Blogging PhD Chat: Sometimes you just need to get up at 6am and write…

 A few weekends ago, during an intense period of finalising a report for work, I redesigned my website (for the millionth time) and I made 378 entries on this blog private. I removed all pages that listed my publications, workshop titles and examples of work. There are now just over 150 left – and most them are from January 2013 onwards.
Now I want to explain why – and perhaps reflect a little about how important (or necessary) it is for me to write, and to keep writing, and to write in this way – and maybe why for an extended period time I’ve not been able to – or felt shame about why I need to do things the way I do them.
A long time ago (7-8 years ago), a way back when I was asked if I would like to apply to do a PhD – in the mist of completing my Masters dissertation, I used to get up and writing and put down how I was feeling and what I was working on into my blog.
And that’s when I started thinking about blogging that could help me with pushing on my academic work – and subsequently began to use my blog to sort of note the things what I was thinking whilst I was working on my essays, trying to find funding and getting my head around a proposal for PhD, writing up the little bits of thoughts I was having about the stuff I was learning, and during this time, social media platforms such as Twitter started to take off – and blog post turned into meeting and conversing with other people in other disciplines and different departments at my university.
I thought this was great because:
1) I was “just” a master student – but I was drinking coffee and chatting technology with professors and senior sounding people – and it felt great to be included in this way, I knew I wanted to work in a University and that research was worthwhile;
2) I felt that I actually was beginning to understand what academic work actually was & what was required to be part of it. This was probably because I was reading the ‘behind the scenes’ of other people’s  experiences through blogging, who were either in the same boat as me – or were in a completely different boat that I wanted to know more about;
3) Not everything that I chose to share or write or do online was part of some academic or learning service, nor was it for the entertainment of others (an implied blog audience), much of it is a way for me to communicate in a format where I feel comfortable when other ways just do not suffice. I do it for my own record – and if other people join in, that’s ok too.
Anyway, I got PhD funding in October 2009. A partial stipend (£500 p/m) and fully funded fee wavier for 3 years.
I blogged through the start of the process as I tried to work my way through the process of what it meant to do a PhD – but also trying to connect with my University that was 450 miles away from where I lived, whilst I worked to gain experience as a lecturer and to make up the rest of the monthly income. I blogged about the contracts and the projects I was part through, I blogged about presentations and seminars I was invited to. I blogged throughout my time when I was out in Vancouver doing my data collection – partly because I felt I had to (because I had always been blogging), partly because of my research interest (citizen journalism and self-publishing) and partly because there was an implicit understanding that operating and thinking out-loud through the medium of something like a blog should be an essential requirement of an emerging academic.
In the Summer of 2012, my passion, or even just my interest in maintaining a blog about how I felt, or what I was thinking, or what I was working on.. it just stopped.
For a while now, this blog has simply been a record of presentations, examples of achievement, pretty vanilla stuff. During the Scottish independent referendum, I had no interest in blogging about it- despite the obvious connection between major events and citizen journalism. I’ve wrote hunners of wordpress posts as part of my job, I’ve uploaded a ton of videos to support other people tell their stories. I’m always helping people set up wordpress websites so they can get their amazing stories online.
But I stopped doing it for me.
When the blogging dries up, the rest of the writing follows.
And until that point in the Summer of 2012, I could hands up say that I had been writing in an online diary for some capacity since 2001 (Direct quote from live journal Sept 9th 2001: “omg, college is so pishhhhh, we went to the pub instead with all the older guys (they were like 25(!OMG!)) and there was this guy and looooollll I am so good at pool, I pure grannyed him, I want to dye my hair red, lol, PAYDAY, I’m going to buy 3 CDS and a couple of pints, my dad is such a dick”). Hell, I got my maintaining the red hair technique down and mastered. My dad was well within his rights to be a dick, I was 16 and bunking off college to drink pints and play pool (it was worth it – pool shark, life skill unlocked) but the point is, I used to write about the bits in-between to an audience other teenagers like myself, many of which I’m still friends with to. this. day. (but we don’t talk about live journal unless we are drinking pints and playing pool) – but outsiders looking in, it looked risky, attention seeking, immature – whatever you want to call it, but for me at least, it was my community.
And it is much easier to envision this need and notion for community with everyone and their maws are on Facebook, sub-tweeting comments and bouncing between public/private performances of social interaction.
I’ve always wrote about the bits in between – in fact, when we are talking about academic writing, or digital storytelling – or my original reasons for pursuing ‘new media’ as a subject area within a degree programme, or what excites me about my research, or how I try support people into trying things online, I do so because I am fascinated about the bits in-between. I don’t tell the people I work with what to do online, I believe firmly that we all should have the right to be able to develop our identities freely – and some of that can’t be sanitised, perfect constructions of a professional life.
So, it begs the question why did I stopped my little bits-inbetween…
In the between time, I take photos of things on Instagram to remind to pause & remember, I tweet endlessly (maybe not as bad as the heady days of 2008 where I was averaging at something like 180 tweets a day- legendary) because I dart between in my head and throwing them out somewhere is better than keeping them locked down, I ramble on Facebook because it gives me just enough normal social interaction with other people on the days when you say more words out loud to your dog than another human being.
I’ve felt shame for the way I’ve used the internet in the past, I’ve justified it and still felt bad about it. I’ve absorbed shame from other people because of the way I’ve used the internet in the past, but that says more about them than me (and I remind myself of that feeling if I catch myself rolling my eyes at status updates on Facebook) – I take feedback from people who matter and throw away the rest. But now, I look back at what I’ve just written and think that there isn’t anything bad about having a method and an approach for how you chose to use the Internet, what you chose to share about yourself and the motivation for sharing these things behind it.
I return to the point about making 378 entries of my blog private.
I’m making myself vulnerable here, I thought by showing that this blog has been active for nearly 9 years, it would add gravitas to the fact I’ve been around fur a good wee while when it comes to the Internet bantz – and that’s just the blog where I use my actual name (ah-haaa!). My epic wordpress archive sits with my iphone and my twitter account as my social armour for dealing with life.
May last year, I had a run in with the Greater Glasgow Mental Health Services – I am reluctant to call it depression, it was probably more generalised anxiety, but the woman rolled her eyes at me, prescribed me Prozac and told me that it was probably my PhD that was making me depressed. Without getting into too much of the detail (My lovely Twitter community, friends and family were wonderful for that) I’m in a totally different place than I was 18 months ago.
I’m dropping down a lot of the social armour because actually – I don’t need it as much. Correction, I don’t need to justify it as much. 378 of those posts didn’t need to be there anymore. At the same time I donated over 100 books to a charity shop. I didn’t need them because I don’t need my wall of book armour to show that I am capable of being a researcher. I am starting to do that on my own through my writing an through my work.
But I wanted to write about this feeling.
And in order to do that, this blog needed to change. It needs to be able the bits in-between as well. Next week I’m flying out to Japan. I want to write about it. I might write about the presentation I’m going to give to graduate students about using social media to connect with international research communities, I might want to just write about the awesome stuff I find in the 100Yen shop (the Japanese pound shop) – this is my blog, I can write what I want. I don’t need to wrap myself in self-inflicted content strategies when I know that the stuff that I put here is probably the same sort of stuff you’d get from me if you were sitting beside me on the train, or having a drink in the pub, or having a bit of chat on Facebook.
In the last 18 months, I have been putting in the work to deal with the social anxiety that has kept me worried and angst ridden for the best part of my 20s AND IT IS BRILLIANT.
I feel like I can write again.
Which is good because I need to finish my PhD by April next year, ken?
So as I said, sometimes you need to just get up at 6am and write in your blog.