Last month, the Chronicle of Higher Ed posted an essay on how blogging helped one grad student in the humanities finish his dissertation. The comment section is filled with both supportive and condescending remarks—some in the digital humanities praise bloggers for helping to share the work of academia outside the Ivory Tower, while others were more inclined to say “the lady doth protest too much.”
Although the writer, Maxime Larivé, claims that the blog should be related to the student’s research, to me his argument seems valid no matter what the subject of the blog. (No surprise there—the topics on this blog sway wildly from academia to creative writing to everything under the sun.) I have found that my biggest problem while writing the dissertation has not been the research or the arguments—though these have been plenty challenging. Rather, its keeping the momentum of writing moving forward, which, coincidentally, is also the advice my advisor gives me when we run into each other in the hallways. “Are you writing? Keep writing!”
The point of writing a dissertation—the first draft, at least—is to demonstrate that you have the chops to write a monograph-length work of original scholarship. But those 200-odd pages do not come naturally. Blogging, and the sense of community that comes with it, keeps you honest. When I’m writing here, I’m usually also writing there. If the well dries up, it’s that much more difficult to sit down in the chair again.
For the record, I’m not the only one in my department blogging. When I first started blogging, a senior grad student (now an assistant prof at an East Coast university) kept a personal blog where she wrote about her personal life with a bit of research thrown in. Tim Morton, a faculty member at Rice, is a prolific blogger—he frequently liveblogs guest lecturers, and posts several times a day.
Though blogging might not be for everyone, I do think that it as some value, even if you can’t turn it in to your committee. If it helps write the dissertation itself, I say, go for it.