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.
In this post, I tell the whole story more fully. I talk about the problem here, too.
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.
Via this blog, I started sharing my “research” and course materials, and I know that Lowell Mick White and Matt Bell and Brad Watson have tried teaching novel-writing course. Maybe more?
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.
Last week, I talked about the different forms that “writing about teaching writing” can take.
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.Teaching Writing
Wow, that Digital Measures thing is frightening. Also, kind of outdated. If part of the point of wanting your faculty to be published is to contribute to the reputation and visibility of the institution, shouldn’t the criteria begin to include an online presence, which is a pretty important way to do that. More and more often now, I sit down to write a blog post and think, shouldn’t I be trying to write this as an essay or article to publish someplace else?
You have to do what’s best for yourself. You’re already helping students in your actual classroom. You’re definitely entitled to use the time outside the classroom to do work for yourself, writing, publishing, getting tenure. Sincere good luck.
Lori, actually, I did get tenure. Well, at the end of this semester, it will be official. At this point, I’m concerned with going up for full. Need a book for that. I’d probably be full prof by now if I hadn’t changed jobs so many times. A lot of women in academia never get full prof because they…well, there are a lot of reasons it happens. I just don’t want it to happen to me.
Well, I just learned that John Warner wrote about this blog and my dilemma for Inside Higher Education. Wow, I was really not expecting that. Since it seems like more than 20 people might actually read this post, I wanted to make a few things clear.
1. My colleagues in the English Department have been very supportive about this blog. It’s actually been a cool way to talk across disciplines about teaching and related issues. As I moved through the tenure process, I was always commended for the work I put in here and was repeatedly encouraged to repurpose posts for venues that would count, which I sometimes did. I probably could have done it even more.
2. In my department, maintaining this blog is one way that I can demonstrate “professional engagement,” which I have to do each year to be eligible for merit raises. When I proposed adding “maintaining a professional blog” to the list (including conference attendance, intensive study, public scholarship) of what “counts” for professional engagement, everyone thought it was a grand idea.
3. But it doesn’t count as a peer-reviewed, refereed scholarship. I do get to “count” it for promotion and tenure, but as “non-refereed scholarship.” Which is nice and all, but it can’t be your primary output. So much of the writing I’ve done in the last three years has wound up in this category, but it’s also the writing of mine that’s been the most read. Which sort of means that until things change, academics can’t afford to blog much. Which I think is a problem in a publishing climate in which creative writers are expected to find their own audiences via social media platforms, etc.
4. The problem, really, isn’t about my department. It’s about the form/s I fill out to account for my work. And the forms are institutional. Actually: cross-institutional. How you publish in academia is really, really important–and for good reason! But it would make me happy if colleges and universities would start thinking about how to “count” publications in the digital age, esp. since they really want us to be teaching this to our students.
5. This article published yesterday lays out the issue very well: “Digital Humanists: If you want tenure, do double the work.” That’s sort of what I’ve been doing for three years. Double the work.
6. A few years ago, I hosted a talk between Sven Birkerts and Maud Newton on the future of the book. One thing I realized in preparation for that event was that Maud hadn’t as yet published a book, but she had published widely and well, whereas Sven’s work was all traditionally published. I wondered aloud: which of them has been read more?
7. Thanks for reading. If you’re ever in a position to write or rewrite the Promotion and Tenure or Salary/Merit documents in your department, think strategically about how digital publications could count for your faculty. These are changes that can only be made from within.
I wish you good luck with academic writing – I’ve always found it murderously slow-going, so I understand…
The great part about blogs, however, is that even when you’re temporarily away, the articles are still here. And you do have a lot of great articles.
We will count on you being back, Cathy. Thanks for the thoughtful (and enlightening, if ultimately somewhat discouraging) explanation.
What about taking the blog posts and collecting them as a group of essays about writing, teaching and pedogogy that could in fact be sent out for publication?
So much of what you’ve written has been incisive and engaging.
PS. – Have you gone silent on FB, too?
Ian, Thank you for this. Yeah, I have to think that through, about what all this stuff is. And yes, I decided to take a FB break, too! I’ll be back though.
While selfishly sorry to read fewer posts from you, I always admire your extremely conscientious and purposeful ongoing assessment of your own time expenditures and how to balance teaching and writing! I forwarded this post to other colleagues similarly wondering about the professionalization of CW, and what we should be doing about it.
One thing I’d like to see out there is an online, high quality, peer-reviewed CW pedagogy journal based in the US (is there actually a good one that I’m missing? it seems like whenever I stumble upon something, it’s already stopped publishing or skewed to UK or not in digital form at all). Perhaps sponsored by a university dedicated not only to CW and the MFA, but to pedagogy as a component of the MFA. And then here’s the part I’d REALLY like to see: after 4 or 5 years of publication, some sort of compilation into a comprehensive CW pedagogy reader. Included also could be essays and chapters of existing books that are perfectly useful, but hard to acquire now (i.e. work of Wendy Bishop); there has been plenty of good stuff written that is not in e-form, and available only as $100+ rare books on amazon, or available in small anthologies that don’t get noticed by new teachers. When I was in the post-MFA pedagogy certificate program at Antioch LA, we had discussion groups that could have greatly benefited from such a compilation. Pedagogy/MFA students themselves could be involved in the reading of older classics and newer submissions, as a way to teach them both about pedagogy and about e-publishing. How to make such a project benefit those who are submitting to it, in terms of the academic issues you reviewed?
Of course, all this would take away from writing as well as individualized mentoring. And we’re all busy. But it’s an idea I’ve been meaning to throw out there.
In the meanwhile, I continue to be interested in the teaching of the novel form, as a separate strategy from the teaching of the short story form, and always look forward to stay in touch with others similarly interested (see new email address below).
Thanks for all you do, Cathy.
Fiction faculty, U of Alaska Anchorage MFA Program
(Currently living in Fu Hsing, Taiwan; good email is now email@example.com)
Hi, Cathy. Sorry for the late arrival to your post. I completely understand your dilemma as well as your current resolution. Juggling writing and research time is what success in academia is all about. And I certainly know about all those rules as for what “counts” and what doesn’t. But it certainly should count for something to the powers that be that your blog has a fantastic readership, that you are obviously engaging in your discipline and in an extremely impactful way. That’s what research is supposed to do. Whether your school counts your blogging as research or not, you are moving a lot more mountains through it than through a few academic articles. At least that’s my opinion. That said, please do what you have to to refresh and refocus. I’ve had to disappear from the web for months at a time myself, and I’m not nearly as engaged with it as you were. I always envied your ability to keep thinking, keep posting, keep responding week after week. Of course, all that comes at a cost. Good luck. Are you going to AWP? We may or may not; funding is still insecure.
Thank you, John, oh wonderful faithful reader of this blog. Yes, I’ll be at AWP. We’re doing a search (yea!) and I’m on one panel. I really wish our teaching novel-writing panel had been accepted! Maybe next year.
Never fear. I will return.
By the way, I’m reading Stephanie’s book about Rethinking Creative Writing right now. Amazing. I’m really glad that we can all support each other like this on the internets, across states and across institutions.
Although I’m not here a lot, I do pop in occasionally. So I, too, am coming to this late. As always, it’s an insightful read, and, of course, support the focus of energies where you need them to go. There’s only so much the brain (and body) can handle!
But mostly, I just wanted to say that reading this, and talks we had while I was at BSU have been incredibly helpful. I remember the inventory before last fall where we went through folder after folder of your work and discussed scholarship/the academy’s understanding of scholarship. That conversation definitely stuck with me, and I’m definitely grateful for that.
Thanks Aubrie. I remember that, too.
Thank you for this blog. I started reading it in 2012. It has influenced how I have approached apprenticing myself to writing fiction. I am now in an MFA program and am having the time of my life. Your blog helped me when I was trying to decide if I could do this.
Wow. Thank you!