Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Ten Years of “Being Social” Online

In Books, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Writing on December 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

Craig with Books

I started blogging ten years ago when my book, TwentySomeone, came out (note the computer screen in the pic). Working on the website for the book, I wanted a way to post interesting links and speaking engagement details on the front page. My friend Will Leingang suggested adding a blog (which at the time I didn’t know was slang for “weblog”) but, because I trust Will in all things technology, I said sure.

This was one of the rare times in my technological life when I’ve been an early adopter. Back in the day, blogs were THE social media; we used them for posts, but also for those communiques that Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ (and about a dozen others) are now used – short sentence updates, interesting articles or links, and the ubiquitous personal opinion.

I miss those days, not because everything was in one place (though that was nice), but because there was usually actual interaction; it was enjoyable to read a comment thread that had some actual comments and didn’t just let one get away with the generic “Like” or “Favorite”.

The phenomenon of “liking” or “favoriting” something without explanation is interesting to me. I watch my online “friends” and “followers” drop “likes” and mark “favorites” on a variety of statements, declarations, questions, links, videos, song lyrics, poems, memes, and quotes and I sometimes wonder if they’re doing that out of actual reason or merely relationship.

The most interesting phenomenon (at least on Facebook) is what seems the obligatory “like” of the new profile picture. I’m struck by how – regardless of actual beauty – people are so quick to approve and at times (let’s be honest) lie out of some assumed responsibility that if they don’t, the person who just uploaded the profile picture will suffer some great self-esteem loss and throw themselves off a bridge.

“What a beautiful picture!”
“You’re so hot!”
“What a gorgeous family!”

I suppose there are plenty of people who want, need, and look for comments like these to justify their existence, but there are also those of us who think of the profile picture as simply an identifier and nothing more. Forgive us for not swooning over your latest profile update – it’s not personal, even though you might take it to be so.

Another thing I’ve found interesting over the past ten years of blogging and “being social” online is how much time it takes to really do well. The media are different, but they all require intentionality to do them right. Twitter’s 140 characters force one to be uber-succinct, whereas a blog (at least that folks read) demands interesting writing since something else is always one quick click away. Facebook posts tend to benefit from some kind of photo or artwork to break up the design monotony, but I still haven’t figured out to what Google+ best lends itself as I really don’t use it all that much even though I feel semi-guilty that I should as it seems strangely superior as this “social evolution” art implies:


All of this – uber-succinctness, writing worth reading, finding and uploading pics and art – requires dedicated time, a commodity most of us find only in small amounts. It may just be my particular stage in life, but where I once used to think that the key to writing productivity lay in using and mastering 15-minute bites, I now am down to trying to make the most of 5-minute ones. This works well enough for tweets and updates, but not so much for blog posts and books.

While I’ve taken a few hiatuses from social media (the longest being an intentional six-month respite from blogging), I’ve never thought seriously about quitting (though like an alcoholic or chain smoker, I promise I can quit anytime). I’ve read and even written about the dangers of social media (click here to read multiple years’ worth of my posts on this topic and technology), but I still find it engaging and stimulating – not as a replacement for books, but neither as a complete waste of time either.

So I’ll continue blogging, tweeting, and posting, and thank you in advance for reading, retweeting, and sharing. I’m not sure why you do, but I confess I’m glad for it, much like I imagine the person posting a new profile picture probably appreciates the comments.

Just don’t lie to me and call me “hot”.

Veterans Day

In Holidays, Writing on November 11, 2008 at 4:48 pm

In honor of Veterans Day, here’s a link to a World War I blog I heard about on Public Radio International. Basically, a grandson has taken the time to type in his grandfather’s letters on the dates they were actually written during his service, documenting the latter’s experience throughout the so-called “war to end all wars.”

For all you veterans out there, thanks. And forgive us when we take you for granted.

Take a Poll That Doesn’t Have Anything to Do with Politics

In Internet, Writing on October 16, 2008 at 6:46 am

I don’t know if you’ve been polled yet this election year (I haven’t), but I do know they’re a lot more fun to answer when you have more than two options from which to pick. That said, I offer my very first Second Drafts poll, in which I ask for your feedback as to what you like/want to read when you stop by here. The poll is painless, you can only vote once, and I won’t see who votes what. So, take ten seconds, consider the options, cast your vote, and check the results. I’m interested in what you say. Thanks.


Never Settle

In Books, Writing on April 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

Early last month, I got interviewed by one Julia Furlan from New York University for a story she was doing on twenty-somethings. The story was for NYU’s LiveWire service:

“Livewire offers newspapers, magazines and digital publishers original feature stories meant to help capture a coveted audience: the under-30 reader. Our stories, written by New York University journalism students and rigorously edited by their working journalist professors, are about everything in life that interests young people. That is, they’re about everything – education and careers, politics and policy, adventures and music, the environment and the future.”

I’m not sure if it’s in finished form or not (it’s got a few typos), but her story, “Never Settle,” is up. It’d be great if one of their subscribers picked up an edited (or even longer – the interview was easily an hour) version of the piece, but we’ll see what happens.

Now Up at byFaith

In Politics, Writing on December 3, 2007 at 1:27 am


I wasn’t sure if they were going to post it online or not (the actual issue has been out for almost two months now), but my byFaith article (written in July) on the political views of twenty- and thirty-somethings in the PCA is finally up on byFaith’s newly-redesigned site. Check it out and leave a comment (there or here) as to what you think.

The other writing news is today (tonight, really), Megan and I present the fruits of our labors from the 3-month, 400-hour How Kids Think research project we’ve been working on all fall. We’ve invested literally all weekend together – writing/designing a 26-page report, detailing our findings, and periodically checking to make sure our kids know we still love them. We think we’ve succeeded at all three tasks, but only barely.

I so wish I could post the report for all to see. Megan has done a fantastic job researching and writing most of it (I’ve served more as project director/editor/graphic designer/it-will-be-alright-er), but as the data technically belongs to God’s World Publications, that’s probably not okay.

If you think of us between now and tonight, pray all would go well as we meet with publisher Nick Eicher, founder Joel Belz, C.F.O. Kevin Martin, and creative director Rich Bishop to make our recommendations and pretend we know what we’re talking about.

Bulimic Productivity

In Calling, Writing on July 20, 2007 at 7:38 am

I’ve spent way too much time in a staring contest with my computer this week, but at least it’s been productive. Today I’ll submit the first draft of my article for byFaith and maybe check email a couple of times, but that’s about it. All work and no play makes Craig a very dull boy.

I wish I could figure out how to be less of a binge-and-purge writer – ingesting lots of information all at once and then vomiting it back onto the page with one intense gag reflex – but I need momentum, which drives me to the “all or nothing” process that lines up so well with the rest of my personality. Blogging is the only writing I do that is even close to being consistent (at least from a chronological perspective), but that only goes so far in terms of personal fulfillment.

Words cannot express how eager I am to get on a school schedule again next month, both at Covenant as well as at Westminster. It’s no secret I function best with structure, and in the absence of it, I work extra hard to create it myself. This, of course, can take more creative energy than I sometimes want to allocate, but if I have to choose between creating something (time, space, deadlines) to create something or floundering under the tyranny of the urgent and cluttered in trying to do so, I’ll take the former.

This summer has been a good experiment as to what (presumably) future years as a teacher will be like. I recognize that I’m really going to have to plan – and stick to my plan – if I’m to do any serious writing in the summers. And yet, inevitably, I will still need to figure out how to adjust those plans without seriously compromising them when they need to change for reasons beyond my control. Though I’ve gotten better at it over the years, it’s still hard for me.

This, I suppose, is the beauty of the school year – everyone will know I’ll be out of commission from 7:25 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. five days a week, as well as two nights a week from 7-9 p.m., so those won’t be scheduling options. And, as silly as it sounds, that will save me a whole lot of energy in thinking about my time; I just won’t get to vote.

I know some people cringe at this kind of calendar imposition, but for me, knowing those blocks of time are spoken for, it frees and motivates me to make the most of those that aren’t. Sure, things will feel a little tighter, but at least I’ll be spending my energies more on what I’m trying to figure out and less on scheduling when to figure it out.

There’s a theory that whatever amount of time you have or allocate for a project, that will be the time it takes. For most of us, I think that’s true; for me, I know it is. For that reason (and contrary to popular belief), there’s something to be said for structures and limits.

When I’m not fighting against them here, here, here, and here, I’m a big fan.


In Humanity, Writing on September 25, 2006 at 10:05 pm

(I wrote the majority of this short piece five years ago, but never knew how to end it. This past weekend, I came up with an ending that might work, though I’m open to suggestions.)

by Craig Dunham

(The scene opens. On one side is the Attendant, a mostly-even-tempered airline employee – courteous and professional. On the other side is Mr. Jones, a business traveler who tends to blow everything out of proportion through over-analysis and over-reaction. The Attendant is looking at her computer screen, having just helped a traveler; Mr. Jones is the next person in line.)

Attendant: Next in line, please.

Mr. Jones: That’s me. (Picks up luggage and walks forward to desk.) Good morning.

Attendant: Good morning, sir. And where are you heading today?

Mr. Jones (putting luggage down): You know, that’s a great question. (Attendant looks perplexed.) I suppose that’s the question everybody is asking these days, aren’t they – and of course, they should be, I mean, it’s pretty important! – but I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out just yet. How about you? What’s your final destination?

Attendant (confused): Uh, I’m here at this desk until five. You don’t know your final destination?

Mr. Jones: I’m telling you I’m not really sure, and anyway, I’m not sure I have any choice in the matter. I mean, how in the world – in the midst of a thousand ideas and a million thoughts about what makes the world go ‘round – am I supposed to figure that out?

Attendant: Well, you might try looking at your ticket.

Mr. Jones (getting a bit more emotional as he considers the statement): As if it were that simple! Where do I get a ticket like that, one that tells me everything I need to know about my final destination, let alone how to get there and when to leave!?

Attendant (trying to help): From a travel agent? Or the Internet?

Mr. Jones: The Internet!? You seriously think the ticket for my final destination can be found on the Internet, the wasteland of all humanity, the dumping ground for all useless information, opinion, and fluff?

Attendant: Well, if you purchased it from there, yes.

Mr. Jones: Purchased it from there? At what price? What would such a ticket really be worth? And do you really think I could afford something like that on the salary I make? Maybe it’s a little different on the other side of that counter, but I’m not pulling down that kind of money, nor am I willing to throw it at the Internet for a ticket for my supposed final destination!

Attendant (becoming a little irritated): I see. Well, sir, let me try to find your ticket in our system. Can you give me your name, please?

Mr. Jones (flippantly): You think that by simply entering my name, you will somehow pull up on your computer my final destination?

Attendant (impatiently): That’s my intention, sir. Your name, please?

Mr. Jones: Jones. Ed Jones. (Attendant types as Mr. Jones builds momentum.) But I doubt seriously that by typing in the random label my parents chose to give me to distinguish me from the rest of the world, that you will be able to determine my final destination – that one place where this life ends and where whatever comes next begins – that one place called…

Attendant (finding the destination): Cleveland.

Mr. Jones: Excuse me?

Attendant: Cleveland. Your final destination is Cleveland.

Mr. Jones (embarrassed and understanding a bit): Oh. Yes, Cleveland. Cleveland is THAT final destination.

Attendant (trying to move things along): Has your baggage been with you from the time you packed it?

Mr. Jones (shaking his head): Ma’am, I haven’t known a time when I haven’t had my baggage with me.

Attendant (not looking up): Do you have any baggage you’d like to check?

Mr. Jones (pauses): Do you think it will help? To check my baggage, I mean?

Attendant (looking up): It usually does. It’s hard carrying everything around with you.

Mr. Jones: You’re telling me. (pauses) Well, now that you mention it, yes. I do have some baggage to check. (pauses for courage…and then begins, increasing in agony with each line) I was always picked last for kickball in the 3rd grade. I liked New Coke when nobody else did. On my first date, I totaled my car swatting at a fly. In high school band, I played clarinet instead of trumpet because my lips were too big. My greatest academic achievement was four years of perfect attendance. My cat never liked me and my dog’s name was “Stay.”

Attendant (interrupting): Stay?

Mr. Jones: Stay. As in “Come here, Stay.” (pause) He never came.

Attendant (staring dumbfounded): Sir?

Mr. Jones (emotionally exhausted): Yes?

Attendant (trying to get back on track): How many suitcases do you have?

Mr. Jones (looking down): Two.

Attendant: Thank you. (tagging the luggage) Please make your way to Security.

Mr. Jones (looking sad): Ma’am, I’d love to, but I’ve been insecure my whole life.

Attendant (hurriedly): Next!

The Joys of Book Writing

In Technology, Writing on July 11, 2006 at 11:46 am

Spent the morning at Kaldi’s Coffeehouse outlining/writing on a new book project, and I have to confess how good it all felt to be working on something longer than a one-page reflection for class or a blog entry for the Internet. The best news is that I think some of what I came up with is even worth keeping (there’s nothing worse than spending a morning working on something you know you’re going to trash later), so that’s nice.

For the past several months, I’ve been following Susan Wise Bauer‘s progress on the four-volume historical she’s writing for W.W. Norton called Story of the Ancient World. Susan’s last blog post made mention that the delivery date for the final volume of the project is September of 2012. Oh, and in between volumes, she’s working on her dissertation.

Man. And I’m just happy to get a rough draft of a possible table of contents on paper…

I posted another review at Writers Read this morning: To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller. Don’t be too impressed by my prolific posting: the same review appeared a few months ago at Common Grounds Online. Yes, I’m recycling a few reviews, but it’s okay by all parties involved (it’s amazing how nobody cares when there’s no money involved). Click over and check it out.

5:30 p.m.
One last “joy” to share today: Ed just introduced me to Scrivener for the Mac, a very cool (and free) writing software program that lines up well with how I tend to think about project organization, research, and writing. Best of all, says Ed, it comes with a thorough and useable tutorial that walks you through its feature-set as you learn to use it. After playing with it a little this afternoon, he’s right: it’s cake to learn. This could be the end-of-the-world-as-I-know-it of perpetually opening/closing documents in Microsoft Word when writing. Glory, hallelujah.