An experiment in writing in public, one page at a time, by S. Graham, I. Milligan, & S. Weingart

Reflecting on our process

The items on this page come from our blog – see the pushpin icon at top right – but are collected here to make them easier to find. We’re very aware that there are going to be hiccups in our project, so we’ll try to document them here, and the lessons we take away from them. Thanks!

The First Day

Shawn : September 11, 2013 11:44 am : workflow

We launched this project in public on Monday. You might be interested to know what we’ve learned already about the potentials and perils of writing in public.

First, some statistics. Wordpress stats reports 367 views on Monday. Google analytics reports 139 unique visitors making 627 pageviews, and roughly 3 pages/visit. I don’t know how Google does the math, but that seems to be quite a good rate. We had 89 mentions and retweets on Twitter (according to NodeXL, searching for the url). Here’s a live search right now, which gives a sense of where we’re reaching.

And now, for some lessons. Pushing material up on the blog out-of-eventual-sequence makes for a fractured reading experience. That sounds like something you’d file under ‘duh’, but we perhaps didn’t appreciate the extent, if initial comments coming in are any indication. That said, it does give us an opportunity to rethink how the overall structure of this work will come together, the things that we are taking for granted or haven’t made explicit enough. It is rare I think for academics at any stage to read a book from start to finish, so perhaps this lesson will help us craft a better book that allows for dipping in to suit the reader’s needs.

Another lesson: just because everything works on our machines, doesn’t mean it’ll work out there in the wild (again, something you’d think we’d know already). It turns out that one of our plugins (a recaptcha) didn’t play nice with the others once we’d deactivated the invisibility cloak. If you tried to leave a comment on day 1, this is why you couldn’t for a while. My fault. We also discovered that our automatic backup plugins wouldn’t work with the disability cloak activated!

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Our writing workflow

Shawn : August 7, 2013 4:47 pm : workflow

‘One of the sideshows was wrestling’ from National Library of Scotland on Flickr Commons; found by running this post through http://serendipomatic.org

How do you coordinate something as massive as a book project, between three authors across two countries?

Writing is a bit like sausage making. I write this, thinking of Otto von Bismarck, but Wikipedia tells me:

  • Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.
    • As quoted in University Chronicle. University of Michigan (27 March 1869) books.google.de, Daily Cleveland Herald (29 March 1869), McKean Miner (22 April 1869), and “Quote… Misquote” by Fred R. Shapiro in The New York Times (21 July 2008); similar remarks have long been attributed to Otto von Bismarck, but this is the earliest known quote regarding laws and sausages, and according to Shapiro’s research, such remarks only began to be attributed to Bismarck in the 1930s.

I was thinking just about the messiness rather that inspiring respect; but we think there is a lot to gain when we reveal the messiness of writing. Nevertheless, there are some messy first-first-first drafts that really ought not to see the light of day. We want to do a bit of writing ‘behind the curtain’, before we make the bits and pieces visible on our Commentpress site, themacroscope.org.  We are all fans of Scrivener, too, for the way it allows the bits and pieces to be moved around, annotated, rejected, resurrected and so on. Two of us are windows folks, the other a Mac. We initially tried using Scrivener and Github, as a way of managing version control over time and to provide access to the latest version simultaneously. This worked fine, for about three days, until I detached the head.

Who knew that decapitation was possible? Then, we started getting weird line breaks and dropped index cards happening. So we switched tacts and moved our project into a shared dropbox folder. We know that with dropbox we absolutely can’t have more than one of us be in the project at the same time. We started emailing each other to say, ‘hey, I’m in the project….now. It’s 2.05 pm’ but that got very messy. We installed yshout  and set it up to log our chats. Now, we can just check to see who’s in, and leave quick memos about what we were up to.


Once we’ve got a bit of the mess cleaned up, we’ll push bits and pieces to our Commentpress site for comments. Then, we’ll incorporate that feedback back in our Scrivener, and perhaps re-push it out for further thoughts.

One promising avenue that we are not going down, at least for now, is to use Draft.  Draft has many attractive features, such as multiple authors, side-by-side comparisons, and automatic pushing to places such as Wordpress. It even does footnotes! I’m cooking up an assignment for one of my classes that will require students to collaboratively write something, using Draft. More on that some other day.

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Source: http://www.themacroscope.org/?page_id=303