I have not written one of my long reflective posts for a while. I have enjoyed just making stuff without words. Still, the time has come.
I am not sure how long ago I was entrusted with making sure there was a Daily Create prompt for us all every day. I can say it has been the best job I ever had. I would do it for free. Wait. I am doing it for free! Except that not all that counts can be counted. The joy and creativity I get back from driving the DS106 daily create bus, I cannot measure. If what I do supports the DS106 community and is of use to some people, it is a real privilege to be in the driving seat.
This reflection was prompted by the lovely tweet from Jim Groom posted at the start of this post. I did have a big smile on my face when I read it. I have not said very much about the process or about how I see what I am doing because I am afraid that if I talk about it the magic will go; kind of like when we have a gift we do not understand but treasure. We may fear losing it by bringing conscious attention to it.
In this post I want to face the fear and just talk about what the experience has been like. The joy of seeing what people produce as a result of a prompt, the stream of drafts I find when I go to edit the site as people keep submitting ideas, seeing the web in a whole new way as a ground to harvest potential ideas for daily create prompts, trying things out myself to ensure what I am suggesting is doable and the one downside: I no longer get the joy of the surprise of the daily prompt. It is a little like I get to see into the future so when it comes up, I have seen it and I might be working on the next month’s set of prompts.
But it is a small price to pay for such a precious creativity source. The rest of this post explores the process as I see it and why I find it so precious.
I notice that one of my guiding principles has to do with inclusion. I always check a submission for content but also for who submitted it. I want to make sure if somebody is new or rarely submits an idea, that idea gets used somehow.
I am also always on the look out for people’s ideas in the DS106 community (and sometimes outside) that might make a good prompt. I ask for permission to use and then try to let them know when it will be published so that they can see what art is made from the prompt.
There are different audiences to consider too, the University of Mary Washington students are always a joy to interact with. The open participants come and go, some (like me) never go! Then there are those who are doing the open course with their students in different universities around the world. There are customised versions of DS106: #youshow15 is focussing on digital presence through digital story telling tools, 3MDS106 is applying the open course to develop enterprise social networking skills in a large corporate and I am sure there are others I have not kept up with. So the prompts have to be general enough that anyone can use them and also be inclusive so that people feel they are part of the community – I must confess to bias my choices to the ‘young ones’ as I describe them in my head. UMW students make my Twitter stream come alive with fun and ideas when there is a run of DS106 there, I do try to think of prompts they will find fun to do. So, I am heartened to hear what Jim says in his tweet above.
Then there is the ‘what makes a good prompt?’ question. Alan Levine spoke with me at length about this when he decided to let me drive the bus: Simplicity, not an assignment, balance of type of prompt, not just what I like, possible to adapt ideas for use more than once, remembering when last one is….but if there is a blank day, Sandy will always remind you!
All of above is sound advise and I was glad to have it as well as the behind the scenes information of how the site works. But there is more. Here is where the ineffable comes in. I saw it in Alan when he spoke, I see it when I talk to creative people and I have done my best to teach it most of my career. Playfulness, risk taking, experimentation, connecting the not obviously connected, willingness to fall on my face if something does not work out… It is quite a public choice and it is daily. Thankfully Talky Tina taught me how to futz.
Beyond the cognitive creative strategies, there is also the love of the process. The flow that engaging in the process requires and the joy that brings. I have had days when my mental state has been less than ideal, I have sat down to work on the daily create and after an hour felt like I had been on a day’s meditation retreat. I keep saying, DS106 is cheap therapy.
Then there is the practical what, making sure I have ideas stored up to create prompts as needed. I have a secret Twitter list and a community in Google Plus with just one member: me. I store up possible ideas as I come across them when I am doing other web type activities. Sometimes I don’t even know how it will become a prompt – just that it can become one.
A public service? Yes, it is that. A fun way to learn digital storytelling tools and find ideas? Yes, it is that. A way to make friends? Yes, it is that too. But my why is different from all that.
My why has to do with finding myself lost in the midst of the mystery that is the human imagination. My favourite writer on creativity and the soul, Thomas Moore puts it better than I can,
“The key to seeing the world’s soul, and in the process wakening our own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination is illusion.”
The daily create prompt creates a tapestry of stories that brings the imagination alive. And that brings me alive. I am honoured to be part of the tapestry.