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If you want to write a book, start a blog.

This is no longer new advice, but having just turned in the manuscript for what will be my fourth book over the last six years[i], all while I’ve been blogging here at Inside Higher Ed, I experienced this anew.

In my view, the hardest part of writing a book is stringing together 60,000 or so words into a cohesive and coherent whole. It’s a lot of words and thinking about all those words is very intimidating, at least that’s how I experienced it before I started regularly blogging.

Sitting down weekly and knowing you’re going to write and publish something around 1000–1500 words long has a significant focusing power, while also being quite doable. Do that once a week for a year and you have a book-length manuscript. The power of the blog is knowing you have at least some audience for what you’re doing along the way. There is no such pleasure when writing a book.

But beyond just the raw practice of putting words on the page, blogging will reveal what books you may have inside you. Since ChatGPT appeared, I’ve been writing about what I see as its implications to education in this space (and elsewhere). Because writing is thinking, the process of capturing ideas while also seeing those ideas shift during that process of attempting capture, I’ve had the opportunity to work through those thoughts in a lower-stakes, more immediate forum, which revealed to me that there was a book ready to come out.

The writing of that book in this case went quite quickly from proposal to book production—rounds of drafting, revising, and editing—in right around seven months.

It’s important to recognize that the blog is not an actual draft of the book. I could not cut and paste from the blog to the book—they are different genres with different demands—but when I tackled a particular aspect of the subject, I could turn to what I’d already produced, and it’s like some of the thinking had already been done. Even if there weren’t any words yet, the page did not seem so blank.

The best part about the blog-to-book process is how much I learned, emphasis on the “I” and also on “learned.” Thoughts that were initial and provisional took more coherent and meaningful shape as I sorted through them for the book. I just listened back to a conversation I had on Lee Vinsel’s “Peoples and Things” podcast that we recorded just after I’d turned in the full draft of the manuscript, but prior to revision and editing, and in that listening I heard all kinds of ideas and connections that I would not have had prior to the writing process. Even though I’ve been writing about teaching writing for many years and had been exploring the impacts of automation technology in writing instruction long before ChatGPT arrived, writing the book greatly accelerated my personal education of the subject.

In being required to express these ideas to an audience, I first had to articulate them for myself—and that act gave birth to stuff I otherwise would never have known.

There’s no better way to learn to write than writing. There’s no better way to learn a subject than to try writing about it. Blogging is great practice on both of these fronts. If this is not something students have experienced for themselves, we have to do much better at making sure that experience because once you’ve had it, you will not want to let it go.

[i] More Than Words: How to Think About Writing in the Age of AI (coming early 2025 from Basic Books).

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