There is a certain amount of arrogance, I suppose, in undertaking a subject like this. It assumes that I know something about excellence in blogging or that I am an expert in building blogs. I’m not.
But I have been in blogging a long time (especially if measured in blog years), and I have observed the process. Blogs come and go. Most of the top SBC blogs back in 2006 either do not exist anymore or have faded out of the limelight. If I named some of the luminaries of the Baptist Blogging world from back then, many of you would say, “Who?” I was a newbie back then, now I’m part of the old guard – and it took less than seven years.
But I have seen a lot during that time and I have formed some opinions about what makes a quality blog. I’d like to share those with you.
My Journey in Blogging (if anyone cares)
Before Baptist blogging exploded into the headlines back in 2005 and 2006, I was pretty much disconnected from SBC events. I was pastoring outside the Bible Belt, where what went on in Nashville and Alpharetta made little difference and was largely ignored. Long ago, Iowa Baptists made an informal agreement that we would not let the divisiveness of national SBC affairs affect the fellowship here.
When the onerous IMB policies hit the news, I got interested and started reading and eventually interacting at one blog. After a time, I got tired of the personal attacks that were going on there and decided to expand my horizons a little. I found a few other blogs I liked and began to interact more widely. Then I thought, maybe I could do this myself. So I started a blog of my own. Actually, two. No, three. In reality, four.
I had a devotional blog called, “Word Processing.” I started an SBC issues blog called “This Tent’s Just Right.” The big argument back then was over how big the SBC tent should be. Some were advocating an SBC way too narrow, and others were essentially arguing for the reversal of the CR. Too narrow, too wide. I advocated to all 14 readers of that blog that we should hold strong on essentials and show grace on other issues (my series, “Brick Walls, Picket Fences” picked up this theme). I also had a blog on an issue that really mattered. It was called “The Iowa Yankees Blog” and followed the Yankees’ run to the 2009 World Championship. I also had a family blog I called “It’s Miller Time” where I bragged shamelessly about my kids. When I got involved here, I pretty much let all of those slide into inactivity.
Suffice it to say that none of these blogs ever cracked the Featured Blogs list at SBC Voices, registered even a blip at Technorati, or became part of Blog Madness. I just kept writing.
One day I got an email from John Stickley who helped to manage the sbcIMPACT! blog. I was asked to become a contributor there and my first post appeared on January 1, 2009. I greatly enjoyed being a part of that group blog for nearly 3 years, until they suspended operations.
But sbcIMPACT! went through a time of restructuring when several of the original writers burned out and wanted to take a break. We weren’t sure the blog was going to continue (it did, for another year or so). During that time I talked to Matt Svoboda who was running this site and asked him about the possibility of writing here. For a while, I was contributing at both sites. Then, in September of 2010, I orchestrated a coup d’etat to unseat Matt. Actually, he decided not to run the site anymore and Tony asked me to take over.
My point in this stroll down nostalgia lane is that I’ve never really done what I am talking about here. I’ve never started a blog and built it to prominence. But, I’ve worked hard in blogging and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve formed a few opinions.
Keys to Quality Blogging
Here’s my two-cents worth on building a quality blog.
1) The Motivational Issue: Blogging should be a calling, not a self-promotion tool.
So, why do you want to blog? You should have a very clear idea, if you want your blogging to succeed. There are many insufficient or even inappropriate reasons to blog. I’ve seen self-promoting bloggers comes and go. When blogging becomes about “making a name for yourself” the end result is often that the name you make for yourself is not really a good one.
I’ve been writing since I was a boy. I wrote stories that I would pay to have destroyed if the manuscripts were ever found. (They weren’t dirty, just really stupid). But since I was called to the ministry, I’ve been involved in writing in one form or another. I’ve got four novels written or half-way written. I’ve got booklet-length materials. I’ve written full-length books. I don’t know if they are good and you don’t either. To this point, I’ve never gotten one published. But writing has been a calling for me.
Blogging gave me the one thing publishers never did – an audience. But thinking and writing were, in my mind, a calling from God long before blogging gave me an outlet.
It almost seems like a cliche, but if your purpose in blogging isn’t to glorify God and build up the Body of Christ, then perhaps it isn’t for you.
2) The Content Issue: Have something to say.
The key to blogging, or any writing, is content. Have something to say and say it well. Be in God’s Word, be thinking, reading and analyzing what is going on so that you have a perspective or an insight that others want to hear.
This is one of my bedrock blogging convictions – if you have something to say, eventually the audience will find you. The best advertising for a blog is quality writing and word of mouth. Spend time on the format of your blog and on all the other secondary issues, but make sure that when someone comes to your blog they seem something worth reading.
3) The Originality Issue: Don’t be a recycling center.
I saw something once that stuck with me. Some people are springs and others are cisterns. A cistern holds water for distribution. A spring is a source of water. Some writers are cisterns who gather water from other sources (links, quotes, videos, etc). Some bloggers are springs who write their own thoughts and ideas.
I want my water from springs.
Yes, perhaps John Piper said it better than you ever could. And a periodic link or video or quote is good for everyone. But there are blogs that are about 90% quotes of what others said. Why should I come and read your site if all you do is quote to me what others have said?
I want to hear something both insightful and original, something I”m not going to get somewhere else.
4) The Volume Issue: Keep the good food coming.
This is one of the real problems with blogging – it takes time. But if you are going to build a good blog, you’ve got to take the time to write regularly (at least three to four times a week) to keep the audience coming back.
I think this is what sends a lot of people out of blogging – they just don’t want to devote the time it takes to provide readers a good meal regularly. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is meant to be a blogger. But if you only want to write twice a month, if that is all the time you have, its going to be hard to build a blog following.
Once you have a reputation as a good writer, people will still find their way to your site if you write infrequently. Bart Barber posts once in a blue moon now, but people still go there. Bart earned respect by the quality of his blogs even from those who disagree with him. But if you want to build a blog, consistent and quality writing is essential.
5) The Style Issue: Say it well.
Perhaps this is just a personal preference, but grammar and style still matter. If you butcher the English language, you will cost yourself credibility. We all make typos and grammatical errors, and we shouldn’t judge or ridicule one another on that basis.
But when someone cannot make a cogent argument in writing, he should probably not be blogging.
6) The Perseverence Issue: Be patient and keep writing.
I wrote on my blog(s) for a couple of years and got few comments. I didn’t really track my page views back then, but they were nothing to get excited about. But, since writing was a calling I believe came from God, I continued to write, even when no one read it. It is a good discipline. Writing helps you focus your thoughts and improve your logic.
Sometimes, the key to writing is just not to quit. Eventually, you will find an audience if you have something to say.
7) The Controversy Issue: Avoid the muckraking trap.
The quickest way to build readership is to be a muckraker. Focus on a particular aspect of SBC life and hammer it relentlessly. Those evil Calvinists (or anti-Calvinists) are trying to destroy everything. Rick Warren is the Antichrist. SBC leadership is corrupt. Always make sure that every post you write identifies someone as the enemy and then beat them senseless with your words.
That will build readership. But in the process of lighting that fire you may burn your own integrity.
This is a fine line, because the greatest value of blogging has been to shine light on that which some wanted kept in the dark. In 2006, bloggers played a role in electing Frank Page as president of the SBC. We called attention to things that were going on behind the scenes as an SBC entity head was attempting to force another one out. Shining the light on these places of darkness was, in my thinking, a good thing.
But some of those who shined that light fell into the trap of bitterness, muckraking, yellow journalism, and personal character assassination. It is a fine-line between shining the light and muckraking, and I have no easy rubric to distinguish them. But it is a line we must not cross.
8.) The Opposition Issue: Keep your critics in perspective.
My foray into online writing started with an email newsletter that I sent out, called “WORD Processing.” By the time I stopped writing it, I was sending it to about 400 people. But I quit, and I can’t believe why.
It was a very successful venture. One of my articles got picked up as the cover article in Pulpit Helps magazine. Another article (the basis of “Brick Walls/Picket Fences) got picked up by a charismatic friend who had a similar newsletter that went out to 20,000 people. It got picked up from there by another online newsletter that went out to about 250,000 people around the world. I got feedback from people all over the world from that article.
But I also got a handful of criticisms. And I allowed the critics to rob me of my joy in writing. God was blessing what I was doing but I gave it up because a few people didn’t like it. God gave me the opportunity to speak to between 1/4 and 1/2 a million people and I gave it up because of two or three negative remarks. I wish I’d had CB Scott around back then to call me a pansy.
There are a lot of people who just aren’t ready for what happens when you put your ideas out there on a blog. Let me clue you in. Whatever you say, someone won’t like it. Especially if you have strong opinions and insights, you will have critics.
Your critics can help you. They can help you see where you might be saying something the wrong way. Maybe you overstated things or ignored another perspective. You need to listen to your critics with humility. Maybe they have a point. But don’t let your critics control you. Make sure your identity and security is in Christ, not in the opinions of others. If you want everyone to like you and think you are great, blogging is probably not your best place to be.
9) The Focus Issue: Spend more time writing than commenting.
Here’s one I am just starting to learn – not to fall into the commenting trap. Look at the most prominent blogs around the Baptist world. Most of them have very few comments. The writers write and post, then go on to the next thing.
I doubt there is any way to measure this, but I would guess over the years I’ve made about as many comments on posts as anyone in the Baptist world. When I post, I stay in the comment stream and defend what I wrote, explain it, revise it and respond to what others say.
And some of that is good, especially as you are beginning to build your readership. Make them feel welcome at your site. Thank them for logging in.
But as your profile grows, comments can sap your time and energy about as bad as anything. They are a time and energy drain.
And it is in comments that often the worst of blogging comes out – the petty bickering, personWal attacks and angry exchanges. There are a couple of blogposts I would go back and revise or simply not post, if I had it to do all over again. But there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of comments I made in the heat of the moment that I wish I’d never written.
It is more important that you devote your time to writing quality posts than that you respond to every comment made on your posts. Sure, there is a time to clarify and engage in comments. But you need to focus on quality writing and not on the comment stream.
10) The Reputation Issue: Don’t play defense
This is a principle I discovered long ago, have sometimes failed to implement but have come to believe more strongly that it is important. Don’t spend all your time defending against the negative comments others make about you. Frankly, a lot of bloggers are petty and personal, but does it really matter?
A year or two ago, a prominent blogger psychoanalyzed me on another site, detailing all my personal faults and failings. It was remarkable, since I’d never met him or spoken to him, but still he felt qualified to detail my emotional dysfunction. I’ve got to tell you, it rankled me. I was mad. But I applied that day the principle I’d learned and I am so glad I did.
I simply didn’t respond. I didn’t go on there and defend myself. I just let him have his say and went on. Guess what. His verbal sticks and stones didn’t really hurt me. I cooled down and the world moved on. Had I responded with insults, he would have responded with more insults and then I’d have responded. We could have made this a big deal for a long time. By simply walking away, the situation was diffused.
You don’t have to respond to every personal insult someone writes about you. Let them stew in their own bile and you take the high road.
These are the things I’ve learned. Now, you can have your say.
(One thing I’ve left off is “keep your blog posts short” – the reasons for that will be apparent to any who read my work regularly.