Writing to publish vs. writing to be read

I've often remarked that the beauty of this blog is that more people read here every day than I would reach in even the largest class I teach. Moreover, far more people read this blog than will ever read my peer-reviewed scientific publications. And that's even considering that we have very modest traffic numbers here for ScienceBlogs.com. Of course, Terra Sig readers are very discriminating - and good-looking, erudite, and probably even smell good, too.

This morning, my Twitter feed brought me a post from the blog, University of Venus, as referred to me by HASTAC Director of New Media Strategy, Ruby Sinreich. (Local readers will recognize Ruby as the far-better half of Carrboro Creative Coworking founder and new media god, Brian Russell, and mother of Izzy.)

Mary Churchill wrote a post there entitled, "Why Do Academics Write?," a common theme that has emerged in her recent off-blog conversations. Therein, she muses about writing narrow academic books for promotion and tenure that appeal to the select elite in your field versus writing for a broader audience, in her case, on the University of Venus, "a collaborative blog venture bringing together the voices of GenX women in higher education across the globe."

For those of us in the sciences whose productivity is measured in peer-reviewed research manuscripts, one can ask why we write blogs. Personally, I enjoy the conversation with all of you, fellow scientists as well as folks far afield who happen to be interested in science and drugs. The blog also allows me to explore outside of my field - cancer research - and learn more about such areas as neuroscience and geology and even further to music, history, and, yes, writing. Through this community I've also been able to continue my education by learning about issues of gender and racial and ethnic diversity in both the sciences and society. I definitely feel more well-rounded as both an academic and a human being by writing here and engaging with this community. And I am still learning.

As for the argument that blogging is a waste of time and a distraction - well, I may spend about an hour a day writing and give up watching one episode of NCIS. Maybe an additional sporadic half hour doing literature searching, scanning news articles, and reading the writing of others I enjoy and respect or those they recommend.

I've also found the blog to be valuable academically, especially in teaching, as a place I can go back to for lecture topics complete with images and links and notes about papers I have read. Comments and related links offered by readers allow me to learn even more because these suggestions come from people who are expert in those fields. Plus, I can also find information on my blog much easier than I can in my file cabinet.

But I'm more interested in why those out there who must write professionally also write for fun, because you want to, not because you have to. I'm not looking only for comments from bloggers but also from those of you who might write poetry, curate a discussion group.

So, why do you write when you don't have to?


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I write in my blog because I enjoy the feeling of looking at the analytics for my blog and seeing hits from all over the world. I also write because linguistics fascinates me and I want to talk about it.

I do a lot of writing, but the poetry and fiction I have published in actual books (paper + ink) for some mysterious reason seem more relevant than the other stuff: emails, articles, blog comments, lectures. Is that some kind of fetish?

By Jan de Jager (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

I view writing as an extension of my teaching. There are many brilliant people conducting research, and there are many equally bright people who want to know what's going on but either a) don't know where to look, or b) are intimidated by "journals" (as opposed to magazines), and the inherent jargon found in scholarly reports. I like translating, abbreviating and otherwise digesting scientific "stuff" for the masses. I like finding the right word or phrase to explain a concept that I just had to read three times to understand. And, I just like writing.

I have written a blog since I was still in medical school in 2006. It started by the urge to share and "immortalize" my experience, journeys and contemplations. And sometimes frustration. And I always believe that I digest and process an experience better if I write them. I thought that the blog would just circulate around friends and other bloggers, but somehow a faculty raid at one point collected all the medical students' blogs and did "censorship" on the content. One blogger student had to receive consequences based on one of his post which was considered insulting. I blogged without my real name, but I wasn't anonymous.

That event was indeed a big deal and became the talk of the institution, especially with the punishment the blogger had to go through. However, between the bloggers' circle we reminded each other to stay alert and careful with our comments, especially since we knew that we're "monitored". Blog safety was then something we take seriously, which was a good thing that came out from that tough situation.

However, when I finished medical school I became a staff as well. I have a new blog and although still in the "pop" segment, it's now not anonymous and mostly have medical contents with study materials for the students or a perspective on new articles. Now I think I gain more audience and have the chance to discuss more issues with students/peers. And this is my opportunity to provoke new thinking, disperse ideas and promote critical thinking by opening up discussions of critical issues. --Rahajeng

I like writing because that's more or less a hobby of mine and I think I'm quite ok plus I like science so when I started writing about science (I was 16) it just seemed like the 'normal' thing to do.

Now however, five years later, I want to transmit my love for science to readers and try to get more people interested in science in general. Because we, people who like science, know that far too many people take it for granted or are just plain uninterested. This is bad for society both at present times and for the future generation(s). I like to think that I'm part of the change.

I write in my blog because I am trying to increase scientific understanding of nitric oxide and related processes and the peers in the field are not up to understanding it yet. That sounds harsher than I mean it, if I had the resources to get data, the peers would have no choice but to accept it. My problem is that without funding I can't get data and without data I can't get funding and because there is so much âcompetitionâ, no one will help me get either data or funding.

I have been thinking a lot about scientific paradigms and how hard they are to change. I don't think that my NO stuff is really a new paradigm, but I think some would disagree. There does need to be conceptual change, abandoning the idea of homeostasis, understanding that there is much more active control of physiology than is appreciated, and that NO plays a key role in at least thousands of pathways (more likely tens of thousands or more), and that a lot of what are thought to be âcomplex genetic disordersâ are not disorders at all (for the most part). A quote from Barbara McClintock expresses a lot of how I feel.

Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them. This became painfully evident to me in my attempts during the 1950s to convince geneticists that the action of genes had to be and was controlled. It is now equally painful to recognize the fixity of assumptions that many persons hold on the nature of controlling elements in maize and the manners of their operation. One must await the right time for conceptual change.


For those of you who don't know who she is, she discovered transposition of DNA in the 1940's and stopped writing about it in the 1050's because no one understood it and it was hurting her career.

A large part of what I am trying to do with my writing is set the stage for the conceptual change that must occur. I would like that change to occur quickly because there is a whole lot of human suffering and misery that can be made better once it does change.

why do you write when you don't have to?

Huh? But I do have to.

I've tried not making things -- got fed up with my inability to make the things I wanted to make, or even know what those things were, and threw out all my tools and closed my website and so on -- but it didn't last. I couldn't stop. It makes no difference whether anyone else uses or enjoys the things I make (though I'm always pleased if they do).

I write a non-science blog. I write a blog because, to my surprise, I've found writing to be fun. I write about not-science because I use the blog as a welcome distraction from my work, rather than an extension of it. It's something I do when I'm stuck and I need to get my mind off things. Writing about science - about my work - would defeat that purpose.

I started a popular science blog about a year ago to spread my knowledge in an easy and accessible manner. I have an evolutionary informed approach to my field (I am a criminologist and developmental psychologist), and social science students and the general public in Norway (where I work and live) are not often exposed to such a view on human behaviour, nor the research that support this view. I write in Norwegian to reach the public who might not be able to read English. Again, this is because I want to make my knowledge accessible to the general public.

I always make a point of linking articles so the reader may make up their own mind about what I write about. My blog is not a crusade, but it offers a perspective that is often ignored or misrepresented by traditional social science in my country.

I see my blog as an extension of being a modern researcher; we should not isolate ourselves in ivory towers but spend more time communicating with the public. And in Norway the public is on the internet. In spite of being a popular scinec blog and not a "life styl blog", I have had the fortune to recieve over 111 000 visits on my blog in country of less than 5 million citizens. This I find very encourraging. I doubt my comming research articles will have this large an audience ;)

I write because it's marginally more productive than firing Nerf projectiles at my teevee machine when it makes me angry.

As E.M. Forster asked, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" That's why I keep a journal/scrapbook/commonplace book inspired Forster and by Jonathan Swift, who suggested a writer needs a bank of ideas upon which to draw, and William Burroughs, who kept a three-part journal recording what he thought, what he read, and what he did. I don't blog, but I read yours.

Brian, ha ha! Nope, don't need anything. I am just continually amazed by both you and Ruby and how forward thinking and productive you are in executing your ideas. I wish I had Izzy's DNA!

Thanks everyone - keep 'em coming. One of Mary's commenters at University of Venus echoed Bill's comment in that writing was like breathing for her. You've also given me a few blogs to check out that I hadn't known of before!

I write because I understand my world through words. It started as a way for me to make sense of my grief. Now? I can't do without it. It orders my chaotic thoughts and ideas. If I didn't write, I think they'd keep flying around and make me crazy.

I write to distill my thinking, to slake my curiosity, to vent about things that piss me off, and to add my voice to those of other rational thinkers. The conversations my writing generates, both on and off-line, are fascinating.

I'm a bit behind on my blog reading and so a little late to the table, but anywho...

Let me start with a confession that will quickly become evident anyway: I am geek-always have been. Even in high school, I loved writing, especially when it was really for no one but myself. As much as I love science, to feel whole, I need creative outlets, and writing has been a huge one for me. I have spent a great deal of time writing stories that will only be read for me. Sometimes they fall by the wayside, but every time I pick them back up to continue them, I am surprised by how much I relish the creative process.

Blogging is a much more recent thing for me and serves quite a different purpose. Honestly I think it was born out of a sense of isolation. Blogging is a place to vent, to share experiences, to ask questions, and to have discussions. Writing a blog is as much about the interaction with other people as it is about having something to say.

biochem belle, as you see in this thread there are an awful lot of scientists who feel the need to be creative outside of the lab and field. In fact, I'm surprised that we are so often portrayed as eggheads on TV and in film because I've met so many multidimensional folks in science.

Your point about isolation really resonated with me. I never realized just how isolating science could sometimes be. That's why I enjoy teaching so much and also accounts for why I started this blog when teaching was not part of my job.

Continue to feed your creativity and come here to interact anytime!

The key is telling your body there wonât be any more famines. There are two primary ways of doing this:

1. Eat real food. When youâre eating quality food and itâs assimilated efficiently, the body begins to receive what it needs to function at its best. This is one very important step in turning off the famine response. The presence of nutrient-dense food in the diet signals to the body that there is plenty of food available and thereâs no need to pile on fat stores. Digestion is also an important part of this equation because you want to make sure the real food you eat is assimilated properly. Including raw and cultured foods in your diet on a regular basis can improve your digestive health and ensure youâre getting the most out of your food.

2. Reduce stress. Another folly of modern society is the intense level of stress most of us are exposed to, often since very early childhood. Stress induces the famine response as much as dieting. After all, the body doesnât distinguish between types of stresses; the same biochemical reactions occur whether youâre stressed by your work, a difficult marriage, lack of real food, poor sleep habits or any number of stressors. So itâs very important to address this and take the appropriate steps to reducing and managing the stress in your life. Read more about the stress connection to weight loss here and here and here.

Without addressing these two components, a healthy body composition is virtually impossible to achieve. Plus, healthy food choices reduce stress, and reducing stress makes it easier to choose healthier food. So making one small change at a time really can add up, and the right choices will come more naturally over time. Granted, this involves patience and wonât produce results like "Lose 10 pounds in one week!" But it will set you on the path to lasting health.