I think it’s probably a bad sign when your own blogging delinquency becomes your subject matter for a post. As I’ve said before, I understand that neither apologies nor explanations of the worthiness of my non-blogging activities are of any interest. But I do actually have something to say about blogging and not blogging.
Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, in an interview in the Impact of Social Sciences blog, said recently that we ought to move past the idea of single-authored blogs. They make a good argument for the value of the multi-authored blog: the group blog benefits from the emphasis on collaboration and from the sharing of the responsibility among many writers. The collaborative approach, they suggest, also benefits the audience since a multi-authored blog is much more likely to be updated regularly. According to estimates that Dunleavy and Gilson mention, eighty per cent of single-author blogs are either inactive or rarely updated; they call these ‘desert blogs’, which is such a sad phrase (I tried to find out if this was their coinage or an established term, but all I found were a lot of gorgeous dessert blogs!). Reading their stark assessment of single-authored blogs made me want to defend my little solo project, but I was constrained by my awareness of the stale post that had been sitting on my site for over a month.
What does all this mean for my neglected single-author blog? I assume that nobody is wasting their time checking my blog for new content; you all have better things to do and anyone who cares to can receive some form of notification (all the notification options can be found in the left sidebar: email, RSS, Facebook, Twitter). Given the rhythms of my work life, I accept that this blog will need to be a some-times-more-than-other-times proposition. Despite the inevitable fallow times, I know that this blog benefits from having a single author.
A blog that offers an approach to writing needs authorial consistency to allow readers a chance to evaluate its value for them. I think you’d be crazy to show up here out of the blue and accept what I say. Taking the writing process seriously means not accepting one-size-fits-all ‘writing tips’. You need to find a source of writing insight that addresses your general writing situation and that resonates with your specific approach to writing. I’m not saying that a group blog on writing can’t be valuable, of course; the Lingua Franca blog is a great example of a blog that is consistently updated and consistently excellent. But the multi-author model doesn’t encourage the same sustained interaction between a single author and the audience. Given the nature of my project, that sustained interaction is important to me.
All of which is to say that I’m committed to this blogging format. But this ‘commitment’ raises an obvious question: why don’t I write here more often? The reason isn’t a lack of enjoyment—writing here is one of my very favourite things to do. And the enjoyment isn’t just derived from the creative process; I love knowing that the posts are read, shared, and used across a wide range of networks. The act of writing these posts is also very helpful to me as a teacher; crystallizing my thoughts about writing allows me to teach these topics more effectively in the classroom.
This rosy picture makes blogging sound like a winning proposition all around. But there is, unfortunately, a predictable impediment: this blog is all mine and thus I’m not responsible to anyone else for what happens here. Everything else in my professional life involves some degree of obligation to other people: preparing to teach; looking at student writing; handling administrative responsibilities; meeting with colleagues; making presentations. These are all things that I genuinely enjoy doing, but the manner in which I do them means that a failure to do so would negatively affect someone else. Blogging—or not blogging, as the case may be—is something that matters only to me. As such, it is the first thing to go when I am busy. Sound familiar? Where does writing fit into the have to/would really like to split in your own life?
The problem for many graduate students is that they have to write, but their lives end up organized in such a way that writing is neglected in favour of other things that feel more urgent. That sense of urgency is real, of course; the non-writing activities of graduate students aren’t just hobbies. Often those activities generate essential income or develop key professional competencies. But successful writers will find a way to place writing within the confines of their essential activities. I realize this sounds like a very self-serving conclusion: it’s okay if I can’t find time to blog, but it’s not okay if you don’t find time to write your thesis. Convenient, perhaps, but also true. The more you can think of writing as an obligation, the more progress you will make towards the goal of a completed thesis.
Finally, I know I said I wouldn’t bore you with what I’ve been doing while neglecting the blog, but I can’t resist sharing a few photos from my recent trip to Savannah. I was there for the International Writing Across the Curriculum conference, and the conference and the city were both delightful!