Happy first birthday, blog! What I’ve learned so far

Amazingly, it is now a year since I started this blog in its current form. I had a website previously, which was mainly just for sharing teaching materials, but on 2nd June 2015 I revamped this site and wrote my first research-driven blog posts. This year has been busy in general, and has flown by in a fairly pleasant blur – but the blog in particular still feels brand new.

I originally set myself a challenge to blog at least once a week, which I think I’ve pretty much managed, with the exception of January, when I was on holiday for a week. I’ve found the experience very rewarding and it has rarely felt like a chore, which is probably part of why the time has passed so quickly. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself, research and the wonderful world of the internet through this blog.

Something interesting happens every week

At first, my goal to blog every week seemed a little daunting. I didn’t really tell anyone about it, because I was sure I wouldn’t keep it up. Over at the Greek in Italy blog, I have a slightly more manageable goal of making sure there’s an update at least once a month, and in general that’s gone pretty well – and that’s also a multi-author blog, so it doesn’t always have to be me writing. Weekly blogging seemed a bit ambitious by comparison.

It turns out that it wasn’t that difficult. I realised I didn’t have to write a long in-depth piece each week – after all, it’s my blog and I can update it however I like. Some weeks, there has been a conference, seminar talk or museum exhibit I could advertise or share a few thoughts on. Sometimes, I could write a post sharing someone else’s post or blog. And sometimes there was something longer I wanted to write about – or even several things. (Once or twice, it’s been handy to write a couple of posts in a go and schedule them for later. This post, for example, was sneakily written last week…)

But a lot of the time, I wasn’t sure what I would write about each week. The blog really motivated to step back from my work and think – what have I been thinking about this week? What’s been really interesting? What one thing from this week’s work would I be excited to tell someone about?

And you know what? There was always something. That’s been a nice realisation.

Writing helps me work through new ideas

I’ve known for a long time that I’m one of those people who remembers things much better by writing them down. Just reading doesn’t make things stick for me. But having been away from serious writing for a while (my book was published in 2015, and the last stages of that were mainly endless proof-reading rather than writing), I’d forgotten just how useful I find writing for working through ideas. It’s partly about clarifying and crystallizing my thoughts, but it’s also about seeing what works and what doesn’t, or what is missing from the picture I have so far. Writing helps me shape and remember what I’ve done so far, and suggests the directions I should take next.

It’s been ideal, then, that my regular blogging habit has coincided with the beginning of a new project. Writing brief pieces about what I’m doing and why has helped me find some direction for a new project that, at first, felt quite large and nebulous. I kind of wish I’d started sooner: at the BSR last spring would have been a perfect time, and would probably have given a lot more structure to my work at that time – but no matter.

Having a regular writing habit has also increased my likelihood of putting in some daily time on articles, book chapters, abstracts, and other pieces of academic writing. I can’t tell if I’m writing more than I used to, but it feels like more of a regular habit, and that’s helpful.

Feedback is great

It’s not really a secret that good, thorough, thoughtful academic research can involve some tedious legwork – and even if the research isn’t tedious, then waiting months and months for reviewers to respond with comments and changes certainly is. I’m lucky to have lots of great colleagues who read each other’s work all the time, and always have great ideas, but sometimes there’s nothing like some instant feedback from clever, interested people outside your immediate field. Conference papers can be great for this, of course, but so can blogging.

Many times this year, I’ve had a really valuable conversation about something I’ve posted, almost instantly. In at least one case, this was because someone misunderstood my point – I wasn’t clear enough, either because I wrote something ambiguous, or because I didn’t have the idea clear enough in my head in the first place. This first line of feedback has been really valuable already, and I wouldn’t have had it without making contact with people outside my field.

At the end of the day, I enjoy it

Both literally and figuatively. Sometimes, as the working day comes to a close, my brain is a little too sleepy to do anything really constructive on my research – but I can definitely find the energy to write a quick post.

And, well, I just like it. It’s a fun part of my week. When I started the blog, I didn’t think it would be all that popular – I’m often considered to work in a rather niche area of Classics, after all. Just seeing how widely the blog is read and shared has really helped me to feel positive about my work at times when I felt it was going slowly. So thank you very much for reading, commenting and discussing – I’ve had fun!

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