One Year of Writing: A Few Reflections

yearAbout a year ago, I returned home from summer retreat with my students to find out that my wife had started a blog. “Hmm” thought I. Coming after a few months of mulling over whether to start one myself, I took it as the sign I was looking for. And so my little Reformedish blog started. Roughly 220 posts later, I’ve realized I don’t quite think I knew what I was getting myself into. I could not have predicted the joy, the stress, surprises, and blessings that have come with setting my hand back to the plough. When my little WordPress anniversary notification popped up, I figured it’s as good a time as any to review and reflect on some things I’m grateful for and lessons I’ve begun to learn through the writing experience.

Writing Can Be Addictive – Early on I had difficulty thinking of things to write. I would sit, ponder, mull over the various ideas I’d had bouncing around in my head during all of the silent years leading up to the blog, but it was still a struggle to crank out a post. Over time, though, the more I wrote, the more I realized I wanted to write about everything. Nowadays I find myself writing maybe a third of the ideas that come into my head, or commenting on a fraction of the passages I find worth interacting with. I’ll tell myself I’ll take it easy one week, only to find myself writing a couple of extra surprise articles I didn’t think I had in me. I don’t know that this is always a positive thing, but still, it’s something I’m learning.

Editors Are Great –  One of the great blessings of the last year has been coming on staff over at Christ and Pop Culture. They introduced me to the world of writing with an editor. A good editor will save you from yourself at your worst moments as a writer and encourage your best. I’ve been sharpened by their input, corrections, and averted a couple of train-wrecks. Actually, it’s not just editors, but a writing community in general helps if you can get it. That’s one of the reasons I’ve loved writing with the crew over at CaPC–it’s really a collaborative effort. Also, the two or three guest pieces I’ve had over at Mere Orthodoxy have been some of the most helpful I’ve had as a writer. Matthew Lee Anderson is a brutal, savage man who will rip apart your work in the best way possible.

Projects Are Good – I started my Calvin Comments project a couple of months ago and it’s been a beneficial discipline for me. Setting a long-term writing project helps you develop your attention-span as a writer, strengthening your ability to focus in a a subject or thinker in order to penetrate deeper than the easy, initial observations.

Popularity Is Unpredictable – There are occasionally times when I’ve had a sense that a piece would do well and I’ve been right. For the most part, I’ve been totally surprised by the reactions/non-reactions I’ve seen to various pieces. The ones I work hardest on, love dearest, and pour the most of myself into, might get a yawn, while the quickie-post is my biggest day of the week. Go figure.

Write Clearly and Expect to Be Misread – I’ve had a few experiences online that have taught me you need to write clearly on the internet. You should write clearly in general, but people’s reading habits online can be kind of sloppy. We skim, read bold sections, italics, and the title and cobble together a general idea of the argument. Because of that, it’s best to set out your arguments, if you’re making an argument, as cleanly and unmistakably as possible. You also should expect some people to still not understand what you’re saying. It’s just a thing. I’m realizing that if you can’t take that, you’ll never survive.

This Too Shall Pass – In a few days, everything will be forgotten. This applies both to the praise and the controversy. By the grace of God, I’ve had a few pieces do surprisingly well. That’s cool for a day or two. Don’t get too elated, though. It’ll be forgotten quickly, as the internet rolls on. On the other hand, I’ve managed to get plunged into a couple of full-blown, this-is-a-real-thing, interwebs brouhahas. These were fairly unpleasant. One in particular landed me at the center of some uncomfortable attention, misunderstandings, and a whole lot of stress. But, as I found out, this too passed and was forgotten in short order. It’s very important to mind every word you write, for you will give an account one day to the Lord, but still, if you don’t make it a habit of being dip, it’ll be okay. Hopefully.

Idolatry Is Still Stupid – Getting your sense of identity and self from writing is, like every other form of idolatry, very stupid. It’s also very easy to fall into. Time and time again I’ve had to remind myself that good page-views or bad page-views do not determine my worth or standing as a child of God. If I live for the affirmation of good comments and shares, it inevitably won’t be enough, or the negative criticisms I receive will be devastating. No, before I’m a writer, I must reckon myself a child of God. Any other approach is spiritual folly.

God is Unpredictably Kind (Again) – I’ve always known God is unreasonably kind, but in the last year, he has surprised me with a number blessings I don’t deserve through the writing process. In the last few months he gave me the opportunity to: go to a couple of conferences I never would have gone to; meet some very kind people I never would have met otherwise; have the privilege of writing for websites I never would have imagined ever being noticed by; and rediscover a passion I’d let lie dormant for a number of years. I don’t know what the next year of writing holds, but I am so grateful for the year he’s given me so far. Here’s hoping the next one’s just as fun.

Finally, not that I’ve accomplished some big thing, but to all those who’ve played a part in this, whether reading, praying, commenting, or just generally supporting me: Thank you. For what it’s worth, It’s been big for me, so thanks for being a part of it.

Of course, as always, any and all glory ultimately is God’s alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

Quick-Blog #4 – Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell…(Or, Some Learnings on Blogging)

Well, I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 months now and it’s been an interesting experience so far. Writing out some of my thoughts, re-learning how to craft a sentence for print, rather than preaching, and trying out arguments I’ve previously only sketched out in my head has given me some real joy. It’s also been a learning experience, so I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve been finding out about myself and the craft of blogging general, in no particular order:

Finding your own style is hard. I had read this before, and I’ve thought about this issue quite a bit, but still, it’s been amazing to see how hard it really is. I still don’t know what my “voice” is. Half the time I’m just trying not to botch the English language too much, let alone find my own, unique way of expressing myself. I think a lot about C.S. Lewis’ comments in Mere Christianity about the people who struggle to be original–that the most original people were those who were simply trying to speak the truth as best they could without bothering too much about how original they are.

I’m going to start tagging all of my articles with either Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll. Seriously, names drive searches and views. I wrote one post just quoting N.T. Wright on penal substitutionary atonement and it was my most popular post to date. Seriously, just quotes and a couple of comments. It still gets hits off of random searches. On the other hand, my piece on the doctrine of Impassibility, one that I seriously put some time into…meh, not so much.  Still, I can see how easy it’d be to get sucked into the attack and critique game simply by picking big names and going after them. I’m sure I’ll end up criticizing a popular figure at some point on this blog, but I pray I never do it just to drive up views.

Be careful who you write about. I recently included my wife in a discussion of a controversial theological conversation and after the post hit, I realized that somebody could potentially read it the wrong way, comment rudely and then things would get, well–not pretty. From now on, controversy + family = no.

Writing is vulnerable. As a rule, I care way too much about what people think of me. By blogging, I’m taking my thoughts, my words, my creation and placing out there for all to see and judge. It’s hilariously easy for me to get wrapped up in whether or not people “like” my posts, write encouraging or attacking comments. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’ll be to be more sensitive to others whose blogs I’m commenting on. It’s fine to disagree, but I gotta remember that there’s someone on the other end of the article.

I have so much time to pray. Let’s be honest, if you can blog, you can pray. It’s as simple as that.

I need grace, so much grace. God has an ability to reveal my sin to me in just about any situation. Blogging is no different, apparently. My insecurities, pride, weakness, sin-driven anxieties have come out to play in some of the most surprising ways through this blog. Thankfully where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. God has come to meet me, to comfort, correct, and work with me in this in a number of very fun and humbling ways.

There’s probably more, but this is supposed to be a quick-blog. I look forward to more blogging and more learning in the coming months.

Soli Deo Gloria