Scholars' Lab Blog //Year of Book Blogging: thinking through a bookish project as potentially scary, just, and/or good
Blog //Year of Book Blogging: thinking through a bookish project as potentially scary, just, and/or good

Thanks to conversations with Brandon and his plan for his blogging (see his very good “Year Of Book Blogging: Digital Humanities Pedagogy in Kind” post), I am also experimenting with my 2020 blog posts building into a larger project: possibly a book, or a book-like project trying to add to the many excellent argumenrs for non-book scholarship being better acknowledged, supported, credited; possibly something where I try to reject pressures to write a book and instead make another sustained piece of my scholarship in its best form. (Possibly something very weird shaped: I have a vague vision of something involving a mock-command-line interface on a website supporting choosing your own path through my research material, and something involving… bread recipes???)

Next month, I plan to publish a post on the topics I want to explore with this project. I’m using today’s post to think through my motivations and questions about starting such a project.

Following up on the 2019 Year of Blogging

I have four goals for my Year of Blogging 2:

#1. To blog every month (same as last year’s goal), including at least 1 post with a significant chunk of new writing created during that month (new goal!)

Sometimes I blog to share writing I’ve worked on in other contexts, e.g. Brandon and I annotated our past academic job talks and shared our talk-writing processes, Jeremy and I shared a failed chapter proposal for which we’re still pursuing the research and a different publication venue, or recording my writing from a month-long Twitter hashtag project. I enjoy sharing this work, helping people understand it as scholarship, and making it available for learning and reuse by others. I’d like to keep doing this kind of blogging, but this year I also want to make sure I’m making time to regularly draft new text on whatever I’m currently thinking about. Ideally, that will mean most months have 1 “new” post and 1 “sharing something written for other purposes” post.

#2. To use this year’s blogging to explore the idea of some large scholarly object: possibly a book (e.g. with posts serving as drafts of chapters), or a book-like digital project, or something sharing a similar depth and breadth of scholarship but by experimenting through weirder forms and means than book or article.

#3. Encourage and support more SLab community members blogging by working toward blogging being easier, more understandable, less risky feeling, more fun and communal (i.e. avoid the “pressure to blog” mistake I tweeted about here).

This means working with folks to help them feel empowered to edit and add to our website: knowing what code does what, what things could break the site and what things don’t need to feel like they could break the site, maybe even showing folks how to “break” the site then roll back changes and fix the site?

#4. As a team, consider hosting posts by external authors through a themed CFP.

In 2019, we had 6 colleagues outside Scholars’ Lab author on our blog (including 1 colleague outside UVA who was an existing project and grant collaborator, and co-authored a post with a SLab staffer). We’ve talked about inviting others to post to our blog, and have heard some interest in external folks wishing to publish here! We decided the best way to try this is issuing an open call around some specific topic, so we can let more folks know this is an opportunity. That will also give us a chance to publicly discuss how to do this well. Why publishing on our blog might be useful for external authors, e.g. reach a new audience, get a little blogging encouragment and feedback from us, a place to try out blogging if you don’t have an easy other place to blog. And why we might want to publish folks from outside our local community on our blog: hear new ideas, practice encouraging and editing posts for other folks, share some of our resources (including the priceless resource regularly getting to chat in person with a large and friendly group of experts in varied areas).

Book: scary?

I have three concerns I need to think through re:”is this going to be a book”.

  1. Am I writing a book for the right reason (because I have something I want to learn about and share that works best as a book), or because of academic and professional pressures to do things legible to gatekeepers?
  2. Am I contributing to negative academic pressures to produce books (in particular, to produce books outside of the support of a tenure-track faculty role) by possibly producing one?
  3. Can I create whatever this project us in a way I personally find pleasing, just, and useful?

(Content warning for academic/professional privilege/inequity: I think it is good for me to be aware of and to highlight for others the ways some decisions and work is unfairly easier for me than others. But I also hate that these experiences and resources are inequitably distributed rather than being available to all, and I know it’s harmful to be reminded of the ways academia doesn’t care about us, and how things are unfairly impossible or much more difficult for many. The two next paragraphs discuss this privilege and other aspects of broken academia; you can skip to paragraph starting with “Re: Concern #3” if you want to avoid those right now.)

Re: Concern #1, I do not need to write a book to continue having access to privileges like a secure job and research time. And I have experience using my various privileges to avoid gatekeeping pressures against making the best choice for my scholarship (chapter-less DH literature dissertation) and my wellbeing (walking away from a tenure-track faculty role to a better but non-faculty role). It would be good if I use that privilege and experience to further make space for others to pursue and be supported in a variety of forms of scholarship. On the other hand, a book is one of many forms of scholarship, and as such could hypothetically be the best possible format for some of my research, so I should not rule it out from the start (though I think I know enough about myself, how I think, how I share my ideas by now to understand that I experience experiments in format as empowering and generative).

More compellingly to me: a book can be a Trojan Horse to amplify others’ work and introduce non-traditional arguments to the folks who might be most fruitfully challenged by those ideas. There is much work I have done and am doing that is the same depth and breadth of scholarship as this project might offer, so I also want to think about why I’m calling out this particular initiative to be considered as book-like or book-approximate. (There are many excellent scholarly books, and I do not mean to disparage others’ choices and creations; these are all questions I’m exploring specifically as they relate to my choice on how to work, rather than on what I think others should do.)

Re: Concern #2, my reponse overlaps with my thoughts on Concern #1: if I dislike The Published Monograph being treated as The Requirement for academic credibility, shouldn’t I put my resources and job security behind making it easier to produce different kinds of scholarship? I’m particularly thinking of a recent good Twitter thread by Sarah R. Orem on escalating pressures to publish a book earlier and in precarity.

Re: Concern #3, I came up with a list of worries while freewriting:

  • Will anyone read it; will anyone enjoy it/find it useful?
  • Do I know how to write well enough?
  • Can I do enough reading and synthesis to support strong writing from my personal experiences? (Maybe pairing personal case studies/debriefing with synthesis and analysis sections?)
  • Can I cite very well (as well as I think is ideal citation practice)? This will mean a lot of (worth it!) labor remembering and tracking down where I first encountered ideas and who put ideas into the words that made a framing “click” for me.
  • How much does finding the right publisher matter?
  • Can I make it something I’m proud of (and not just because people in power accept it as something worthy of pride)?
  • Does it need to be a book? Do I want it to be a book?
  • Am I doing this because of pressures perceived from people organizationally above me, and/or as a counter against administrative uncertainties?
  • Is it good for the lab (people, work) for me to have this kind of experience?

Along these lines, I hope to post a current draft about my writing style: what I value about the ways I currently write, and what I want to either change or experiment with doing differently. I’ll use some useful feedback on a chapter draft I ultimately decided to not continue revising for Debates in DH. I’ll also engage with some work around the kinds of speech choices that are traditionally advised against, but actually have a strong feminist purpose. For example, being told to remove flags like “I think…” or “I feel…” from academic writing, when actually it’s urgent that we accurately convey the level of familiarity, expertise, certainty with which we say what we’re saying.

Book: good?

To do this project well in terms of what I care about, I would like to:

  • Write/act/persuade/amplify the DH I want to see into existence (really: contribute to the good DH I see others already creating)
  • Write without any fear; don’t write for audiences you don’t care about and their qualms/caveats/pearl-clutching
  • Write for the people who have less justice and safety; imagine a more just world through this writing
  • Make a positive change possible via writing/amplifying/communicating ideas
  • Have an argument? Or write against argument (e.g. vs. Western canon focus on conflict as plot shaper): what could a book that rejected some forms of critique and argument positioning look like/do? What about alternative framings: philosophy, vision, hope?
  • Use my personal-story voice, the voice people respond to positively in tweets/blog posts that feels most like me
  • Amplify all the work that I’ve learned from, paying particular attention to forms of learning that don’t happen while reading a book/article or in the classroom (e.g. tweets, policy choices, conversations, Google Docs, bills of rights and charters, documentation…)

Your thoughts and suggestions are always appreciated! (@Literature_Geek or Visconti@Virginia.edu)

Cite this post: Amanda Visconti. “Year of Book Blogging: thinking through a bookish project as potentially scary, just, and/or good”. Published February 26, 2020. https://scholarslab.lib.virginia.edu/blog/thinking-through-bookish-project-plans/. Accessed on .