end of year

Reflecting on Writing and Life in 2015

I say it every year: I can’t believe that it’s the end of the year again. There’s something about the impending new year that always prompts me to reflect on everything that’s happened in the last twelve months. Looking back over this year, life has been up, down, and everywhere in between. I’m not anywhere near where I thought I’d be in my life, but I realized yesterday that I’m actually pretty content with where I am.

Some great things happened in 2015

I finished my dissertation.

I finished my dissertation a year ago, the most challenging writing project I’ve ever completed. It reflects years of planning, thinking, and writing.    

My dissertation is imperfect. I’m still finding typos. Some of my writing makes me cringe now. There are some ideas that I need to rethink. The next challenge is to revise it into a real book that people will want to read. I’m excited to bring my research to wider audiences.

I wrote a journal article in twelve weeks.

I wrote and submitted a publishable journal article this year. I’d been meaning to write an article forever based on some old research from my MA thesis.  I followed Wendy Belcher’s awesome workbook, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. I was afraid that I’d lose motivation when writing my article started getting challenging, so I blogged about the experience. You can find the first post of the Twelve Week Article series here.

The article is still in the queue and waiting for peer review, but I’m really proud of myself. I learned so much about how to improve my academic writing to increase my chances of publication. I also learned new things about myself. I learned the importance of a daily writing practice, how to persevere when things get tough, and new writing strategies.

I now have a blog.

I used to read blog posts by people who claimed that blogging had changed their lives. I was skeptical. I’ve started plenty of blogs and then abandoned them after two or three posts, exhausted by the idea of churning out writing for public consumption week after week.

I started my blog in May this year and with one exception, I’ve posted every week. I finally get what all of those “This will change your life!” people are talking about. The biggest benefit the blog has brought me is the chance to practice a new writing style. My blogging voice is different than my academic writing voice in a good way. I'm still developing it, but I love the challenge of explaining things to readers in non-academic language. The blog is now vital part of my writing practice.

Blogging has also brought me new networking opportunities .The blog has connected me with a slew of new people. I can’t ever decide what I think is more shocking: that people read my blog or that they like it. Not every post is a home run, but more people than I ever expected have commented on my posts on Facebook, Twitter, and on the blog itself. Blog posts also spark other people’s ideas, too. This week, I’ve been having great conversations with Jen Polk and Ian Street about how writing can be part of a self-care practice.

Hearing how other people’s struggles with writing mirrored my own has led me to believe that the most difficult part about writing is often our own feelings about it. Writing about those difficult feelings and experiences has made me feel far less alone. I’ve received wonderful and kind feedback from other people who have told me that my writing has helped them feel less alone too.

I’ve learned to be a better editor.

I wanted to be an editor in my post-PhD life because I thought I could help other people become better writers. Although I edited often as a graduate student, I’ve had to learn new skills to edit professionally. At first, I thought that editing involved fixing other people’s writing for them. Sometimes it does. Nevertheless, I discovered that I help my editing clients most when I empower them to fix their own writing.

I’ve learned to ask people how I can best help them with their writing and listen to what kind of specific feedback they need. Giving an honest and thoughtful response often helps writers far more than tedious line editing. I most enjoy reading multiple revisions because I see how authors use my feedback to spark their own ingenuity to solve their writing problems. I’m learning to give better feedback and try to speak to authors’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.

Some things are still in progress

I’m still working through my relationship to academia and my new identity.

This year was the first year that I didn’t apply for a single academic job. I stand by my decision, but have had plenty of moments when I’m seized with panic. I wonder if this would have been the year that I would have won the academic lottery. I wonder if I’m ever going to find a stable job. I wonder what I’m doing with my life. I wonder why life has to be so difficult sometimes.

(Breathe. Breathe.)  

I became a historian because I wanted to tell some good stories about things that people did in the past, not because I wanted to be an academic. Leaving academia, however, has not been the simple and neat process I’d imagined. I told someone recently that leaving academia sometimes feels like experiencing the most traumatic breakup ever. I’ve felt every possible imaginable thing about it, including waves of joy, rage, and grief. I’m still working out how I feel about life on the outside. I don’t want to stop writing history; I just want to write history outside the academy. Does this make me a popular historian? Can I still be a scholar without an institutional affiliation? I continue to define my new identity and relationship to the academy as I go.

The blog and I will be on vacation until January 4 to spend some much needed time with friends and family. I’m looking forward to resuming regular posting in January, when I’m going to write about setting goals. I’ll also be starting a newsletter, which you can sign up for here.   

Wishing everyone best for the holidays and New Year! :)


[Photo: Boulder Creek, winter. Boulder, Colorado, 2014.]