Back in September, I had a realization: My blogging habits were terrible. And by “terrible” I mean that I didn’t actually have any blogging habits at all. I would post something every so often, and then weeks or months would go by with nothing. When the Chronicle of Higher Education shut down the blog network and I had to migrate, I had a choice: I could fold up Casting Out Nines for good and focus my writing elsewhere, or I could press on with blogging on my own. I chose the latter because blogging for me is a way to get my thoughts out in the open, long-form, and create a visible record of the stuff I am thinking about and trying. But the thing is, this only works when I actually post things, which I was not.
So at some point over the weekend of September 18–20, I read some random blog post by somebody else and he had challenged himself to write a blog post every day for a year. I thought, that’s what I need: a challenge. I didn’t feel ready to do 365 consecutive days of it. But I did make a commitment to post at Casting Out Nines every weekday (I like to have weekends totally off) for one month, which we will define to be four weeks. The first post in that challenge was on Monday, September 21. Today marks the end of that period.
So I did it. I posted twenty blog posts on twenty consecutive weekdays. It’s been quite an experience. What have I learned from this challenge?
- Writing is hard work. First you have to have something to say. Then you have to get it out of your head, in some kind of fractured, half-baked form. Then you have to spend at least a little effort to get it unfractured and fully-baked, or at least close enough to it to be presentable. This is at least as hard as doing mathematics or programming. I am in awe of people who do this for a living and far more often, and with better results, than I do.
- You have to make the time to do it. There were plenty of times in the last month where I had no time for this. Somehow when I made this challenge to myself, I forgot that between September 29 and October 16 I would be giving seven different speaking engagements or workshops, and traveling both in the US and outside the US to do them. This meant front-loading my classes for three weeks and then dealing with a massive grading backlog, which I will be digging out of for approximately 17 weeks at this point. I have no time for blogging. And yet… I hate backing down from a challenge. And so I made the time; 30 minutes on some days or an hour on others. It was expensive. But some of those posts started conversations that really went somewhere, so in that sense it was worth it. But if you think you’re going to write more when you have a few moments, basically you should just stop writing. It has to be intentional.
- If I learned any secret to blogging during this time, it’s that blogging is not formal writing. Most of the posts I wrote during this period went like this: I would have some idea for a post. Then I would open my text editor and just start writing, in the same manner that I would speak. The tone is informal and conversational. I’d go all out for 20 minutes. Then stop, look for obvious typos, insert a link here or there, then publish. That’s it. Very little editing and pretty much no effort spent in making it sound academic. (For example, my sentences are not always complete.) If I were talking to you in person, the transcript of that conversation would be the post that you read. This might come off as unseemly for an academic, but you know what? This is a blog. Not a journal. So I try not to be stupid or say obviously wrong things, and get my spelling right and so on, but otherwise I don’t sweat it. The important thing is to write. Which gets me to the next thing I learned:
- Blogging is about relationships. When you read one of my journal articles, you’re getting the end result of a lengthy process of research, analysis, peer review, and editing. You see the results of my research but you don’t see me. When I blog on the other hand, what I am trying to do is invite all of you into my world, into the thoughts in my head about subjects I am passionate about. I blog because I have this need to connect with other people about these things – to have a meeting of the minds with people I don’t even know yet. To the extent that something I do in the writing process enables those relationships, I go for it. To the extent that something holds me back, I avoid it.
- There is always something to write about if you are passionate enough. I think writers’ block is real, but it’s a consequence of boredom. On those days when I didn’t really want to write, all I had to do was look around and see if there is something that I am excited about, something I am working on, something I am perplexed by, some crazy half-baked idea for making academia a better place, or something that frustrates and angers me. There is always something there, even though it may be trivial. If there ever isn’t something there, I’ll know I need to take a break for a while.
So am I going to keep this up now that the challenge period is over? No! Are you out of your mind? Seriously, I am not going to try to maintain this pace because it just doesn’t work for me. But I think twice a week is about right – it’ll feel like a vacation after five days a week – to get ideas out there and percolating among you readers so you can tell me where I’m wrong, and help me navigate through all my thoughts. I appreciate you for that, and I’m glad you’ve been along for the ride.