On Blogging

PVBCC Spring Women's Conference 2012:
Blogging: Love Letters to the Savior

Let's open this workshop with prayer:

Gracious Father, your mercies are new every day, and great is Your faithfulness. We seek you now, Lord God, to touch the heart of each woman here at this workshop. As we desire to share the Good News of the Salvation available through Jesus Christ our Lord via the blogosphere, may You assist us with the help of your grace, so that we may please You with every word I speak and every word we post online. May You touch the hearts of those who read our blogs, whether we are already blogging or are simply thinking and praying about investing the time in writing for the benefit of others, through the perfect Love of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose Name we pray, Amen.

Welcome to this workshop entitled: Blogging: Love Letters to the Savior. Actually, a better subtitle might me “Love Letters on Behalf of the Savior” as we write on our blogs for His glory.

I've been blogging for 5 1/2 years, and the experience has been absolutely wonderful. I started blogging first on a homeschooling blog platform, then about six months later I transferred my blog to Blogger, a blogging platform through Google which is very easy to use.

The great thing about blogs is that they are FREE. Only if you wish to purchase a domain name or have a blog designer create your blog for you does blogging cost money.

How many of you already are active bloggers? How many just want to learn more about blogging? How many of you have no idea what blogging is?

Let's start at the beginning: a “blog” is a contraction of “web log,” or web journal. On a blog, we post either privately, giving our blog address to a few family members and friends, or we post publicly, writing for family and friends and whoever else may happen along to read what we've written.

There are two major divisions or genres of blogs. One is a dedicated blog in which the blog is directed into one subject area. Some examples of dedicated blogs may be:
  • a homeschooling blog,
  • a gardening blog,
  • a writing blog,
  • a Bible study blog,
  • a genealogy blog,
  • a theology blog,
  • a cooking blog (such as the one featured in the book and movie Julie and Julia),
  • a home management or organizational blog,
  • and there are even blogging blogs out there!

Dedicated blogs are devoted to one main subject, delving into that topic in depth as the writer shares his/her experiences and learning regarding that topic.

The other type of blog is the kind I write. It's a LIFE blog. I may write about homeschooling one day, give a movie review the next day, compose an original poem the next day, share something God taught me the next day, relate a family story the next day, post a photograph the next day, talk about small town life the next day, take photos of and brag about my flourishing herb garden the next day, etc.

I've been writing a Life blog called Meditative Meanderings for the past five-and-a-half years. It has a modest following (about 50 reads/day), and I really enjoy writing about so many topics.

In fact, I keep up about nine blogs. Nine? you gasp. Yup. Nine.

So, I think that's nine. Yep, NINE blogs. ;)

One nice thing about blogs is that, since they are free, we don't need to pay to design a website in order to get the word out about a certain business venture or topic. If we want our own domain name (completely choosing the address of our blog site, such as my name: SusanneBarrett.com), we have to pay $15-20 per year...only a dollar or two a month, which is quite reasonable for the privilege of blogging under our own names.

So, How Do I Get Started?
It's quite easy to get started with blogging.

Firstly, PRAY. Ask God what kind of blog He desires for you to write. As you pray, consider if you wish to write a Life blog or a blog dedicated to a single subject. The most important ingredient to blogging successfully as a Christian is PRAYER!!!

My friend Carol, with the assistance of a few friends, posts daily to a “Read Through the Bible in Three Years” blog. (SHOW) People join Carol in reading the Scriptures, then she posts discussion questions, an application for the assigned chapter(s), and finishes the post with a prayer. If you're interested, you may find Carol's blog at http://3yearbiblebookclub.blogspot.com/.

The second thing to consider is which blogging platform you wish to use. There are two main blogging platforms: Wordpress and Blogger. I've used them both, and as a rather non-tech-savvy person, I vastly prefer Blogger. One advantage of Blogger is that since it's a Google product, your blog will rank fairly high in Google searches. But the main reason I prefer Blogger is that it's far more intuitive than Wordpress. It's simple for non-tech people to set up a blog via Blogger within 15 minutes or so. It's easy to post photos, edit posts, add separate pages (just like a website), and even customize a template (how your blog looks).

When we set up a blog on blogger,
  • we go to Google.com,
  • click on “More,”
  • then on “Blogger.”
  • We either sign in or create a Google account,
  • then click on “Create a Blog.”
  • Choose a title for your blog which will end in blogspot.com—my blog address is http://meditativemeanderings.blogspot.com/,
  • then follow the directions to select a template (a “look” for our blog—complete with color palette, etc.),
  • and then we're ready to start posting! :)

Why Would I Want to Blog?
People blog for many reasons:

  • To share family news when loved ones live far away (can use a private blog if needed)
  • To share writings and receive feedback writings, poetry, short stories, etc.
  • To share art or photography with others
  • To gain publicity or “build a platform”
  • To advertise for a small or home-based business
  • To share our faith and glorify God!!

What Should I Include on My Blog?
When you click on the “Design” button, you can add many elements to your blog. Some gadgets are fun to have, but others are rather important:

  • Use the Google Profile “About Me” Gadget
  • Subscribe/Google Friend Connect
  • Categories (subject tags)
  • Blog Archives
  • Facebook and Twitter Gadgets
  • A Photo Header
  • Blog List (blogs you like to read)
  • List of Books I've read or want to read
  • List of Movies I've watched

But What Do I Write About?
The first question you need to answer is “How often should I post on my blog?” My answer is a minimum of once a week, but multiple postings per week, about 4-7, is ideal.

There are a couple of effective ways to plan what to write on your blog. I call them the Random Blogger, the Semi-Organized Blogger, and the Uber-Organized Blogger.

The Random Blogger writes whatever appeals to him or her. If the Random blogger has been reading a book, has watched a movie recently, or thinks of a topic, then that's what she writes about. There is nothing wrong with being a Random blogger except that when we depend on “writing what we feel like when we feel like it,” we are much less likely to post on a regular basis. If inspiration wanes, so do the frequency (and sometimes quality) of the blog posts.

The Semi-Organized Blogger makes a list of possible blogging topics as they come to mind and keeps this list on his/her desktop or on a list somewhere and then when he/she wants to post, he/she peruses the list, chooses a topic, and then writes the post. This method works fairly well in keeping us consistent in blogging.

The combination of the Random blogger and the Semi-Organized blogger tends to post more frequently than the Random blogger only because when the inspiration isn't there, at least a list of possible topics IS, so posts are written and published on a more regular basis.

Then there's the Uber-Organized Blogger who follows a schedule for postings. I myself balance between the Semi-Organized and the Uber-Organized blogger, so I guess it makes me just merely organized.

I usually have a Post-It note stuck on my calendar with topic ideas, plus I have a loose schedule for posting. Well, I should say that I HAD a schedule for posting because since I started writing fiction, I haven't followed it much. But this was what my schedule USED to look like:

  • Over the weekends (usually Sundays) I posted a Quotation or Quotations of the Week along with thoughts about the quotation(s).
  • Mondays I posted to my Gratitude Journal—“Multitude Mondays” with A Holy Experience.
  • Tuesdays I posted a poem according to a weekly poetry prompt on Carry On Tuesdays
  • Wednesdays I posted to “Walk with Him Wednesdays” with A Holy Experience
  • Thursdays I posted about the arts—what I was reading, TV shows I was watching, movies I had seen, etc.
  • Fridays I posted about the Church Year or faith topics of some sort; sometimes I followed Conversion Diary's 7-Quick-Takes Friday.
  • Saturdays I didn't usually post, unless it's the monthly Saturday Evening Blog Posts through Elizabeth Esther.
  • This schedule is interrupted by various Holy Days of the Church Year or Saints' Days, followed with a meditation or explanation of the day.

But if I had a topics I felt was pressing, I'd interrupt the above schedule, too, and post on that pressing topic from my list instead.

Speaking of A Holy Experience, there are several blogs that “host” either weekly topics or varied topics that we bloggers can post about on our own blogs, then link our blog posts into posts on their blogs/websites.

The best and most inspiring of these blogs is A Holy Experience which is written by Ann Voskamp who was offered a book deal from Zondervan based on her blog. And her book, One Thousand Gifts, is still on the New York Times Bestseller List nearly a year after its publication.

On her blog she hosts “Multitude Mondays” which encourages us to post our gifts from God as part of our Gratitude Journals as we chronicle our way to 1000 Gifts from God. Then once we post our Gratitude Journals on our blogs, we can use a linking program embedded in her blog (called Mr. Linky) that allows us to link our blog posts onto her blog. It's not uncommon to find 300+ posts listed under “Multitude Mondays” before Monday is even over; we can then visit these other blogs by clicking on them from Ann's blog.

Ann also posts “Walk with Him Wednesday” which looks at a different spiritual discipline each month and also encourages us to link our post onto her blog which definitely helps to funnel more readers of her blog onto our blogs.

Posting links to our blogs on other sites not only offers us topics to write about each week but also helps to increase readers (called “traffic”) to our own blogs. :)

Two other sites which contain excellent Christian content that you can write about then link your blog post to are:

Jeff Jarvis, author of The Buzz Machine blog, reminds us, “The first step in blogging is not writing them but reading them.”

Reading the above blogs and web sites is a great place to start.

And a few more Christian bloggers who are a bit more controversial but whom you may still enjoy are:

I have to tell you a little more about my favorite blogger, Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience. She's the wife of a farmer in Canada; they have six kids whom Ann homeschools. She bakes bread, makes meals, takes amazing photographs of her daily life, and “scratches posts in the dark nights.” Reading her writing is like reading poetry—and she's an amazing woman of God. Every post points straight to Jesus. Ann is the mentor to all Christian women bloggers; she posts also on The High Calling and {In}Courage.

Ann's blog title, A Holy Experience, refers to a book-length poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning called Aurora Leigh which states:

Earth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush is afire with God;
and only [s/]he who sees, takes off his[/her] shoes

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Speaking of Ann's incredible photographs, photography blogs are also a way to go. Over the past few years, 365 Photo Blogs have become really popular. I joined a group of artistically-minded friends from all over the country plus a couple overseas in posting a Photo-A-Day for an entire year. Examples: LauraLiz365, JulieUnplugged365, and Dancingirl365.

Then each day we'd go take a look at each others' photos and comment on what we liked about each photo. In this way, we got glimpses of each others' lives in wonderful ways while learning much more about the art of photography from one another as we discussed techniques, camera angles, etc. And it's a wonderful way to keep family members who live far away apprised of our lives...especially our parents who love to see lots of photos of the grandkids.

What is the Most Important Topic for Blogging?
The most important topic that we can write about is our relationship with Christ. We never know who may stop by to visit our blogs and learn more about Jesus, how to become a Christian, and how to live our lives for the glory of God. So as we blog about any topic, we may be witnessing to someone without even knowing it.

When I first started posting to my Meditative Meanderings blog, I invited my eighth grade English and History teacher, Mr. Stanforth, to read it. We had been close for years after I graduated from junior high; I spent an hour a day as his teacher's assistant, returning to Montgomery Middle School for three years in high school. In grading spelling tests, tutoring kids in grammar, grading history exams, running his grade book, etc., I learned many of the skills that help me in teaching to this day. Mr. Stanforth, or as we affectionately called him, Mr. Stan, attended my wedding and my graduations from high school, college, and graduate school.

About the time that I started blogging, Mr. Stan was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. Gradually, he began losing control of his body, but through it all, he remained a faithful reader of my blog. I don't know if Mr. Stan ever became a believer before he died; I did mail him some note cards in which I explained the Gospel and invited him to surrender his life to Christ. He did mention in some of his frequent e-mails that my blog was very thought-provoking and was causing him to re-evaluate his life. I hope that I'll be able to see Mr. Stan again in heaven.

At the end of this past December, I attended a 30-year reunion of that eighth grade class from Montgomery Middle School, and a dear friend whom I've known since second grade flew back to San Diego from his home in Colorado. Because I needed help with my wheelchair, Teddy drove all the way up the mountain to here in Pine Valley to pick me up and drive me to the reunion in El Cajon. On the drive home, we had a great chat about theology, God's role in our lives, etc. Although not a believer, Teddy has been reading my Meditative Meanderings blog whenever I added a link to a new post on Facebook. He mentioned that he appreciated my approach in not being preachy but just sharing my blessings (those 1000 gifts again!) and discussing God's Word. Teddy says that he'll keep reading, and I continue to pray for him to invite Christ into his life.

So if God has been using me to influence Mr. Stan and Teddy for Christ through my blog, only He knows how many people I don't know at all who have stopped by out of curiosity, etc., and have learned something about God that may eventually lead them to a full and complete relationship with Jesus. I suppose that I'll only know in heaven.

How Do the Popular Bloggers Do It?
As I prepared for this workshop, I looked over a few quite popular blogs, especially that of Rachel Held Evans as I just met her Monday at Point Loma Nazarene University's Writers Symposium by the Sea. Rachel started her blog when her first book was being written, Evolving in Monkeytown. Her blog has grown to bring in enough money to pay her mortgage.

Making money isn't the best reason to blog, but there's no reason not to make money once you've gained some popularity in the blogosphere.

When asked about how bloggers become popular, Rachel offered two points:

  • Popular bloggers post regularly: at least five days/week. If you don't want to be a popular blogger, aim for at least once per week.
  • Popular bloggers serve as resources to their readers. They don't always generate new material every day, but instead they include interviews, links, guest bloggers, videos, news stories with some commentary or questions.

Rachel started doing these two things in February 2011, and within 30 days her blog traffic had doubled, and readers have continued to increase since then.

Some people have attributed Rachel's popularity to her controversial stances on several issues, but, truly, the popularity of a blogger results from good, old-fashioned hard work, knowing her readers, and talent.

Her best advice for bloggers: “Be a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender.” This is great advice for all of our relationships, not just for blogging, isn't it?

Robert Lee Brewer, editor of The Poets Market is speaking this week at the AWP 2012 Conference (Association of Writers and Writers Programs) on social media, blogging, and writing.

Brewer gave some Quick Design Tips for Writing Your Blog:
  • Use lists in your posts—break up longer material and makes easier to read
  • Use a readable font
  • Left align
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Add relevant images

I use at least one image in shorter posts, more than one in longer posts. I find images via Google Images and use either promotional material (book covers, movie posters, DVD covers, promotional photos, etc., which can be reproduced without copyright infringement), my own photos, or public domain photos.

When I'm searching for a certain image that isn't promotional, I Google through Google Images with “public domain” first, then what I want: “sunset.” Then I don't have to worry about using copyrighted images on my blog, which is a blogging no-no.

I keep all the images I use for my blog in a special photo file called “Blog Photos” because I do occasionally reuse them if I revisit a topic.

How Do I Get the Word out About My Blog?
From his blog I Am Not Bob (SHOW), Robert Lee Brewer gives us several ways to increase blog traffic:

  • Post consistently (a minimum of once per week)
  • Encourage comments
  • Tag content (posts)
  • Create a niche
  • Think “Readers First”
  • Provide links
  • Avoid ads...until you're popular
  • Comment on other blogs
  • Include images in posts
  • Invite guest bloggers to post
  • Connect via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

How else can we get word out about our blogs? These are some tips I've unearthed in over five years of blogging:

  • E-mail friends and family with your blog address when you first get started
  • Post your blog address under your name in your e-mail signature (SHOW)
  • Post new entries as links on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
  • Follow “FaithfulBlogs” and other Christian blog collections and bloggers on Twitter
  • Get involved in sites where you can link your posts, such as The High Calling, A Holy Experience, and {In}Courage. There's even the Hip Homeschool Hop for homeschooling moms to share their blogs each Tuesday

As we close this afternoon, successful blogger and author Rachel Held Evans reminds us of Saint Teresa of Avila's words for us to remember as we blog, attributing this quotation to Teresa's view on blogging (400 years early):

“Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.”

But the best information on blogging comes from God's Word, in James' Epistle, with a few minor changes for us:

“Know this, my beloved [sisters]: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of [a blogger] does not produce the righteousness of God.” --James 1:19

There may be times when comments from readers or other bloggers or the world in general produces anger, so recalling our Father's advice to us through James is a wonderful rule-of-thumb to help us to be gracious to all who visit our blogs.

And always, always, cover our blogs in prayer. Pray as we write a new post. Pray for our readers, especially for any non-Christians who may be reading our words, which, we pray, are “gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, ESV).

And the goal of blogging as Christians is simple: bring glory to our God! As 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us,

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
--2 Corinthians 3:18

May God bless us all as we bring God glory through the legacy of our blogging.

Have a lovely afternoon and evening, ladies, and a blessed Lord's Day tomorrow, and a closer walk with God when you head home after this weekend.


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