In today’s installment of my conversation with GayProf from Center of Gravitas, we talk about the pitfalls of blogging and the risks it can pose to academic careers. On the other hand: can writing on a blog help one’s academic writing? What’s the shelf-life of blog writing versus academic writing? The audience we reach on our blogs is so much larger than the audience for our academic writing, and yet there’s no question but that the academy privileges academic writing above all (at least for now). Please enjoy eavesdropping on us, and then chime in in the comments, if you have any other burning questions or timeless answers to share!
When last we left GayProf and Historiann in part I, they were discussing the fact that blogs appear to be rewarded more for the quantity of posts than for their quality. Now, they’ll address some of the potential problems it can create in an academic career:
GayProf: For tenure-track academics, blogging can be a bad road. While some argue that it keeps your mind active by writing regularly, it also takes up time that could be spent on other projects (Hello, Never Ending Research Project of Doom, or NERPoD for short). Plus, excepting nasty trolls, the feedback is almost always so rosy and positive on blogs that you can start to think every idea you have is golden. It’s because of the latter that many academics are probably comforted by it. Most of our academic writing usually gets trashed by some of our closest friends two or three times before it makes it into print. A blog seems friendly and nice because people most often only leave positive comments.
For junior and associate professors, it can become an artificial place that might hinder their road to promotion. And, of course, there is also the potential to blur the line between professional/personal that can be a special danger for the untenured (trust me). Aside from Wonder Woman, people still associate my blog with My Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) despite the fact that he hasn’t actually been a specific topic of conversation in years. I suppose everybody loves a train wreck.
Historiann: Many people have asked me recently how my blogging affects my writing–as in, does it make it easier to write an academic article or book? I have to say I don’t know–I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, nor have I ever had a problem getting something done for a deadline (or, well, reasonably close to a deadline.) Do I write easily because I blog, or do I blog because I write easily? I’d have to say I suspect it’s the latter, and not the former, although some of our blogging colleagues have used their blogs in the service of meeting their deadlines for academic writing. (For example, several of the blogs I read participated in InaDWriMo, or International Dissertation Writing Month, last year. Never mind that many were faculty members who presumably had already finished dissertations–the project inspired people to set and meet a writing goal, and they frequently blogged about their efforts.)
GP: Maybe one area where blogging could help academic writing is by cutting down on the verbage (overly long blog posts attract as many readers as yesterday’s still-paper newspaper). Blogging reminds us that writing is often about entertaining as much as informing. I have several books sitting on my desk that are devoid of even a glimmer of entertainment. Learning to write to actually please readers is not a small thing.
H: I worry a little about blogging as a hindrance, as you suggested above, since I’m now among the Associate Professors, many of whom are famously “stalled” on the way to promotion by service obligations or other non-research professional activities. It’s fun to get comments from people who tell us how incredibly smart and insightful we are! (It’s even fun to engage with someone who disagrees with us but has taken our ideas seriously.) And that it all happens in “real time,” not in book- or article-time, in which one waits (sometimes in vain!) for months or years to get reviewed or cited in someone else’s footnotes, is very seductive. So far it seems like I’m about as productive as I was in my academic writing before I started my blog. (I’m neither super-productive nor marginally productive–I’m probably at the top of the middle lump of the bell curve, and always have been.) If I began to fear that my research productivity was hurt by my blog, I’d cut it off or scale it back, because while the blogging is fun, being a productive historian of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is my work and is more fundamental to my identity than “Historiann.”
GP: It sounds like we are coming to the not-very-interesting conclusion that it’s all about moderation. If you are using a blog for a quick laugh, try out new ideas, or to build a sense of community, then it’s golden. If, though, all of your time and energy goes into thinking about ways to make your blog as popular as a free $100 bill, tenure or promotion might elude you forever.
H: That’s right. Moderation is the key, which makes us sound pretty boring and middle-class! But it’s true: if an academic finds hirself spending more time on hir blog (or doing anything else, I suppose) than on hir teaching and academic writing, maybe it’s time to consider a major change in career.
What’s the half-life of a blog, compared to our academic writing? We like to think of books as having a decent shelf life-one that might outlast us or even get “rediscovered” 50 or 100 years later and hailed as a brilliant tome ahead of its time-but most academic books get stale pretty quickly. Whereas some blogs are more famous in death than in life, like the great Media Whores Online (a.k.a. “The Horse”) or Invisible Adjunct . And, if I may paraphrase Rick in the movie Casablanca, “we’ll always have servers,” so people can browse around and reminisce fondly in our archives…
GP: Wait — You think people actually read the archives of blogs? I think most readers think of a blog as being only as good as its most recent post. This is why people are tempted into the newsfeed model.
H: You’d be surprised. (Well, I actually think you’re being sarcastic, but never mind.) I think my top post of all time is a little one-off I did commenting on all of the women athletes at the 2008 Bejing Olympics who were identified not as “mothers,” but as “moms,” and why it is that motherhood is seen as essentially incompatible with athletic performance. I think that’s the post that comes up when people Google (and they do!) “hot 40-year old women” or “hot women athletes.” (It’s times like this when I realize how very differently I use the world-wide non peer-reviewed internets compared to the rest of the world.) That happens at least 30 times a week. And while I’m glad for the clicks-well, sometimes I guess I’d prefer not to know what brings people my way. TMI, you know?
And speaking of TMI: if we keep on like this much longer, we’ll have given away all of our super bloggy secrets that make us such awesome bloggers! Happy trails, GayProf–I hope to see you again soon. (And sorry about the mess my horses made over at your place yesterday. Glory, Domino, and Seminar need to learn some company manners!)
GP: Great Hera! Thanks for spending time at CoG and welcoming me into the world of HistoriAnn.