Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Art of Blogging

Photo Credit

In keeping with the writing theme I began on Friday, I'd like to do one more practical post on my writing mindset, specifically as it applies to blogging.

Certainly in the various circles around the web, there are many different articles on how to blog. Some of them are practical, but their ultimate goal is to grow readership. Good readership is a huge blessing, but not the ultimate goal of blogging. Then there are other articles from experienced bloggers that tell you what works, and give you tips from their experience on what doesn't. Occasionally you'll find one that talks about blogging from a Christian perspective, and how to glorify the Lord with it.

I suppose this post is  a combination of the two: to discuss some of the little things I've learned in the last year and 9 months of blogging, and also to give other bloggers a good and biblical foundation of why we blog. There are many websites with many purposes on the web; not all of them are teaching articles, or even about books. Some are places to load photographs; some are daily journals that friends can keep in touch through. But every blogger needs to have the following eight principles of blogging in mind, whether it's a casual endeavor or a serious purpose.

In writing this article, I must begin with the disclaimer that I don't pretend to have everything together. This is an ideal I'm striving for--the standard that I look up to. I was a little hesitant to write this post in the first place, for as I told one friend, it seems a little weird for me to talk about the best way to blog.

She replied "Well, who else can do it, except a blogger?"

Very true. So I'm going to give it a try. Do you want to start a blog? Do you want to re-evaluate the one you currently have? Then here are eight tips that I hope will prove helpful for you in establishing your own little corner on the web.

8 Qualities Every Blogger Needs

1. Commitment
The first quality every blogger needs is commitment. In other words, as soon as you hit the 'Post' button for the first time, you have effectively told your visitors that you have pledged to update them periodically on whatever your blog happens to be about. In the case of My Lady Bibliophile, you know that it will generally always be book and writing related. You also know by this point that I post every Tuesday and Friday, and that's a commitment I've made.

Most people look at blogging as a hobby, and that's certainly a good hobby to have. However, when you're doing something in public, it's always important to be others-focused. If you've committed to posting something, then you need to have a good testimony and follow through on that. Everybody drops a post; sometimes you're sick (though I can say from personal experience that writing while sick is still possible) and sometimes last-minute emergencies come up. When you're a regular blogger, they just can't come up every week. ;)

Understand that starting a blog implies a promise to your readers that you will update it, and as we are Christians, we need to keep our promises.

There have been many times my commitment has been tested in the last year and a half; I'm sure there will be many more. Sometimes it means getting up fifteen minutes early to get a post out, or staying up fifteen minutes later to finish it up. Back when I didn't have a laptop, my computer allotment would run out before I could finish the post, and I had to finish it in the afternoon before I started working on my novel. :) When I was across the country earlier this summer, I wrote the posts ahead of time and posted them late the night before, so they would show up at regular times.

When you practice commitment, you build muscles that you never thought you could strengthen. Blogging is a good deal like exercise: if you're consistent at it, the benefits build up over time. But only if you're consistent.

One thing that I think is very important from a reader's perspective, is to finish something you've started. Sometimes inspiration runs out towards the end, and your series falls a little flat, but I say as a reader that I respect every blogger who crosses the finish line. Whenever you've begun something, readers appreciate you finishing it, or telling them why you're not able to. :)

2. Discipline
That's right. When I began blogging, I knew that I would simply put--have to blog. That means when I get up on a blog post morning, I read my Bible, check my email, get dressed, and then get to it! Blogging requires discipline--the ability to say no to all the other fun time-wasters that take away half your morning before you know it. Blogging is a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. It is also on some days a tough one--so the first quality every blogger needs is the ability to say no to distractions, whether it's a short post or a long article.

Which sometimes means turning off that Irish music playlist. Ouch.

3. Fellowship
Certainly, one of the most enjoyable parts of blogging is the fellowship. Watching those readers trickle in one by one (or on some blogs, by the hundreds) is so encouraging, and gives an amazing boost to your inspiration. :) While we don't want to be blogging simply for the followers, we do want to have like-minded encouragement and edifying conversations with those who choose to come. So having fellowship as a purpose is certainly not wrong. It's just important to leave it up to the Lord as to whether that's a core group of friends or a large following.

For new bloggers, I would encourage you that readership does come. The rewards of commitment and discipline are fellowship. It's a sweet reward, and one that must be earned. Give your blog a good six months to get off the ground before you evaluate whether or not you should continue; sometimes it takes a while for readers find a good thing. Also, fellowship with people on other blogs. That's the best way to advertise yourself. Advertising shouldn't be your sole purpose, but certainly commenting and being in circles will bring other people to you. That's how I've found many blogs, and that's how several friends have found mine.

4. Quality
Certainly we should make it our goal to present as high-quality posts as we can. Granted, some of us are better at the proof-reading than others. I don't claim to be one of the experts on the line-by-line editing. ;) When you don't have much time, read through every post at least once (slowly) before you post it and do a spell-check to catch the really obvious mistakes. This will get you far.
If your subject matter is interesting and engaging, but you're afraid that you aren't as good on the grammar, consider asking a friend to look over it for you in advance, and trade services with them. If your life doesn't allow for that option, do the best you can. No blog is going to be perfect; and though that's not an excuse for slip-shod practices, readers should allow you some grace if they can see that you're making a good effort.
Good quality posts include good grammar and engaging subject matter, but they also include crisp web layout. Quality means your readers should be able to read your posts easily; you want to make their stay as enjoyable as possible. Quality also means color and pictures. Pictures, when well-placed, give interest and spice to what you're trying to say, and sometimes a good picture can drive the point of the whole post home.
Good quality also refers not just to the post, but to the web design as well. Make sure it's easy to load. For instance, when I started My Lady Bibliophile I considered putting a music mix-pod on the side with some of my favorite instrumental music, but after some thought I took it off. Mixpods can be hard for people with slow internet, and to be honest, most people enjoy listening to their own music. Consider having a list of your favorite tracks on a different page, or linking to a YouTube playlist that they can look up, if music is something you really want to include.

Also, sidebars should be crisp and clean, and not cluttered. Sometimes I particularly enjoy blogs with tasteful pictures and quotes on the sidebar, as long as they aren't too 'loud' and distracting from the main website. Experiment, and ask for feedback occasionally to make sure the design is serving your readers well. Make sure people can access old posts easily, and I would suggest allowing a good 5-7 posts per page. Some of us check blogs and catch up on several posts at once, and if there are only two posts, we have to keep pushing 'older posts' and reloading the page all over again.

The purpose of quality in content and design is to show your readers that you have a message worth their time and consideration.
  
5. Reality
People love little bits of trivia, and finding out who you really are. That doesn't mean we air all our dirty laundry for others to see, but giving a hint now and then that we're real people can be reassuring to readers trying to measure up to what we're teaching. I post a lot about the quality of the books we need to read. But at the same time, I get stuck on reading four or five murder mysteries in a row just like everyone else. And I've posted about healthy reading diets! Especially if it's a teaching blog; throw in some normal, everyday things, funny anecdotes, and real-life facts about yourself so readers know that your standards are reachable for them as well.

6. Hospitality
Every blog is, in essence, a little living-room that has a revolving door. Guests come and sit a while, sometimes they'll want to chat, and we as bloggers need to make sure that they want to stay, and want to return! Welcome new readers, maintain contact with regular readers, and let them know that no matter how little or how much they come, their presence is welcome. :) Consider having an about tab telling some of your interests; also, putting up a statement of your beliefs is a hospitable thing to do, so readers can be aware of what perspective you are coming from.
Some people are concerned about online security, and that's a very legitimate thing in today's world. If you choose to use a pseudonym I would encourage you to make your Christian name available in your bio, or at least, don't keep trumpeting the fact that your name is fake. If it's fake, make it obvious (like Lady Bibliophile) but if it's fake, and not obvious, why tell people? Obviously, if someone emails you, let them know that you're using a pseudonym, but otherwise, continuously telling your readers that your penname isn't your real name is like smirking and saying 'you have no idea who I really am.'

Most people don't like that.

Blogging is like a home on the web. You wouldn't invite people to your home and neglect them or ignore them. That's where commitment and discipline comes in. You don't have to respond to every comment, but you should make an effort to respond at least to some or the majority of them. That's also why bloggers should post on a fairly regular basis--it shows readers that you value the time they take to read what you're saying.

The main purpose of hospitality, in the home or on the web, is to show the love of Christ. Truth should be preached, but those readers who haven't yet come to an understanding of what you're teaching should never be marginalized or made to feel unintelligent. Gently lead your readers to the conclusion you want them to reach. Sweeping generalizations should be avoided, and space out the controversial posts with something everybody can agree on. That's like introducing politics at your dinner table, having a lively discussion, and then introducing another more universal subject to bring the guests back into one accord.

Posts should also be upbeat and positive. Blogging is a place to encourage and edify, not to complain. We want people to walk away challenged to better serve the Lord, and lightened of burdens they may be carrying.

Also, you also don't have to allow guests to worship idols in your living-room. :) If you're teaching something controversial, opposite viewpoints are to be expected, and sometimes people who comment aren't always as polite as they could be. Comment policies are good; feel free to exercise your right to moderate the interaction on your blog. I've had to do that a few times, and it's perfectly all right. A blog is your domain; you own it, and you can lead where you want the discussion to go. ;)  
7. Ministry
Every blogger should have a ministry mindset. When I started this blog, I knew that it had to be a little more than going into ecstasies over my favorite books. It needed an edifying purpose. I started out with a vague, shadowy notion that I would do some book reviews and some articles on how to read with a Christian mindset, and it all grew from there. Ministry can take on many different forms; it doesn't always have to be Scripture teaching. Sometimes ministry through blogging means giving girls practical examples of modesty, taking inspirational photographs, or providing funny life anecdotes that will lift the spirits of those who come. Some blogs I visit because they always put a smile on my face, and that in itself is a huge ministry.

8. Dominion.
Ultimately, the goal of every blog should be advancing the Kingdom of God through dominion. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Whether through casual posts or purposeful content, every blog written by Christians should strive to glorify the Lord, to teach others more about Him, to lift up fellow believers, and to point non-believers to the Savior who can give them hope.
We war against the world, the flesh, and the devil just as much in the blogosphere as we do in other areas of our life, and we must use blogs for purposeful dominion for the glory of God. I take dominion of books. Perhaps you are here to take dominion of something else: but I would encourage you to build your blog on ministry and dominion, because if you have a purpose, that makes commitment and discipline so much easier, and the rewards of fellowship so much sweeter.

There are many more things that could be said about blogging, but I suspect other people have covered those points, and I will conclude with these eight for now. I hope that this post has offered some special encouragement specifically to bloggers, and given you a vision as to how you can use this valuable platform to encourage the readers who follow you. :) Do you have any tips that you have found helpful blogging?

And for the people who don't blog, but who do like to read them--what do you most like to see on blogs, in mindset or in practical posting tips? :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

10 comments:

  1. Dear Lady B,
    I enjoyed this post very much! So, if I ever start a blog about cats I will have eight pointers to go by... ;) (Ministry mindset with cats-it CAN be done.) :P
    Kidding aside, I DID enjoy all the points you brought up. Personalizing a blog is great because it lets the reader see YOU! I enjoyed all the improvements you made at the beginning of the year-they really added more personality and interest to the blog. Especially all those tantalizing tabs at the top of your page. ;)
    Commitment is also important. One of the things that can keep a reader coming back is if they know you are going to post regularly.
    I enjoy your blog very much and I'll definitely be coming back! ;) :D
    Love,
    Sister

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    1. Dear Sister,
      If you can manage a ministry blog with cats, I will take my hat off to you. :P Maybe putting a smile on someone's face...which is indeed a ministry. :)
      I always enjoy tabs at the top of the page too! Though it makes it much easier to procrastinate...but it makes you feel like there's so much more backstory to explore about the blog.

      You're a dear, to read every one of my posts. I love your comments. <3

      Love,
      Schuyler

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  2. This post was amazing! Exactly what I was hoping for. ;)
    I think the two points that I need to focus on are commitment and reality. I have usually seen my blog as a hobby and have always placed it as second-, third-, or fourth-place in my list of things to do. But if I want it to be a ministry, then I need to be more committed. ;) As for reality, well, I could add more about myself in my posts, though, I tend to shy away from that when posting to large groups of "cyberspace people". :P

    One thing I have struggled with in blogging is finding new topics. Your blog has a topic (books/reading), but mine is more general, and that probably creates more of a difficulty. But if you have any ideas on how to pick topics, they'd be appreciated. :)

    Well done, Schuyler. <3

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    1. It was a great idea, and I must give the credit of it all to you. :D Without your encouragement I would certainly have felt a bit odd about writing it.

      Certainly I'm probably an exception when it comes to blogging, as far as posting regularly, and I wouldn't feel bad if it isn't always possible for you. <3 As nice as it is, you can do it either way: if it's a hobby, you could probably post whenever you want; but if it's a ministry, well, it might be a good idea to try to have set times for posting.

      I agree; sometimes sharing yourself on cyberspace is a bit dangerous. Certainly wisdom and discretion is required; but little habits or hobbies that we enjoy are certainly interesting to others; sometimes a stray bit of conversation or a childhood memory that you feel comfortable sharing gives a little pop of life to posts and put a person behind the concept.

      As far as topics...those are definitely hard to pick sometimes; you're not the only one, and even with a themed blog I can struggle occasionally. :) Since your blog is an inspirational one for topics about the Christian walk, I wonder if you might find a really good devotional helpful just to flip through and find topic suggestions. Charles Spurgeon, Joni Eareckson Tada, or any devotional really might give you just a little blurb of inspiration for a topic to run with when you're out. Or even sometimes I Google for ideas when I'm really low. :)

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  3. Lady B, you almost persuadeth me to start a blog....:)

    I really like tutorials on just about any subject the author has had success with--hairstyles/hair care, sewing/craft projects, recipes, etc, anything that helps me in my domestic dominion-taking. I appreciate them because not only do they take a lot of time to put together and load, but because there has already been a lot of legwork and testing ahead of time, and that blogger is kind enough to share.

    I also like vacation photos and their accompanying narrative.

    And, of course, thought-provoking book reviews and commentary!!

    I think that you can compare blogging to gardening--they both take a lot of work and tending to be done well (but they can both survive dormant seasons). They're also both a blessing to those on the receiving end.

    Thank you for such a good behind the scenes look at what goes into yours.

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    1. I think you could have a very good blog! Especially about sewing; photographs are so helpful with directions, and you're very good at both those things. :) As soon as you start one, I'll make a button for you and put it on my sidebar... ;)

      I like the garden analogy! That's an excellent word-picture. :)

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  4. Excellent post, Schuyler! Especially love your hospitality analogy ;).

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  5. That was such an excellent, helpful post Schuyler dear :). I loved hearing your thoughts on the things you learnt as a blogger :). And I agree with all those points you mentioned, and see how much I have a lot to work on with my blogging as well. Commitment is the most challenging aspect for me - more in that I've not been able to keep to a strict routine of so and so days of the week posting regularly. I most definitely try to post at least once a month, preferably once a week or per fortnight, depending on how much is going on in my life at any particular set time.

    I loved your analogy of hospitality. Truly, that's so much of how I see blogging, and the importance of being there to encourage and be a blessing to those who stop by :). I am trying to work on the quality area =), and as for discipline... :)) I think I am getting better, though I have still a long way to go in that effort. As for reality, I think lately I have done a lot of tags and fun trivia stuff, I really would like to focus on more in-depth/thoughtful posts in the coming months whenever I get the chance ^_^.

    by the way, Schuyler, you're blog is an inspiration (book-wise) but also in the topics you take up and in the serious God-honouring way you view the opportunity, responsibility and blessing to share your views online and make friends. I am so blessed to have been able to 'meet' and become online friends <3 !!
    Many blessings in Christ,
    Joy

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    1. I'm so glad it was a helpful post to you, Joy! That would be my desire for it, to encourage other bloggers and also to give them some tips for how to make their blogs even better. I needed the reminder as well, as I'm far from perfect on any of these things.

      Commitment is certainly a challenge; sometimes doing it when I don't feel like it is really hard, but doing it anyway builds up muscles and helps me realize that it can be done, and makes it easier to persevere the next time. It's good practice for life--a lot of times we weary in following through on projects we've started, and we must keep going, even when it's hard.

      I have enjoyed your tags lately, and when I'm busy I often fall back on that sort of post too. :)

      Being online friends has been a real blessing, and I hope someday that will turn into a face-to-face meeting! :)

      Love,
      Schuyler

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