As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been taking this writing across the curriculum seminar. Thankfully, it ends today. I don’t want to imply that I haven’t been enjoying it, but it’s been a lot of work. We were set to writing an article about academic life like the pieces in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed. The seminar is meant to give us a sense of how our students feel when we confront them with a genre or style of writing radically different from what they’re accustomed to. For them, it’s the transition from informal writing like texting or Facebook to formal essays. For us professors, it’s the reverse: we’re all good at writing formally but have a hard time putting our thoughts into the less formal idiom of journalism.

I went into the seminar thinking the assignment wouldn’t be much different from keeping up the blog. I figured I’d have the piece finished the first week. It’s taken several. All the drafts and revisions built into the course have dragged it out a bit, naturally, and it’s stronger for all that. But it has set me to thinking about the difference between writing a blog post and writing an article. Neither is written “for the ages,” with an eye towards future readers. They’re both forms of journalism meant to satisfy the needs of today. But writing with the idea of an editor considering your piece for publication is different from writing something that (at best) will probably be skimmed and quickly forgotten by anonymous readers.

This line of thought became clearer as I read–what else?–an essay by Samuel Johnson. (I’d assigned it to my graduate seminar.) In Rambler 23, Johnson distinguishes between “the different temper with which the same man reads a printed and manuscript performance.” To summarize, Johnson thinks that the seeing something in print makes us read differently than if we are shown the same piece in manuscript. The relative permanence of print makes us search for points of agreement, while the mutability of manuscript makes us search for corrections to suggest.

That difference isn’t exactly relevant to the distinction I’m trying to make here. But it does strike me that the relative impermanence of the blog leads me to revise less. I’m definitely aware of a readership, but the nature of the thoughts being expressed–the ease with which a single link plus a line or two of frame can be a post, for example–and the regularity that good blogging demands make it less likely that any piece will be the product of long reflection. In fact, I’ve had a couple of ideas that I’ve tried to give longer treatment to–and they’ve never appeared on the blog as a result. At some point, all that revising seemed counterproductive to what I was trying to accomplish. If I put as much revision into the blog as I’ve put into this essay, I’d have no blog. But on the other hand, this revised essay has a lot more pith and punch than anything I’ve written on the blog. It’s a paradox that I haven’t yet been able to solve as a blogger. (And I have very serious admiration for people like Margaret Soltan or Michael Berube, who have solved this problem so successfully that their blogs lord it over the rest of ours like benevolent tyrants.)

Another reason I’ve neglected the blog is that I came home from Pembroke with a couple of writing obligations, and I’ve been working on them as well. All in all, it’s left me little time for any reflection here–revised or otherwise. Thanks are in order for those of you who still check in from time to time! If we ever meet at a conference, the first round is on me.

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