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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.

Title

Why I Started Blogging

What if blogging was part of everyone's job? (If they wanted it to be.)

December 5, 2018
 
 

If you haven’t read fellow IHE blogger Matt Reed’s recent post on why he blogs, take a minute to do so. 

From my perspective, it’s as good an example of how blogging can function as a tool for reflection and increasing one’s own knowledge and understanding as you’ll ever find. As Matt says, blogging is “the process of writing as a way to work out what I’m thinking.”

He adds, “Part of the point of writing is to see where ideas go.”

Perfect.

In many ways, blogging in this space has made me who I am today. My most recent books on the teaching of writing were birthed through the process Matt describes so well. The core ideas were initially expressed, expanded, and even amended right here. Writing the first draft of what would become The Writer’s Practice: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities[1]felt more like the third draft since I’d taken so many swings at the same ideas on this page. 

I cannot recommend blogging strongly enough as a practice which will enhance your work, whatever your work may be. Even if the increased attention for my writing and book publications hadn’t come out of my blogging, my teaching has been significantly altered by this practice, and I even feel like I see the world I’m asked to navigate a little more clearly.

Blogging has been truly empowering.

Matt’s initial motivation to blog was a desire to see his perspective as someone on the inside of knowing, “how colleges work” in the mix of higher ed blogging commentary. He didn’t see that voice represented in the existing universe and thought it was important enough to dedicate the time it takes to write clearly, frequently, and well.

Unlike Matt Reed, no one asked me why I started blogging, but I’m going to answer the question anyway:

Money.

When I started writing for Inside Higher Ed as a guest blogger at Oronte Churm’s space, after having left my full-time lecturer gig at Clemson for teaching as an adjunct at College of Charleston and freelance writing (as we followed my wife’s career), I had an income south of $10,000 a year, so the idea of trying out blogging while Churm needed a break was attractive.

Because of the money.

Early on, given how long it would take me to write a blog, the money wasn’t even that great, but something is better than nothing, and almost simultaneously I started writing a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune. After switching over to my own blogging space and then securing a full-time visiting position at CofC, next thing you know, I’d cobbled together a reasonable living.

Following not securing an open tenure line position at CofC, and deciding to transition out of my visiting position, the blog was once again vital as I could up my productivity for more money, instantly replacing a portion of that lost teaching income.

Let’s tally what blogging has done for me:

  • Without the blog, I never would’ve been able to generate the ideas and material that ultimately make up my new books. 
  • Without the blog, I wouldn’t be as well-positioned to interact with a community of others who share my concerns, bringing people and resources to my attention that ultimately significantly inform my writing.
  • Without the blog, I would never have been able to redirect my time away from teaching and towards this new path. 
  • Without the blog, I never would’ve increased my public profile to a level where I could interest publishers in buying these books.
  • Without the blog, the path I’m currently following to sustain myself both intellectually and financially following the disappointment of realizing a stable, sustainable teaching position was not in the cards for me, would never have appeared. 

I blog, therefore I am.

And yet, I get a little irritated when I see advice for contingent faculty like “Start a blog! It could raise your profile, or even turn into an additional source of income!”

The advice is bad for lots of reasons. For one, it is time consuming, and if one is blogging in the absence of pay, writing often and well enough to perhaps someday get to the point where you could get paid takes serious dedication. Matt Reed managed this, but if I hadn’t had money attached from the get go, you wouldn’t be reading these words.

Blogging for love might lead to money, but it probably won't.

Second, as Matt Reed testifies, raising one’s public profile inside academic spaces is not an unalloyed good. My entire blogging career, I’ve had the significant advantage of being in a “freedom’s just another word when you ain’t got nothin’ to lose” situation when it comes to my academic career.

I had it even better. I not only had little to lose in terms of my academic “career,” but because of my personal circumstances, I would not be terribly harmed if I lost even that little. As I was unemployed upon our move to Charleston, we set ourselves up to live comfortably entirely on my wife’s salary.

It’s easy to appear brave when working this kind of safety net. Not having to be overworried about who I was irritating likely benefits my writing by allowing me to be less safe, and therefore more interesting. The irritation of those who disagree with me becomes a feature, not a bug, additional friction which generates more heat.[2]

I’m left with this: everyone should be able to access the potential benefits of writing publicly about their work in the form of a blog, perhaps even as a part of their enumerated job responsibilities.

For those who are so inclined, why not allow for some measure of the “research” portion of their position to be fulfilled by blogging? I bet it would generate a lot of good.[3]

I bet it would probably result in even more traditional research being produced. I didn’t become a scholar until I started blogging. Now look at me, an author with a book from a highly regarded university press!

At the same time, let’s not sell blogging as some kind of ticket out of contingency, even if it has worked for a small handful of people, sort of including me.

Everyone should blog.

Better yet, everyone should work under conditions which makes blogging possible. If we do that, lots of other things become possible as well.

 

[1]If you order direct through Johns Hopkins University Press through the holidays and use the code HHOL, it’s 40% off and free shipping. That same code is good for any JHUP book. 

[2]I’m also privileged in that as a white dude, me generating heat doesn’t result in threats of rape or sexual assault as it does for many women who write with the same intention.

[3]As an illustration of Matt Reed’s principle of blogging as a way to work out what you’re thinking, I had no idea I believed this until it appeared in my head seconds before I typed it out. Seeing it on the page, I thought about it some more and figured, “That looks good. I’m going with it.” Blogging!

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