On Blogging in Grad School

Recently, my laptop died. And looking at the stickers I’d accumulated on its surface, I got nostalgic. I’ll spare you all the details of my laptop eulogy, but in remembering one detail, I surprised myself.

I started five blogs on that laptop. Five! If I were you, I’d be curious, so here’s a run-down:

  • Becoming JiHye – a travel blog I maintained for the two years I taught in South Korea
  • Monica Heilman Art – started in college, revamped during my freelance writing years, and now mostly inactive (although a revival has been on my mind for a while)
  • Freelance writer blog on digital marketing – an attempted portfolio for my freelance business that never really took off
  • Experimental anonymous blog – some weird abstract creative writing
  • This grad school blog

I also tried to make a career out of blogging. I became a freelance writer and wrote for hundreds of blogs and websites. My guess is somewhere in the 200-300 range. (By the way, this wasn’t right approach to freelancing. Get yourself a few consistent, high-paying clients instead.)

The point is, I blog. And I know how to blog. That’s what I thought.

Why Is Blogging in Grad School So Hard?

Technically, my blog is right where I said it would be. You don’t know this, but my plan was to write one blog post a month. (This was a bad goal for me and I’ll go into why later.)

Right now, all I need to do to catch up is write a post for February. But here’s what happened behind the scenes.

I spent hours, days, and weeks struggling over one post. I stressed over my intro post because it was the first one and it had to be just right.

Then the second post was important too because it would set the tone for the rest of my blog, right? Even though it was a bit of a silly topic – identifying grad school as an emotional roller coaster – it still had to be perfect because I would be sharing it online and academics might see it and academics are a scary audience. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Perfectionism is a Killer

This blog was my inner perfectionist’s worst nightmare. My agony came from two sources:

  1. Being professional in academia
  2. The monthly timeline

I’m a Professional!

The first reason is probably the most clear. I knew I wanted to blog about academia and grad school since I first started applying to programs. But I’ve been extremely concerned about how I would come across. If academia is going to be my lifelong career, my online presence matters. A lot. (At least, that’s how it felt.)

I knew I couldn’t treat this like my travel blog. I consulted multiple people before even writing my first post. I looked through other sociology blogs to use as models. There weren’t too many, but I found models in my own department from Jessica Calarco and Fabio Rojas. I expanded my search to academic blogs in general (while not quite a blog, Phd Comics is a gem). I thought a lot about public sociology and what that meant and how I would tackle difficult topics online.

I considered how I would have to censor myself and what I could and couldn’t say about my department, my university, and academia overall. I spent more time thinking about constraints than content.

The Business of Blogging

My second concern was born out of my freelance writing days. Here’s how blogging frequency works: you need to choose quality or quantity.

If you post often, you can be a little relaxed with your quality. Your posts are shorter, maybe more freeform, and have less fancy formatting. Marketing guru Seth Godin blogs every day, but these are brief, thought-of-the-day type posts. The point is that he blogs everyday.

But if you’re only posting once a month, your posts better be good. In-depth, long-form blogs are popular now. They convert better or whatever. Since we know people skim online content, these include lots of visuals, infographics, charts, and graphs. They’re so long that many have a hyperlinked table of contents.  

This State of Social Media report from Buffer is a pretty standard example of long-form content, but this piece from Tahesi Na-Coates is beautifully executed model.

If I was going to be posting once a month, I reasoned, I should post the academic blog equivalent of long-form posts. What does this mean? I have no idea.

To sum it up, I decided to start a blog about grad school which would have to follow 1) some vague professional standards in academia and 2) an also vague but high standard of content I was importing from the digital marketing industry.

I put a lot of unclear, unnecessary pressure on this blog. Which made it no fun.

So How Do I Blog in Grad School?

None of this means I’m quitting this blog. I view this post as a step in being more candid and open about my process. Hopefully, this extends to writing about my grad school experience and sociology-related topics in general.  

I’m excited to report that I’m writing this post in a single sitting – take that perfectionism! – and I enjoyed writing it. I have at least 10 documents with different blog post ideas that I’m excited to share and even more ideas I haven’t written down yet. Becoming a Janelle Wong fan, for example.

Expect more frequent, less polished content from me soon.

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