This Blog is a Waste of My Time: Thoughts on the Three-Year Anniversary of The Big Thing
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog. Last week, I wrote about “lore” and informally trading teaching information vs. formally publishing teaching research.
This blog began because in 2010, I wrote an essay about teaching. I realized that the default setting of all my classes–of most fiction-writing classes, really–was the short story. I wanted to tweak that default setting. Not just in my own classes. I wanted to inspire other people to tweak theirs, too.
(See, the thing you need to understand is that I wasn’t trying to help people write novels. I was trying to help teachers teach people to write novels.)
I sent this essay to the AWP Chronicle. It’s the one magazine in my discipline (that people actually read) that sometimes publishes articles about teaching writing–as opposed to say, Poets & Writers or Writer’s Digest. AWP Chronicle accepted it provisionally, but said that my essay would be published behind a “paywall.” Free, but with a password, available to AWP members only.
Now, this is true of most academic journals that publish articles about the teaching of writing. The problem is the paywall; you have to subscribe or be affiliated with a university to access the journal–which means that the publication has “prestige,” but hardly anybody will read it.
Now, I could have submitted this essay to academic journals, the kind my Rhetoric & Composition colleagues submit to. But the people I wanted to reach (creative writing teachers at universities and colleges) don’t (or won’t?) read those journals. They also don’t tend to go to AWP panels with the word “Pedagogy” in the title.
So I revised my essay, disguised all the pedagogy, made it funny and provocative instead of scholarly, and published it in The Millions, an online magazine that lots of writer/teachers read.
A lot of people read it.
The Good News
Due to the visibility of that essay:
I met other writer/teachers who were also thinking about the topic, like Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Sheila O’Connor, Patricia Henley, and David Haynes.
We proposed an AWP panel and shared our Best Practices.
I interviewed folks for this blog, like Kim Barnes.
As I kept trying new things with the course, I talked about it here on my blog. And I created a course blog called #amnoveling where I shared my syllabi and then, this semester, some of the course content.
So you see, the thing I wanted to make happen actually happened.
I questioned the accepted pedagogy of fiction writing instruction. I humbly suggested some alternatives via this blog, which now receives about 300-400 page views a day.
It’s been three years since I published that essay in The Millions and started this blog. Things are just a little bit different in my discipline, and I’m proud of that. I’m also amazed by how quickly that happened.
The Bad News
Here’s the thing: this work hasn’t counted much for me as an academic. I know this because I just had to input my last six years of publications and professional activities into a database called Digital Measures.
When I add a publication to the database, here is the drop down menu.
The default setting of academia is peer-reviewed scholarship.
Am I supposed to count my short story published in PANK as a journal article, a magazine/trade publication, or as “other”?
And it goes without saying that my blog–a form of non-refereed scholarship–doesn’t count in this menu at all. At least not in Digital Measures.
Instead of blogging about teaching novel writing, I could have/should have? written journal articles and submitted them to College English, Pedagogy, or College Composition and Communication. If they’d been accepted, I would be sitting pretty right now as far as Digital Measures is concerned. My “research,” the work I’ve invested into this blog, would “count.”
But I didn’t do that.
Instead, for the last three years, I wrote and published short fiction and essays and worked on my novel, and each week, I found time to share my teaching research with you via the blog–although “real” researchers would certainly not call this blog “research.”
Please note: I wouldn’t call it that either.
My Three-Year Output
Here’s what I have written over the last three years.
In the last three years, I’ve been working steadily on my novel about Linda Lee Thomas Porter, and I’ve got about 300 pages I’m happy with. I’ve also written about 100 pages of related nonfiction which I hope to place when (and if) I publish the novel.
In the last three years, I’ve published two short stories and seven essays.
I started blogging in October of 2010 on Blogger, getting my feet wet. I paid my friend Cynthia Closkey, owner of the web communications firm Big Big Design, to help me design this website and blog, and we went live in January 2011.
Since then, I’ve published about 200 blog posts.
If you’re reading this, it’s quite likely that you know me via this blog only, not The Circus in Winter or Comeback Season, which I published before I started blogging.
If you compiled all my blog posts, the word count would be about the same as my novel-in-progress. I’ve “written” as many blog posts as pages of imaginative writing over the last three years.
Here are my blog stats.
I’ve met so many people through this blog: 77, 897! And I’ve generated so many ideas through this blog.
But I have to ask myself some hard questions.
The Hard Questions
Producing refereed scholarship (whether it’s a historical novel or a book on creative writing pedagogy) takes a lot of time.
I feel strongly that I don’t have time to do both. Do historical research and pedagogy research. Write good fiction and good pedagogy.
So, instead, I’ve been choosing to write my novel and simply blog about teaching.
Every time I post to this blog, I’m taking time away from my fiction and nonfiction, from work that “counts” for me–both institutionally and personally. Even now, as I write this, I’m not working on my novel and other projects.
I ask myself:
Would I be done with my novel by now if I wasn’t blogging?
Should I turn my post ideas into articles and submit them to academic journals rather than sharing it here with you?
Do I have time to interact with all these people?
Do I want to shift from the scholarship of discovery to the scholarship of teaching? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are Boyer’s four models of scholarship. Boyer-Scholarship-Models.pdf.
Am I a writer or a teacher?
Do I think too much?
To what good use can I put all this thinking?
Certainly, the blogosphere will hardly notice if I take a break. I don’t have tons of readers, but those I do have are loyal, and I’m very very grateful for your readership.
I’ve probably been working up to this ever since I did that week-long time inventory. That was a wake-up call.
I need to think about those other forms and to what good use I can put these energies of mine.
If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I plan to highlight one post a week from my archive; I’ll start with the Top 5 and work my way down.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll be back.