Here’s a Postscript secret for me as a writer: I work so hard to inspire my students to write for an academic audience because I’m overcompensating to cover up my own struggle to like my academic audience.
…waiting for the academic gods to strike me down…
Looks like I’m in the clear (for now), and while I’m still here I’ll clear up a few points.
- I actually kind of like MLA and AP rules, so that’s not taking the wind out of my sails.
- I LOVE doing research, so brainstorming, collecting information, and prewriting don’t deflate how I feel either.
- Most importantly, I like the people in academia A LOT. Academics are some of the most open-minded readers to write for, and I appreciate their insights so much.
Despite all of this, Carol A. Horton’s Yoga Ph.D. blew my mind in more than a few ways this week. This book came as recommended for me on Amazon this summer, and I assumed Horton was going to unite yoga and the academy in some new and exciting way, maybe some way that would motivate my teaching of yoga writing classes in the future.
Wrong. So wrong. She spent more time discussing how the ideologies of both diverge more than they converge, and that’s okay. Both are essentially different, and both have their strong points. But ultimately, Horton left the academy to pursue yoga as a career and she reflects on her reason for doing so in this book. She also discusses a publication space she considers at odds with academia and the laurels it rests on:
“I’d dismissed the ‘blogosphere’ as a solipsistic realm… What I discovered, however, was that I really liked having the freedom to write without having to fit into any boxes.”
And when I read that, I felt reassured–reassured that my struggle to like my academic audience stemmed from a confusing past of trying to appease the expectations of academic readers with my own creative expectations with journalistic writing or blogging.
I can tell you where I get in trouble: I like hooks. Hooks are those first few words or sentences that make a big impression on audiences. I teach titles as hooks, and when I teach portfolio building, I teach students that landing pages are visual hooks, reminding them that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And for that first impression to be good, the hook must be memorable, which in turn means the hook must be different than anything the reader has read before. When it comes to writing hooks for academic audiences, I tread much more carefully than I would if I were writing a journalistic piece for GuideLive or another mainstream audience. Surprise, surprise: I like my journalistic/ blogging hooks a lot better.
Why am I not leaving the academy like Carol A. Horton? For one, I love teaching college writing, and secondly, I think college writing is made so much richer for students when we teach them to blog effectively. The same is true for novice writers. Here’s why…
The first and most obvious reason to start young writers on blogs is because the writing they learned to do in the classroom–in middle school, high school, even just last semester–can feel artificial, i.e. it’s delivered to a person who will critique it and send it back for fixing. My students also tell me that blog writing makes their writing “feel real,” as in it’s floating out in cyberspace to be read by some known or unknown reader who can comment on what they wrote. Trust me. If you have your students write blogs, there will be some anxiety and skepticism at first, and then you will see many of them burst with excitement over a reader’s comment. Watch any feelings of solipsism burst, too.
Because the audience feels more real, the purpose of the writing changes. Writing written for only the writer’s eyes (or teacher’s eyes or editor’s eyes) can sit for months, even years in some cases, leading the writer to doubt his or her abilities. Particularly with the generation of writers raised on social media, blogging mimics the purpose of social media writing, but re-imagined in long form. The space between the academy and social media is blogging, as I see it, and more talented writers should enter the blogosphere. Who knows how our attitudes toward writing could change if more people were blogging casually? Would writing class be even better than P.E.?? (Hey, dream big.)
When I first taught blogging at Iowa State, I didn’t expect to talk so much about how a good visual design changes the way we read. Five years later, I’m still learning more about visual design and how difficult designing can be for students bombarded with visual media all day. And yet, students and new writers can appreciate the way visual design enhances a piece. Just point out two or three book covers to someone you’re walking with and watch the strong feelings of approval or disdain light up all over that person’s face. Visual design matters. A good understanding of visual design can help students design better pieces of writing, better resumés, and maybe better websites for their businesses or companies some day. Visual design is an increasingly important skill to master and one that most writers don’t understand well–until they get into blog building!
Any writer can make some words. Any student can pass some classes in writing. We set strong but attainable benchmarks for writing, but those benchmarks don’t prepare writers to land a good contract or help students develop a memorable, impressive online web presence. Teaching writers to cultivate their writing in the blogosphere as a creative space allows them to try, test, delete, repeat, connect with a larger audience and boost their sites to the top by understanding search engine optimization (SEO). I could go on forever about SEOs but that’s beyond the scope of this feature. The bottomline is that in the academy my students enter today and in the world they enter tomorrow, blog writing makes them more competitive in a number of ways.
As I gear up to teach Advanced Academic Writing, I feel much better about teaching students to write for academic audiences because I’m considering this space between more seriously, maybe a blog component will enter the picture, but I’ll have to blog about that at a later date.
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