Each summer the Ball State University Alumni Center plays host to the Midwest Writers Workshop. This conference is a three day-long national convention which caters to reading and writing enthusiasts as a resource for learning, publishing, and general writing opportunities. In addition to award-winning authors, instructors, and agents, the conference hosts a number of seminars, lectures, and workshops on writing. This past summer, the MWW added a new segment which sought to focus primarily on social networking. With the help and guidance of English professor Cathy Day, four students and alum were chosen to act as social media consultants during the conference. Maye Ralston, Ashley Ford, Spencer McNelly, and Tyler Fields ran a series of micro-workshops dedicated to tutoring clients on the basics and theories of the relationships between social networking and writing. Below, Tyler Fields, describes his experience as a tutor for the conference as well as his attitudes regarding the importance of community and how social networking can help.
In the Spring of this past academic year, my Novels (ENG 407) professor Cathy Day presented her lecture on “Literary Citizenship” to our class. While I won’t divulge the many and immensely helpful secrets of this presentation (it’s unavailable outside of certain circumstances), I will describe that one of the most meaningful pieces of advice Cathy had to give was to become an active member of a greater reading and writing community. She goes on to describe more specifically how one might accomplish this, including such various means as spreading recommendations via word of mouth to interviewing some of your favorite authors.
And while this advice seems relatively simple on PowerPoint, the reality of accomplishing this is admittedly a bit more difficult. The notion becomes an even greater task considering Ball State, and by extension Muncie’s, location: an island among cornfields. The English Department and its many students have taken up the task of combating the illusion that there is no community to be a part of by creating a community of readers and writers. One of these organizations is aptly named the Writers’ Community which offers a tangible and understood resource for students to share and explore their writings as well as other literature with each other. Unfortunately, due to limited contacts, resources, and publicity, this is often as far as the Community extends. So where does one go from here? Or for those non-student Muncie locals, where does one begin?
MWW is an annual conference currently being held in Ball State’s Alumni Center in the end of each July. And despite the conference’s close proximity (literally on campus), many students find themselves at the conclusion of their academic careers without having heard so much as a mention of this wonderful communal resource. Unlike, say, the Writers’ Community, MWW is a national writing conference which hosts the likes of New York City publishing agents, Pulitzer Prize-nominated authors, workshops in every genre, and many eager instructors from various disciplines waiting to be utilized, and which caters to a myriad of writing-enthusiasts from around the country. And as of last year, the MWW has even added a conference-long series of micro-workshops devoted to the learning and expanding of social networking platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. In fact, I am very proud to have been a member of this segment’s maiden voyage along with three other Ball State students and alum.
After Cathy approached me about potentially being a part of this event, I had to admit that I had never even heard of such a conference. She reassured me that this was unsurprising, even though the MWW operated exclusively from Ball State. However, within this past year alone, Cathy has worked to integrate the Ball State English Department into the conference. This is very exciting news considering that, in the coming years, Ball State students will have the option to attend the conference on a scholarship. As the spring semester came to a close, the social media consultants and Cathy went straight to work on preparing for the conference as a brand new segment. In the end, we came to the consensus that, due to the infancy of the segment, much of our training and understanding of social media tutoring would come from the conference itself rather than our summer preparations.
As the sessions began to kick off, I quickly noticed a pattern: many clients were coming to us to discuss the theories, or the “why”, of social networking rather than the “how,” which we had originally anticipated. I was afforded the opportunity to discuss what I had begun to understand as “community” and how social networking is now an integral aspect of it. On its very surface, social networking offers a medium by which writers and readers can communicate interests. But more than this, social networking allows for communities to be formed from a distance, simply on the basis of similar interests. Keeping in mind Cathy’s golden rule of Literary Citizenship, I expressed the idea that social networking may well be the link between isolation and those greater communities. And more than simply gaining access to communities, social networking allows for the continued growth and maintenance of them. It seems that once one has grasped the enormous potential something as seemingly insignificant as Twitter can have, the rest almost falls into place. My clients were often eager to discuss further how the relationship between social networking and writing could be strengthened and built upon. Where each of my sessions began with tepid questions regarding the subject of individual tweets, they often ended with a greater grasp on the underutilized tool that is social networking.
I am proud to say that the feedback we received regarding the new social networking segment was incredibly positive and, further, that when the MWW returns to Ball State’s campus this summer, the social networking consultations will remain a part of it. A crucial one in my opinion.