Scrap Writing in the Digital Age

I was scrolling through my bookmarks just now, wondering which scrap-writing websites might be appropriate for the next phase of my project (a phase that starts with a D and ends with a TION). I wasn’t surprised to find that some of these sites, which I haven’t looked at in a while, seem to be advertising new (to me) books. So I guess it’s time to add a few new entries to my list of books originating in websites, which I began here and continued here.


Bender, Mike. Awkward Family Pet Photos. Three Rivers Press, 2011. From Awkward Family Pet Photos.

Boyle, Caitlin. Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time. Gotham, 2010. From Operation Beautiful.

Cagen, Sasha. To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal about Us. Touchstone, 2007. From To-Do List.

Cheezburger Network. There, I Fixed It: (No, You Didn’t). Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011. From There, I Fixed It.

Dovev, Joel. Crap at My Parents’ House. Abrams Image, 2011. From Crap at My Parents’ House.

Fraioli, Sophia and Lauren Kaelin. When Parents Text: So Much Said…So Little Understood. Workman Publishing, 2011. From When Parents Text. Teh Itteh Bitteh Book of Kittehs. Gotham, 2010. Another book from I Can Has Cheezburger.

Keeley, Bethany. The “Book” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. Chronicle Books, 2010. From The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

Miltz, Wayne and Stephen Miltz. Crazy Things Parents Text. Sourcebooks, 2011. From Crazy Things Parents Text.

Mugumogu. I Am Maru. William Morrow, 2011. From Maru, one of my favorite Internet cats.

Yates, Jen. Wreck the Halls: Cake Wrecks Get “Festive.” Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011. A second book from Cake Wrecks.

Hopeful: Letters of Note: The Book (maybe). From Letters of Note.


Once again, I’m sure there are more out there, and many more on the way. It seems blooks (blog + book) are the way of the future and their numbers are beginning to overwhelm my lackadaisical attempts to catalogue them. I only notice them when browsing gift suggestions at a bookstore (which happens less frequently for me now that Borders is kaput) or when wasting time on researching scrap websites.

It’s startling sometimes how strangely the texts in your life can intersect with each other. My project has brought me to some pretty weird places. Last week I found myself alternating between John Seabrook’s book Flash of Genius and Other True Stories of Invention (2008) and Gregory L. Ulmer’s book Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (1994). Sure, they both have invention in the title, but these books belong to different worlds: the first to the world of intellectual pop writing — the New Yorker, St. Martin’s Griffin, and human interest stories — and the second to the world of critical theory — where the term electracy isn’t new and Derrida and Kristeva are our old friends. Ulmer’s book isn’t typical academic fare in some ways, interweaving as it does the creative and the critical, the personal and the popular, but it’s characteristically dense, at home at Johns Hopkins UP.

So, I’m reading these two books, Seabrook offering a break of sorts from the tougher read, and they unexpectedly begin to merge. What’s especially interesting is that Ulmer is theorizing an aleatory model of invention, one that helps him connect Montana to Paris, himself to Gary Cooper, Columbus to everything. And maybe that model of invention, which I’ve been contemplating for a couple years now, silently took hold of me and directed these strange interconnections, but…

Suddenly, Seabrook’s prospecting for gold in Nevada, Ulmer’s remarking on the relationship between prospecting and the “flash of genius” or eureka moment while wandering the frontiers of Montana, the Old West, and new-world conquests; Seabrook’s meeting with one of the structural engineers who designed the World Trade Center, I’ve just spent September 10 and 11 cramming my brain full of 9/11 videos, articles, and even audio, and now I’m sitting in the Cathedral of Learning, itself an architectural tower-wonder, thinking, “Who would ever think about the engineers, architects, contractors, and inventors behind the Twin Towers?” (I’m constantly wondering about the figure of the individual inventor, the lone genius, the writer in the garret [and why is it a garret?].) A couple days prior, my impromptu 9/11-tribute weekend had had me watching a series of videos originally designed for 4Cs remarking on the Twin Towers, invention, and chora, mashing together bits of interviews with Derrida and Ulmer himself. Back in Heuretics, Ulmer’s scrutinizing Twin Peaks, and during a break with my guilty-pleasure HelloGiggles, I read a post about Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (which I’ve never actually seen).

Sometimes I can sort of almost understand why some people think invention is guided by a supernatural force.

What causes this familiar pattern of dirty splotches along the pages of old (used) books?

I admit I got both books at the same used book sale, but I’ve seen this pattern elsewhere. It’s starting to give me the creeps. What gives?

When I’m trying to make sense, trying to connect my ideas to each other, I invariably gravitate toward two lame phrases: speaks to and points to. As in, “The concept of customization speaks to rhetorical awareness, too (like in customizing one’s resume for a specific potential employer).” Taken straight from my notes.

These phrases are boring, static, empty placeholders. But they’re my first resort. What does that say about my composing mechanism? I think they stick because they’re common to conversation, especially the inarticulate academic type, the kind where you’re on the verge of really getting something and you’re stammering away…

I am the worst writer ever. I have always been a good writer. I study writing. I teach writing. I get paid to write (and read and teach). Writing is so hard. Sometimes I never want to write again. Academic writing makes me nervous. I dread it, put it off at all costs, then force myself to do it. I write every day. Garbled handwritten sentences in a journal. Comments on friends’ Facebook posts. Long, complex emails. To-do lists. Grocery lists. I can’t imagine a life without writing. But it makes me squirm.

It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful.

Here’s what I do. I sit at my desk, open up my current document. Check my email, check Facebook, check Gawker, check the weather, check Twitter, check my email again. Turn off my wireless connection. Look at my current document. Read it out loud. Read it again. Look at my notes. Pick my cuticles. Get a glass of water. Read my notes. Scratch my head. Pick my cuticles. Type a sentence. Check my email. Delete a few words, retype them.

Writing has to take a long time, or else it doesn’t feel like real writing. Writing has to be difficult, or else it doesn’t feel like good writing. When I write a paragraph too quickly, it feels sloppy, unfinished, bad. My entire project is about textual reuse, yet reusing my own work, even in revising, feels wrong. It’s also a relief. Everything is one big revision.

I single-space all my essays while writing. Then they explode into huge, 40-page monsters when I have to double-space them.

I hate messy writing. I know writing is a process, and a messy one at that. But I want it to be neat. I want it to be hard and systematic and neat. Sit, think, write, done. I write comments but usually hide them while I’m writing because they’re messy and distracting. Revision makes me anxious. It’s a mess.

Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.

I must have a vocabulary of 1,000 words. I use the same ones over and over again during any given project: provides, shows, demonstrates, accommodates, seems, appears, might, may, offers, functions, becomes, yet, still, thus, thus, thus.

My sentences are long. I use a lot of colons.

I always write too much. And yet I worry that I don’t have anything to say. I edit as I write, then lose my train of thought. I take notes so that I’ll remember what I’m thinking, then forget what I meant. I wait for the flash of genius moment all day.

I talk to myself. I write sentences out loud, as if speaking into a recorder. I use a thesaurus in hopes of triggering further thoughts. Usually it just makes me laugh.

I never follow my own advice. I have no discipline. I’m incredibly high-maintenance when it comes to finding the right environment for writing. Too hot, too cold, too noisy, too quiet. Not enough light. Too many distractions. My netbook screen is too small. The computers in the library don’t offer enough desk space. My living room is too stuffy. My air-conditioner blows too directly onto me. I left my book at home. My notes are saved to another computer. I’m too tired. It’s too late. It’s too early. My brain isn’t awake.

Without writing, my life would be too easy.

There is no perfection. If you want to write, you have to cut through and write. There is no perfect atmosphere, notebook, pen, or desk, so train yourself to be flexible. [Natalie Goldberg]


Posted on: July 25, 2011

Here I am, in the middle of my project, just a little overwhelmed by papers and books and articles and notes and drafts and questions and worries and deadlines… and invention, arrangement, originality, compilation, composition, reuse, recycling, literacy, collaboration, distribution, creativity, and authorship and…

I tried to remember the chorus
I can’t remember the verse…

Just your everyday fortress of books

Pull me out the water, cold and blue
I open my eyes, see that it’s you
So I dive straight back in the ocean
So I dive straight back in the ocean


Take a deep breath, suck the water in my chest
Take a deep breath, such the water in my chest
Cross my fingers, and hope for the best

Then all of a sudden, I heard a note.

Is it too hard to just remember everything I've ever read?

It started in my chest and ended in my throat
Then I realized, then I realized, then I realized
I was swimming, yes, I was swimming

This binder is supposed to store all the articles on my reading list. But it doesn't. It's also supposed to make me feel organized.

And now I’m swimming, yes, I am swimming…

It's really important that I write in these only with ballpoint pens and in very neat, tiny handwriting. Or else...

We often debase this point to the relatively unimportant matter of not wanting to say what someone else has already said, as if no truth should ever be said more than once. Perhaps from the influence of the hard sciences, where new discoveries seldom require much repeating before they begin to do their work in the world, we forget that most of the knowledge we care about in the humanities is of a kind that cannot be considered and repeated too often, provided that the scholar who does the repeating has found a way of reasoning about it that makes it come alive again for her. [Wayne Booth, The Vocation of a Teacher]

When people say, “Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,” my answer is, “Well, do you think I have worked hard all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?” [Michel Foucault]

But these moves that isolate and freeze one moment in Coleridge’s thinking ignore his conception of method as a continual act, an alternative motion. [Byron Hawk, A Counter-History of Composition]

My Scraps

Brown Paper Bag Rhetoric Part 3

Brown Paper Bag Rhetoric Part 2

Crazy Part 2


Face Doodle

More Photos

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.