if:book Australia explores new forms of digital literature and investigates the changing connections between writers and readers. Such explorations at the intersection of technology and publishing take the form of writing, teaching and experimenting. Since its inception in 2010, if:book Australia has published tens of thousands of words from some of the nation’s best writers and thinkers on […]
Do more with this book:
Newbie, newb, noob, or n00b is a slang term for a novice or newcomer, or somebody inexperienced in any profession or activity. Contemporary use can particularly refer to a beginner or new user of computers, often concerning Internet activity, such as online gaming or Linux use. It can have derogatory connotations, but is also often used for descriptive purposes only, without a value judgment.
I’m not sure what came first: the idea to challenge writers to try new tools and experiences and observe the effect on their craft, or the yen to use a typewriter. I’d like to think it was the former, but I can’t be certain. The two ideas seemed to arrive simultaneously.
It’s cliché to say we’re in a time of change—when was there ever a time of no change?—but the act of writing in recent decades has been one of rapid adoption of new tools whose impact on the craft and on reading continues to evolve on our pages and screens. In the early twentieth century, the typewriter allowed for a new kind of writer to emerge, creating a new kind of book. The typewriter not only influenced the mechanics of how books were made, it reached right into the creative process, guiding how many writers ordered their words and their thoughts. At the other end of the same century, the now humble word processor similarly changed the fundamentals of writing. Its innovations allowed for more fluid methods of story creation enabled by cut-and-paste while at the same time inadvertently shifting greater editorial responsibility onto the writers themselves. And then there’s the internet, which has upended publishing and distribution, whatever the final form of the work in question.
As writers, we rely on the tools of our trade and sometime even love them as both witnesses and midwives to our creativity. Our tools and our environment matter: they shape our creativity in ways that are sometimes overt, sometimes subtle. And with the advent of ubiquitous digital connectivity, especially mobile— ‘the internet in your pants’—readers too are developing the kind of strong and intimate relationship with their machines that writers have been long familiar with.
The intersection of technology and publishing is full of contradiction, competition, and conflict. Technology today exists in a kind of attention-deficit hyperspeed: products inspire anticipation, passion, adoption, familiarity, and finally boredom in an increasingly fast cycle. The book is drawn into this amped up environment—write, publish, write more—even as it clings to an authoritarian and timeless gravitas that may or may not still be relevant.
For writers in such an environment, the possibilities are as intoxicating as they are bewildering. Telling stories is a craft that adapts and changes to meet the technology of its time and writers are a generally curious bunch.
It was with such thoughts in mind that if:book and Editia pitched the idea for The N00bz to the writers collected in this volume.
We challenged twelve Australian writers to step outside their comfort zone and try a new professional experience – something related to their craft that they had never tried before, whether it was a tool or a technique at the cutting edge or whether it had been around for centuries. It only had to be new to the writer.
Change your tools for storytelling, change your routine, learn a new form, engage with parts of the wider industry you have never had to previously. See what happens and report back. Like a lot of if:book projects, it seemed like such a simple idea until I actually had to actually convince other people to take part.
The amazing diversity in this volume is a testament to the authors who were up to the task and willing to subject themselves to the discomfort (sometimes physical) of extending their professional skill in full view of an audience.
Some authors we caught at the right moment. Sean Williams reported back on his participation in a sleep study and observed its effect on his creativity. Sophie Masson was in the early stages of establishing her own independent press. Jeff Sparrow found himself at a loose end between books. Emily Stewart had already decided to give away her library. Greg Field was already closing his bookshop.
Other authors were prompted by the proposal to suggest their own experiments. Romy Ash tackled storytelling with a 140-character limit. James Bradley wanted to create a graphic novel. And Carmel Bird had been wondering what to do with her rights for Dear Reader. In these cases, we were more than happy to provide the excuse to follow through.
The results are by turns insightful and amusing if, just occasionally, a bit harrowing.
For some writers, their experience as a n00b heralded permanent change. Setting up your own press, leaving your previous career behind, and giving away your library are not experiences that can be undone as easily as command-z. But the intention of The N00bz was not to bring about permanent change necessarily. I have barely touched a typewriter since my experiment, I’m pretty sure Benjamin Law hasn’t had much call for his shorthand, and I can almost guarantee Marvel Comics hasn’t got Ronnie Scott on speed dial—yet. This is the nature of trying something new. Sometimes it changes you in obvious ways, sometimes change is much more understated. Being a n00b means stepping outside your typical routine and finding a new perspective and it’s this perspective that stays with you, even if you don’t end up encoding your own ebooks.
Being a n00b demands open-mindedness and a willingness to test, experiment—and sometimes fail. Of course these laudable qualities are restricted to writers or to this strange business of sharing stories. So as much as this is a collection of writing about writing (a very meta topic, I know), it also documents pure curiosity and the quest to continually improve.
For my money, I hope I will always be a n00b.
Simon Groth, May 2014
 To show a lack of fear or favour, both Charlotte Harper from Editia and I agreed to subject ourselves to the same challenge.