~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub
As you begin a new semester, don’t be surprised if one of your teachers asks you to start a blog. You might have a theme or project assigned to you to write about, or you might get to choose for yourself. Maybe you’ll share it with the class or even the whole internet, or maybe it will simply be a place to submit homework and your teacher is the only person who will ever see it.
Blogging is an appealing method because it promotes community, allows for “low stakes” writing practice, encourages deeper engagement with the subject matter, and allows students to create a writing space that is their own and thus representative of them in a way that traditional paper writing isn’t. One could also argue that students are better prepared for their careers and lives as citizens through experience with this sort of writing for the web.
Some things you might want to consider when blogging for a class:
If I’m just blogging for class, am I actually learning how to write a blog?
Not exactly. In the same way that most writing assignments for a class are actually the performance of a “real” act of writing, you aren’t fully experiencing blogging when you blog for class. To be “really” blogging, your own interests and intentions would be the only things guiding your choices. It would be your choice what to write about, when to publish, and how to design your posts and your blog. You would also be finding your own audience, independently.
However, when you blog for a class you are gaining experience with the tool, and writing with a purpose for an audience. The things you might miss out on (depending on the focus of the course in which the blogging takes place) are focus on design, specific writing for the web techniques, cultivating an audience, and writing about what YOU want to write about.
Why does blogging matter?
Voice: Blogging provides a platform for writing with authority and authenticity. Blogging gives voice to your particular interests, what matters to you without needing anyone else’s permission or help to publish, share with an audience. Blogging can also give voice to a marginalized experience, your own or that of others.
Writing Practice: Blogging is writing that can be regular and ongoing, a great way to start a habit and improve your skills. You publish with the expectation that someone is reading it, expecting it. Maybe you are even lucky enough to get feedback from your readers.
Finding your thing: Blogging can be a way to consider what your thing might be, a way to find it. There are all kinds of stories about artists who were just doing what they enjoy, not thinking about it in terms of it being a project or product, not planning it out or considering how marketable it might be or who the audience is – just having a good time, when they stumble upon “The Thing.” Some small, seemingly random and unimportant thing that ends up being the big thing, the thing that they are known for, paid for, maybe even famous for – The Thing. These are just a few examples:
- Hugh MacLeod, cartoonist. “I drew cartoons in college, then got a day job in advertising. I landed a job in NY, and one night just started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards.” Now MacLeod is a highly-regarded author, writing on the themes of innovation, creativity and motivation. He has published two books, is commissioned for his art on a regular basis, gives talks at conferences, is the CEO of a successful company, and sells prints of his work for a lot of money. He doodled on the backs of business cards and found his thing.
- Sark, artist, writer, speaker. In a dark moment of her life she wrote a poem in her journal called “How to Be an Artist,” her statement that “we are all artists of life.” Her friend saw it and said “wow, that should be a poster,” so SARK tore it out of her journal and put it on her wall, saying “there, it’s a poster.” Her friend said, “no for the world!” and SARK replied, “I wouldn’t have any idea how to do that.” She found out, and four days later there were orders for hundreds, and she ended up making 11,000 by hand. Now she writes books, makes art, gives talks and workshops. She made a poster and found her thing.
- Dallas Clayton, author, illustrator, public speaker, mural painter, and adventure seeker. Clayton wrote a book for his son, and it ended up starting a revolution of sorts, certainly led to a career where he got to work doing what he loved. He says, “Do what makes you happy. Use that to make other people happy.” He’s a guy who wrote a book for his kid, and it ended up being his thing.
- Lisa Congdon, artist, illustrator, author. Lisa Congdon didn’t start drawing or painting until she was 30 years old. A former elementary school teacher, she first started making art as a hobby, as a way to de-stress from her work in an education reform non-profit. Five years later she began showing and selling her work. Today, Lisa makes a full-time living as an illustrator and fine artist, along with being a teacher and speaker. She’s the author of six books, with another set to come out later this year. She started making art as a hobby and found her thing.
- Austin Kleon, “a writer who draws.” Kleon says, “I’m probably best known for my Newspaper Blackout Poems — poetry made by redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker. I started making them in 2005 when I was right out of college and facing a nasty case of writer’s block. The poems spread around the internet, and in April 2010, Harper Perennial published a best-selling collection, Newspaper Blackout. New York Magazine called the book ‘brilliant‚’ and The New Yorker said the poems ‘resurrect the newspaper when everyone else is declaring it dead.'” Kleon since has written two more books. His work has been featured on 20×200, NPR’s Morning Edition, PBS Newshour, and in The Wall Street Journal. He speaks about creativity, visual thinking, and being an artist online for organizations such as SXSW, TEDx, and The Economist. He started by just doing what he did and sharing it, and “it” turned out to be his thing.
- Patti Digh, author and teacher. She recently celebrated the 12th anniversary of her blog. Reflecting on those 12 years, she shared, “Starting this blog saved my life, changed my life, changed my relationship with words and with myself. It opened up space for me to dive into language in a way the business books I had previously written did not. It opened up friendships with people around the world whom I have come to love–people I would otherwise have never met. It was the genesis for my last six books, Life is a Verb Camp, and so much more. It was begun with a single intention: to leave behind my stories for my two children.” She started her blog with a simple intention, and she found her thing.
Audience: Blogging is a way to find your weirdos, your tribe, what Paul Jarvis calls your “rat people” — “You need to find your rat people. Not literally ‘rat people’, unless rats really are your thing. I’m talking about the people that get what you do, appreciate it, and love you for it.” Blogging is a way to build community.
Platform: Blogging provides a central location to give people access to your work, to engage with what you do. This can be a great networking tool, or a resource when you are looking for a job.
What does audience have to do with it?
I’d give the same answer to this as I would about any kind of writing: audience is nothing, and everything. Write for yourself first (this way you aren’t tempted to entertain, you tell the truth, and you sound like yourself). Your writing has to have its origin in you, has to be “from the heart,” real and authentic and honest, fueled by some energy of exigence, a need to say what you have to say – and then the next step of that is you want to be heard, you want to share what you have to say, want to engage with community, have a conversation and build a relationship. Blogging is an effective and easy way to do so.
What does the English blog look for with submissions?
We love publishing student voices on the English department blog, about a wide range of subjects. Some items are a noteworthy piece of writing, such as a contest winning poem or a particularly interesting multimedia project completed for a class or organization. Other things: book reviews (of local or visiting authors are of particular interest), student profiles, faculty profiles, “What I Learned” (in a class, on a trip, from a book, from a professor), pieces about your experience as a student in the English department, tips for students, reflections on a reading or workshop or other English event. Essentially anything that would be of interest to students, prospective students, alumni, faculty, staff, administration, or friends of English. We also hire two interns every semester to help with English communications, (social media and the blog). If you are interested in submitting something to the blog or in learning more about the internship, contact Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub, at firstname.lastname@example.org.