Lately there’s been some pressure at my institution to stop doing things “just to do them.” In other words, as the focus shifts toward an emphasis on things like student recruitment and retention, you have to make a case for how the things you do contribute to those goals. If they don’t, the implication is that you shouldn’t be spending time on them.
I have a bit of a problem with the assumption implied in the idea of doing things “just to do them.” But I also acknowledge that I’ve had an unusual amount of autonomy in my work up to this point and that that autonomy has allowed me to work on a lot of enjoyable side projects like this one.
I started this blog in March of 2018 and have published at least once or twice a week since then. In that time, my readership (which I measure by the very basic stats provided by WordPress) has gone up from approximately three views a week to closer to 100. Maybe. On a good week.
The thing is, no one writes blogs anymore, unless that blog is attached to a larger publication. It’s quaint. It’s antiquated. Chuck Wendig, whose blog helped inspire this one, recently compared blogging to “putting your podcast on vinyl.”
No one writes blogs anymore. No one reads blogs anymore. Who has the time? And it’s unlikely to blogging like this contributes in any direct way to larger goals like recruitment and retention.
So why do I do it?
A couple of reasons.
Writing helps me think
Like a lot of people, I never know what I think about something until I’ve written about it. Writing blog posts has become a low stakes way for me to discover and work through ideas that have later become important to my scholarly writing and my recent book project.
For example, in the course of writing my most recent scholarly article on the role of research in fiction writing, I ran into a potentially fatal issue: I couldn’t figure out what problem my work was trying to solve for my intended audience. This was after I’d actually done most of the research, mind you. Figuring out what problem your research is intended to solve is usually more like the first step, not the last one. In order for my work to be considered publishable, I needed to come up with a reason why my eventual peer reviewers and my colleagues in the library and information science field should consider it important. That meant identifying what gap in our field of knowledge I was trying to fill.
I wrote about this issue in a post from February 2021. Then I wrote about it again a few weeks later when I realized I had a second audience to think about: writers themselves. What problem does research like this solve for actual writers, if any?
The answers I came up with at the time were far from perfect but using these two posts to think the question through help not only solve a major crisis in my writing and research process but also brought some needed focus to my work. (Focus that was further refined by feedback I received from some harsh-but-mostly-fair peer reviewers.)
So why publish my thinking process like this? Why does it need to be shared? Probably it doesn’t but having a publication schedule (that I impose on myself) helps motivate me to spend some time actually working through these problems. Without that, producing the finished work that a lot of this leads to would probably take even longer than it already does.
The thing is, my thinking on the topics I write about is constantly evolving. For example: teaching the contextual nature of research. I wrote an entire book about this topic. It took a little over a year to write and I turned in the final manuscript a year ago. It was finally published in January.
During the period between submitting the final manuscript and now, my thinking on this topic has changed. Not to the point where I would change or retract anything in the original book but there are definitely a few ideas in there that I might approach a little differently if I were writing it now.
I imagine it’s going to be a while before I write another book on this or any other topic. Until then, I can use this blog to track the development of my thinking on teaching and research in real time. Hopefully this is helpful to anyone who finds this blog after reading the book and wants to learn more.
This is actually why I prefer blogging to other types of social media like Twitter, which reward knee jerk reactions over more considered ones and which treat that initial reaction as one that you’re married to for basically the rest of your life. Even at its best, Twitter does not account for the fact that a person’s thinking can change over time and that that change in thinking is not always something that requires a screenshot of a Notes app apology.
Also, as you can probably tell from the length of this post, I’m very wordy and long-winded, so blogging is easier for me than something like Twitter. Like, this crap is super long even for a blog post and there’s still a whole section and the conclusion to go.
I originally started this blog around the same time I began a project intended to explore the content of writing books in search of information on creative research. A lot of my earliest posts were summaries/analyses of what I’d found in each of the 10 books I started off with. These were the first shaky steps in a research project that eventually led to an even bigger project involving 31 writing books and almost 200 published author interviews, the results of which will be published in a top journal in my field (portal) later this year.
The reason I decided to share my progress on this project over the course of the last four years is because I knew even in those earliest days that at some point I was going to have to figure out how to talk to, you know, actual authors about their work, rather than just reading about it in books. I didn’t know then how I was going to go about actually contacting authors and getting them to agree to talk to me (I’ve since figured it out) but I felt like it would be helpful to have this blog, with its entries on my continued research, as a credential to show them when I did. Something that would show not only who I am as a professional and a scholar but also my thinking on the specific topic I wanted to talk with them about.
Has it worked? Sort of. The thing is, I’m bad at self-promotion since I find it so off-putting in others. So when I contact authors, I don’t directly mention my blog but I do include it in my e-mail signature (along with my job title, my position as co-editor of Communications in Information Literacy, and a link to my own published book…in Outlook I have this labeled as my “flex” signature). How many of them notice it? Of those who notice it, how many click on it? I don’t actually know. But I still like having it there. I like having something I can point people to.
At the end of the day, blogging may seem like a waste of time given that it doesn’t seem to come with any tangible rewards. Like, I don’t even get paid to do this stuff, which is a cardinal sin of any writing project (at least if you believe most of the writing books I’ve read). But honestly getting paid would put too much pressure on what’s mostly just a fun project that lets me riff on and explore some research and teaching-related ideas in a low stakes environment. It doesn’t take much of my time (about an hour of my week) and what benefits it does have are worth it to me. I can’t make any great argument that this work directly supports student recruitment and retention but it’s not doing it just to do it. Not to me.