What I've Learned as an Academic Blogger

In 2008, a year after I graduated college and a year into my Masters program, I started JasonHeppler.org.1 My writing here started out slowly, as a visit to the archives can attest. Even so, I never wanted the site to become overwhelming either for myself to maintain or readers that find enjoyment in the things I write about or link to.

I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve learned as an academic blogger, and Shawn Blanc’s recent post prompted me to write up a few things I’ve learned over the last four years of writing here.2 Here’s an unordered list of thirty things.

  • Give yourself permission to write poorly.
  • Don’t write what you don’t want the world to see. Things around here are permanent. (Same is true with Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere).
  • Twitter and blogs are as valuable as conferences.
  • Lots of people share your interests. Sharing your opinions and ideas helps you stand out.
  • Don’t be rude.
  • Own your own domain. Don’t rely on Twitter, Facebook, Google, or department web pages for your online presence.
  • Seriously, go buy a domain if you don’t own one yet. Grab your name if you can. Get on Twitter while you’re at it.
  • Content is more important than pageviews.
  • Content is more important than form.
  • Take this work seriously.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Go outside.
  • Tweaking your design, blogging system, taxonomy, and so on is procrastination.
  • Do your research.
  • Don’t be afraid to offend someone. As an undergraduate professor use to tell me all the time about my writing: be bold.
  • Admit when you’re wrong.
  • Be humble.
  • You don’t have to publish the moment you’ve written the last paragraph.
  • You’re a writer, not a blogger.
  • Thinking and reading about writing is not the same as writing.
  • Learn something new every day.
  • Your digital presence generates real relationships.
  • A digital presence leads to friendships and opportunities.
  • Sometimes web comments are great. Most of the time they’re not.
  • Meaningful discussions happen on blogs and Twitter.
  • Write every day.
  • Read every day.
  • Take publicness seriously. Writing for your own site is a big leap into being a publically-oriented scholar rather than insular and ivory-towered.
  • Don’t think you have to write about Only One Thing. You have various interests inside and outside the academy, your writing can reflect that.
  • Work hard. Doing work is hard work.

The overall theme here is to be online. I cannot overstate how important it is to be engaged digitally, ideally on both blogs and Twitter where the humanities community is quite active. I credit my online presence with opening up some professional opportunities that have come my way recently (which I’m not going to reveal right now) as well as introducing me to a lot of people who I admire. The act of writing consistently helps you as a writer, but doing so publically adds to your online reputation as well. You are doing yourself a favor, in a job market that’s already extremely competitive, by writing for the web.

  1. To be more precise, I actually started writing for a WordPress blog I called Digital Clio, a collaborative blog I started with Brent Rogers. We both fell out of regular writing mainly due to busy schedules, but I moved my posts from DC over to here. ↩︎

  2. This list could also have been titled “What I’ve Learned as an Academic Tweeter.” Twitter has also proven an important medium for myself both personally and professionally. I joined Twitter roughly around the same time I started blogging. ↩︎