Today is my 5,000th consecutive day of blogging. A one-year challenge I began back in 2003 has somehow morphed into a 5,000-day marathon and a full-time vocation. I love what I do and am honored that I get to do it. Before I say or do anything more, please accept my gratitude for reading the site. It is your visits that continue to make it possible.
A few days ago I broadcast via Facebook and Twitter that I’d be glad to answer questions about writing, blogging, and the relentless pursuit of strange goals. Here are brief answers to brief questions.
What are some principles for new bloggers to consider?
Mostly, maintain your integrity. Don’t violate principle for money. Too many people are willing to advertise junk or fail to declare that content is sponsored in order to make a few bucks. It’s never worth violating conscience or integrity for money. Second, don’t confuse clicks with quality. There is no necessary correlation between a popular post and a helpful one (as sites like Buzzfeed prove so clearly). Third, don’t create clickbait. It’s great to come up with a good and compelling headline, but don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Fourth, don’t write articles you wouldn’t read or articles you wouldn’t find helpful. To write things you wouldn’t read is just pandering. Fifth, see the next question and answer.
What kinds of posts tend to get the most readership? Answering questions? Tackling tough issues? More introspective posts?
Controversy, which is why so many blogs major on controversial subjects. It is far easier to gain a following when you are known for what you are against than when you are known for what you are for. That says something unflattering about human nature, I’m sure. After that, it is probably introspective posts that appeal particularly to women (since women do the majority of sharing on social media which, of course, is part of the reason there are so many more successful mom blogs than dad blogs). After that, I expect it would be reviews of rotten books.
When younger, what did you think you’d be doing at this age if you hadn’t blogged or begun writing? Any ‘pinch me, I’m dreaming’ moments?
All the time. I truly consider it an incredible gift that I get to do what I do. It is one of my most constant prayers of thanksgiving. That said, I was reasonably content in my first occupation which was in the computer field. My formal training was network administration and I did that for a number of years before transitioning into web design. I was even more content in the five or so years I was an associate pastor. If I could do anything in the world apart from writing, I would want to go back to being a pastor. One of the things I miss most in my current occupation is the day-to-day privileges and responsibilities of pastoring. Though I remain an elder, and in that way maintain that element of love and care for people, it is a sadness to me that I cannot do it more.
How do you write on something when you feel you have no authority on the subject and don’t know as much as the next guy?
It is very unlikely you will ever write anything from the perspective of the most knowledgeable person on the subject. And that’s okay. A pastor preaches every week knowing there are godlier and more gifted people in his congregation. Parents teach and lead their children even though their children may have much greater intellectual gifts. Professors instruct even though their knowledge is incomplete. Maintain a humble awareness of your lack of knowledge and write from that perspective. Blogs are an ideal medium for sharing what you are learning, not only what you have already mastered.
What’s the worst part of blogging?
The severe carpal tunnel syndrome I’m trying to overcome. I’ve finally found a good physiotherapist and am making progress.
Where did you find the time to consistently blog when you started? With family, ministry, and work I find I have no time or energy to write.
At times it was very difficult. I had to deconstruct and reconstruct my life a little bit to make it happen. I had to make it a priority. Essentially, I began to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier to make time in the morning to write, often long before anyone else was awake. Over time I trained myself to be a morning person and to have my brain at its sharpest early in the morning. In general, I would do my writing in the morning and my reading (which sparks ideas for writing) in the evening.
I’d like some behind the scenes looks at software, utilities, web shortcuts, keyboard shortcuts, tech stuff, etc.
I use Mac hardware—an iMac on my desk and an iPad for a second or portable screen. Every few years I buy a laptop that I use almost exclusively for travel. I do almost all of my writing in Ulysses. I browse in Chrome and use a few plugins that make my life easier—Buffer, 1Password, and Pocket, for example. I use TextExpander to provide some basic keyboard shortcuts for text expansion (when I type ;home it expands to fill in my home address, etc). I have a number of people who help me with various parts of what I do, and we communicate through Slack. Apple Music provides the near-constant soundtrack to my life, most of which is various forms of folk music. Trello provides my editorial calendar. WordPress is my content management system. The rest of my productivity system is detailed in my book Do More Better.
Can you talk about the difficulties of starting up and getting a readership going, what tools you used, who you contacted, and of course the joyous validation of having readers show up and get involved when you’ve worked hard to present a topic?
I began blogging back when the medium was in its infancy and that gave me an advantage over people who began long after. I am convinced that in many ways the popularity of my site owes more to its age and the brute force approach I took than to anything other factors. The strategy I employed most was to do my best to write interesting content on a regular basis. There are lots of gimmicks and other tricks bloggers can attempt, but nothing provides better long-term results than creating good articles. Come up with a writing schedule and stick to it!
How do you decide what to write about?
Basically, I assume that if it’s interesting to me, it’s probably interesting to other people. That’s one of the great advantages of being a really normal person. Brilliant people may write better and smarter material, but they often inadvertently leave ordinary folk behind. I’m really ordinary which allows me to reach other ordinary people. So what do I write about? I write about things that interest, intrigue ,or fascinate me.
How much time a day do you devote to writing, thinking through ideas, and piecing it all together?
Most of it. Since October, 2015, this has been my full-time occupation, and it’s not the kind of job I can easily “leave at the office.” Ideas are constantly playing in my mind and it’s not unusual for me to pause doing the dishes or chatting with my kids to quickly add an idea to my long list of things to think or write about. And truly, some of the best writing comes out of real life in that way. In general, my work day begins at around 5:45 when I add a final link or two to A La Carte and publish it. Then I do my devotions, exercise, wake the family, do family devotions, get the kids breakfast, make their lunches, and the rest of that morning routine. I usually get back to my desk just before 8 (after my children have left for school) and stay there until 5. I rarely do formal work in the evenings.
Is it still as rewarding blogging now as it was at post #1?
More so. I believe I’ve gotten better at writing and better at coming up with topics that are helpful to others and to myself. My belief in blogging as a medium and my confidence in doing it have both grown substantially since those early days. That said, there are still long periods when it feels like every article falls flat and I wonder if I’m really doing anything worthwhile.
How do you generate ideas?
I read. I read the Bible every day and read good books most days. To generate lots of ideas, you’ve got to be around lots of ideas. For me, they tend to come through the Bible, books, sermons, and conversations. In those times I am feeling dry and like I’ve got nothing to say, Aileen is likely to remind me, “You haven’t been reading lately. Go find a good book.” That almost always cures me in a hurry.
How do you stay fit?
Aileen and I go to the gym at least once a week for a good, hard strength workout. I go for a walk most mornings when the weather is nice (though an abundance of skunks in my neighborhood is making me think twice) and do a half hour on an elliptical machine most mornings during the winter. Aileen and I also go on a short (3 kilometer) but brisk walk most evenings. I also keep some basic weights in the house and use them some days.
If you were to start blogging today, what would you use? WordPress, create your own site, etc.?
WordPress, for sure. I would do a self-hosted WordPress site (which is exactly what I have today).
How far ahead do you plan your articles?
For many years I rarely wrote anything in advance. I’d sit down in the morning and see what happened. That was a stressful way of doing things, but necessary when I had other full-time work. Now that blogging is my vocation, I’m able to write ahead a little further. I usually have five or six articles “in the queue,” though I tend to shuffle them around as I determine which one seems suitable for a given day.
What is your most memorable conference? One that effected you personally?
Probably the Sé Hombre conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I speak at a lot of events and often walk away with no sense of how it went. But it seemed clear that the Lord was at work during this event. It was incredibly encouraging to attend the event, to speak at it, and to hear later testimonies about how the Lord worked in his people.
What do you do to maintain your blog while on holiday? Do you plan well in advance and take a week off or do you just carry on as you’re away?
I schedule articles for when I am away, then have an assistant keep an eye on things to make sure they all post on time. When I go on vacation, I make sure I completely unplug from anything blog-related. The same is true on Sundays; anything you see here on Sunday has been queued up the day before so I can have a full day off.
How much are your children plugged in to what you do? That is, do they ever see and comment to you about your postings, or is it just dad’s job?
Not much. My son reads the occasional article when he sees it on Facebook, but that’s probably about it. The children mostly see what I do as dad’s job. However, as they get older they are able to join in a little bit more. I’ve been able to have my son work as an intern for a summer, for example, and the kids have come on trips with me from time to time. I expect that will increase as they get a bit older. They find it excruciating when people they’ve only just met express enthusiasm for my books or blogs, so if you ever see them, be sure to embarrass them that way.
Do you censor yourself? If you do, what do you do with those topics/lines/ideas.
Yes, of course. I’m a proud and sinful person and am prone to say things that are destructive rather than helpful. When I am concerned that something I plan to say is harsh, gossipy, or otherwise potentially harmful, I bounce it off Aileen or a friend. More than once they’ve given me the sound advice to change the article or to scrap it altogether. I’ve learned to trust them.
Was there ever a day when you almost forgot to do it?
No, not to my recollection. One day I hadn’t posted at 10 AM and my parents called to make sure I was okay.
You must have to check the response to your posts. How do you prevent yourself from spending too much time checking and monitoring these?
Actually, I almost always completely forget to check the response to my articles. I post it to my site and social media, then get to work on the next one and rarely think about it again. I actually have to force myself to do that kind of follow-up. So my challenge isn’t spending too much time checking and monitoring–it’s spending enough!
How has the receptivity & fruitfulness of blogging changed over time since rise of multimedia—Periscope, podcasts, vlogs, and so on.
To be honest, I haven’t kept too close an eye on those other formats. I’m not aware of ever having watched a vlog or a Periscope. As popular as they are, I still believe in the value of the written word and plan to continue to major in that. Yes, there is a place for video and it can be done brilliantly. Podcasts are wonderful as well (and you may just start seeing one here soon). But writing is what I do and what I plan to continue to do. Maybe I’ll even do it for another 5,000 days. That will take me until the middle of 2031!