blogging makes writing easier

Profgrrrl has experienced that glorious side effect of blogging: the kind of blogging that involves putting your opinions in writing on a regular basis, and dealing with responses from others, makes other writing – like academic paper writing – much, much easier:

Today, while working on a manuscript, I realized just how this free-form blogging has impacted my ability to express myself in academic writing. Writing my manuscript intro (well, re-writing to to change the focus) felt almost as comfortable as writing a blog entry. I felt much more able to say what I was thinking. I just tapped it out on my keyboard and didn’t worry too much about having the right reference or anything else. I don’t mean that I’m flying in the face of everything else that has been done, but rather that I’m finally feeling free to interject my own voice into the work as a major component. In a sense, I take this as a sign that I have arrived as an academic writer. I trust my own voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Not that I haven’t been using it all along — but more that I’ve struggled with it.

That’s just how I’ve felt, and it’s one of the things Torill and I try to express in our essay on using blogs as a research tool (PDF). It’s also rather like Steven Johnson’s description of blogging as a mental workout that makes your other writing more efficient:

[Blogging has] been a great stimulus for me, working out new ideas in this public space — I’ve actually been about twice as productive as normal since I started maintaining the blog. The more I keep at it, the more it seems to me like a kind of intellectual version of going to the gym: having to post responses and ideas on a semi-regular basis, and having those ideas sharpened or shot down by such smart people, flexes the thinking/writing muscles in a great way. It’s the most fun I’ve had on the web since we started FEED seven years ago…

Rebecca Blood’s essay on weblogging expresses a similar discovery:

Shortly after I began producing Rebecca’s Pocket I noticed two side effects I had not expected. First, I discovered my own interests. I thought I knew what I was interested in, but after linking stories for a few months I could see that I was much more interested in science, archaeology, and issues of injustice than I had realized. More importantly, I began to value more highly my own point of view. In composing my link text every day I carefully considered my own opinions and ideas, and I began to feel that my perspective was unique and important. [the bold is mine, not hers]

It’s particularly interesting that Profgrrrl feels the positive effect of blogging for her academic writing even though she doesn’t blog about her research. This suggests that it’s the process of putting opinions into writing and standing up for them in a public forum that’s important, not the exact content of the opinions. We’ve always known that writing spawns writing: what’s new here is that you perform your ideas in public, knowing you may have readers and that there’s a possibility of feedback.

Profgrrrl wishes she could show her students this without outing her anonymous blogging identity. It’s something I try to teach my students too, though it seems to work for some and not for others – actually, you know, I used to hate physical workouts when I had to do sports at school, and now I love exercise and feel how much better it makes me feel all round. Partly I hated it because it was all the wrong sort of exercise for me, not at my own level, and it mostly involved things that I was bad at (throwing, kicking, catching balls) and it was always so competetive. Anonymous blogging might be far better “exercise” for many of my students than the public stuff I’ve made them do, but unfortunately they’re not going to get credits for that. Perhaps I should encourage them to do it anyway.

12. December 2004 by Jill
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