Think First; Type Later

For most people, writing is hard work. Writing for a public forum on the internet is hard, scary work. Once you push the “submit” button, your words are out there for everyone to see and respond to, instantly searchable, and living in perpetuity in the Google cache or deep in the Internet Archive. Yet, tens of millions of folks all over the world overcome their fear to post their content on the web–including 64% of American teens who are “content creators“, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center. One good bit of advice for beginning bloggers, and more experienced folks who are starting a new project, is to “think first and type later.” Before making that first post, take a few minutes and answer three questions. (A number one pencil and a legal pad are the perfect tools for this part of the process, but it’s OK to type if you’ve forgotten how to use a pencil.)

  • Purpose: Why am I doing this?
  • Content: What am I going to write about?
  • Process: How am I going to do it?

There are lots of good reasons to publish on the web. For me, posting regularly is a discipline that accomplishes two goals. First, it focuses my attention by forcing me to look the mass of information that I’ve been exposed on any particular day and evaluate the usefulness (or interestingness) of that information. The half-hour that I’m investing in writing this post could be spent in an infinite number of other ways. What, if anything, justifies the time and energy to highlight a particular idea, pie and hold up for further inspection? The possible stories come from everywhere–something that I read, a TV or radio program, podcast, conversation or just a random thought that popped into my mind. Focused attention helps to make sense from the torrent of information.

The second discipline is to try to figure out the utility of writing about a particular topic for the reader. One major reason for publishing is to allow others to benefit from what I’ve learned from my experience. In my writing, I’m always searching for some way to help members of my community to broaden their perspectives, to look at their information universe a little differently, or to think of ways to improve their practice.

As an official faculty blogger, my purpose is a little different than it has been for other writing I’ve done. We know that the most frequent visitors to the site are from outside William and Mary, some of whom may not be interested in the nuts and bolts of our technology infrastructure. My task here is to look what’s happening at the college from my personal perspective and post about topics that be interesting and helpful to parents, prospective students, alumni and members of the larger educational community. By merging my personal perspective with those of the other writers on the project, we provide an additional window into the William and Mary experience that is emergent, individual, authentic and vibrant.

In my next post, I take a look at how to translate that purpose into something more concrete by looking at the second question: what am I going to write about?

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