Writing is my favorite thing. It’s the way I think through ideas, the way I communicate most confidently, the way I express myself most fully. I am never as durably happy as when I am in the midst of a writing project that’s going well. In the last year or so, though, writing has felt more and more like a burden and a chore.
Part of the reason is that everything has felt more and more like a chore. For a variety of reasons, I wound up teaching about 150% of my normal course load both semesters this year. That was on top of returning to the classroom for the first time in nearly 18 months and trying to keep up with conferences, invited talks, and various writing opportunities in academia and the popular press. The breaking point came most recently, when a particularly tantalizing opportunity arose at the worst possible time — right as my second semester of overload was ending. I pushed myself to do it anyway, and then it fell through.
The sense of taking on a double overload only to get nothing out of it was very difficult to take, and it reinforced the feelings of futility had been building for a while. Over the course of this year, I pushed back deadlines multiple times, something I never do. The thought of writing increasingly filled me with intimidation and dread. The fact that most of the writing I’ve committed to is a reiteration of old themes didn’t help. Just the opposite — it made writing feel like a pointless chore, without the joy of discovery.
Things are getting better now that I have some distance from the semester, and especially since I was able to take a vacation. I am not going to “declare bankruptcy” on my commitments, as I have been tempted to do. But I am not anywhere near back to normal. Something needs to change.
I don’t just need a rest — I need to reconnect with what made writing fun to me. And I suspect I can’t do that writing for official academic outlets or the popular press, at least not for the time being. I have received great feedback from editors and even (despite my cynicsm about the process) from peer reviewers, but with my mental state as it is now, I can’t view revision requests as anything more than an open-ended demand for more and more work that may or may not pan out. And the thought of “pitching” makes me feel exhausted and defeated. Whatever benefit I may gain from official publication is, at least for now, not worth that emotional burden.
I need writing to be fun again. I need to be able to say what I want to say and enter into conversations I want to enter into, in the way I want to. And for me, that means blogging. The blog you like is going to come back in style. For the next year, aside from projects I have already committed to, I resolve to publish only on the blog (or The Daystrom Institute). This will be my sabbatical. I will not be accepting invitations to contribute to special journal issues or edited volumes. I will not be accepting requests for peer review or writing any book reviews. I will not be pitching op-eds or writing special premium posts for my subscribers. I will be blogging.
I will be accepting invitations to give in-person lectures. Writing for those events is not a burden, because those events are about meeting and being in dialogue with my colleagues. And the talks themselves will give me more material for the blog!
This resolution is not a judgment of anyone who chooses to approach their writing differently. I realize I am in a privileged position here. I have a full-time job, so I can easily afford to forego the money available through freelancing. I am not on the tenure track, so my livelihood does not depend on publication in the same way as others’ does. Even if I were, my existing publication record easily meets the qualifications for my institution. And I already have a built-in audience here, so I can know my writing is not disappearing into the void.
Perhaps something irresistible will come along to make me to break this resolution. Perhaps my battered soul will heal more quickly than I anticipate, leading me to view the channels of official publication with alacrity rather than dread. If either one happens, I will make sure to blog about it. In the meantime, I make no promises about the length or frequency of my posts here. I know that I will never be able to return to the pace I sustained during the Heroic Era of Blogging, nor would that fit with the spirit of what I’m trying to do here.
I do hope, though, that my little mid-life crisis may contribute a little bit to making blogging cool again — and I invite all my friends and colleagues who have posting privileges here to feel free to dash off a post of their own should the spirit move them. We will never be able to recapture the past, but maybe we can use this space to build a slightly more livable present.