Lauren Fusilier | University of Louisville
Megan Von Bergen | University of Tennessee, Knoxville
As of June 2022, both Megan Von Bergen and Lauren Fusilier are stepping down from the editorship of FEN Blog and turning the reins over to a new editorial team. It’s been a privilege to work on getting FEN Blog off the ground over the last year, and we look forward to seeing where the blog goes in the future. We knew we wanted to write a reflection on our work with the blog. Rather than using an essay style, we chose a dialogic style, a conversation about our takeaways over the last year. We reflect on what we learned as scholars during our work on the blog, how we approached the labor of the blog, and how we hope the blog contributes to the field of composition studies.
Megan: One of the things I think we both really appreciated about working with FEN Blog was the chance to see what goes on “behind the scenes” in journal editing. Shall we start there?
Lauren: Sure, I can speak to that. As editors, we loved the back-and-forth with writers, particularly graduate student writers. I liked seeing the kernel of someone’s idea as it progresses and develops, especially as the collaborative work happens with feedback, where you see a writer saying, “oh, I haven’t thought of it that way, but now that you point this out, my ideas are developing, and it’s growing in this direction.” That collaboration brings out unforeseen and valuable elements in a piece. So, we got to help writers figure out how to hit the marks, bring their piece in line with their vision for it, so it could succeed.
Megan: We’re also graduate students, so it’s useful to get the experience for when we’re approaching a new writing project: what should we think about as we’re preparing to send in a journal article? For me, getting the first-hand experience, especially as we worked with Kara, of what editors might ask for and when was invaluable. I’ve been fortunate enough to publish a few times already, but always as part of a special issue or edited collection, and as I look to submit some of my work unsolicited, I feel much more confident in the typical processes of editorial work. It’s like a black box has been opened.
Lauren: I like the black box metaphor. Publishing in higher ed can feel obscure and confusing, especially since its editorial rhythms are different from other kinds of publishing, such as journalism. So having the opportunity to open that box and see the gears in motion earlier in our careers was really key.
Megan: One thing that I’m really proud of is that we’ve established a new, less formal place for composition scholars to work through ideas. Writing for blogs (in my case, the Digital Rhetorical Collaborative) was key in getting some early work published, and so I was excited to help start FEN Blog. We’ve published tenured folks –– starting with Sheila Carter-Tod’s excellent piece on multiple rhetorics, we’re so thankful that she agreed to be the first piece on the new blog –– but also graduate students and non-tenured folks. Writing a blog post is a great way for scholars to get their ideas in front of an audience without committing to an arduous and sometimes years-long process, so especially in a time of greater contingency and swifter circulation of ideas, having a new blog in the field is great.
Lauren: The point about precarity is something that it’s important to me, personally. While adjuncting, the thought of publishing was so daunting, so the accessibility of what we do with FEN Blog felt really meaningful. It feels almost retroactive for me, in that I wish I’d had this space as an adjunct, because I was working through a lot of ideas, but I wasn’t confident enough to send that work to a formal journal. Now, in the first two years of my PhD program, I also felt really intimidated. But working through the blog has built up my confidence. Also, it feels really important that we share the work of especially scholars who are facing precarity, because they have so much to say. They’re the on the ground workers, teaching the bulk of the first year composition classes, and they’re the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in those classrooms. I think that sometimes we’re at risk of missing those perspectives in the more traditional publishing routes.
Megan: I agree! Sometimes I hear a colleague or friend talking about how much they’ve appreciated one of FEN Blog’s posts. I really like that these pieces have already been taken up and circulated within first year composition and among folks who teach and research first year composition. I know that I personally have recommended Sharon Mitchler’s piece, particularly for its discussion of best-by dates, in helping friends and colleagues rethink their grading and attendance policies. These kinds of really practical, hands-on pieces are invaluable and timely –– and also, good scholarship.
Lauren: Yeah, I used Megan McIntyre’s piece in my antiracist professional development course. People loved it. The ease of which her work can be applied in the classroom is great. When your course load is really heavy theory, that kind of lighter, more practical reading helps balance the material really well; it offers a hands-on angle that pairs so well with classics like Geneva Smitherman’s work.
Another area where I think we both experienced some professional growth was in figuring out the logistics of what it meant to get the ball rolling on the blog and keep it going. At first we were really committed to keeping a close schedule, going above and beyond in our work to meet the deadlines we had outlined, but as time went on, we had to adapt to the ebbs and flows of submissions and the academic calendar.
Megan: Part of managing the labor of the blog turned out to be sharing the labor of editorial work between ourselves. I handled much of the feedback and responses to writers. And you did a great job with the technical side, choosing good photos, uploading the post, wrangling WordPress.
Lauren: Taking on the technical aspect was a good challenge for me! It felt really important to me to use this opportunity to deepen my knowledge about design and digital communication, which are part of my scholarly interests but weren’t something I’d pursued on my own previously. So the editorial work for FEN Blog gave me a chance to hone those skills in a new way.
Megan: I felt as though I was already fairly strong with feedback, but for me, the recursive, critical process of editorial work was a good learning experience. I get enthusiastic about pieces, and so being patient with their development and offering the critique, really, that they need to improve was hard for me. Kara was a great coach, and as time went on, I think I got better at balancing constructive criticism with my eagerness to share writers’ vision with our readership.
Lauren: Coming from my journalism editorial background outside of academia, doing a second pass of feedback was really helpful for me because I had the opportunity to learn by seeing your feedback and Kara’s. It gave me a chance to develop –– not a softer voice, but more a open-ended suggestion style that is less directive and more welcoming of writers’ growth.
Megan: And then, we passed on these strategies to the incoming team. They’ll develop their own rhythms, of course, but the chance to establish editorial structures and flows that work for us –– especially as grads and/or non-tenure-track faculty working on this project –– and for the writers was really a privilege.
Lauren: I think overall it was helpful, especially in the context of the pandemic, to think through what was in our control –– and what was not. And sometimes the labor of the blog called us to more flexible processes and structures. I’m really glad that we could approach the work in that way, and I hope the blog continues to be a space that considers labor and positionality.
Megan: I’d add here that this attention to labor really fit in with the larger vision we had for the blog. One of the things we wanted the blog to do was to make space for people to talk about exigencies in our field and address what’s happening now –– questions, problems, concerns –– not two years down the road to be published in a journal article. That long process for journal publications is really important, but having timely scholarship is also important. Dr. Carter-Tod’s piece does this really well, engaging with the really urgent need our field has to get at rhetorics that are outside of the white, western, Greco-Roman epistemology. And other pieces do this as well –– we were really pleased with Natalie’s piece, for instance, about writing centers supporting a diverse range of voices, using creative writing strategies to recreate that space.
Lauren: It was a goal for us from the jump and one I think we met pretty well. The timing of the blog, beginning in the midst of the pandemic and the cultural movements happening with police brutality, really plays into this, as well, I think. The pandemic put into sharp relief what is important. Things have really shifted for me in the past few years and my ideas of what’s most important have sharpened into focus.
Megan: It’s a little bittersweet handing the reins over to new editors. We’re confident that Ben and Jada will do great, of course! And Kara will provide good direction, as she did for us. Both Lauren and I are stepping away to focus on our dissertations, so it makes sense.
Lauren: Yeah, we got FEN Blog off the ground, and Kara gave us a lot of freedom.
Megan: So it’s been really rewarding to see it take shape and have an impact on our field.
Lauren: It feels very much like our brainchild! We had a lot of space, and we’re proud of where it’s gone.
Megan: And excited to see where it goes next.
Note: We borrow the dialogic (versus essayistic) format of this piece from T.J. Geiger and Melody Pugh’s book review, “Christian Rhetorics: Towards a Hopeful Future.” The review appears in Composition Studies 43.2 (2015), pg. 216-224 and may be found here.