My first experience "live-writing" a #HowToBeBlack chapter for all to see


Last night, I shared my screen with the world, and I allowed people to get a writer's-eye view as I completed one of my chapters for my book, How To Be Black.

I'm Mister Digital Interactivity, but even for me, this was a big step. Prior to this, I'd experimented with a few interactive digital bits outside of the book's core content. In part, the book itself even exists because of a hashtag battle I started with Elon James White over the #HowBlackAreYou hashtag. I spoke about this battle in a talk I gave at Web 2.0 which earned me a meeting with my now-publisher, Harper Collins. Since then, I've tapped my online networks to help with photo shoots, and I've shared full, rough chapters to my email list and excerpts to Facebook and Google+, but I had never let anyone in on the actual writing process, until last night.

I want to thank my man Anand Giridharadas for suggesting I try this with the screen-sharing service join.me. He's a great writer himself (NYT columnist and author of India Calling). I responded to his email with a long treatise on the pros and cons of offering such an open window, but shortly after sending it, I just took a leap.

I remembered my friend Marc Scheff sharing his "live painting" videos with me some years ago, and I thought this could be a live-writing analog to that exercise. The difference in this case is that the finished piece looks a lot like what you started with, just with more of it.

I also want to thank Hashim Warren, with whom I tested the process. He was my audience of one, and I worked out a few kinks with him before opening the floodgates. 

I left the session open for just over two hours, having posted the link to Twitter and Google+. I was not interested in getting feedback or having people help me write the book. I wasn't doing this to have a conversation. I was doing this as an experiment, and I really needed to get some writing done, so I thought it might motivate me. 

I hid the chatroom for most of the session, but you can still see alerts for new posts in the lower right of the screen. After being horribly distracted by this early on, I leaned my cell phone screen in that part of my laptop monitor to block the noise. The viewers did help spot a few typos, which wasn't critical, but kind of nice. I'll edit in the next phase, and have an actual editor. Most usefully, I think I'm changing the title of this particular chapter from "Going Back To Africa" to "Going Black To Africa" thanks to an anonymous viewer. 

I don't plan to finish the rest of this book with global window open to my word processor, but it was a pretty cool experience, and probably a bit strange for those tuning in. If you were among the 100 or so people who came through last night, leave a comment about your experience, and thanks for playing along!

Below is a storify which captures my initial tweet announcing the open window, reply tweets from folks who dropped in and the complete text of the screen-sharing chatroom, beginning with my one-man-test with Hashim and then jumping to the true live session.