Blog What You Love or Blog What They Love?

I don’t spend too much time trying to figure out what people want to read about. Sure, if I find a topic that people are reading and sharing more, I at least consider the possibility of writing more on the topic. But I prefer to write what I prefer to write about.

the blog

Still, I decided to look at some tips online about better positioning oneself in the meat market that Internet browsing tends to become. I won’t name the particular sites since they were Page 1 on the Google Search results. They speak a LOT about finding the popular keywords, SEO, and writing on topics that people tend to focus on.

All of that is fine.  My problem with that is that I have minimal passion for the topics that are most common. I simply don’t really want to write about leadership or cooking.

Then there are a lot of aids in how to share one’s posts through social media, emails, and other conduits.

And that is fine as well. But this aspect works better with following the advice of the first part. If one researches to the topics typical readers are interested in, then it makes a lot of sense to advertize to typical readers. There are processes that allow one to connect to the narrow band of people I am typically writing to… but I am not sure, at this time, that I want to go through the grief of setting them up… especially ones that include a price tag.

Another direction is to spend less focus on the numbers. This does not mean ignore them. But it does mean that numbers don’t necessarily control the content, nor the evaluation of success.

Preachers often will say that don’t choose topics to “tickle the ears” of the congregation, but simply share the message that God has given them. I must say that I have a lot of doubts about this. I certainly can see how it is tempting to suggest that everything that comes out of one’s mouth is directly from God. Regardless if that is true, I am pretty sure this doesn’t apply to me. I feel that blogging (and perhaps preaching) is more about self-discipline than about prophecy. (I will admit that when a preacher tells me that he must preach twice as long as a typical sermon because he must “share what the Lord has put on his heart,” I suspect the preacher has not developed discipline.

I feel that for me, the following guidelines are best.  (Some of this I got from Carey Nieuwhof in partaining to blogging).

  1.  Write what you are passionate about. Sure… if you are a chef, you need to cook what people want rather than what you want. However, unless you are financially dependent on your hitcount… you may as well write about what you are passionate about. Ultimately, blogging for most of us is a hobby. “A hobby is something you are willing to do badly.” That doesn’t mean you must do it badly. Neither does it excuse doing it badly.
  2. Discipline MAY be more important than passion. Ideally, you have both. But passion without discipline tends to end up with blogs that are left empty, often after a quick and active start. Discipline without passion is not ideal… but it establishes a pattern from which passion can grow and bear fruit.
  3. Writing inspires more writing rather than leading one to run dry. Writing more makes one better at writing, and aids thought and inspires new ideas.
  4. Let it flow. I must admit that although I mentioned the importance of a level of discipline, I don’t force a strict schedule. I do go 4, 5, or even 6 days without a post at times. But then sometimes, I suddenly have many ideas that hit me at the same time. Essentially, discipline is important, but discipline should not take away that fun. As the saying goes… “Moderation in all things, including moderation.’ Okay, I suppose that I am not using that saying in the right context… but it feels right, and sometimes that is enough. Let it flow.
  5. Discuss what people are asking more than what clever thing you have thought of. I am guilty of this. I think of something really clever… and I put it in to a post—- and it just lies there. Later on a read it again, and I wonder why I thought it was so fantastic. Instead, it is better to discuss questions that have come up in class. If some students think it is a good question, it is likely others do as well.
  6. Periodically read your old posts, and edit. Grammar is important (you probably would not guess I believe it from the way I write at times), so it is good to reread it, not just before publishing, but even months later. One reason for rereading is to learn. Things worth writing down once may be worth reviewing and relearning. I have read some of my old posts and feel very inspired by them. Some, well, do not. Review and reediting is part of the iterative learning process.
  7. Don’t write to be popular, famous, or rich. Write because you want to help others… including yourself.

The Lost Book (or “Why Do We Write?”)

Thought #1           Our Purpose
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”                    –Graham Greene
Is it possible to write a book and forget that you wrote it? A few months ago I was digging through my old data CDs and found a file titled “Bob Mission Book.doc”. I had no idea what that was so I opened it, and found a book that I had written back in 2008. I did not remember writing it. Technically, that is not true. When I opened up the file, most all of it looked familiar… things I had written at one time or another… but how could one forget putting it all together into a book that is over 200 pages long? Essentially, I guess, I wrote it for catharsis of sorts. The end product was not the goal, the process was the goal. Looking at the book, I was pleasantly surprised that it had a lot of good insights… even if it is wholly unpublishable (I do have a copy of the book… still rather rough… under My Books.  It is called “Mission Living”). It is an odd mix of blog type mission insights interspersed with biographic sections.
The point is, there is in writing, potentially at least, a healthy role in bringing one’s thoughts through self-reflection and self-review, into the open.
 Thought #2               Our Person
“I don’t like the taste of other people’s words in my mouth.”
                                        -R. Munson
I used to do a fair bit of writing when I was in the Navy. Some of it went on Compuserve. Some were handwritten in notebooks. Little of it I am highly proud of, and most of it has disappeared, even from cyberspace. But about 5 years into my marriage, I was looking over some old handwritten papers that I had not thrown out. One of them was a bit of experimental writing— some fiction. It was just over a page long… meant to be much longer, but I had stopped for some reason. Looking at it, I realized that I really wanted that to be destroyed. Was it really that bad? No, I don’t think so. But I realized that the writing was not me, it was me being someone else. I want to feel that whatever I write, good or bad, is me. Perhaps that is why I stopped on that one story so many years ago. Anyway, I tore it up, and now 15 years past that, I can’t even remember what it said. Maybe I would feel different now. Don’t know.
I have never wanted to go into acting. A lot of people want to, apparently. Not sure why. For me, when explaining why I don’t want to act, I say, “I don’t like the taste of other people’s words in my mouth.” Essentially, that is true… and even for actors, I think that is true to some extent. Most of us want to feel that what we write and what we say are connected to who we are… at least on some level. It is part of who we are as persons.
Thought #3.                 Persona
Most people are not like Emily Dickinson who seemed to be willing to write and write and write (high quality) poetry for, pretty much, herself. Few are able to offer their best to themselves, or to God, without it being observed and critiqued by others. While others’ advice may be good or may be bad… the very potential of critique can drive one to take writing more seriously.
Blogging has that quality since people read, or potentially read, what is written. Tweets can be thoughtlessly and foolishly and sloppily sent out, but a blog post needs to be better than that. In fact, I accidentally pushed “PUBLISH” on this post before it was done. So now I am scrambling to finish this post because I don’t want people to open my blog and see a rough, messy post. (I suppose I could have deleted it and corrected things later.)
We want our writing and communication to express our person, but also our persona. We want people to think of us certain ways based on what we write. Judgments are made (intentionally or otherwise) by what a person says, writes, and reads. The very act of deciding what will be on my blog, and how it will be, helps me grow… and helps me to determine who I am in the world… or who I hope to be.
Thought #4.             Passion

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”          -Winston Churchill

It does seem to me best that writing is first of all self-therapeautic. But writing is still an art. And it can still be a profession. Last week for the first time, I put up a book for sale. Self-published through Amazon   (Here if you want to see the page. It is the latest revision.) Will it sell many copies? Doubt it. I will most likely sell more copies to myself for giving copies to friends and supporters.
But the process of intentionally writing for others does definitely change the dynamic of writing. The need to write and to congeal one’s thoughts in the form of written words, moves from person, to persona, to passion as one writes to impact the world… to change the way people think. That is exciting, but also frightening. I will be teaching three classes very soon (starting today, in fact). One is Cultural Anthopology, one is Church History, and one is Introduction to Clinical Pastoral Care. I have written a rough draft of a book on cultural anthropology, and am part way through one for Intro to Clinical Pastoral Care. I will leave the Church History to the experts. But as a text to instruct and guide, one is forced to put an even higher investment into it. It is not just about self… it is not just about money (or lack of it). It is about passionately expressing what one believes is important and seeking to express those ideas to others for change.
Thought #5.         People
As he (Jesus) was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”                  – John 8:3-11
Public speaking is quite similar to writing since it also takes thought and purpose, expressing the person and persona of the person with passion. My son won a national award here in the Philippines for oratory (public speaking). He is very good at it. I can also tell you it takes a LOT of work… it is not chitchat, it is not chicka.
Jesus crafted stories and preached sermons… that takes work. There is, however, only one place in the Bible where it said that Jesus wrote something. Some have argued that Jesus was illiterate. While it would be okay if He was… His family’s job and the educational priorities of devout Jews suggest that He probably could read and write. The John 8 passage says that Jesus wrote in the dust. Many like to ask “What did Jesus write?” Some like to speculate, conspiratorially, that Jesus was writing down infidelities of the religious leaders (trying to add a miracle where none is actually apparent). But… if anyone else other than Jesus was doing this, we would know exactly what he or she was doing and why. In the US, we see this behavior at some college sporting events. When the home team comes out in the field, all the hometown fans cheer. When the visitors come, some will pull out a newspaper and pretend to read. The idea is that one is so uninterested in the visiting team, that it is time to do something completely different.
The John passage shows Jesus being asked what to do about this legal case. Jesus starts doodling on the ground. When pressed to make a judgment, He says, All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!  Then He goes back to doodling. It is not until the religious leaders wander off that He gets back up and says the first important thing in the story. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” I believe Jesus’ was not writing a message. Rather, the act of writing of itself was the message— that His concern is PEOPLE, more than Law or Judgment… or the written word.
Purpose, Person, Persona, and Passion all are good. But more important in what one says and what one writes is… People.