When I finally decided to take the plunge and let people I actually know see my blog, it was partly because I figured out that blogging--whether it was evident to other people or not--actually made me a better scholar. Here's how.
1. Writers gotta write. I've always been a writer. When I was in elementary school I scribbled poems on napkins. I won essay contests in high school. I was a creative writing/English double major in undergrad. I study rhetoric and composition as a graduate student. Writing has always been a part of who I am. To some extent, I began to take that for granted. I knew that I could write when I needed to, so I wasn't always challenging myself to write consistently or frequently. Blogging changed that. It gave me a space for controlled, audience-centered writing for which I was fully responsible. I didn't have deadlines. I could write as much or as little as I wanted, but whatever happened to that space was on me. It pushed me to find a writing rhythm and to experiment with voice and style in a way that academic writing hadn't done in a while.
How it helped me: My academic writing became--in my own opinion--less stilted. Also, I felt more confident in my ability to produce it, which gave me the courage to take risks while writing it. After all, if an idea didn't work out, I could just write something else. Also, doing so much audience-driven writing for the blog made it much easier to consider audience in my academic papers, which is always a good thing.
2. I've got tougher skin. As I've written about in the past, I've been called some pretty terrible things while writing this blog. At first, this used to consume me. I'd worry and worry every time I saw a new comment. Would this one be mean? Maybe I should stop reading them. And then, it got better. The mean comments didn't stop, but I stopped caring so much. Sure, they still sting, especially if the commenter hits a particularly raw nerve, but I recognize that this hatefulness is not actually about me. What is about me, however, is my writing, and I'm not going to let the ugliness of the world take that away from me.
How it helped me: I was terrified of sending off an article for publication. I was even pretty scared of presenting at conferences. What if someone disagreed with me? What if they asked me questions that I couldn't answer? Blogging made me realize that people aren't going to always agree with me, but that doesn't negate the value of what I have to say. Also, I know that no one at a conference is ever going to say anything half as mean to me as I've had said to me in a blog comment (the lack of anonymity makes people much nicer, at the very least). So I'm not afraid of it anymore. I've presented at several conferences without nervousness, and I've got two papers in the works to submit for publication.
3. I'm part of a community. When I first started blogging, no one read my blog because I hadn't told anyone about it. Then I linked to another blogger in one of my posts and she shared it with her readers. Then everything just snowballed. Sure, my blog is tiny, but I really feel like a part of a community. We can disagree, support one another, and go off on tangents from each other's posts.
How it helped me: Academia works the same way. Grad school sometimes works to instill a sense of competition and maybe even ruthlessness in its students. We're not all getting jobs, we're told time and time again. The job market is terrible, and most of us are going to be overqualified and underemployed, so we had better do something to stand out from the crowd. This message can make collaborating feel like a suicide pact. But it's not. Sharing ideas and entering conversations is the only way to say things that matter to someone other than yourself. Just like sending blog readers to other blogs makes my blog stronger, actively engaging with other scholars makes me a stronger academic.
4. Ideas! I write fairly frequently for my blog, and I try to cover a variety of topics. The longer I blog, the more ideas I find. I find ways to keep the ideas for later. I have drafts in various stages of completeness. I bookmark pages I find inspiring. The problem is never that there is nothing to write about; the problem is that there is not enough time to say all of the things that I want to say, so I have to prioritize what gets said when. Sometimes, I start a post that doesn't get finished until the topic would no longer be relevant, and then I have to let it go, deleted into the internet wasteland.
How it helped me: I took a class recently on rhetorical analysis. We had to work on our final paper from the second week of class, and it sounded a little daunting to come up with a topic that big that fast. When I went to meet with the professor, however, my problem was actually that I had too many ideas. I had five or six topics that were all equally exciting to me, and any one of them would have fit the assignment parameters. I know that blogging has taught me to look at the world around me as a mine for ideas, and I've become much better at extracting them.
5. I'm more balanced. My blog is about balancing the different parts of my identity: motherhood, marriage, graduate school, employment, feminism, etc. It helps me see how I fit into the world around me, and it also helps me keep from trying too hard to fit into any one particular frame. Since I write about all of those things, I've learned to think about all of those perspectives. While I may not always be successful at keeping things running smoothly, I value the point of view that blogging about the different lenses has brought me.
How it helped me: Graduate school was hard for me. I felt a lot of pressure to fit into a very narrow definition of success. The message seemed clear: get a tenure-track position at a four-year research university or you have failed. Except that wasn't what I really wanted. And if it wasn't what I really wanted, I certainly wasn't going to get it because I would be competing for very few slots with people who did actually want it. I almost dropped out--twice. I almost quit one semester in, and then I almost quit after I finished my Master's. I was convinced that graduate school wasn't for me since I didn't fit onto the groove that was constantly showcased. But blogging about different perspectives and points of view taught me that I can value the pieces of one part of my identity without giving up the others. I could stay in graduate school because I valued the depth of thought and the exposure to new ideas, but I didn't have to try to force myself into any particular box.
Overall, I know that blogging can get a bad rep among academics, especially students. I think that a lot of professionals look at blogs as glorified Myspace sites. I do blog about my personal life at times, but being in touch with who I am makes me a better writer and--as cliche as it may sound--a better person. Being a better writer and a better person inevitably makes me a better scholar.
How has blogging helped you in other parts of your life? Or, if you don't blog, how do you think it could? Are there risks that keep you from trying it?
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