on blogging

For years I’d avoided anything to do with blogs, mostly because of the ugliness of the word.  To BLOG sounds like a cross between vomit, and the kind of ghoul you want to avoid alone at night in the Irish wetlands.  But I had to get over the word, because I was having trouble finding a voice for a non-fction book.  I realized a blog provides a writer with what the author of NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! calls the most important weapon in a writer’s arsenal: a deadline.

My thought was to serialize a non-fction book, as Dickens did his novels, in order to keep me on task.  I also wanted the immediate feedback that novels can’t give, because writing novels can take YEARS.  So I got over the prohibitively ugly word and set myself up on WordPress.

I got far more than I bargained for.

First, I underestimated the helpfulness of having not just a self-imposed deadline, but a deadline for something you KNOW other people will read.  It’s like the difference between making lunch for yourself, and cooking for a dinner party for twenty.  No matter how hard you try to convince yourself to make the writing perfect when it’s self-imposed, you just DO end up making tougher choices – i.e. polishing it – when you know other people will read it.

Second, just as there’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus the mind, writing a blog you know people are reading causes the writer to discover things he or she didn’t know before.  No matter how many times I read, underline, and take notes on a particular New Testament chapter, often my deepest, most perplexing questions don’t get resolved until I start writing.  There is some strange mysterious dynamic about writing.  The writer makes the connections as she writes.  So the writing itself produces the writing.  This magic – this dynamic mystery involved in the creative act of writing – isn’t unique to blogging, of course, but the blogging helps because the audience is so palpable; blogging keeps one focused, and thereby causes one to make one’s best discoveries – which is so fun, it makes you want to keep going.  It’s a self-sustaining enteprise.

Third, what I didn’t realize was the existence of “Site stats” – the way you can know exactly how many people are reading your words, and what search engines bring them to your virtual doorstep.  I don’t know who looks at my website, but I know how they get there.  So I know how many people follow links on Facebook, how many google me by name, and how many people google other topics.  Here are some of the most common things people google, that, for better or worse, cause them to find my blog: “i feel like my life is slipping away”; “my boyfriend broke up with me and i can’t stop crying”; “why does the Bible make me cry”; “i feel anxious”; “i feel lost”; “my heart is broken”; “bible verses for getting an ex back.”  (Spoiler alert: I can’t actually get your boyfriend back for you).  On a lighter note, people also find me, often, by googling “The dictator running scene” – apparently I’m not the only one who laughed really hard at that preview.

Knowing this information can’t help but affect what I write. It’s like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle – the act of observation changes the object observed.  People don’t seem to google joy and peace – as in ‘yay I feel so happy where are Bible verses to celebrate!!! – they google their losses, fears, anxieties and despair. Knowing how some topics draw people more than others – in such an immediate way – shapes the way, and what, one writes.  It’s as if writer and reader are in some kind of a dance, where the readers’ responses craft the writer’s lead, and vice versa.

Finally, what I didn’t realize was how helpful people’s specific comments would be.  I certainly didn’t anticipate all the kind comments, which buoy me and keep me going.  And I continue to be amazed at the thoughtfulness and detail of the criticism with which people respond. Sometimes people vehemently disagree, both privately and pubically, and I edit to either clarify or correct what I’ve written.  This is unique to blogging; you can change your words, instantly, in response to feedback, in a way denied you to words in print.

Blogging is therefore, a completely dynamic art form. It’s a privilege, fun and mysterious.  So I write this note to thank anyone and everyone who takes the time to participate in the mystery.

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