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September 29, 2010

Blogging

Admittedly, the title of this blog post is a bit of hyperbole. That’s probably not the best way to begin an article, but I know that far more people will read the first line of the article than the last one, so if I leave the punch line too long, most people will miss it. It’s just reality.

If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you know that I truly do enjoy blogging; I don’t hate it at all. Blogging is one of the genuine pleasures of my life. Rarely does a day come along when I just do not want to sit down and write something. Yet blogging is not without its challenges and frustrations. Today I want to let you in on just a few of the aspects of blogging I struggle with the most, things that occurred to me recently as I pondered what I do here and why.

The point of this is not to complain about you. I implicate myself as much as anyone here. Instead, the purpose is simply to express some of the difficulties and frustrations of blogging. I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek, I suppose, to see what I struggle with as I consider what to write here on the blog.

A Fickle Audience

Those of us who read blogs are a very fickle audience (and I include myself in this—I write 1 blog but read 100 or so). This is particularly true for those of us who rely on RSS readers or other means of organizing the content we read. These tools, necessary ones if we are to keep up with the content of more than just a few blogs, give us the ability to quickly filter out the good from the bad and the good from the average. They allow us to look very quickly at the articles generated by hundreds of blogs so we can focus in and actually engage with just the few articles that most appeal to us. So while I say that I read 100 blogs, I actually look briefly at the content of 100 blogs and on any given day read the content of only a few. I am fickle and will read only what stands out to me.

The fickle nature of we, the blog readers, have led to several adaptations by bloggers. In the first place, generating titles has become something of an art. When we look through the many articles in our RSS readers, we will be drawn primarily by a title. And for this reason there is a lot of skill in crafting just the right title (though this is a skill that has largely passed me by). This leads people to rely on this kind of a format: # adjective noun that [or from or with or by or…] noun (7 Awesome Books by John Piper, 5 Spectacular Sites for Web Designers, 144 Groovy Movies Starring Canadians, etc). This is also why many bloggers have a photo near the top of each blog post—the photos draw the eye and makes it more likely that a person will pause to read a little of the article.

The fickleness of blog readers is an ongoing frustration to me, even as I act just as fickle as everyone else. If a person really wants to succeed as a blogger, he will need to cater to some of these realities. Those of us who are stubborn and do not want to adapt, who do not want to stick an out-of-context photo at the top of each post and who don’t always want to rely on hyperbolic titles, will necessarily lose potential readers because of it. As you and I read blogs we want to be impressed, we want each article to wow us. Sadly no blogger can write a wow kind of post every time, any more than a pastor can preach a wow sermon every week or you can give your spouse a wow kiss every morning.

This puts a lot of pressure on the writer and especially so if he keeps his eye on site statistics. When he does, he can see immediately how the audience regarded his article—how they chose to read it or ignore it. Though the content may have been profound, biblical, wise, it will be missed because the audience did not make the effort to actually understand what it was.

June 20, 2009

Brian Regan is a stand up comedian and is rare among comedians in that he is both hilarious and clean. It seems there was a time when he injected a bit of sketchy material into his routines but, as he said in a recent interview with CNN, he found that he did not need to do this. “I was always 90 to 95 percent clean with my jokes anyways, and I’m kind of anal so, why be 95 percent something when you could be 100 percent something? It worked out, and people really seem to respond to it so I guess that other 5 percent wasn’t that important anyways.” What Regan does so well is comment on real life, the kind of situations any of us can identity with. Here’s a favorite example:

I found an interesting line in his CNN. The interviewer asked “How do you get your ideas?” Regan’s answer strikes me as one that offers useful counselor to bloggers, and especially bloggers who seek to offer commentary on real life. Here is what he said: “I used to try and sit down with a blank piece of paper. I would stare at the paper, and it just continues to stay blank. I’ve learned that for me, it’s easier for me to go out and live my life and do my thing.”

I am often asked for advice on finding topics to blog about. And honestly, I don’t think I can do a whole lot better than what Regan said. Go out and live, do your thing, and you’ll find lots of great material to work with. You know, like this:


April 22, 2009

A long time ago I added to this web site a little counter. It is way down at the bottom right of each page and it increments by one number each day. It simply tracks the number of days since I made a commitment to blog every day. That was back on October 1, 2003. I first put it there as a challenge and as a reminder to write something every day. I had found writing an important part of my walk with the Lord and wanted to be sure that I kept it up. And so that number reminded me to keep going. Through all of the years and all of the site changes, it has just kept faithfully incrementing, one number every 24 hours. After a while blogging each day became habitual but, for sake of tradition, I left the counter in place. Of course I don’t notice it often—it is just there as it has been since 2003.

Today that silly little counter ticked over to 2000.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this data. I’m pretty sure that such a thing (could it even be termed an accomplishment) is not commendable. I kind of think of Ashton Kutcher who recently became the first person with one million Twitter followers. Like, who cares, really, that a million people get to “hear” him tweet “I love that ppl feel obligated 2 let thier community know they R unfollowing me lol”? Or like those people who scarf down 98 hot dogs in five minutes. Are we impressed at their freakish capacities to do stupid things?

I don’t think blogging for 2000 consecutive days is something that anyone in the world would deem cool (and I say that on a day that I’m going to speak in front of over 100 fellow bloggers). It should probably be met with counseling or with medication more than it should be met with applause. But since so many of you have been along through at least a part of that journey (and just a few have been along throughout the entire journey) I thought it might be worth mentioning. I lay in bed this morning (I’m in Central Standard Time but my brain is still firmly fixed at home in Eastern Standard Time) thinking about all I’ve learned over the years and thinking of how the blogosphere has changed. And I tell you, it has been a long and interesting journey (and perhaps I should try to write down a few of those thoughts over the coming days). And I guess it’s one that is going to continue tomorrow when that little counter increments to 2001.

*****

People often ask me if I actually blog each day or if I write a week’s worth of posts on Monday and just queue them up. To be honest, I do at least some writing on 99% of the days. There are occasional times (vacations and such) when I do write in advance and then schedule the articles to post a day or two later. But mostly I wake up in the morning with a thought or a sentence or a topic in my head, I sit at my keyboard, and I just see what happens. It has been a very important discipline for me as a Christian and as a writer. I recently read Jerry Seinfeld’s response to how he got to be such a good comedian. He basically said that he has a calendar and he commits to writing every day, crossing off that day once he has written at least something. He’s found that brute force and commitment go a long way. And I guess I’ve found the same. I think I’ve become a better writer simply by writing so much and I think I’ve learned a lot about faith simply by spending so much time thinking and then writing about it.

Sometimes people also wonder if I am obsessed or if I could just walk away for a day or for a week. And yes, I’m convinced that I could—I just don’t see any reason to try it just to make a point. I would guess that the day will come sooner rather than later. I would also guess I won’t much care (though friends and family will since they assume that if there is nothing on my blog by mid-afternoon that I have died and they start calling to make sure everything is okay). It has been a fun challenge to try to say something at least halfway valuable every day, but I am not married to it.

And there are people who wonder if I have some brilliant long-term strategy for this blog. The answer, not surprisingly, is no. That’s just not the way my brain works. I rarely think more than a day or two in advance and have really never done so. I try to keep the content here reasonably new, reasonably fresh and a reasonable reflection of what’s going on in my life as I try to live for Christ. There are times when I am tempted to think of strategy and the “could-be’s.” I know that I break the majority of the rules for good blogging—write short posts, use lots of subheadings, add some graphics, make your posts skimmable, be controversial, etc, etc. In fact, probably only 20% of the people who started reading this post have gotten this far simply because, once again, I’ve broken all the rules. But in the end I just can’t get away from the thought that I’ve been enjoying the site pretty much as it is and that I don’t fancy making any great changes. Que sera.

April 13, 2009

In early 2006, firefighters in Orange County, California, anticipating a dangerous forest fire season, began a controlled burn of 10 acres of canyon land forest. They lit a small fire to prevent a bigger fire, attempting to reduce the amount of flammable material that might serve as tinder during the dry season. They thought everything had gone as planned until the winds shifted and picked up. Somewhere in the brush a hot coal sparked a new fire and soon the forest was burning anew. Almost 1,000 firefighters were called in to fight this new blaze. Within days area schools had been closed, thousands of homes had been evacuated and nearby roads had been shut down. In the end, the fire consumed over 8,000 acres of forest. The 10 acre controlled burn turned into an 8,000 acre raging fire. Lesson learned: there is danger inherent in fighting fire with fire.

Last Monday I posted an article called Evil as Entertainment in which the basic encouragement was to avoid reading watchblogs. Much discussion, much gratitude, much criticism ensued. I am caught somewhere between having so much more to say and never wanting to mention it again. Today I’ll tend toward the latter and perhaps in the future I can write about this again and in more detail.

I guess any writer can attest that every now and then you write something that is really, objectively good; and other times you lay an egg. Having talked it over and having read plenty of feedback, I’m going to have to say that I laid an egg on Monday. While I do not feel that what I said was wrong or unnecessary, I can see that I should have said it better. At the same time, I think it sparked some useful discussion and for that I am grateful. I can see how I should have nuanced my article and how it could have been so much better and so much more useful. In just a moment I want to point you to a couple of articles that may be of use to you if you wish to think further about the issues I raised.

Since I posted that article I’ve gotten heaps of email (I think only articles on homeschooling could generate more feedback) and have learned more about these watchblogs than I would have wanted. I received plenty of ugly, angry rebukes and a few kind, gentle rebukes. I also received many comments that echoed my own experience—that these sites are like an anchor to joy in Christ and an anchor for many a Christian’s love for his brothers and sisters in the Lord. These sites have undoubtedly caused much harm. Several others wrote to say that they are reevaluating their desire to read such sites. This is good, I think, and shows that God may be willing to use even a bad article for his purposes.

Let me offer this as an aside: a few people, including some of the angrier emailers, suggested that I was censoring comments in that article—that I was deliberately excluding certain comments. I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for this one, but I did not censor any comments. I checked published comments, unpublished comments and spam comments and there was no trace of anything beyond the ones that were published to the site (with the exception of one very long and rambling one that was about the length of War and Peace except with no paragraph breaks). ‘Nuff said.

Now, for those articles. Here are four you may find useful:

  • Great Damage: The Gift of Discernment Used in the Flesh - James MacDonald wrote this a few weeks ago and in it he highlights some of the ridiculous, ungodly argumentation used against him by just the kind of watchblogger I wrote about. He says, “A post I wrote on January 20th when President Obama was sworn in was picked up by a number of ‘watch dog’ discernment groups and the rest is history. I have been called weak, soft on the truth, a compromiser, politically correct, foolish, and worst of all, apostate (not truly saved). Wow!!!” Read between the lines a little bit and you can see the tactics such packs of watchbloggers use against their quarry.
  • Establish Elders - Frank Turk simply says this: “Notice that Paul here instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and not watchbloggers. That is: the focal point and center of discernment ought to be in the local church. If your counter-concern is that local churches today lack discernment (and this may be a valid concern), I suggest that the place to fix that is in the place God ordained and not everywhere else but that place.” The discussion that follows is very interesting. With Frank I believe the best, most natural context for discernment is the local church.
  • Among the comments is this one by Frank and I think it is a very valuable read.
  • Turning a Blind Eye to Evil is Evil Too - Phil Johnson wrote about how he both agrees and disagrees with me. This article really helped me see the lack of clarity in my own article (well, that and my wife telling me that Phil’s article was better than my own). “I think what Tim Challies is saying is that it’s unhealthy to fix one’s attention on error full time rather than spending most of our time dwelling on things that edify. If that’s all he is saying, I say (as heartily as possible) AMEN! (Philippians 4:8). But if someone wants to seize that point in order to suggest that it’s always better to be an encourager than a critic, my reply is: That very attitude is largely responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.” Exactly. There is a time and place for calling error error; there is a time and place for humor and sarcasm and all the rest. But a fixation on evil is dangerous!

Most of what Phil says is most of what I should have said (or said more clearly) on Monday. There is a time and place to expose sin and even to expose sin publicly (see this article by James MacDonald for some good thoughts). But a blog that has as its bread and butter exposing error in the church, and especially error that is completely decontextualized and irrelevant to any of its readers, is a blog I think we ought to avoid. A Christian’s thoughts ought to be dominated by “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). As I said last Monday, “Do I really need to read and to know about the seedy underbelly of the church, when such things happen thousands of miles away, among people I will never meet and in places I will never be? Such news is plenty entertaining, but it is useless to me. It does nothing to further my faith or to cause me to grow in godliness.”

One analogy I opted not to use in Monday’s post was that of pornography. But let me haul it out now as I think it helps show what it is that I am reacting against. Imperfect, I’m sure, but worth thinking about. If a site wished to combat pornography, would the best way of doing so be to display lots of pictures of naked women with comments about how wrong they are to be doing what they are doing? Posted below the picture of a naked woman engaged in some lewd conduct are the words “This is what passes for sex in the church today. Lord save us!” If you were to visit this kind of a site day after day, do you think you’d continue visiting to help you be prepared to combat pornography (because by knowing what pornography looks like you could spot it in your own life)? Or do you think, just maybe, you’d find that you were visiting to see the naked women themselves? Isn’t it better to turn to Scripture to find what it says about sex and sexuality? Isn’t that the best way to learn about what is right? By studying evil you are learning about evil and are liable to be consumed by it. “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Now I will grant that there are times when it is well and good to bring evil deeds to light and in such times there is a difference between heresy and nudity. But I think the point remains. Be very careful fighting fire with fire! Be careful fighting heresy with heresy, bad theology with bad theology, lack of love with lack of love. So easily the noble becomes ignoble. So often the controlled burn becomes the raging wildfire.

If you could take one thing away from this whole discussion I hope it is this: For the good of your own soul, think about why you visit the blogs you do. There is nothing wrong with entertainment and there is nothing inherently wrong with visiting a site to be entertained. But think about the nature of the entertainment. Is it possible that you are being entertained by what is evil? Are you finding joy in what God hates? Is it possible that there is no real value in learning what you are learning and in seeing what you are seeing? As you close down your browser and walk away from such sites, do you find that you are filled with the fruit of the Spirit? Or do you find your heart hardened and your mind cynical? Do such sites help you grow in your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ or instead do you find yourself hardened against them and mocking them? Think carefully about such things.

I leave you with those questions and with this Scripture: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23).

April 06, 2009

The internet is such a strange phenomenon and one we are really only beginning to understand, at least in terms of its impact on society and faith and family and just about everything else. What passes for entertainment on the internet would, at most other times in history, be regarded as shocking or wasteful or disgusting or maybe just plain absurd. Witness the web sites that offer video after video of people cracking bones doing stupid skateboard tricks. You can search YouTube for videos of people breaking bones and spend hours in senseless entertainment, guffawing at the stupidity and wincing at the pain. Or witness the sites that specialize in the macabre, displaying lineups of dead or dismembered bodies or photographic evidence of brutal accidents. Or witness the almost limitless amounts of pornography which is a contemporary form of entertainment for boys and men (and, increasingly, girls and women) of all ages. So much of the entertainment the internet offers is entertainment at its very worst. Evil has become entertainment.

March 10, 2009

I want to say a word about advertising on the Internet. And then I want to ask you a question. I know that Tuesday is typically the day I post a book review but, unfortunately, with all the home repair and renovations we’ve been doing these past couple of weeks, my reading time has not been what it usually is. I hope to have a review later in the week.

In the meantime, let’s talk advertising. I realized that I added advertising to this site without ever explaining my rationale . Let me do that today.

Some time ago I added a few ads to my site. I generally run about three of them, though this week I’ve got a couple more than that just because I got a bit disorganized and overbooked. Generally, though, I keep a few ads running at the top of the site and keep one running in the RSS feed. I did not begin running ads lightly but thought about it long and hard. I was fearful that, if I started running ads, I would begin to think about the site differently. I worried that I would begin to do things or write things purely because of the potential economic value. I feared it would be a temptation to view the site as a business rather than as a hobby or ministry or whatever it is now. I actually don’t know what the site is now and I kind of like it that way; it is what it is and I want to keep it pretty much the same.

I guard against this because I’ve seen what happens to churches when they adopt a marketing mindset. Every church markets; the moment a church places a sign outside or puts an advertisement in the phone book or the local newspaper, it is marketing. But some churches go far further, adopting a kind of marketing mindset that makes the church functionally not much different than a business. After a while every decision comes back to the bottom line, whether that is a dollar figure or an attendance figure. This quickly sends churches into a tailspin, a downward spiral that draws them further and further from the Bible. It is inevitable, really.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a commercial blog. Most of the really popular blogs out there are businesses (think Lifehacker or Engadget or sites of that nature). They bring in revenue through advertising and pay people to do their writing, all while turning a tidy bottom line. These sites, then, have to think as businesses; with the heavy costs involved, they need to appeal to an audience so they can sell lots of ad spots so they can cover their costs and make money. It’s just a typical business model. It’s a model that might work for a Christian blog as well, but it’s one I’ve been committed to avoid.

So my goal was to offer some ad spots while maintaining my integrity. I’ve sought to do just that. These ads help cover the costs for the site (which are considerable compared to what they were when things started out!). I do not let ads or advertisers influence my writing; I try to choose advertisers very carefully to ensure nothing is advertised here that I’d out-and-out disagree with.

So that’s my rationale. I want to talk for just a minute about ad-blocking software. This is most commonly in the form of Firefox’s ad-blocking plugin but there are other options available as well. I am not bothered much one way or the other if people block the ads on my site. However, I have wondered about the morality of blocking advertising. After all, many sites depend on ads for support. We can use a blog like Lifehacker as an example. I do not know much about their business model, but let’s assume that advertising is the sole or at least major source of their income. They must incur massive costs with hosting, development and writing; they recoup these costs by putting ads on their site and by getting you to rest your eyeballs on those ads (and, of course, they hope, by getting you to click the ads). Now if you use software that blocks the ads, you are effectively getting a paid service for free, are you not? You are enjoying the benefits of the web site, enjoying the benefits of a site supported by advertising, while cutting yourself out of the revenue generation. I know that television advertisers are wrestling with similar issues related to their commercials; PVRs are ubiquitous now and most of them offer commercial-skipping functionality. As with web sites, people are getting a service but without “paying” for it by watching the ads.

So I’ve wondered if this an ethical issue? Speaking personally, I stopped using ad blocking software quite a long time ago for this very reason. I just couldn’t reconcile reading the sites while blocking all of the ads; I also became aware of the irony of using ad blockers on other sites while selling ad spots on my own.

I am open to the idea that I am wrong here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Is there anything wrong with using ad blocking software?

January 04, 2009

Continued from yesterday and the day before.

And so it was that I found myself an entrepreneur—the owner of my own company. The story of this little company cannot be separated from the story of this blog. I’ve told the story of this blog’s early days, but will tell it again here.

In September of 2002 I decided, rather on the spur of the moment as I recall, to begin my own web site. I really knew very little about web sites but thought maintaining one might prove to be a fun distraction for me and one that would allow me to hone my design skills. My parents and four siblings had recently moved down to the Atlanta area and, with a one-year old son and with my wife pregnant again, I thought I would use the site as a photo gallery to post pictures of this growing family. Since this was going to be a site by family and for family I spent thirty five dollars to reserve the family name, choosing the domain challies.com. Using some borrowed web space, I pieced together a really bad little site. I uploaded a few photos and over the next few months updated the site every now and again, adding a new set of pictures or writing the occasional personal comment.

As the months passed I continued to update the site, but did so only every few weeks. It was really a sad little site in desperate need of attention. But I found that I did enjoy posting little updates on my family when I got around to doing so. In late 2003 I heard a new word in the media. This word, blog, sounded intriguing. I inadvertently stumbled across one of these blogs, one day, while doing some research and realized that it was really not much different from my site and from what I was already doing. The only real difference was that blogs offered the ability for people reading the site to interact with the content by posting their own comments. That seemed like a great idea, so I installed some blogging software and began calling my site a blog. When I posted an article my mother or my wife would post a little “Good job!” comment for me. But I still didn’t update it much.

October 31, 2003 was a pivotal day. I decided that day that I should get serious about this blogging thing and committed to either blogging every day for a year or giving up and getting rid of the site altogether. So I wrote an article on November 1, November 2, November 3…and before I knew it, it was a year later and I was still going. I recommitted in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. That was over five years ago and I’m still blogging every day and look forward to doing so almost every day.

It was only because I was self-employed that I was able to dedicate the time to writing. Had I been working a nine to five kind of job, there is no way that I would have been able to make time for a job, a life and a blog. But being self-employed afforded me the opportunity to carve a little bit of time out of my day for writing. Had I not been laid off in 2002, this blog would never have taken off.

It came as a great shock to me that, when I began to write, people began to read the site—people I didn’t know and people from all around the world. Before I knew it I had twenty people reading my site every day. Then it was fifty and a hundred and a thousand and two thousand and five thousand and ten thousand…and then it occurred one day that my site had become one of the most widely-visited Christian blogs. I realized that I had been plunked into the center of something that was getting really big really quickly. I was a strange and almost terrifying thought to me.

When I began my web site I had no plan for it but to post pictures of my children. When I began writing I had no plan but to give my family and immediate friends the occasional article to read. Yet it has grown into something so much more. A quick search of the Net will turn up all kinds of articles telling you how you can quickly create a blog that is widely-read and influential. Apparently there are certain shortcuts a blogger can take. The thing is, I didn’t know about any of this when I began and have done very little to deliberately promote the site. I just kept writing. That’s all I’ve done and all I’ve wanted to do. And I guess that’s what I’m going to keep doing until it becomes clear that the time has come to do something else.

November 27, 2008

I posted an article like this one in the past and did so only with great trepidation. Yet today (during the lowest-traffic day of the year) I will do so again in the hope that you’ll be willing to give my motives the benefit of the doubt. I write about this not for my benefit but for the benefit of my fellow bloggers. With Christmas fast approaching, the timing just seemed right.

I first wrote about this subject when I was the guest on a radio program and received a call from a reader of this site who asked an interesting question. He wanted to know how he, as someone who reads the blog, could serve as an encouragement to me. I thought it was a good and kind question and one I answered the best I could “on the spot.” Today I want to address it a little bit more. This could so easily be seen as self-serving, so I do encourage you to take anything you learn here, head to another blog, and apply it there!

Bloggers, or at least the bloggers who have sites that convey valuable information, typically put in a lot of work for very little tangible reward. It’s the nature of blogging, I guess. While I’ve heard that the big-name bloggers—the one whose sites draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each day—can make a handsome living doing what they do, I’ve also heard that even they make relatively little. I tend to believe the latter. The blogosphere, at least in my experience and at least as it pertains to “amateurs” like myself, has not yet found a great way of generating substantial income. Lots of people place advertisements on their sites, either banners or Google AdWords, but these tend, at least in most cases, to generate only small streams of revenue, especially since site costs increase with site traffic. As revenue goes up, so too do costs.

Thankfully, most bloggers do not blog for the financial benefits. Christian bloggers in particular work for the higher ideal of furthering their own faith and serving the church. As they do this, they can always use a bit of encouragement. This article is geared primarily towards Christian bloggers, though most of it is applicable more widely. Let me provide just a few ways you can be an encouragement to the bloggers whose sites you enjoy.

Leave a Comment. This is likely the easiest thing you can do but it can be very encouraging, especially for people whose blogs do not receive a great deal of traffic. Simply leave a comment, noting that you read and enjoyed the article. If you feel there was a problem with the article, leave a rational comment and the reason you disagreed. Just knowing that an article is being read can be a real blessing to a blogger.

Send a Note of Encouragement. Short of leaving a comment, this is probably the easiest thing you can do. Find the person’s email address or contact form and send him a brief note, mentioning that you enjoy reading his blog (and perhaps why you enjoy the blog) and encouraging him to continue seeking the Lord.

Pray for Them. I find that the greatest source of encouragement is to know that people are praying for me. Of course it is always a blessing for a Christian to know that another person is holding him up before the throne of grace, but I think in the case of blogging is also stands as validation that his efforts are sufficiently significant that they are worth praying for. So pray for a blogger and drop him a note to let him know that you’re doing so.

Tell Someone Else About the Site. When you find a site that you enjoy and that has been a source of encouragement to you, tell other people about it. While most bloggers will say (and, in most cases, truly mean) that they do not much care how many people read their site, it is an encouragement to see more people gravitate to a blog. So tell your friends!

Look For Affiliate Links. Many bloggers join affiliate programs through Amazon, Monergism Books, Westminster Books, and other stores. This means that we typically receive a small commission (of about 6 or 7%) on any item you purchase after clicking a link from the blog to the store. So if a blogger posts a link to a product on Amazon and you click on the link and then purchase the product, the blogger will receive as reward a small percentage of that amount. Also, the blogger will often receive a similar percentage of anything else you purchase during that session. This is unlikely to generate a great deal of revenue, but even a gift certificate that allows the blogger to purchase a couple of books per month is a nice little bonus. So when you are thinking of shopping at Amazon or another store, find an affiliate and enter the storefront through that person’s link. This is a simple but effective way of sending some support to a blogger. And best of all, the store foots the bill!

Look for Wishlists. Many bloggers maintain an Amazon wishlist (or a wishlist for another store). This is simply a list of products they would like to own. You’ll often see a link to this list from a blog or you can even visit the Wishlist section at Amazon and search by name or email address. You can then send a small gift anonymously or with a small note of encouragement.

Again, I trust you’ll take these in the spirit I intend them, not as a plug for you to do anything for me, but as an encouragement to take notice of the people whose blogs you enjoy and to serve as an encouragement to them for the glory of God.

April 06, 2008

You know by now that King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. You know as well that I inevitably keep them in place for more than a week. No matter. King for a Week is simply a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every now and again I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Amy’s Humble Musings. It was rather a surprise to me to realize that I had not honored this blog already. It is, after all, a blog I have been reading for quite some time now and one I enjoy, even if I am not really the primary audience for it. Amy [Scott] is, according to her brief bio, “the mother of five six kids 9 and under, wife to a handsome rocket scientist, and aspiring Proverbs 31 lady.” Her blog, which she has been updating since January of 2005, is a place for her to muse about life, family, homeschooling, the agrarian life, and other things that are of interest to her. I’ve always appreciated Amy’s ability to see and describe what is zany in life. Yet while she can encourage her readers to laugh at and with her, she also shares some valuable lessons about living this Christian life. I always look forward to her updates.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

December 07, 2007

It has been a while since I cracked open the Feedback Files. While I receive a lot of questions through this site, probably the most common have to do with blogging. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve made several promises that I would soon write an article suggesting some things to consider when beginning a blog. Today I’ll keep those promises. I’m going to offer six tips for new or prospective bloggers. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Question Everything

For people who are considering beginning a blog, I think the best place to begin is with your motives. It is worth asking yourself, I believe, why you wish to blog. And more so, it is worth considering why you want to have other people read your blog. I receive lots of questions from prospective bloggers and can often detect an underlying attitude that seems to say, “I have something to say that the world needs to hear.” That may well be the case, but I wouldn’t take it for granted. Some people truly do have good reason to desire that a lot of people read their blogs; others do not. There are some who wish to gain an audience more for their own sense of pride or accomplishment than to truly bless those people.

So before you begin your blog, ask why you should want to blog. Ask what you can contribute to the blogosphere. And once you begin the blog, ask why you want other people to read it. Question your motives and do not take for granted that other people will or should read your site.

Grow Up

Most people blog what they know (the exception being a handful of “professional” bloggers-for-hire to write about anything that will pay a few bills). If you write frequently, you’ll soon exhaust all that you know. After all, you have a limited number of stories to tell, a limited store of knowledge to share. So if you want to blog, make sure you are continually challenging yourself in the area you write about. As a Christian, this means that I dedicate myself to the Christian disciplines to ensure that I am continually growing in my knowledge of God as revealed in His Word. It also means that I constantly read good books (and some not-so-good books). These two disciplines provide me with the food for thought that keeps me writing and, most of the time, provides me with topics to write about. I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again: if I stopped reading the Bible and stopped reading good books, I’d have nothing to say. I’d have to pack it up and move on.

I have found blogging a wonderful way of ensuring that I continue to grow and mature as a Christian. It has forced me to dedicate myself to learning and has really become one of my spiritual disciplines, as strange as that may sound. It has caused me to have to grow up. I know of many bloggers who would say the same.

Participate

The blogosphere has rightly been compared to a network or an organism. Blogs are best seen in this way—as a kind of social network where one blog is connected to another. Those who do best in this community are those who participate in it. So do not see your blog as being isolated from all other blogs. Instead, see it as part of this community and see yourself as a participant. This means that you will want to read blogs that deal with similar topics as yours and that you will want to see these blogs not as competition but as friends.

Here are just a few tips:

  1. Link often to other blogs. Do not allow pride to keep you from linking to great content on other sites.
  2. Comment on other sites and participate in discussion at other blogs.
  3. Carry on conversation begun on other blogs by writing about similar topics on your own.

One of the best ways of getting your blog noticed, is to be recognized by one of the more popular bloggers in whatever area you choose to write about. Many blogs “arrive on the scene” after being linked to by a very popular blog. There is a temptation, then, to send everything you write to these bloggers hoping that they will link to you. While there is nothing wrong with sending a link to a blogger if you feel you’ve written something particularly good and relevant, do so with some caution. It is better, I think, to simply link to their articles, knowing that most bloggers keep tabs on who is linking to their blog. Write great content relevant to discussions on the more popular blogs and hope that your articles are noticed and linked.

Optimize

If you are going to go through all the trouble of creating and writing a blog, you may as well optimize its exposure to the rest of the world. There are a lot of great blogs out there that deal with blogging. They tell you how to use the tools available to you in order to optimize your blog’s exposure to your target audience and to the search engines. I will largely leave you to explore those blogs. But here are just a few tips:

  1. Submit your blog to Technorati and learn what Technorati is all about.
  2. Ping Google’s blog search every time you post (your blogging software may do this automatically.
  3. Ensure your blog is using search engine friendly URLs.
  4. Subscribe to Google or Technorati Alerts for your blog or your name or any topics you cover extensively.
  5. Keep tabs on what others are saying about your blog through Google Blog Search (click here to see an example of what this looks like for my blog).
  6. Consider reading a few of the blogs about blogging, such as ProBlogger or Performancing.

Write Right

Though the last point encouraged you to optimize your blog, I would do so cautiously. Here’s why: Blog optimization may inadvertently lead to a dangerous amount of navel gazing. I have seen far too many bloggers do all they can to optimize their blog at the expense of making their site worth reading. They dedicate endless amounts of time to following all the rules and will do almost anything to get readers to their blogs. But they forget that a reader will only stick around if the content is worth reading. In many cases it is not.

If you want to be successful at blogging, make sure that your first priority is writing good content. I tell this time and time again to people who ask me for blogging tips. Worry first and foremost about writing good content. Don’t expect people to read your site unless the content is good. Write right, and eventually the readers are likely to follow. If your content is good and compelling and well-written, people will find it. So write well and write a lot. Then worry about having people read it.

Discipline

Let me close with the importance of discipline in blogging. I’m going to suggest three different ways in which you should exercise discipline as you blog.

First, there is good reason that writing and journaling have long been considered important spiritual disciplines. I have found often that I do not really know what I believe about something until I have written about it. Only in writing down my thoughts am I able to press to the furthest extent to learn what I really believe. Writing has become a critical discipline for me and one that tells me much about myself and the state of my heart.

Second, writing does not come naturally to very many people. And even the most natural writer will find his skill increasing with practice. Anyone who wishes to be a good writer will need practice. So if you want to blog and want to make your writing available to the public, be sure to discipline yourself to write often. Not everything you write needs to appear on your blog. But discipline yourself to write so that you can get better at it.

Third, people who read blogs tend to get into patterns. If they know a person updates a site daily, they may well make that site a daily stop. If they know that a person blogs only every Wednesday, they may make that blog a weekly stop. So try to form patterns with your blogging so your readers know what to expect. Try to blog consistently, whether consistency means once per day or once per week. Discipline yourself to write consistently.

I hope these tips help a little bit. If you’ve been blogging for a while, feel free to add any tips you’ve found particularly helpful.

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