On writing, procrastination, and academic blogging

This blog is a response to several converging circumstances in my sometimes-harried graduate student existence. The first is that I have reached the stage in my graduate career where I need to become a writer. That is, I need to attain some level of discipline absent from the procrastinate-panic-produce-repeat cycle of the seminar paper but necessary to the sustained trek of the dissertation. I’ve been doing a lot of work to modify my writing habits over the past year, with some efforts more successful than others, but my inescapable conclusion is that I simply need to write more. However, there’s only so much I can add to my prospectus draft on any given day, and some days, it’s nothing at all. In other words, if I need to write more, I also need more to write.

The next circumstance spurring me towards blogging is this, which my personal experience heartily confirms. For the first few years of graduate school, I avoided taking on extra commitments or projects, certain that I barely had time to get my required work done. I got everything done, because I always get things done, but I kept feeling as if I were swimming against the current. Then I started teaching my own class and nearly drowned. But once I made it through that first awful semester, I realized what I should have known all along: I always get things done. My type-A neurotic self gets hives at the thought of not following through with a commitment. I was trying to limit my commitments in order to limit my anxiety, but it wasn’t helping. And fewer commitments meant I felt constantly unproductive, which only heightened the anxiety. Adding to my responsibilities over the past year has helped me establish and maintain a much more productive work schedule.

But that need to thoughtfully guard and schedule my time made me a bit wary of the world of academic blogging. It had the potential to be a time-suck. I follow just a few blogs, and even that takes time. What’s more, I wasn’t sure I had anything to add to the conversation. But I read Nate Kreuter’s post on why academics should blog this morning and realized he was talking sense. I do think the work we do in the humanities is relevant, just as I think my own work has its place in a wider conversation about American culture and intellectual history. But I can’t really make much of a case for that connection if I’m just shooting my mouth off with colleagues in a bar on Friday night. A sustained engagement with a broader conversation requires something a bit more formal, but also a more accessible than the classroom or academic journals.

And finally, though as Nate points out, it’s hard to make a case for blogging as scholarship, I think it can serve a necessary professionalizing function. Most of the writing I do as a graduate student is most immediately intended for audiences whom I know well and who know me—my advisor, my writing group, my students. But the really important stuff—fellowship applications, job letters, teaching statements—goes out to strangers. There’s considerable value in cultivating a consistent, comfortable, and authoritative professional voice, and it’s my hope that blogging can assist with that.

So here goes.

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