I blog. In a way, blogging is, for me, an extension of the writing I did as editor of The Banner. I enjoy blogging in much the same way I enjoy writing my weekly sermon—that is, I don’t enjoy it much at all until I get to that ecstatic moment when I’m done. In the mean time, I have also learned a few things about blogging. I thought they might be worth sharing. I wonder what other bloggers—or readers—think.
One: I wonder about my motivation. I think it is definitely a bit narcissistic—which also explains the time and effort I put into things like Facebook and Twitter. I like to see my name in print. I like to interact with people impressed by—or not—what I write. This is a confession. I think, however, it is a confession that many bloggers, if they were really honest, would make with me.
Two: Which is not to say I don’t have some more altruistic reasons for blogging. I believe I have something to say. I want to promote discussion about important issues--especially the ones that interest me or that I know something about. I hope I can add to that timeless, unending conversation that theologians and public scholars and philosophers are having out there about the way the world turns. Or am I just being narcissistic again?
Three: It is hard to find the time to come up with good, original material on a regular basis. Really. I’ve often forced myself to write something even when nothing was burning in my belly. Why? Well, the rule seems to be that if you don’t regularly update your blog, people stop reading it. And I want people to read my blog. Why? See number one, above.
Four: One of the bigger challenges I face is staying real—writing in a way that resonates with what people are actually thinking. But to do this while also demonstrating that I’m aware of the many academic currents that surround my topic of the day is a real challenge. Balancing a plain-spokenness with depth is one of the hardest challenges a blogger faces. I often fail.
Five: I find it much easier to “go after” someone or some institution than to express real delight in someone or some institution. I think, in part, this is so for the same reason that car accident stories are more likely to lead off the local news than “fund-raising goals met”stories lead off the evening news. People have evolved to focus on trouble and to relax when it is absent. Unfortunately, this tendency isn’t necessarily very charitable.
Six: Just as I need to be careful about going after those I disagree with I need to relax about people who come after me. The truth is that I’ve changed my mind, and some other people who are threatened by that or angry with that or just sad that will never “get it.” I need to let them be angry or overly sympathetic or even pray for my soul without getting too upset.
Seven: There is a whole side to blogging that I’m not very good at, but which is quite important if I want increase my readership stats. My webpage design has to be good. Old articles should be easy to search for and find. Search engine optimization should receive some attention. Pictures and other illustrations should abound. I’m thinking of plowing some money into this, but that old Calvinist taboo against self-promotion is pushing the other way. But, as I’ve noted, I’m also a bit narcissistic. We’ll see.
Eight. Blog posts should be short. It is hard to read long blog posts on a screen in a way that it isn’t hard to read a long book chapter. Brain physiologists are starting to write about why this is—I’ve written about it in my book and in blog posts. But what is short? Less than a thousand words, for sure. Five hundred would be better. But then—how do you address topics with the depth they deserve? Interestingly, I always manage to keep all my written sermons to less than 1500 words and usually not more than 1200. I have a much harder time doing that with blogs. Today I think I’ll succeed.
Nine. This may be related to the need to stay real. But the best bloggers know how to make strategic use of self-disclosure. Readers need reasons to identify not just with an argument, but with a person.
Ten. Sermons—or revisions of them—can sometimes make it to the blog. But they don’t lend themselves to blog posts very often. Put them on your church’s website. Mine are.