November 2, 2013

Blogging: Websites, Blogs, and Books

If I were to name just one tool that is most essential for my work both as a teacher and also as a writer, it would be BLOGS. It is fitting, of course, that I am making that pronouncement in... a blog post. I am using to write this blog post, but I am really platform-neutral when it comes to blogging. I use because it is convenient and familiar, but I've used other blogging platforms in the past and no doubt will do so in the future.

So, since blogging is a huge part of my online life and something I am very enthusiastic about, I will eventually come up with a series of posts on this topic, but I will focus here on one specific subject: websites, blogs, and books.

Websites v. Blogs

When I first started creating online content back in the fall of 1998, I was using Netscape Composer to create webpages and websites. It was a simple tool, easy to use, a lot of fun; I learned about it in an afternoon workshop in Moffitt Library... an event that changed my life more than anything else that happened in my years of graduate school!

Looking back, though, the websites I created over the years are stalled out, clunky, awkward, and getting seriously stale. Why? Because I am just not a design person, and the time and talent it takes to build and sustain a website is beyond me. So, alas, all those websites I lovingly built in the increasingly distant past are showing their age more and more with each passing year. I lack the incentive and, at this point, even the technical ability to salvage them (they are built mostly with a by-now ancient version of Dreamweaver).

But when it comes to CONTENT... oh: I am a very happy generator of content, limited only by the speed of my typing - and I type pretty fast! That is why blogging suits me: with blogging, all I really have to worry about is content. I can let the blogging software manage the design issues for me, along with other site maintenance tasks. Since I shifted all my content development and web publishing to blog-based platforms about four or five years ago, my productivity has increased dramatically... along with my overall web happiness!

Unlike a website, I don't expect a blog to last forever, and I don't think about my content as really lasting forever either. Instead, I see my content as evolving, both expanding and deepening, as it runs through multiple iterations, taking on new forms in each iteration, while blogs make the evolving content accessible and usable throughout that iterative process.

Blog to Book to Blog Again

That all sounds very abstract, so let me give just one concrete example, based on the last book I published. The book, which is available for free in PDF form and in print from, is entitled Brevissima: 1001 Tiny Latin Poems. Of the six books I have written, this one is hands-down my favorite, and that is in large part because the process I used to write the book was such a pleasure from start to finish. Let me try to explain how I got to this book via blogging, and how the book is a part of my blogging even now.
  • Brainstorming the book. I have a long-standing blog, Bestiaria Latina, where I experiment with all kinds of content, especially short-form content. I am brainstorming and experimenting all the time with that blog. When I find something that sustains my interest for months and months, it becomes a candidate for a book! (I have written five books this way.) One of the types of content I was collecting and sharing in that blog consisted of Latin distich poetry, little two-line poems. I was so interested in those little poems that I created a separate blog for them.
  • Writing the book. The blog I created was originally called Disticha Latinaalthough the name you see now at the blog reflects what eventually emerged as the title of the book. Initially, though, I was not even sure there was going to be a book. Instead, the blog was just a place where I was transcribing two-line poems from different Latin books I found online as I explored and learned more about this genre of poetry. I have created a lot of dedicated blogs of this type; maybe one in five has eventually turned into a book.
  • Curating the sources. Meanwhile, in an existing blog called I Love Google Books, I kept track of the many Latin poetry books I was finding online and which I was using as sources for my distich project. That blog is dormant now, but I have used it to support several different projects in the past, and it will no doubt spring to life again when I have need of it for more bibliography research and curation.
  • THE BOOK. After working very hard just reading and transcribing for about two years, I then was ready to create the book, which I did in the summer of 2012. I did not do a lot of blogging that summer. Instead, I used a database to support the creation of the book and I learned a lot about book formatting with Open Office so that I could achieve the specific left-right layout I wanted for the pages (poems on left, vocabulary on right). This is the kind of work I can never do during the school year because of the concentration and long periods of uninterrupted work time required. So, I spent basically all summer working on the book and finished it up in early August.
  • Blogging the whole book. Then, when the book text was done, I started blogging the book again at Disticha Latina. What this meant was that I went back through the several thousand posts at the site with individual poems and updated the 1001 posts that contained the actual poems which made it into the book, building post-to-post navigation that would mimic the page-by-page navigation in the book. That took about a month or so, and I now consider this blog to be essentially done; I don't do work on it anymore, although I do have an errata list there (few errors found so far, I am glad to say). I also created posters for 250 of the poems and included them in the blog posts.
  • Blogging the book in pieces. So, I have now come full circle, and the poems and posters from that blog are a regular feature in the posts at Bestiaria Latina. Each time I create a new post for the Bestiaria blog, I include one of the posters for a distich poem, linking to the specific post at the Disticha blog that contains the poem, notes, and vocabulary... along with 1000 more of those tiny Latin poems!
So... that's how it went from blog to book and back to blog again. I hope I have described that process in a way that makes sense from the outside! Even if it does not entirely make sense, please take my word for it: it was so much fun! In fact, jotting down the notes about this process has got me wanting to write another book...

Meanwhile, here's one of the poems from the book and an accompanying poster; it's a poem that explains a lot about why I love my career as a teacher.

Disce Ut Doceas
Et labor et studium doctos genuere magistros;
Quod numquam didicit, nemo docere potest.

Learn So That You Can Teach
Both hard work (et labor) and study (et studium)
produce learned teachers (genuere doctos magistros);
no one can teach (nemo potest docere)
what they have never learned (numquam didicit).

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