Last week I taught the third run of our Blogging to Build your Professional Profile workshop and also had the pleasure of joining a lunchtime call with colleagues from ALT to talk about different approaches to team blogging. Something that struck me is that whenever I talk about blogging there are a number of issues that come up repeatedly, regardless of whether the people I’m talking to are experienced bloggers or whether they’re dipping their toe in the water for the first time. And all these issues relate broadly to anxiety.
All is vanity
Even among experienced bloggers there can be a lingering feeling that blogs are really just a bit of a vanity project, a space to show off and blow your own trumpet, and well, it’s all just a little bit undignified really. I find this a bit odd because as academics and professionals we are already expected to disseminate our work broadly, through scholarly publications, professional papers, and academic and industry conferences. I think the difference with blogs is that they exist outwith the traditional academic sphere of acceptance and control. By and large, we control our own blogs; we control what we post, when we post, and who we choose to share with. I’d argue that far from being a vanity project, blogs are an invaluable way to facilitate reflective practice, and to empower colleagues to curate their own professional and academic portfolios and identities. If you need to be convinced about the benefits of academic blogging have a look at some of the great blogs that are linked on our Academic Blogging SPLOT and hosted on the University of Edinburgh’s new blogs.ed.ac.uk service.
Have no fear
Once you get used to blogging it’s easy to forget just how terrifying it can be to hit that little blue Publish button if you’re not used to putting your words out there. This is particularly true if you’re writing blog posts that are in any way personal or reflective. Even experienced academic and professional writers can suffer from this kind of anxiety. When we write academic papers or professional reports we generally abide by certain writing standards and conventions, which arguably place a degree of distance between ourselves and our words. When we write personal reflective posts, the buffer provided by these conventions disappears. Sharing a part of ourselves online can be a lot scarier than sharing our papers and reports. I’ve blogged for years but I still feel a little anxious when I publish something that’s a bit more personal, a bit more political, a bit closer to the bone than usual. In my experience it’s really worth it though, the response I’ve had on the odd occasions I have published more personal posts has been incredibly supportive and up-lifting. Few pieces of writing have terrified me more than Shouting From The Heart, but the response to that piece from colleagues was overwhelming.
Perfection is the enemy of the good
Another issue that often comes up is what if my blog posts aren’t good enough? What if my ideas aren’t fully formed? What if I post something embarrassingly bad? What if I regret it later? Perfectionism is one of the main stumbling blogs that often prevents people from taking up blogging, particularly in a domain like academia where imposter syndrome is rife. When we all set such ridiculously high standards for ourselves, it can be really difficult to put anything out there that is less than perfect, and the result of course is that we end up posting nothing. However the real beauty of blogs is that they are ideally suited to letting you develop your ideas and think aloud. Blog posts don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be fully formed, and if there are one or two typos, well, it’s really not the end of the world, you can always go back and edit later. Some of my favourite blogs are ones where I can see colleagues thinking through their ideas. Maren Deepwell, Melissa Highton, Sheila MacNeill, Anne-Marie Scott and Martin Weller’s blogs are all great examples of this. My advice if you’re struggling with perfectionism is to start out by blogging in private. Lots of bloggers keep both public and private blogs and that’s just fine. Blogging, like any form of writing, is 90% practice and hopefully as your confidence in your writing grows, you’ll find it’ll be easier to start sharing your posts in public.
Shouting into the void
So that happens once you’ve written your first blog post, taken a deep breath, hit the little blue button, and sent it off into the big world wide web? Quite often what happens is…nothing. Nada. Crickets. Tumbleweed. New bloggers are often anxious about getting lots of negative comments on their posts, but to be honest, it’s far more common to get no comments at all. Seriously, have a look at my blog, the vast majority of posts don’t have a single comment. That doesn’t mean that no one is engaging with them though, whenever I write a blog post, I post a link on twitter and that’s where the conversation happens, if it’s going to happen at all, because that’s where my community of open education practitioners is. Many of my posts still pass under the radar though, and there’s no denying that it can be discouraging to post a lovingly crafted piece of writing, particularly one you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into, and it receives no engagement at all. This can be heightened by the odd sense of loss all writers sometimes feel when they let go of a piece of writing.
One way to address this is to be strategic about how and when you post. There’s a lot of advice and guidance available online that will tell you when the optimal time to post is and how to use analytics to track the impact of your writing, however I’d caution against getting too caught up in tracking clicks and likes and comments. Online engagement can be fickle and it’s often hard to predict which posts will get lots of attention and which will sink without a trace. Don’t judge the value of your writing on the basis of social media likes; posts that get a lot of attention aren’t necessarily the “best” posts, and vice versa.
My approach to counteracting post-publication (post-posting?) blues is to try and write for myself first and foremost. That might sound trite, but it’s still good advice. I’m a great believer in the benefits of writing as a personal reflective practice. If other people engage with what I write, that’s a bonus, but if not, it doesn’t matter, because I’ve still benefited from the process of writing.
Don’t feel too dispirited if you don’t get much engagement on your blog, try to enjoy the process of thinking and writing for yourself. But if you do want feedback and engagement, don’t be afraid to reach out; find out where your people are, share your posts with them there, ask colleagues for comments and input, most will be only too happy to oblige.
Maren wrote a brilliant post on the creative process of blogging after our talk last week and I can highly recommend it if you’re looking for inspiration: Blogging is my sketchbook: reflecting on the creative process and open practice.