Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Shadow Writing

I'm now starting my second year as an assistant professor. Lately I haven't written nearly as much as I'd like on this website.

At first I thought that I just don't write much anymore in my current job. I then realized that I write all the time! But in the shadows. I put most of my energy into writing words that will never be seen by more than a few people. For instance, I now spend considerable time writing:

  • grant proposals
  • confidential reviews of grant proposals
  • internal critiques of student research
  • internal memos for committee service
  • confidential letters of recommendation
  • short confidential blurbs and survey responses giving feedback on job interview candidates (for both faculty and Ph.D. student applicants)
  • blurbs for my own job review/promotion cases
  • teaching-related materials
  • endless emails and little blurblets for various administrative purposes
  • confidential reviews of academic papers
  • anonymous responses to address reviewer comments on my academic papers that are currently under review
  • my own academic papers (see caveat below)

Even when my academic papers are published, they don't get nearly as many views as my articles. In fact, I often need to write articles that summarize my papers to let people know about the research in those papers.

Since most of my writing energy must now be directed toward the aforementioned kinds of writing that advance my career (and my students' careers), I have very little left over for the sorts of leisure writing that I've been doing for years. This issue is more serious to me than merely losing time for a hobby. I strongly believe that writing extensively in public over the past decade has helped me develop, shape, and refine my creative tastes. As someone whose job is to invent the future (albeit in a modest and ultra-specialized way), losing that creative edge means stifling my own career.

I no longer have the time or energy to spend a weekend at a coffee shop writing a long-form article ... but I'm also not ready to give up on something that's been the source of so much joy and inspiration over the years. To cope, I try to make public writing a byproduct of my job, not a disconnected activity.

Specifically, I've been taking inspiration from Matt Might's 6 blog tips for busy academics. Instead of sitting down to write something brand new, I try to recycle my existing materials into a form for public consumption. Examples of recent articles include recorded talk videos with light edits, lecture notes for my class, interviews of my colleagues, and informal listicles written after chatting with students in office hours.

However, the main danger with this approach is that I now tend to write about a very narrow set of topics that are closely related to my job: research, teaching, and academic life in general. Not great for engaging a diverse reader base. I'd like to broaden out my writing once again but haven't found an effective way to do so. I'll see what develops in the coming years ... but now I need to go write some recommendation letters :)

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Created: 2015-11-19
Last modified: 2019-05-19
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