Becoming a blogger

Like most of my friends, I started off on social media with Facebook.  Having resisted for a long time, I progressed rapidly from silent lurker to poster, commenter and sharer.  LinkedIn came later, when I realised that I wanted a connection to colleagues without them being aware of all my social adventures.  Somehow I was never as active there as on Facebook, and since I left paid employment at the end of June, I’m not quite sure where my LinkedIn presence is going to go.

Then I found real-time linguistics, and real-life linguists on the net, through Twitter and the Feedly blog reader.  All of a sudden, I realised what I had been missing. People were pointing me towards interesting articles and sharing their work.  They had good advice, and provocative questions.  And they wanted to interact.  I was already interested in language, and spending increasing amounts of time reading around the subject.  Blog posts and tweets brought the subject alive, and helped inspire and motivate me to take the plunge and move into full-time study.

Thus far, so good.  But why a start a blog now, given everything else I’m taking on at the moment?  I have to thank Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Get a Life, PhD, which is helping me build a bridge between my old life and my new one.  She has written many helpful posts about personal effectiveness, time management, prioritisation and the like.   These topics are familiar from the old life, and make a lot more sense now that I have more control over the shape of my working day.  What’s new for me is the reflection on the skills and mind-set I will need as a baby academic, and that has been incredibly useful.

The message that comes through loud and clear from Get a Life, PhD is to write every day.  Every day. There is no getting round it: writing is the crucial core skill for any academic. All those hours of reading, analysing, listening, thinking, that I’ll be putting in over the next two years, all those hours are going to be worth nothing if I can’t convert the results into a structured, compelling message, whether it’s in a peer-reviewed article or, more urgently, in a three-hour examination.  It’s also a skill that has fallen away, rather than been honed, over the twenty-odd years of work since my MSc. In other words, it’s one of the biggest changes of emphasis that I’m facing.

So I need to practise: essays, outlines, articles, blog posts, anything that strengthens my writing muscles.  And like any kind of exercise, a training programme and training buddies will help me keep disciplined.  In this context, signing up to do the Bodleian’s 23 Things was a no-brainer.

Over the next term – and maybe longer – I will be using this blog as a place to reflect on the process of becoming a linguist, as a postgraduate, a mature student, and a returner to Oxford after a long gap.  I hope to make contact with other people who share some, or all, or none of those characteristics.  And I’m really interested in your responses to my reflections.

6 thoughts on “Becoming a blogger

  1. Redge

    So much to respond to here, it’s difficult to know where to start!

    Online communication
    I did a course on online tutoring a while ago, and one of the things that I took away was this. We now communicate very quickly and directly through social media, blogging, online forums etc, and much of this consists of immediate ideas and reactions. I’ve found this difficult to get my head around, as I’ve always thought I needed to hone my ideas/language etc to present a “finished product”. I found it difficult when others commented, and I wanted to say “Yes, I DID think of that, I just didn’t mention it yet!”
    So, I guess my point is, that you shouldn’t be afraid to just get down your ideas in your blog, to “strengthen your writing muscles”. Someone else will comment or expand, but that’s just adding to the debate.

    Back to Study
    I must say, the thought of further study excites but terrifies me! Despite being an educator myself, I’m so out of the loop of university experience, that I really wouldn’t know where to start. I’m very interested to hear about your journey and how you organise your time in order to get that work/life balance right!

    Looking forward to your next installment!

    1. Tony

      When you write, write – at least at first – like a novelist, from the gut, without notes, what you believe to be true. When you check back to put the academic structures in, it will likely turn out to be true, because you did the reading, research and thinking. If – though – it turns out not to be true, the truth is usually even more interesting, and what you’ve already written usually serves as a way into saying it (always easier to correct than create). This stops writing getting bogged down in touching all the bases your notes might suggest need touching, and makes writing – in fact – the best part. My lesson from twenty five years in the business.

      1. stephenj Post author

        Thanks, Tony, that’s helpful, and I’m sure it will be even more relevant when I start writing academic products. Thanks also for the Burke quote! I realise that it’s better to respond to comments quickly, so that’s a job for this week.

    2. stephenj Post author

      Thanks, I think it’s about becoming more confident in expressing a half-formed opinion and then viewing any debate that follows as building rather than demolishing. I’m slightly nervous about that, given the recent media prominence of trolling, but as usual, it’s probably best to play dove first, and then play what my partner plays.

  2. JohCa

    Quite interested in languages myself and definitely agree that the more you practise the better you get. I think the online mode stretches the boundaries, in the sense of what’s “allowed”, because of being such a great formal-informal compromise, so if you want to structure you can but if you don’t, don’t have to.

    My experience of Facebook and LinkedIn has been exactly the same, but apparently my posts on fb would be far more appropriate on Twitter… there are language rules on social media I obviously don’t know (not to mention the abhorrent textspeak)! I’d love to know how your younger(?) student colleagues interact with all the different means available to them.

    And of course: break a leg, in bocca al lupo, merde and all that

    1. stephenj Post author

      Thanks, Joh, we’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to manage my enthusiasm and make time for learning.

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