I think it was in 2005 when I came across Times and Seasons and I was rather enchanted by it. “These people are talking about interesting things.” “I want to be part of this conversation.” “I have important things to say.” “I’m working on important things right now that would inform these conversations.” “I would like it if these people knew who I was and thought what I had to say was important.”
Yet I quickly saw that all these feelings suggested that the blogs could be a dangerously seductive place to the aspiring scholar. I’m probably not just speaking for myself when I say that aspiring scholars badly want to be recognized. To be recognized we need to publish and that can be a long and difficult process. The time and effort between “brilliant idea” and “brilliant idea in print” is often significant. What if I could just skip all that and just throw my ideas up on a blog? Very tempting.
But blogging doesn’t “count” in academia for that very reason. It skips the painful process of peer review. So it quickly became apparent to me that blogging could turn into an illusory place where I could receive the gratification of having people (potentially) be interested in my ideas without actually publishing. But without publishing I would have nothing to show for my efforts. I would be trapped in a academic land of the lotus eaters.
So I kept a safe distance (I think I left a grand total of one comment on Times and Seasons) and when my good friend David G. started up the Juvenile Instructor, I refused to join. “You can blog or you can write,” I would tell myself, “and would-be scholars need to write.” It didn’t help that I felt my first guest post went badly: I didn’t feel like I communicated exactly what I wanted to say and I was checking the damn thing every five minutes! This confirmed my suspicions and I was determined to stay away.
But I did end up joining. I went from distant observer to participant in the bloggernaccle because of prop. 8 (after the vote I felt like I needed to “talk” and the bloggernacle seemed like the right place). My participation went up at the Juvenile Instructor as well and I sent them another guest post a few months later. There was a quote in William Appleby’s journal that I thought was worth discussing and sent it to David. He told me to add some more background but I considered that too much effort so he did it and put it up. I was amazed at what happened next: a conversation quickly ensued where people were able to add further context to the quote, all of which turned into a significant contribution to Mormon history on the subject of blacks and the priesthood. The bloggernacle had turned my little anecdote into something important.
I joined the JI shortly thereafter and have not been disappointed. I’ve liked being able to stick up random musings, historical or otherwise. The JI was most valuable to me during my big crunch of exam reading. I really like academic writing, so much so that I had gotten behind on my reading schedule and soon discovered that I had to drop everything and just read for a year. I was sort of unhappy that I couldn’t write so the blog became a really nice outlet for me where I could put up book reviews and other musings that didn’t take too much effort. Without that I think I would have been rather unhappy during that stretch.
Now that I’m back to writing, I blog less often, but I’m still glad to have this outlet. At the same time, blogging can have it’s pitfalls so here’s some advice that I would give would-be scholars who want to blog.
1) Blogging can be a big time drain, like the internet in general. Learn to manage your time well.
2) Keep your publishing efforts your top priority and blogging as secondary. Don’t get sucked in to instant blogger gratification.
3) As with blogging in general, think before you type and don’t feel like every battle is worth fighting.
4) While I don’t think you have to be overly paranoid, do keep in mind that what you put up on the blog is now free to everyone on cyberspace. Blogs are not published articles, so if you have some really brilliant scoop, you probably want to save it for the publication. Learn how to keep some things to yourself until it’s published.
5) It’s all a learning process with lots of little mistakes along the way from unfortunate comments to blog posts that turn out to be duds. If you don’t take yourself too seriously it can be well worth it.
So fellow bloggers, what benefits have you derived from blogging and what have you learned from the process? Is there anything you would have done differently?