Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Over the course of my hashtag study and composing posts for this blog, I was given the opportunity to experiment with multiple different writing tools. For my first post, I used ZenPen. For the second, I composed with Google Docs. After those were the Microsoft Word for Tablet app, a typewriter, and WordPress. All of these tools had interesting points, as well as drawbacks. But the question remains: What would the ideal writing environment be for me?

First, I’ll look at the elements about ZenPen that I like. After messing around with it after my initial post about it, I’ve come to like it a bit more. The ability to invert colors is a nice touch to make things easier on the eyes, the text is nice and big, and the interface is extremely simple and user-friendly. What I don’t like about it, however, is that it saves things in a browser window. In order to take things and move to another device, I’d have to save my writing to my computer and upload it onto the new computer. This is significantly more of a dilemma to me than it would be to others; I write very long texts and often have to work from different computers.

Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so.
Another fun point: I can use it from my Chromebook, to take screenshots like so. 

Google Docs is my primary writing tool because it runs on all of my devices, and it’s similar to the word processors I grew up on (so it’s a lot less “alien.”). However, I’ve started to shy away from it where my personal writing is concerned. I’m glad to have things backed up, yes, but what happens if my account gets hacked? Something about storing writing on a cloud, in a document that’s easily accessed by anyone using my account, doesn’t sit right with me. Draftback is pretty cool, though.

Tablet apps like Microsoft Word for Tablet are generally a “no” for me. They’re too hard to work with, no matter what sort of setup I try to use. Even using a bluetooth keyboard, like I usually do with my tablet, proves frustrating. It’s too slow, editing is more difficult than on a laptop, and tablet apps require more effort to back up. Still, when your computer’s down, it’s nice to have a backup… and this can be used without Internet access, if you’re ever in a pinch.

Typewriters are outdated, and for a good reason–their keys jam, they require a fair amount of force that makes one’s hands hurt after writing, and typos are nigh impossible to correct on them. Still, they have their charm. The clacking sound of the keys is incredibly satisfying, as is the little bell that sounds when you reach the end of a line. Plus, they look incredibly cool. If not for the difficult points of writing on a typewriter, they’d probably be my go-to writing tool!

On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter...
On the other hand, there is the USB Typewriter…

Finally, there is WordPress. I love to blog–I run a not-completely-terrible movie review blog in my spare time–but at the same time, I sort of hate blogging. I don’t like to put my thoughts into writing and then, without any middleman to tell me any flaws I’ve done, send them out to the public. (There’s a reason my blog doesn’t update often.) Furthermore, I don’t particularly like WordPress– its layout is difficult to navigate compared to similar sites, and if you have more than one blog there can be major chaos. But it’s probably the best way to reach a wider audience, so there’s something infinitely satisfying about it… if I could learn to use it well.

So, after analyzing all of these tools and apps, what can I say about my ideal writing environment? I’d say it would be a Frankenstein’s Monster composed of the best elements of all five tools: Distraction-free and user-friendly like ZenPen, familiar and stable like Google Docs (coupled with instant-saving), private and Internet-free like tablet apps, quirky and unique like the typewriter, and audience-friendly like WordPress. Since a lot of these things might seem to contradict each other, finding the best possible writing environment would require abandoning whatever elements I deem least necessary.

So, what can we really take from my intense fickleness? Mainly, that what constitutes a “good” writing environment is a matter of personal preference and nothing more. (There are people who use Notepad and nothing but Notepad, after all…) In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym states that people’s views on technologies are reflective. (p. 28) This means that a person’s like or dislike about a site is usually caused by some personal bias for or against certain things.  As a result, the way I view these tools is more about me and my finicky nature than any real flaw with the tools themselves. My initial complaints about ZenPen were that the text size couldn’t be adjusted and it was hard to get creative; this could be attributed to a desire for a more “traditional” word processing tool that looked similar to Microsoft Word.

I’m still looking for the best writing tool for me, but switching between two or three environments every now and then provides a pretty good balance. And changing to adapt to some of the more “foreign” ones to me certainly couldn’t hurt…

Kim’s Reflections: The Ideal Writing Environment?

Kim’s Reflections on WordPress

I’ve been blogging irregularly since the age of thirteen, so I’m familiar with WordPress. Familiar, yes, but not exactly a fan. Inevitably, each usage of the platform in the past caused me some form of grief or another: entire blog posts eaten, controls I couldn’t quite figure out, posting things to the wrong blog when I was a contributor to multiple blogs at once… I could go on. Still, I was required to use WordPress for two of my classes this semester, mainly on this blog. The entirety of my last blog post was composed on WordPress, as were all of my reflection posts.

The beginning of my previous blog post in WordPress. Ah, lines that got deleted!
The beginning of my previous blog post in WordPress. Ah, lines that got deleted…

How did it go? Well, I still prefer Blogger, but it was better than it used to be. There were no catastrophic losses of writing, which is always good. And yet, I’m still not sold.

One thing I don’t like: in order to compose a piece for a specific blog, you have to switch sites. This has led to an incident where one of my posts nearly ended up on my other school blog. Is this an annoyance as opposed to a genuine problem? Absolutely. But on Blogger, the platform I usually use, I just click the orange buttons next to each blog’s name on my site. It’s a layout difference, but it’s more convenient, and it lets me get writing faster.

Blogger's home page. My blogs haven't updated in a while, so... sorry to disappoint.
  Blogger’s home page. My blogs haven’t updated in a while, so… sorry to disappoint.
...And here's WordPress's thing to switch to the other site. You can do it in  post as well. I just now discovered that. D'oh.
…And here’s WordPress’s thing to switch to the other site. You can do it in post as well. I just now discovered that. D’oh.

Another thing I prefer about Blogger: I can customize the text further. WordPress limits to one text size, one font. Blogger doesn’t have a huge variety of fonts or size options, but it offers eight font choices and five size options. Another small issue, but one that matters, especially when you’re the sort of blogger who likes to mess around with text size for comedic effect. Here, text is text. You can put things in bold, italicize them, or even cross them out use strikethrough, but that’s it. It can get a little boring.

On the other hand, you can easily get distracted if you like to play with text.
On the other hand, you can easily get distracted if you like to play with text.

Other than those small problems that are more about personal preference than anything wrong with WordPress, the sites are very similar. They allow you to save drafts, back them up for you in your browser in case of emergency (since my internet died twice while writing the previous blog post, I’m very grateful for that), you can share things on social media by connecting your accounts… it’s all fairly standard blogging. Rather than apples and oranges, comparing the two is more like iPhones and Androids: They’re not all that different when you get down to it.

So, how to connect this to what I’ve learned in class? It probably says more about me than it does about either blogging platform. As Nancy K. Baym says in Personal Connections in the Digital Age, people’s views on technologies are reflective. (p. 28) As a result, the way I view these blogging sites is more about me and my finicky nature.

For one thing, my bias toward Blogger and against WordPress can be attributed to my pro-Google stance. (After all, I’m one of the only people in my area who regularly uses Google+, so it’s safe to say that I have an inclination toward the company and its sites/products.) It also shows that I’m really picky about very small things, which isn’t news to me but is still worth noting. And maybe I prefer the color orange on Blogger’s site to WordPress’s blue color scheme as well. Whatever the case, my appraisal of WordPress isn’t exactly fair since I have another similar site to compare it to.

Still, this is something we have to navigate in the digital age. When there are so many similar sites, how do we choose the “right” one? And is there ever a “right” one? Perhaps I need to get to know WordPress a little better before I decide whether or not it’s right/wrong for me…

Kim’s Reflections on WordPress

WeNeedDiverseBooks Analysis: What I’ve Learned

It’s strange to go into a hashtag centered around something you believe in deeply. It’s obviously more interesting than taking something you don’t care about, which makes the homework feel a lot less like work. On the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to go into it without any preconceived notions about what you’re going to find.

Fortunately for me, I like a bit of a surprise.

When I started studying the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, I had heard of the movement–as well as its corresponding website–and saw the benefits that its prevalence had reaped. (As I said in a prior post, last year’s discussion about diversity in children’s literature most likely influenced the results of this year’s Youth Media Awards.) Individuals I knew in the children’s/young adult literature community had We Need Diverse Books banners added to their Twitter icons, my library had a specialized display up for months, they had an Indiegogo campaign… it was everywhere. And I was totally into it. But as much as I knew about it, I didn’t really know much about it. (If that makes sense.)

Diving into the hashtag, I noticed a few things. First, most of the diversity discussed in the tag was racial, and the myriad other kinds of diversity out there were uncommon. Second, a great majority of the tweets with the hashtag attached were retweets, and not much conversation happened.

A sample of tweets I archived. All tweets with RT at the beginning are retweets.
A sample of tweets I archived. All tweets with RT at the beginning are retweets. There are plenty more where those came from.

I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping to see thoughtful tweets about disability and mental illness in books, and there were only a few mentions of books with disabled characters (or even expressions of a want/need for books containing said characters). More than that, though, I wanted to see conversations going on, and there weren’t any.

Then, once I started following lots of authors and book enthusiasts, something occurred to me: the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag is only one facet of the pro-diversity community, and only one of its tools for communication. Following authors that used the tag frequently led me to a multitude of interesting discussions, plenty of feedback about things that are/are not good in regards to cultural representation, and talk about all kinds of diversity.

And, of course, I joined in here and there.

A conversation with the Twitter account for Tu Books, a publisher I discussed in an earlier post.
A conversation with the Twitter account for Tu Books, a publisher I discussed in an earlier post.

(Including the above tweet because it led to an interesting conversation with author Chase Night about unoriginality of book marketing. Which is awesome, because I talked to an author about something indirectly related to diversity.) There are many things that I have taken away from the whole experience of interacting with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.

1. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag fits all of the criteria for a community that Nancy K. Baym describes in Personal Connections in the Digital Age. In the beginning of chapter 4, “Communities and Networks,” Baym lists five characteristics that online groups shared. They were a sense of space, shared practice, shared resources/support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships.” (p. 72) Some of them are easier to assess than others, but by her standards #WeNeedDiverseBooks is a community. The space is the hashtag itself, the practice is using the hashtag and discussing diversity, the resources are various book lists and websites about diversity in books, the identities are generally as writers or readers (or both!) who all care about diversity, and most people have interpersonal relationships with one another. Based on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that this hashtag does, indeed, qualify as a community.

2. Though #WeNeedDiverseBooks is, in itself, a community, it is also part of a larger community. This is something I suspected; after all, I’d been on the fringes of the children’s literature community during the time when the hashtag was at peak popularity. However, I was unaware of the complexities of both communities. It’s hard to find anybody in the children’s literature community that doesn’t care about WNDB; on the flipside, nobody who uses the hashtag doesn’t care about children’s literature. (Aside from those who use it improperly, but I weeded them out.)

3. Though all diversity is important, #WeNeedDiverseBooks talks primarily about racial diversity. And that’s perfectly fine.   Though the children’s literature community at large cares a lot about all sorts of diversity, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag is mostly concerned with promoting books about and written by people of color. Though this initially disappointed me, I had to adjust my expectations and try to understand why this must be so. And it’s true: There aren’t all that many books about children and teens of different races out there, and the ones that do get released are often buried by their publishers in favor of books that are about white kids/teens. The world is a much more racially diverse place than the books that are supposed to represent it, and this is a problem that needs to be rectified. As much as I desperately want more intelligent and respectful books about people with disabilities and mental illness, that’s not quite the conversation that’s going on in this hashtag. But something just as important is, and that’s valuable.

With numbers like this, it's hard to argue.
A table with statistics from the article above. With numbers like this, it’s hard to argue.

4. Studying a hashtag, especially one related to your career field, changes you. I’m not going to lie: Before I started researching #WeNeedDiverseBooks, my reading list for this year’s YA lineup wasn’t remotely diverse beyond books about mental illness and disability. It was blindingly white, straight as a ruler, and overall sort of “familiar.” I’d only heard about the big buzz titles, because they were getting the best reviews. This, sadly, ensured that a lot of things flew by my radar for a little while. (There is much to be said about mainstream publications’ reluctance to recognize books by authors of color, as well as the general perception of diverse books by reviewers.) During the study, I took a look at my list of books I wanted to read, and it hit me. I decided to fix that right away, and looking through the hashtag put some incredible-sounding titles on my radar for the coming months…

And I grabbed a bunch of diverse titles from my local library, too.

So how has it worked out? Very well, I’d say. My reading list is truly diverse now, consisting of even more books than before, and I’ve found some truly incredible stories. That, I think, was supposed to be the end goal of #WeNeedDiverseBooks: to get people to read books they wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and to show publishers that these books are every bit as valuable as the ones they promote so heavily. And if it worked on somebody who was supposed to be analyzing the tag for school, imagine how it would impact a kid just looking for good books to read about people like them.

WeNeedDiverseBooks Analysis: What I’ve Learned

Kim’s Reflections on the Typewriter

Like many other writers, I’ve always wanted to use a typewriter. They look cool, and they’re vintage, which is even cooler. In the old movies I grew up watching, I always saw writers clacking away on the keys of a typewriter, and I never thought I’d be a legitimate writer until I sat down in front of one of those things. Let’s face it: typewriters look pretty cool. And they’re even cooler if you grew up a Stephen King fan.

The fact that the film adaptation The Shining exposed me to typewriter-induced madness at an early age didn’t sway me from it at all. When I went to use the typewriter for my latest blog post, I was incredibly enthusiastic about finally getting a chance. I knew it would be incredibly difficult compared to writing on the computer, but I also figured, “Hey, how bad could it be?” I decided to spend some quality time with the typewriter named Floyd Pepper.

  Bad isn’t quite the right word, but it was a far more arduous process than I expected. The movies make it look a lot easier than it really is. I felt like a senior citizen trying to navigate an iPad for the first time. “What is this confounded thing?” I thought at least once.

Writing in progress.
Writing in progress.

  The first thing that gave me a hard time was loading the paper, which I’m still not entirely sure I did correctly. It took me a few minutes to realize that I needed to turn one of the knobs away from me, not toward me. Of course, my writing ended up coming out at a slanted angle by the time I got to the end of the first page. I think I did a little better the second time, though!

The first page I typed. Notice how things slant toward the end...
The first page I typed. Notice how things slant toward the end…

    The second time: Typos. I made about 3,400 typos during the course of this assignment. A lot of these resulted from me typing without appropriate punching of the keys and thus losing a letter here and there, the rest resulted from me being an incredibly fast, impulsive writer. Since one cannot easily go back and change the way they have written a word, there are two possibilities for dealing with typos: ignoring them and moving on, or correcting them after the fact with a pen. I did both, and wasn’t particularly happy with either decision.   Furthermore, the necessary amount of force to write at all was rather baffling. I’m pretty rough with computer keyboards when I type, so I was shocked at how hard I had to hit a key on a typewriter for it to work. This left my hands with a numb, tingling feeling in all of my fingers that didn’t go away until the next day.

Lots of typos visible here.
Lots of typos visible here.

  Revising is also virtually impossible without starting over on a new piece of paper, so my only option was to keep going. Since I got back my blog feedback after I finished the typewriter work, I had no choice but to type up and revise my original text to make it better fit the requirements for the course. Was this particularly frustrating? No, but it’s also the sort of thing that writing on a computer has almost eliminated. (Even writing by hand is easier to revise, if you do it in pencil.) Theoretically, this could’ve made my writing a bit more careful. Of course, it didn’t. Writing on a typewriter in such a short, crunching-for-time span, I knew I had to keep going, and fast. I finished my paper in a bit over an hour, and aside from the typos and other formatting issues, it was mostly a pretty decent rough draft of something. Unfortunately, when I’m writing something, I want something that looks a little better than a decent first draft. Correct formatting and spelling are ridiculously important to me; without them, I feel like a failure even if the content of my writing is otherwise passable.

Here we can see pen marks I did for correction. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped it would.
Here we can see pen marks I did for correction. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped it would.

  It’s not hard to see why typewriters are considered obsolete: they’re limiting. It’s hard to write quickly on them, and it’s hard to write well on them. This encourages careful writing and discourages people who like to type lots and edit more later. The environment of the room with the typewriters didn’t hinder me at all; knowing I wasn’t alone made it hard for me to get discouraged, so I finished a lot faster than I thought I would.   Since I had to type up everything I’d written after the fact to make it remotely readable, I learned that I am the sort of person who is much better at writing if she gets a chance to change things a lot as she goes along. It also tells me that I should perhaps slow down when I write, although this is not something I would prefer. (I would much rather write quickly and then revise than write slowly.) Individuals who are more careful writers would likely benefit from the usage of a typewriter; as for me, I just view the devices as a curiosity of the past, albeit ones that contributed incredibly important works to our culture. In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym discusses technological determinism, a view of technology that posits that technology changes the way people think and act. (Baym, 30-33) I think this is an important thing to take into consideration when discussing the typewriter. Most people in this day and age who are accustomed to typing on a computer keyboard will find the typewriter to be antiquated at best, regressive at worst. There is also a social stigma against people who still use typewriters; they are mainly viewed as individuals who are just doing it “to be cool” and/or different, often called “hipsters,” and are often criticized for their choice in writing tool as a result. Those who still use typewriters, such as Richard P. of The Typewriter Revolution, are quite displeased with this social stigma. As Baym says, “We are surrounded by messages that treat media as a cause of social consequences,” (33) and it’s hard to look at the inundation of messages about new technology being “cool” in the eyes of the mainstream and not see it as connected to modern views on the typewriter. I don’t view the typewriter as at all uncool. I view it as terribly inconvenient for a person like me. Still, at the same time there is something weirdly charming writing on a typewriter. Perhaps it’s the satisfying clacking noise, or the little bell…

Or perhaps it was the opportunity to finally type out the most famous words ever written by a fictional author.

I'd have typed it several thousand more times, but my fingers were numb.
I’d have typed it several thousand more times, but my fingers were numb.
Kim’s Reflections on the Typewriter

We’ve Always Needed Diverse Books: Analysis of Scholarly Works on Diversity in Children’s Literature

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(Since my typewriter post was rather chaotic and I couldn’t edit it, I’ve decided to provide a very-slightly-revised typed edition of it below.)

In early 2014, months before his death, renowned and award-winning author Walter Dean Myers wrote an article for the New York Times, entitled “Where are all the People of Color in Children’s Books?” in the article, Myers states that in 2013, only 93 books for children were about black children. Myers went on to say that, while he identified with white characters in popular children’s books, he wanted to see more characters that were more like him. Even after spending his life writing many books for children and teenagers, he was still disheartened to see so few others.

It is interesting to speculate about how Myers would have reacted to the popularity of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and how it has changed the landscape of children’s literature so much and in such short time. This year’s Newbery Medal book was The Crossover, a shining example of the sort of book Myers wanted to see; it would be hard to argue that all of the discussion about diversity in children’s literature didn’t have some sort of influence on its win.

Unfortunately, scholarly articles and significant studies on We Need Diverse Books are hard to find. However, there has been much discussion of diversity in children’s literature, and it has been going on for quite some time.

Since my focus is on young adult literature, I tried to find articles on diversity in YA. However, it was incredibly difficult to locate any, and the ones I could find were under a paywall. But discussions on diversity in children’s literature are surprisingly common, some dating back to the late 1990s.

I found an exhaustive article from 2011 entitled “Radical Children’s Literature Now!” It was published in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, and written by Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel. The article discusses the way that children’s books are handling “radical” subject matter, such as disability, mental illness, racial issues, and other subjects that would go on to be the core of the We Need Diverse Books movement. Seeing this article made me choose to focus my attention on finding articles discussion disability in children’s literature, which is how I chose the two after this.

Screenshot 2015-03-15 at 3.50.44 PM
A portion of the article’s discussion of disability.

Though this article’s section on disability is brief, the books mentioned in its discussion were all acclaimed titles that did not fall victim to many harmful tropes about disability and depression, which I found to be surprising. After all, so much of what I have read about portrayals of disability in children’s literature is negative and focuses on bad depictions in better-known works. (In addition to adding to discussion, this article gave me some new books for my reading list!)

Another excellent article I found pertaining to the experience of disability in children’s literature caused me to start thinking about accessibility. When books are written about characters with disabilities, are they really for the sort of child depicted in them? This is something that came to mind after reading “Exploring Issues of Disability in Children’s Literature Discussions.” The article was published in Disability Studies Quarterly, and was written by Donna Sayers-Adomat. In the article, Adomat describes a discussion that a teacher, Mrs. Stone, had with her students on disabled characters in children’s books that she read in class. These books allowed her students, both disabled and not, to better empathize with one another, and some discussion for advocacy came up.

Screenshot 2015-03-15 at 3.54.03 PM
A screencap of the article’s portion on advocacy. Smart kids!

In the part of the article I liked best, a child wrote a poem about the book Rules, describing the autistic character featured in the book. The poem both described the character’s symptoms of autism, and his other characteristics, painting a remarkably insightful and empathetic portrait.

Screenshot 2015-03-15 at 3.56.21 PM
The poem in question.

However, not much was said in the article about how children with disabilities reacted to the actual character in the novel, which I thought was interesting. Were there perhaps no autistic students in the classroom? (Unlikely, given diagnosis rates. But I digress.) Regardless, I thought that the article still showed that a child doesn’t have to be disabled to get something out of a book, and that a book like Rules can definitely teach children empathy for those around them.

Still, coming across my third and final article was even more illuminating. “Diversity in Children’s Literature: Not Just a Black and White Issue,” Written by Wendy M. Smith-D’Arezzo, discusses issues of how children approach books about others with disabilities. Though the article was published back in 2003 (in Children’s Literature in Education), it is still relevant today as we focus on the way we reach our audience as authors of diverse content. Smith-D’Arezzo chose two books about children who struggled with reading, and shared them with students who had no reading difficulties. Though I found this frustrating on its own (why aren’t we talking about how children with reading troubles can access books, again?), something toward the end of the article stood out to me even more: “What remains to be seen is if these books could be part of a program with an elementary school classroom that would both introduce children to their peers with disabilities and develop compassion and understanding for those children who are different from them.” (Smith-D’Arezzo, p. 92)

Screenshot 2015-03-15 at 3.59.26 PM
The full text of the conclusion. Not once is actually discussing these books with disabled children mentioned.

Reading this directly after the previous article made me realize something that always irritated me as a youth: For so long, children’s literature and the discussions around it have been so focused on fostering empathy in “normal” (their words, not mine) children that it often alienates the “other” children, the ones who these stories are indirectly about. A great majority of books about autistic characters have been written in my lifetime, but most of the ones that got acclaim were told from the point of view of “neurotypical” children, or had characters with autism who were no more than stereotypes composed of every autistic trait in the book. This is an incredibly stifling thing for a young person with a disability to grow up surrounded by, a subliminal message that our existence is a burden upon those around us. And this is exactly the kind of thing that We Need Diverse Books is trying to combat.

The articles in Disability Studies Quarterly and Children’s Literature in Education reaffirmed my belief that the way diversity in children’s literature is discussed in regards to disability has changed entirely. Instead of wanting to see just more stories about characters with disability in order to make others “develop compassion and understanding,” what we want now is more realistic, non-stereotyped depictions of disabled characters who are the protagonists of their own stories and whose disabilities do not define them or the extent of their characterization. And as a person with Asperger Syndrome who cringed her way through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, all I can say is that it’s about time. I love how the discussion has changed about all aspects of diversity in children’s literature, and I love seeing it change even further right before my eyes.

We’ve Always Needed Diverse Books: Analysis of Scholarly Works on Diversity in Children’s Literature