After writing my last two, job-centric posts (you’ll find I’m a double-dipper whenever possible), I was reflecting my other, more personal learning goals for myself for this class: To make time to hone my own skills and habits in writing about my ideas and experiences, to better contribute to the larger field- to embrace the sharing aspects of my digital citizenship. I knew public writing would be a major part of this course and for that I am glad to be challenged.
My career revolves around learning new things in order to teach others. Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely excited to learn these many tools and concepts I would not have sought out myself. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited to learn what the new wysiwyg editor looks like when we upgrade Blackboard? I do get engulfed in the search for the right, clear guidance to provide. I want to personalize the training and resources for my people’s immediate needs. They trust me for that. But this constant search for the answer to the most pressing need leaves me pushing my own interests to the end of the list.
One example of regret I have pertaining to this learning goal, is that in the last 2 years I have been collaborating, planning, designing, executing and piloting digital badge systems for faculty for professional development. I have presented locally and nationally on the topic and experiences. I have many artifacts and templates shared out. I was recently interviewed by a national expert for their presentation at a conference because I am one of the only people who have real experience and data with actual implementation for faculty. What I don’t have, that would have been most valuable at this point, is a written record or journal of my trials and tribulations, of my curated resources and analysis of other systems I was learning from. I didn’t have time for that, and I wish I would have.
I have found it hard to make sense of how to frame a blog to be interesting and focused at the same time, what pieces of my knowledge are most valuable to share and who is the audience? What if what I focus on becomes irrelevant? I am hoping to finally figure out how to move forward with something more tangible for my own contributions, and get past worrying about how big or small the final product would need to be. That, or finally figure out that’s not exactly possible the way I imagine it to be.
Examples I’ve seen of who is doing this in ways I like to see:
One of the reasons I connected you to Alan Levine via Twitter is because–in addition to being generally awesome–he exemplifies a great approach to blogging that is, I think, a solid model as you consider these questions about reflective blogging about education and technology and teaching and learning…
Alan excels at keeping up a regular stream of reflection. If he gets agitated about audience expectations and subsequent relevance, how eternal his posts might be, etc…he does a good job of hiding it! Instead he just reflects like a madman (and how he finds time while being so productive, I have no idea) as he goes and he has a real knack for remembering and including details that make his posts so effing useful that they remain relevant for a long, long time. He’s one of the best at this stuff; I was serious when I said he was an idol, and this is one of the reasons.
While I have gotten really wrapped up in questions of audience in the past—and so obliterated a lot of work—that’s not the healthiest approach. I’m a firm believer in, if not always the best at, blogging about what I do for selfish reasons: to provide a place for reflection, an off-board memory, a way of connecting with peers (and, it must be said, a hook to snare some ego-driven recognition)…that I’m making a contribution back is secondary (but a good, good thing as Martha says) and the direct utility for others is also a 2nd (or 3rd) order concern…
My advice, free to discard, is *#^! the audience. Stop trying to project how people will read into your work. I’m glad Chris chimed me in because I’ve told him the same thing. People get so stuck on trying to write to be read. I write to write. Period. Do not get me wrong, it’s a real gas when people comment or share ym stuff, but that is all bonus. Its gotta serve me.
Write for yourself as audience first. If you cannot interest yourself in your writing, how can you expect anyone else to glom on? It takes time, repetition, and a bunch of trying different ways to find what works for you, it’s such an old thing for teaching writing, right Chris? My first 3, 4, maybe 5 years of blog posts make me cringe.
I cannot tell you this will work for you, but one of the most influential bits that stuck with my was Cory Doctorow writing (in 2002) My Blog My Outboard Brain. Writing helps me process, think, connect. Writing helps me think. It bothers me not to write.
The projects you focus on now are right at the front of your brain, bust as you now see, when you get months, years away, the details get fuzzy or forgotten. I can use my blog (or my photo stream) to tell you what I was thinking about or where I was doing this for any day going back to 2003.
But it will not work for you, and in fact it will become a wretched chore, if you cannot raise it in importance. There are always ways to find time, though my method is giving up sleep 😉 Unlike you, I fell worse, I feel anxious if I do *not* write about stuff. I get in a spot where I have to out aside things to get it down. I write quick and sloppy because its to me, not to some imaginary audience or grammar teacher.
I do not see anything dramatically different about your previous 2 posts described as “work-centric”. Stop over thinking. Write short pieces. Write about things you read. Write about things outside of work that somehow maybe are a metaphor. Write about people you agree with. Write about people you disagree with. Write silly, Write serious. Dig in a little and hit some emotion.
Be selfish, write for yourself. Stop trying to figure out what to sound like, it will emerge. Screw being relevant. Just be.
I keep thinking of stuff. As you try things, see if you find any styles or approaches emerge that sound good to you. Here’s my approach to blogging, not meant at all to work for anyone else:
(1) I do not start until I have a clever title. DO not write boring titles. The title should not explain the content, it should hint at it. The title is the grab you have if you do want attention, but my titles are my way of telling jokes to myself, or puns, or plays on pop culture.
(2) I do not write until I have a visual or media metaphor- I see you are doing that already, but once that funny title is in place, I go looking for images.
(3) Do not forget hyperlinks. If yo mention anything that refers to a place, a thing, a person, a named concept, find a link. It’s not just to think of readers, when I am out looking for links, I am always finding other relevant things that I often bring in; I find accidental stuff.
(4) In my own style, maybe 5? years ago I stopped writing long paragraphs. I play with mixing the rhythm. I like tossing in one line, sometimes one word paragraphs. Break grammar rules. Stomp commas. Dangle modifiers (put) (weird) (things) (in) parentheses. Try all kinds of rules, then break them all.
(5) I aim for a close. But I can tell you a lot of times I start writing about one thing, and end up going elsewhere. Sometimes I have an end in mind, sometimes it finds it as I write. But close strong. Some people like to end with questions (The Chronicle does this ad nauseum, “what about you?” I find that tiring).
(6) I ran out of ideas. Or forgot them.
Now go write.
Well this is exactly what I needed to hear today! Thank you for sharing, Alan.
And I completely agree with you, Sarah. Not only is it a great learning goal to use these assignments as a way to further your own writing skills and habits, but I find it way more interesting (read: easier) to write about things in ways that it relates to me personally.
Having a beer or two helps, too.
Thanks for the thoughtful and specific advice! Very useful for me and my peers! I am feeling more confident the more I write and also spending more quality time reading online again.
Its true I have been a slave to the technical writing machine for quite awhile within instructional design world. My past lives working at newspapers with journalists has its bearings on me, too (just the facts, maam) but I believe that is more in a good way, as AP style, headline writing, and objectivity (to a degree) are engrained in my thinking.
This first few weeks of class has done wonders for my (online) ego–Personal advice from @cogdog? Followed by Doug Belshaw? Viral Meme?
I won’t it it go to my head- noone likes a digital diva ™!
Great advice from all – pause from doing to think about and write about the doing! Quyanaa!
[…] having a hard time narrowing them down). I thought back to what Alan Levine (@cogdog) wrote on Sarah’s blog several days ago: write for yourself […]
This is why I love Alan. And this class (my co-learners, not the class itself so much).