Well, the time has come: time to close down—or at least, step away from— my sabbatical blog. School’s about to begin!
I embarked on this blog a little over a year ago. In my initial post, I talked a lot about things I’d be doing over my upcoming sabbatical year– trying to finish a book, dusting off my flute, writing poetry for the first time, taking up plein-air painting. I didn’t say there, though I was certainly thinking it, that I was also blogging because I wanted to figure out how this whole social media thing worked and what it might do for me. At the same time, I also decided to actually try following and posting to Facebook, which I’d joined in 2010 or thereabouts but had never thought much of. And this past spring, I also picked up Twitter.
I did most, almost all, of the things I said I wanted to do at the outset of my sabbatical. I did not finish my book, but I knew even then that that was an unreasonable goal. I am now a flute player again, and have picked up additional crafts (as if that was ever needed). When I look back over the year, though, what really surprises me is how much more than my book I actually wrote, and how many more people I reached with my writing. And for this, I have social media to thank. So, thank you.
Academics often joke about no one reading their books. You spend years working on a book, or even getting a single article published in an academic journal, in the hopes of reaching dozens, maybe hundreds, of readers before you die. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. The royalty statements I receive from Rutgers University Press, which has published three books I’ve either written or edited, are a painful yearly reminder of all the millions of people who are not reading my books. Google Scholar tersely informs me that my first book, The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (now that’s a title that makes you stand up and take notice!), has been cited 21 times since it came out in 2002– three times by yours truly (ha!). Articles I’ve written have been cited by other scholars numbering in the single digits, though I also know some essays are assigned as reading in American literature courses, which is perhaps more important in the grand scheme of things.
Any way you slice it, it’s a hell of a lot of effort expended to not accomplish very much. Yes, it’s frustrating. You add to this the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult all the time to even get published in an academic journal or an academic press, when you know no one will read your work when it appears in print, and you start teetering on the precipice of existential crisis. What’s the point of it all …???
In my case, the result was that I was writing less and less. Luckily, social media, mostly in the form of this blog, came to the rescue.
Since May 2014, I’ve written 80 posts and have had over 4200 documented views by some 2500 individual visitors. I say “documented” because I discovered, much to my chagrin, that WordPress almost always underreports the number of views and visitors one actually receives. (If you want to know more about this and why this upsets me, leave a comment and I’ll explain why.)
That comes to more than a post per week, each post averaging about 1000-1200 words. And while they may not show it, I really did write these things: they have all been drafted, edited, revised, rewritten. I’ve tried not to waste your time, dear readers.
Also, as part of my Weekly Poem Project, I wrote over 20 poems, in forms ranging from the lofty (sonnet) to the absurd (clerihew). I’d initially set out to write a poem per week, which I was unable to even come close to doing, but I decided that was fine, given that I ended up caring more about writing poetry than I ever thought I would.
(Writing poetry, incidentally, was a funny thing. I had no pretensions about actually writing Poems when I originally started, but once I started to enjoy writing them, I wanted them to be good. Which made me end up writing less. A sad paradox of the writerly condition, no?)
Writing teachers and productivity gurus love to say that “writing begets writing.” And yes, it’s true. All this writing has made writing come much more easily. Listening to and responding to actual readers has made me a better writer. And readers have also brought me more projects to write. Among these:
- The editor of The Concord Saunterer, a journal specializing in the work of Henry David Thoreau, ran across one of my posts about the unrest in Baltimore in late April and asked me to write a piece on Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Baltimore for their upcoming issue on “Civil Disobedience Now.” This piece, titled “An Accidental Activist,” is in the can and should be appearing in a few months.
- It looks like I’ll be co-editing a volume coming out of the NEH-funded Summer Institute I attended in June in New York City on The City of Print: New York and the Periodical Press, which (I hope) will include an essay from me on the professional and social networks of artist John Sloan.
- Also coming out of the NEH institute, I hope to collaborate with one of my fellow participants on an essay about potential connections between periodical studies (my field) and communication theory (hers).
- Oh yes, finishing my book, How the Other Half Laughs: The Comic Sensibility in American Art and Literature 1895-1920. Can’t forget about that.
- And a new project, arising from the Weekly Poem Project: a book about poetic form, aimed at the adult writer, people who want to write poetry, either for personal edification or as a method of self-reflection. This project is just forming in my head right now so I’m not articulating it clearly, but hopefully you get the general point.
This should be enough to keep me pretty darn busy until, well, my next sabbatical in 7 years, probably! So it’s time to put the blog aside and move on. I may post periodically here if I have something of substance to say– or a poem for you to read!– but I’ve discovered that at least for now, Facebook is a fine place to post the very short observations I have about current events and the academic profession that seem to be coming to me these days. So, if you’ve been following this and would like to keep in touch, send me a friend request on FB, or follow me on Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and for helping me make the most of sabbatical. Now it’s time to enjoy what’s left of the summer!