Last week I wrote a rather personal post about how I was drowning in work. As converging rivers can crush stone, my worlds of work and study have crashed in upon my already eroded personal strength. Even after taking steps to get things under control, it will be months before I am caught up.
Among the many public and private shows of support which have energized me this week, a question came up in different forms. If I’m so busy, why am I still blogging? Surely with all the responsibilities pressing in on me, my blogging network would excuse me for taking a step back. Why not take advantage of this pressing season to focus on other things?
A couple of quick responses came to mind, though I didn’t really give voice to them at the time. I was tempted to point out that my blogging has not been particularly strong this year. It has pushed the boundaries of my core areas and paid no attention whatsoever to the building of my blogging network. And although I just passed 100,000 hits for 2016 the other day, it has only been a moderate growth year for me.
And although there were doubtless strong moments, I think, my writing was not particularly excellent this year. I recycled a lot of material and published all my back-up posts that I had in the hopper. I normally have a half-dozen posts in various stages of readiness; as of last week, I’ve got nothing left but these words on this screen today.
Still, these responses are really only ways of avoiding the question. If I’m stretched thin anyway, why not step back a bit?
Well, there’s the point that in my goal to build a network to test material, expand my skill base, and ultimately launch products (books and research, and, of course, a hip hop album), my plan relies on Google’s algorithm. Google metrics place a high value on consistency. I took a week off in the spring and had an immediate drop in readership of about a third. It took about four months to recover that level of traffic again. In my long-game goals, I want to keep readership up.
Honestly, though, that’s still another way of avoiding the question and hardly the main thing for me. When faced with the honesty that 5:00 in the morning brings on a blustery morning where I finally get up because I got tired of dreaming in powerpoint slides of economic data, none of these complaints really addresses the core question of those who have been so supportive.
So here’s the truth of it: I like to blog.
I know, not a very clickbaitable answer, is it? The Shocking, Horrifying, You-Can’t-Believe-It! Reason This Blogger Isn’t Taking A Break is that I like to do it.
But, for all the bots that had the poor miscalculation of linking my blog this week with a picture of a human who is far more attractive than me—and for regular readers and those in my network that have been supportive—let me break down that reason a little bit. Here are the top 4 reasons I find blogging fulfilling.
One of the reasons I love blogging is that I get to play within its versatile forms. Unlike writing for books, maganizes, and journals–all of which I do–the blog form is never narrowly defined. On Thursday I’ll produce a post that is a popular-level version of literary criticism. Next week I’m doing a micro-review and something out of my Daily Planet alter ego job. December will likely have some reflections on my blogging year, some advent thoughts, more posts out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters, and some thoughts from the chapter I’m writing. Each of these have a different kind of feel to them. Blogging allows me to explore my writing voice, testing the limits of
I know not everyone loves the genre, but blogging allows me to explore my writing voice, testing the limits of humour, political commentary, cultural criticism, literary commentary, and creative prose.
This $5 word might be new to some, but “autoethnography” is a research approach that uses one’s own life as part of the “data set” of the research. In my PhD research I am studying C.S. Lewis’ spiritual theology. As I do my analysis of Lewis’ work, I am also testing the material on my own life, setting the ideas in context of a real searcher who has to live with the implications of the academic discoveries. The personal triangulation gives a sense or urgency and accountability to my work.
At its best, blogging has always been autoethnographic in this very same way. The blogs I follow are by writers who weave their personal life into their topic, so that philosophy, social theory, theology, literary criticism, and history are front-line conversations for the writers I follow. In the blogging world, what we write about matters to us, and that personal investment makes it matter to others.
This was, in fact, my very first goal in launching A Pilgrim in Narnia back in the dream-bloggy days of 2011. Quite apart from readership, blogging gives me the necessary space to test out an idea. Like a joke that falls flat in a room, the work we do as academics always makes better sense in our heads than it does on the page—at least initially. We need the page to help us form our theories, to lace them with interest or wit or connectivity to other ideas. I often quip that I know what I think when I write it down.
The blogging world allows me to test out my academic ideas in a popular form long before they land before an editorial board, on a peer-reviewer’s desk, in an academic reviewer’s critique, or in the terrifying situation of a doctoral Viva. Most of those academic testing spaces are digital experiences—an on/off switch between acceptance and rejection. The blogging world is much more of analog space, allowing for the gradient realities between absolute uselessness and total perfection. In clarifying what I think, I then test it before an educated audience who weighs its value, tests its credibility, teases out its possibilities, and discloses its limitations. Often the reader doesn’t know I am running an experiment on him or her, but that makes the results even more helpful!
One of the features of blogging that I could not have predicted when I first began five years ago was the connectivity. According to WordPress, there are 5,869 people connected to A Pilgrim in Narnia. Every day this site gets 300+ hits from 200+ visitors. The blogging world is broad and deep. While most of the books on your shelf are written by people with thousands or millions of readers, most of the writers in the world have very few. Blogging gives me a broader readership than the academic world can provide. There are some downsides to that networking capability as I feel like I have reached the limits of my mental room for new possibilities. But there is a lot of benefit to having a community of dialogue.
Quite apart from the network I have available to me for the day I launch a book, this blogging network allows me to take my blog to unprecedented levels of possibility. Through guest blogs, WordPress linkages, reader comments, and my “Friday Feature” series, A Pilgrim in Narnia transcends the natural boundaries of my own gifts and knowledge base. In C.S. Lewis and Inklings studies, theology, literary criticism, and fantasy studies, I am able to accentuate my strengths and shore up my weaknesses with the work of others.
It’s shocking, I know, the reason why I keep blogging. The long and the short of it is that I like blogging. I could add to this short list that even in a busy time, I can write a blog, produce it, and publish it in the time it takes to do a grocery trip or put the winter tires on the car–both jobs I have avoided this week. I like the visual possibilities of blogging, the portability, and the living text reality of our work. There are many reasons I like to blog, but for those who are considering launching a blog, here are the four that strike me most deeply.
Next week: The Reason They Never Suspected I Bought a Pair of Shoes.