I have blogged for a little over seven years now. Over 600 posts, 4 blogging platforms, and scores of dusty widgets and templates–no matter how you cut or slice it, that is a lot of writing. And for sure, when I look back over a number of my posts from the earlier days, I wince. Did I write that? What was I thinking? Why did I say that? But somewhere amid the years of writing and writing, I can also see my thoughts and phraseology evolving. I see myself changing and growing.
When I began blogging, no one—or at least, no one that I knew–was talking about Twitter or Facebook. Instagram and Pinterest were also unheard of back then. I began my blog with a very simple mission: I wanted it to be an extension of my website, and to minister to homeschooling moms of color. I saw very little presence of African-American homeschoolers (though I knew we were out here) on the Internet, and I thought I’d add a bit of color to the homeschool community. Thus, my first blog was entitled, “With a Taste of Chocolate.” I had chocolate-based categories like fondue, mousse, etc. that were too muddled for even me to clearly categorize my own posts.
Seven years later, my blog—and moreover, my vision for the blog—looks nothing like that initial vision, and that’s a good thing. I have two blogs to reflect an increased focus on business topics versus more personal passions. Praise God, my outreach is much larger, God exposed me to so much, and I stay amazed at what He is doing with my writing. BUT, as the blog becomes increasingly more of a business tool, there are dangers in becoming more savvy and sophisticated. At the risk of offending, I don’t want either blog to be a haven for give-aways in the name of drawing more readership. I don’t want to lose my voice (after taking forever to find it). I want my use of social media networks to be strategic and intentional; time is too precious to spend it just gadding about. My words need to be valuable; I want to stir something within people. I understand that for my words to do as I intend, someone has to actually read them. I realize there are writing techniques that draw in readers. And we mustn’t forget the all-important photos and catchy titles that beg us to re-pin a blog post and add it to our Pinterest boards. But, if I stuck to the heart of blogging, I think there are 5 key components of a quality blog:
1. Be mindful of your words.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of words; we are told that life and death is in our tongues. And words tell a story about us—our word choices, our use of grammar and syntax (or not), and our intention in writing. Many bloggers pen their hearts; they write out of a passion. Whether the passion is about family, photography, or blogging itself, that passion is conveyed through our content. I wouldn’t dare presume to tell anyone what to write, but a Christian should use words to point others to the Father, not to destruct or be critical. Your political persuasion, your take on the latest current event, or even your choice of pictures are yours to display, but ultimately, a focus on the Savior places us second. Find a way—or better yet, pray about a way–to say things that make your point, but still allow others to see Christ. And there is no topic under the sun that cannot reflect the hand of the Father. My natural hair, my smoothie recipes, my couponing? God is Lord over it all. Think about it this way based on Matthew 5:16: would a stranger looking for Truth read your blog and want to know more about this man named Jesus and how He changed your life?
2. Discover why you blog–really.
I shared my original purpose in blogging above. I started a small business, blogging was relatively new, and I was intrigued at the thought of an online journal. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, my business blog’s byline was something around the fact that I had written curriculum, and here I was to talk about the family’s day-to-day affairs. Over time, I have thought quite a bit about what it is that I really do. When looking more closely at my blog, I decided to separate my one original blog into two; I did not think that people who visited to read about homeschooling were that interested in my natural hair journey. As I continued to ponder, it occurs to me that there are bloggers who blog strictly about grilling, or about hair, or about food or fashion. Their mission is clear. Me? I can easily go all over the map. But one element is consistent: I encourage. So I changed my byline to reflect that: ‘a bit of homeschooling encouragement and inspiration, from our family to yours.’ This process took years, and of course, there is still this blog to figure out. But as I revisit my own words, I am sure I’ll make some changes.
3. Build relationships, not just readers.
I think that solid content trumps every statistic and bit of gadgetry that exists to bring readers to a blog. I like to believe, based upon the search engine data associated with my blog, that people are here because they are seeking something. So, that said, I use my dashboard data to make it easy for them to find what they need. Not only that, but tools like ‘Link Within’ and sharing functions that allow the blog posts to publish in Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo are a great tool for any semi-serious blogger. Finally, there are tricks to Pinterest to increase blog readership as well. However, I don’t want to be like David and stand around taking a census. What is the point of numbers if nothing is being said? Anyone can reduce a product price or give something away. We have an opportunity to edify, magnify, and glorify a Savior in a world that is increasingly lost. Revelation 12:11 tells us that this is how we overcome satan: by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. The blood was taken care of 2013 years ago; how’s that testimony coming? I think what is key here is transparency. I enjoy reading blogs that teach me something and get me thinking, even if it’s only thinking about a new pair of shoes. However, what ministers to my spirit the most are the stories of blog authors—their ups, downs, and all-arounds. As one example, I recently went surfing about for some information on therapeutic essential oils. There are several brands, and they can be purchased at any number of places. Yet, when I read the testimony of a sister in Christ who spoke of how these oils healed her from certain diseases, I was drawn to her as a representative of one company, and I wanted to know more—not just about the oils, but about her walk with Christ while she was being healed. I stayed on her blog for what felt like hours. There are others whom I have met over the years only through blogging relationships. Very few of them have I met in real life. However, I have offline relationships through letters and through e-mails, and we connect in other places. Numerous people have been a part of my life in that way not because I offered them free stuff, but because I shared a piece of my heart.
4. Learn your voice.
I am convinced that one of the hardest tasks of a long-term blogger is to find his/her own writing style and “voice,” as I call it. I do not know of a person who has not read another’s blog and fallen into blog envy—“I wish I could write like that,” or “Her blog/life looks so much better than mine.” It is so easy to fall in love with someone else’s voice, or even a depiction of someone else’s life. Yet the reality is that blogging allows such a small glimpse into a person’s reality, and we might never know the conditions under which those words came. I remember telling our daughter as she left for college that there are people from every walk of life on any given campus; no matter your personality, you can find at least one friend. I believe blogging is the same. Someone out there needs a now Word in his or her life, and yours are the words to which he or she can relate. Growing comfortable in your own blogging skin takes writing, and moreover, perseverance in writing, but it can be such a cathartic process as well as a true confidence-booster.
5. Relish the time.
Having now talked about how much time it can take to develop quality and clarity in a given blog, I will offer a caveat: keep blogging in perspective. When quality blogging replaces a hot meal, there is a problem. When the kids are neglected in help with their studies, or the youngest has watched television for hours because Mom has been too focused on the perfect post, there is a problem. When I spend more time blogging than praying, there is a problem. Blogging can be a powerful tool for ministry and mission, but, like all of our endeavors, it must be completed under the anointing that will also give discernment regarding decency and order.
There are a number of resources that speak to photo do’s and don’ts, the right time to post, the right colors for the Pinterest picture, the right time to share a post on another social media network, etc. I’m working on at least some of that. But if I am to stay true to my heart in blogging, I must back away from tricks and increase my trust of the Father, who continuously blesses me with ideas. May He speak to you, too.