I've been trying to work through some pretty severe writer's block. Not that I really believe in writer's block, but I do believe that the things I want to say, and the way that I want to say them, are outside of my reach right now and I decided that the only way I would be able to push through this was to just write through the block. It's what I would tell any of my students: write something, even if it's crap.
Which has gotten me thinking about the value of creating public content. I was recently invited to participate in a panel for the flagship conference in my field; all that I needed to do was create a 2000-word proposal for the paper I intended to present (and write the paper, obviously, but the conference is a year away). Looking at the other proposals for the panel, I judged that there wasn't an opening for anything I had to say. My current research wasn't a fit for the panel and I couldn't see how I could draw from anything in my background to create a proposal. My colleagues gave me some suggestions, but to me these seemed like topics that would allow me to speak at the conference rather than topics that people really needed to hear about, especially when the other papers on the panel looked like they were going to do a great job covering the important stuff. After two sleepless nights spent torturing myself over this proposal, I reluctantly emailed my colleagues to let them know I was not going to participate. I simply couldn't see how anything I had to say needed to be heard.
I know that the "smart" choice was to write something and submit it in order to get the line on my vita so that I would look better to potential employers, but I couldn't get past the uncomfortable feeling of delivering a paper at a conference that I did not believe contained useful information for anyone. I like to think that this demonstrates how much integrity I have but in reality it just explains why I'm a single jobless loser who will die childless and alone. Probably face down in a cheap day-old cake from the grocery store that I bought for myself on my birthday because it was on manager's mark-down. Or something equally likely to shame my family and delight my detractors.
I've grown to believe the same thing about having a blog. Besides the fact that blogging is passé, I've always been bothered by the implication created when one makes one's ideas public on a blog: that these ideas merit attention from an audience (and/or, this writing is good enough to merit attention and appreciation from others). That always seemed presumptuous to me. I've tried to dispel that nagging discomfort by telling myself that people come to a blog by choice and I didn't have to feel guilty for wasting someone's time if he or she sought out the content on their own, but I've also always felt an ethical responsibility to create content worth reading: if I'm going to presume that my writing merits attention, then I should strive to make it worth reading rather than just throwing up whatever shit I happen to think of that day.
It was because of this line of thinking that, after a year, I decided to shut down my professional website. I had created it intending to blog on topics related to my research, but I never got started. Regardless of the topic I intended to write about, I never could figure out why anyone needed me to say anything about it. Surely they could read the available research, just as I could; so how would I be helping by contributing my perspective on issues that other people had spent a decade or more researching and writing about? An attitude that exacerbates any bouts of writer's block, in addition to making professionalizing in a field like mine impossible.
Besides, it's said that it's better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt, an act which I've reserved for the job interviews I've had this year if my lack of success is any indication.
This seems like a natural stopping point. More later. Or not.