision, but I am trying to re-feel the sources of the poem as provisional again. I am trying to re-embody the verbiage so that I can feel it again. Perhaps that is the ultimate hack, cannabalizing the wreckage of our selves through our writing into new identity. 

From these reflections, I have set three goals for hacking my writing:

  1. I am going to focus on hacking my writing processes, not on revising written products.
  2. I am going to work to make these processes more efficient by subverting my own established writing approaches that carry with them unintended discursive or semiotic weight.
  3. I am going to switch off the autopilot and attempt to re-feel and re-embody my writing processes and products.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 8.28.09 AMTo begin to shake things up, I turned the initial step in my writing processes—deciding what to write about—over to the #clmooc community. I have way too many half-written posts in a backlog. So, I put the drafty titles of each of half-written post in a list and asked the community to vote for which they’d like to see written. It was a scary thing to do, because for at least half of these posts, I couldn’t even remember what I meant by the titles I had written. This, however, bodes well for each of the goals I had set for myself.

So, would you like to know which drafty post won? Drum roll please….

By a slim margin, the next post I am going to work on is titled…

Wait for it…

I am not a maker. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.42.12 AMThe last time I worked on this post was July 9, 2013. My favorite part of this upcoming challenge is that the only text in the draft is the link to The Killers’ song “Human.”

I have no recollection about what I was thinking about when I wrote the title nor do I recall the connection between making and that particular song. So far, in trying to do more than just revise what little I have in the post, I have listened to the song three times and watched the video with its beautiful scenic pans of the desert mountains I grew up in. I have also started a conversation with two artists about the connections between feeling alive and creating. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of this particular product, and if you have any ideas of ways I can further subvert my writing processes, please suggest away!


As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

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One thought on ““Ahhhh, so this is what hacking feels like”: Ingenuity, Challenge & Glimmering Subversion”

  1. Well, no ads on my screen (yet)! Anna, what a beautifully composed reflection. The entire cycle of your process, all the way through the decision to let the CLMOOC community choose your next blog post, was refreshing, intelligent and enlightening. I am psyched to read whatever you “Make” in your “I am not a maker” post! For the record, your reflection on my reflection was spot on. And to jump off from your post here, I actually feel it is harder to hack your process than a revision of a prior piece. It really takes a paradigm shift different from hacking a revision, in my opinion. And I do think one can do both (e.g. Terry Elliott). I find it a fun yet intellectual challenge and am going to use your (much better stated) ideas here to try to shift my writing paradigm. Thank you so much for making sense of this and sharing it.

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