Why I’m Writing Here

This post was originally published at Medium.com on August 10, 2015

My plan for writing on Medium is that most of my posts will be about historical actors. I’ll be exploring the lives of children’s magazine editors of the 1800s, baseball fans of the early 1900s, and black high school students in Jim Crow North Carolina of the 1950s and 1960s. Today’s post is different, though; it’s about me.

When I posted my last Medium piece on Facebook, I mentioned that I didn’t necessarily want to call the writings I’m doing here a blog. A number of readers offered comments and questions about that statement, and one fellow writer suggested that an articulation of my motivations and goals for this writing space might be interesting. The positive response to recent blog posts by other historians reinforced this idea that fellow scholars and writers often welcome such writings about process, so I’ll offer my perspective here and welcome any feedback.

It took me twelve years to write my first book. A number of factors contributed to that interminable slog, including transplanting my family from Massachusetts to North Carolina, the birth of our two children, and the demands of a job that required me to teach (initially) four classes a semester. Another major cause of the delay, though, was my writing process.

I am not a facile writer. I do exactly what I tell my students to avoid; I obsess over every word, and rewrite sentences as I go rather than forging ahead with rough drafts and editing only in the revision process. I think the end product is good, but the endeavor is agonizing for me, and for my family and friends. I also suffered through a period of crippling self-doubt as I transformed my dissertation into a book. During this stage, which lasted nearly two years, I essentially wrote in circles, revising over and over again without making any substantial changes.

As I launch my new project, I am taking steps to improve my approach to writing. I have new software to help keep me organized. I have new confidence based on the positive response to my manuscript. What I also need is a new process, and these writings are part of that change.

One of the other principles I try to impress upon my students, many of whom come into my class saying “I’m not a good writer,” is that writing is a craft that improves with practice. So they need to write- a lot. The corollary to that principle for me is that I need to publish my writings more frequently in order to learn to manage both my own expectations and reader feedback. This space seems well suited to meeting those needs.

So I view these writings as a testing ground, both for my ideas and my nerve. I’m going to try to publish fairly often, but I’m not going to commit to a schedule because that just replaces one form of writing agony with another. Also, at this point I plan to limit my posts to essays. I’ll keep my attempts at pithy commentary on other people’s writings to Facebook and Twitter.

This endeavor is part of my larger ongoing experiment in maximizing the value of social media, and I would love to forge ahead in conversation rather than in monologue. If you’re grappling with some of the same issues or have ideas for me, please reach out here, on Twitter (@PaulRingel), or by email (pbringel@gmail.com).