The Ups, Downs, and Mechanics of Blogging

Last week, I published my 3rd annual list of the Top 25 Youth Ministry Blogs. For some reason looking at all of those blogs from a statistical (as opposed to content) perspective caused some reflection on my own blogging life.

The Ups

My blog has more than 8 years of thoughts on it. While I’ve started to give myself a day off here and there for the most part I’ve averaged more than 1 post per day for 8 years.

There’s massive upside to this blog. First, for myself. I need an outlet for my thoughts. I need a way to organize what I’m thinking into what I’m really thinking. And  many times I need to write just get it out of me. Second, for my readers. In the first few years I was adamant that I blogged for me. But as time has gone on and as this blog has grown in popularity I’ve had to deal with and accept the reality that this blog has influence over people’s lives in ways that just don’t make sense to me. — I’ve received infinitely more feedback (positive/negative) on this blog than I’ve ever received in preaching, teaching, writing for magazines, or writing books.

This blog has encouraged, challenged, and trained a lot of people in ways that make no sense. For me, it’s weird enough that I can sit down and writing something over a cup of coffee that several thousand people will read before I go to bed.

Since 2008 all of my families income has come as a direct/indirect result of this blog.

The Downs

This blog has probably cost me some friends along the way. People today are so flippant with others. Relationships are ruined because of the stupidest things like philosophical disagreements. I’ve been confronted many times because of things I’ve written and it never feels good. For every opportunity this blog has created it has probably spoiled just as many.

This blog has pissed off a lot of people. People think they know me because of what I write. People think that because I write something that I’m making some sort of statement… as if I have the authority to do so. I’ve heard friends in ministry call my blog a liability. I know of at least one person who has their subscription to my blog used as a reason to be fired from their church.

The unfiltered nature of blogging is a double-edged sword. I love that I can sit down over a cup of coffee and without an editor, publicist, or mechanism of any kind have a thought go out into the wild. But that means that my ability to communicate what I’m thinking in that moment can easily be misconstrued, misconstructed, or even flat-out-wrong.

The Mechanics of My Blog

People always want to know how I do this. I think they look at their life, have a small glimmer of a desire to blog, and can’t figure out how it actually works.

  • For me, blogging is a habit. It’s just what I do when I get up.
  • Most often I am writing my post for about 45 minutes somewhere between 6:30 – 8:00 am.
  • Yes, I really do write posts the day they go out. Often times they have only been read through 1 time before I hit publish.
  • I rarely schedule posts to publish in advance.
  • I almost never have a plan.
  • I do capture ideas for future posts on Evernote, almost like it’s a religion.
  • In Christian language, you could call this blog my devotions. Before I had a blog I had lots and lots of notebooks.
  • I write every day no matter what I’m feeling. Each days post reflects my mood. Just like in real life, some days you are feisty, some days you are chilled, some days you have something to say, and some days you have to force something.
  • I have to say something every day. Think about that… sometimes it’s easy to come up with something to say and other times it’s really hard.
  • I don’t have an expectation that they will all be winners. Some are turds and some are golden eggs.
  • Getting people to think about things sometimes means I’m intentionally stating things just to get a reaction. I’m intentionally telling one side of a story or over-stating an opinion. Why? Because you won’t care if I write something diplomatically.
  • While I know, particularly sometimes, that I will tick some people off with things I say. I don’t ever intend to harm, tick off, or whatever. I don’t take pleasure in hurting someone’s feelings. (I’d like to think I’ve grown in this area.)
  • I don’t have an ax to grind. There are times when I know I need to talk about something big in my life. (I have to get it out on the blog or it’ll come out in some less healthy way!)
  • I’ve been told I hate the church, I hate youth ministry, I hate I hate I hate I hate. Please stop it. That makes no sense whatsoever. I mean, why would I dedicate my life to serving, encouraging, and training church workers if I didn’t have a deep love of the church and hopes that bagillions of people would experience Christ there?
  • I try to limit my posts to 500-600 words. And this post is already over 800.
  • And I’m out of time. So if there are type-o’s I apologize.

What is my blog all about?

With the influx of new readers and subscribers, (RSS & email) I thought it was good to do a little reset.

Why do I blog? What do I blog about? How do I go about blogging? These are the questions I answer in the video above.

Web/Tech Weblogs

Reminder: Back-up your blog

This morning I woke up and my blog was down. With more than 6 years of content here that is scary.

It was a healthy reminder to me that it was time to back-up my blog. (After fixing some corrupt tables)

This is your reminder: If you haven’t backed-up your self-hosted WordPress blog lately, you need to do it.

Don’t know how?

No problem! I wrote a tutorial for you over on the McLane Creative blog.

Weblogs youth ministry

One hundred seventy-seven

It was really cool to find out that my blog was indexed and currently ranks as #177 of the top #200 church blogs. Always nice to be recognized- thanks Kent.

Based on how he measures, there are two things you can do to help me move up on that list.

First, subscribe to my blog via Google Reader.

Add to Google

Second, if you have a blog, tumblr, postereus site, or anything like that, it actually does help both my page rank & Yahoo links ranking if you have a link to me somewhere.

More importantly…

It’s really cool to see the noticeable addition of youth ministry blogs into the Church Relevance rankings. Here’s a list of youth ministry bloggers on the list, with their YS ranking in parenthesis.

To have 10 youth ministry blogs in the top 200 is really cool. I’m excited about that.

As I’ve said about the YS rankings. There is room for you.  You have a voice– speak your mind!

social media Weblogs

Just Write

So, you want to blog? And you’d like to build a following. Great. I’m here to help.

Here’s a quick reality check:

  • Success has nothing to do with a fancy blog design.
  • Success has nothing to do with learning the latest SEO tricks.
  • Success has nothing to do with finding advertisers to fund you.

So save your money. And don’t waste your brain cells.

Success as a blogger is so much simpler than that.

Just start writing. That’s 99% of the battle. Write, write, and write some more.

Success will find you when you are satisfied with who you are and how you write.

Start at the beginning

Chances are, as a reader of my blog, you’ve read something I’ve written and thought… “I could have said that, just better. I am smarter and a better writer than Adam McLane.” And you might be.

So what is the difference between you and I? Experience.

Go ahead and look at a tab on the right sidebar called, Archives. Then drop down all the way to the beginning. Go all the way back to May 2004 and read a few posts. I was horrible. But I was consistent, I was trying, and I was listening. And over time I wrote less about things that were interesting to only me and more about things that might be interesting to both me and you.

2004 was my beginning. Next, skip up to 2006, then 2008, then 2010. You’ll see a progression. I got better. I’d like to think that the progression continues.

If you are starting, just write. It doesn’t even matter what you write. Or if anyone reads it. Just write and write and write. You’ll figure it out.

You don’t have a reputation to protect

The biggest block to most people getting going (and later, to you growing) is a fear of embarrassment. Get over yourself. Stop it. You aren’t famous and you don’t have a reputation to protect. And if you can’t stop worrying about your reputation… write under a pen name and don’t tell anyone you are doing it. All that matters is that you start writing.

I wrote for two years on a blogger account not tied to my name directly. Then for the next two years I wrote on a Typepad blog… I didn’t move to until I’d been at it for a few years. I didn’t have a reputation to protect. But I probably thought I did.

Don’t make an announcement

I think letting people know that you are going to start blogging is the worst thing you can possibly do. Telling people seems to mount pressure. Pressure to perform steals the joy of expressing yourself. And once the joy is gone– you will convince yourself that you don’t have time or that it isn’t a priority.

Just write. Don’t promote. Forget about Twitter or Facebook or anything else. Just write. If it’s good, people will find it.

Measure the right things

I’m 7 years into this. I measure some pretty sophisticated things. If you are just starting out the only thing worth measuring is, “Did I write today?” Get a year into it… then add to that, “What kinds of posts draw comments?” Once you have enough confidence… then worry about things like, “What’s my niche`, who is my audience, and is my blog growing?

But for now… just write.

social media Weblogs

Blog economics of hate

The easiest way to draw traffic to your site all you have to do is hate on people.

My definition of flaming content online: To bad mouth purely for the sake of creating traffic, link baiting, retweeting, Facebooking, and otherwise bad-mouthing a person, organization, company, or news item for a purely selfish reason. (Read here to see what it is like to receive these criticisms)

Why does this work? When someone reads something that you write, they are left with a number of choices. Do nothing, comment, talk about it, share it, tweet it, email it, or bookmark it.

Over time, you learn that people are more likely to link to or forward something that is salacious than they are something that is benign, informative, or encouraging. That’s just the nature of consuming new media. The result is that some people write purely to draw traffic and since “flaming sells” they know that flaming people/organizations will draw more notoriety, traffic, and the hope for… income.

Here’s a formula that I’ve seen play out for the past several years.

  • Normal content = x1
  • Flaming content = x5

That’s pretty much what it looks like. If your Twitter account, Facebook profile, or blog flames someone you’ll get more traffic. Why? People love to read rants.

So are you saying that all blog traffic is drawn to flame speech? Not at all. And here is why:

  • Remarkable content = x10 (or more)

Which leads to my point: Most people write hate/flame based content because they don’t have the time/guts/brains/skills to write something remarkable in the first place. In other words, it is easier for them to draw traffic with flame-worthy content than it is to draw traffic with remarkable content.

Adam’s Law of Traffic: Write something remarkable and everyone will talk about it. Write about something you hate about someone and some people will talk about it. Write about normal stuff and only your mama will talk about it.

Bonus math: Since mountains of people like to copy the thoughts of others… sometimes giving credit and other times not.

Copied content + traffic = x5

hmm... thoughts management Weblogs

5 Sources of Creative Inspiration

Getting stuck is a big deal. In my world it means progress stops. So getting from an uncreative space to a creative space is integral to thriving.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that restarting the creative process is typically a matter of moving in one of two directions. I refind my mojo by taking things from very structured to very unstructured or visa versa.

5 Sources of Creative Inspiration

  1. Improvisational jazz or intensively introspective classical music. I have a few works from Miles Davis and Rachmaninoff that seem to come in handy at different times. The ordered chaos in Miles Davis seems to help my brain make sense of things when I’m going a million different directions on a project, all of which I like but can’t figure out how they fit. And the acapella All Night Vigil has a unique ability to both calm and awaken my senses. Anxiety, particularly that my work will be rejected, is a major block. For some reason Rachmaninoff helps me release that.
  2. Magazines. I like the staccato pace of magazines. While I do get a few regularly I can’t say that I read one all the time. But when I’m stuck I tend to gravitate to a magazine. There’s something about the page turning, the ads, and getting stuck on a story that always leads me to my notebook to draw or sketch. (Or Evernote if I’ve got new ideas.)
  3. A walk or bike ride. Sometimes I just need to think about something else for a while in order to think about a project in a new way. Taking the dog for a walk in our neighborhood or riding my bike somewhere is a great stress relief and for some reason typically helps me clear my mind enough where eventually, almost accidentally, my mind will free enough to release a creative idea.
  4. Web design showcases. For some reason this helps me even if I’m not working on a web project. I subscribe to several web design sites and when they publish showcases of cool designs I always bookmark them for later. There’s something inspiring about seeing how people are using the latest HTML5 tags or what’s hot in Polish web design or the hottest trends in mobile app sales.
  5. Deadlines. I’m a middle schooler on the inside. The pressure of a deadline gets my juices flowing. Maybe it’s the desire to get stuff done on time and maybe it’s the pending reality of failure? Who cares! I find the approach of a deadline an important part of the creative process. It helps me get to past the point of something needing to be perfect and into the frame of “What is the best I can do with the time I have available?”

Creative buzzkills

These are probably unique to me but maybe they are stopping your flow, too?

  • Novels and non-fiction books. I find biographies sources of inspiration. But novels and non-fiction works tend to suck creativity from my brain.
  • Pressure to perform in the moment. There are times when I can come up with amazing things in a group setting. But typically, my best group work comes in lulls in the action. But if you walk up to me and demand three ideas for something I know nothing about, I’ll punt every single time.
  • A palette too big or too small. I do best with some parameters. A few, not too many.
  • Interruptions. It can take me a couple hours of fiddling around to really get into a creative groove. But it can take only a single interruption to get me out.

I suppose this all just proves one thing. I’m a pain in the neck to work with!

hmm... thoughts social media Weblogs

From RSS to Today

Is RSS dying? Quick answer: No

But RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has a lot more to compete with in 2010 than it did in 2005 when it took off.

In 2005, the advent of aggregators like Bloglines, Google reader, and even the über popularity of made RSS the best way to grow your reach as a blogger. If you could just get them to click that orange button– they’d get your blog post every time you published automatically!

RSS was king.

For a few years RSS was one of the easy measurement tools of blog power. As people visited a site for the first time they were more likely to subscribe to a blog if they knew say… 1034 other people already did. (And yes, tons of the names in the Christian blogosphere you know today got known simply because they figured out how to manipulate the Feedburner subscriber chicklet. They made it seems like they had tens of thousands when they really had about a hundred. Tricky, tricky. It was dirty but you bought their books. Sorry.)

In 2006, the apple cart began to get upset with the popularity of sites which sifted through thousands of relevant RSS feeds within a niche` and curated the niche` into a website. Power wasn’t just measured in your ability to have thousands of RSS subscribers… it became measured in your ability to get your conent brought to the front page. Sites like Boing Boing, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, and Mashable exploded simply by curating their respective niche`. (Imagine editors looking through tens of thousands of RSS feeds and choosing 10-12 things a day to link bait.) Interestingly, since that’s essentially what newspapers and television news folks do, these curators became recognized as legitimate news outlets within their sector. All because they subscribed to thousands of RSS feeds and started to bring the best stuff to the top. Along the way they earned more than your RSS subscription– they earned your trust.

In 2008 and gaining strength through today RSS has become less important. Why? We don’t need to have tons of content automatically sent to us via an aggregator. Nor do we need the big niche` sites to curate the conversation generally. Instead of subscribing to Mashable or Boing Boing or the New York Times, I monitor my friends feed on Facebook or Twitter. I allow them to go through their aggregators and allow them to be my curator. In other words… I read what my friends tell me to read because they thought enough of it to retweet it or recommend it to me on Facebook.

Here’s the new reality bloggers, news agencies, and marketers are wrestling with every day: We’ve gone from RSS to FFS.

What is FFS? I just made it up.

Friends and Fans Syndication: Delivering your content through relationship-based platforms.

Learn how to manipulate FFS and you will be king in 2011.

Blog Highlight Weblogs

How to Blog, Write, and Speak With Integrity

Here’s a quick tutorial for how to blog, write, preach, or teach with integrity.

Let’s say you’ve came across a blog post on Adam McLane’s blog that you really enjoy. In particular, you like something I’ve written to the point where it has inspired you to write your own blog post, magazine article, book, lesson plan, or sermon based off of the thoughts you had in reading my post.

For example, let’s say you read my post The Personal Preference Sin:

I’d like to talk to some people about a rabid sin running rampant and unchecked throughout the American Evangelical church. Maybe if you’re reading this today I’m meant to talk to you. This is, I believe, one of Satan’s most powerful devices for separating our people. And yet, this sin runs so deep and is so approved that it carries back to some things we hold sacred such as denominations… probably 50% of non-denominational churches founded in the past century are the result of this sin.

That sin is personal preference.

I love that post, too. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written.

It’s been quoted, remixed, preached on, etc. Which is all awesome and humbling.

Now, how do you handle my intellectual property in a way that both you and I can be satisfied with?

And how do you handle it if you’ve been paid to write, teach, or speak and you’d like to use something I’ve written?

For blogs: (easy, peasy)

  • Do: Mention in the post where the idea for the blog post came from. “I was reading Adam McLane’s blog yesterday, and I came across this statement that I’ve been thinking about.” Or find a phrase to link to like, “That sin is personal preference.” Or even “HT to Adam McLane” with a link.
  • Do: Link to the original post, this helps your reader know how to find the source. And it helps my blog’s page rank with the search engines.
  • Do: Feel free to link directly to my post for whatever reason you’d like. You don’t have to ask permission for that. That’s awesome, thank you.
  • Do: Feel free to write a response or debate my posts. Just link to the source.
  • Don’t: Beat around the bush. It’s not fair to me for you to use my ideas/thoughts/words and not mention my name and link to me as the source. Don’t say, “a blog I read said…” or “a friend of mine recently wrote.” That’s not fair and it lacks integrity.
  • Don’t: Write the post without linking to me in the post or mentioning me and then privately email me a link thinking I’ll somehow be flattered. I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you use my thoughts as your own so that you can look good I don’t find it flattering. I think you’re a thief.
  • Don’t: Worry about any advertising revenue your post makes. As long as you properly cite my work for your blog, I don’t care that you make money.

For magazine articles & books: (not as easy)

  • Do: Mention my name and properly attribute my blog in the work.
  • Do: Ask me what I think about the idea before you submit it to your publisher as a remix. I have a contact page, I’m pretty easy to work with. I’m not trying to be a jerk, at all, I’m just trying to make sure that if you use my idea to make money, that I’m properly attributed and/or compensated.
  • Do: Allow me to have a look at what you are saying about me, my blog post, etc. before you submit it.
  • Do: Ask me in a way where it’s OK if I say no. Chances are pretty good we can work it out. But it might be that I need to say no and it’s helpful if I’m being asked to know that I won’t be seen as a turd if I say no.
  • Do: Spell my name correctly, that’s a pet peeve.
  • Do: Expect that if you are going to treat me like a ghost writer for work you intend to publish for profit, that I will expect some level of compensation. That’s only fair.
  • Don’t: Think you are going to get away with it because we don’t know one another or you think your sphere of influence and mine don’t intersect. It’s embarrassing for everyone when I get a Facebook message from someone who read something that sounded just like a blog post of mine in a denominations magazine or something like that.
  • Don’t: Pull the “it’s Kingdom property” line on me or “there’s no new ideas out there.” Particularly if you are going to get paid for work you forgot to attribute to me. We all learned in middle school that plagiarism is wrong. I’m not out to make money on my blog (notice there are not ads) but I’m also not out to make money for someone else. If I write something and then two months later the exact same idea and outline is in a magazine, that’s not a coincidence.
  • Don’t: Assume that because this is a public blog that this is somehow public property and you can just harvest my ideas, change some words around, and then sell it.

For lessons, sermons, and classes: (easy, peasy)

  • Do: Acknowledge my work. If you publish your notes, just attribute my work like any other book or website.
  • Do: Proceed without asking. As long as you aren’t pushing off my work as your own, we’re cool.
  • Do: Share with me your notes, how it went, etc. I’d love to see how you turned a blog post into something else. Maybe we can even agree to put it in the free downloads section of my blog?
  • Do: Feel free to print off a blog post to share, just attribute the URL so that people can know where to find me.
  • Do: Contact me if this is going to be a regular thing. If you are going to take something I’ve written, turn it into a lesson, and then take it on the road to make a living… that’s different. We should talk about.
  • Do: If you feel like I should be compensated because you were paid an honorarium (or salary) for work that was essentially mine, please make a contribution to my church.
  • Don’t: Try to pass off my thoughts as your own in a sermon, lesson, or class. It is embarrassing when people in your audience/class contact me and tattle. The internet has made the world pretty small.

Postscript #1: It’s obvious why I’ve written this post. I’m tired of seeing my work ripped off and unattributed all over the place. It’s not right. And it certainly isn’t fair. Most of it is just sloppy so I am assuming its because people don’t know that they are supposed to attribute things or they don’t know how or that content written on my blog actually is my property and they are not free to generate revenue off of it. Now you know.

Postscript #2: Why are people in ministry the worst ones? Shouldn’t Christian leaders demonstrate integrity in all areas of their lives? Especially intellectual property?

Postscript #3: These are pretty much the same rules you should put into play for any blogger. So while this post is about me and my content, you can safely use this as a guideline for most blogs.

management social media Weblogs

How to write consistently for your blog

I’ve written a series of articles for Immerse Journal describing a digital ministry philosophy for youth workers. The first article, called “Be Consistent” brought a lot of questions because I spent all 800 words talking about “why” to be consistent and it left many struggling readers with a burning question, “How can I be more consistent in this area?”

Here’s my process for daily blogging

  1. I’ve made it a daily habit. To put it in Christian terms I’ve added it to my daily devotions. I consider writing a major discipline of my spiritual life. It’s a daily exercise for my brain. I belive it’s one of the ways the Gospel works its way both into my life and into the lives of the people around me. Since its part of my daily routine I don’t find the time to blog. The time to blog has found me.
  2. I constantly capture ideas for blog posts. I have two distinctly different methods for doing that. Everywhere I go I have a journal and my iPhone. If something comes to mind, a sentence or thought or paragraph, I capture it. (If you spend time with me you may have seen me do it, though you may have thought I was just checking my email.) Sometimes its a visual sketch that I draw out or write out. But typically, its any idea that pops into my head or flows from a conversation and I capture it. (I use Evernote for that. Synchs from my phone to the cloud to my laptop.)
  3. I have a list of blog posts for future writing. Periods of inspiration come and go. So I maintain a list on Evernote called “blog posts” — Just a raw list of things I want to blog about at some point. Right now, that list has 11 posts titles/concepts. Sometimes it has as many as 30 and sometimes it has as few as 5. Each morning, as I sit down to write, I open up Evernote and decide if I want to write about one of the things on my list or something else that just came to mind. (It’s about 50/50)
  4. I write on a timer. Since I ride public transportation to work I have a firm departure time from my house. If you could see  the time stamp of most of my blog entries you’d see it is right around 8:00 am Pacific. DING! That’s when I have to leave for work. So my blog post has to be done even if it’s not perfect. I start at around 7:00 am and I have to press “publish” by 8:00 am. That means I have to write, edit, do artwork, publish, and push the links out to Facebook & Twitter in that hour.
  5. I process concepts in outline form. That may sound weird but it is how my brain is trained to work. If you were to look the concepts I capture on Evernote you’d see a formula: Concept; list of supporting items. That’s why so many posts are often lists or bullet points. I’m starting with that and wrapping an intro and a conclusion. If I have more time each supporting item may be a paragraph. But typically, like this post, those supporting items are bullet points or numbered points.
  6. I allow myself to slip in other posts. Each day I have my “main blog post.” This is the one I get up and write in the morning. But if something pops up and I want to post it later in the day, I do it. Typically, that drop-in post takes me a few minutes instead of an hour. It’s a thought or image or video or life nugget or reaction to something I read. But I’ve found allowing that to flow allows me to have still have that consistency of one thing I’m writing each day.
  7. I don’t punish myself for days off. I don’t have a scheduled day off from the blog. But sometimes, typically a weekend, I just don’t post and I don’t worry about it or force myself to write two on one day to catch up. Or sometimes I’ll skip the morning ritual to take the dog for a walk and in the process of walking him I will generate 3 new ideas. It’s also typical on weekends that I don’t have a “main post” but I’ll just push out two drop-in posts of quick thoughts, videos, family updates, etc.
  8. Blogging isn’t really always on my mind. I’m not sitting there, having coffee with a friend, and thinking… I’m so blogging this. This process actually allows me to NOT do that. It frees my writers mind to be fully present in my daily life. That’s hard to explain– but I think I’m just wired to write and writing in the morning kind of gets it out of my system so I can be productive in my day without thinking about things to write.

So, that’s how I do it right now.

My process is one-part analytical, one part self-discipline, and a pinch of artistic desire. You could even call it a little bit manic.

And if I’m really honest with myself. Part of the reason this process works for me is that it brings order, control, and discipline to my scattered mind– writing a blog is more for my benefit than yours.