I tend to have little patience for blog reading. I have been reflecting on this fact in recent days as I continue to wonder how we––that is, PreachingFriars––can promote our site, broaden our readership, appeal to different audiences (other than our parents... but thanks, Mom!) and keep it fresh and interesting.
Perhaps I don't like reading blogs because I myself have a penchant for writing loooong posts and so wouldn't want to read someone else's of a similar length, or... (more likely in my mind) it's because bloggers are just boring. There are any number of delicate balances that must be found: between disappointingly short and frustratingly long; between the descriptive title and the fun, engaging title; between sharing opinion and sharing information... and so on. How to make blog writing a fruitful exercise for the blogger? How to make blog reading something other than a waste of time?
[the caption on the image reads: "Blogging: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few."]
So... I did what anyone does when he wonders what to do. I searched Google for "How to encourage bloggers to blog?" What I landed on was a blog (of course) with a post "If Your Team Hates Blogging." Now, we're not running a business here, not quite selling a product, but there's enough similarities between a business team and a preaching team. We Dominicans like to call our houses the Sacra Praedicatio, emphasizing the communal nature of our preaching. So, I read the post. Well, I skimmed it. Remember: me = short attention span for blogs.
The central claim was interesting enough: those who "hate blogging" don't, in point of fact, hate blogging, but they hate their job. Woah! But... said the naïve friar: Surely none of the brothers hate preaching! Speculations on this discouraging possibility aside, three points about encouraging the reluctant blogger stood out for me:
1. Blogging is value creation
2. Blogging is a metacognitive exercise
3. You can't force people to blog and expect it resonate
Turns out, blogging is an art. You can't use compulsion with art––or you get this. Good blogging for a community of preachers hopefully means a better communal preaching mission––a clearer and more effective statement about our role in the world. I hate mission statements, but the more I think about it, a good one is concise enough to guide (when one allows it to guide) a community toward presenting and promoting a common message. That common message is the Gospel for us, but what specifically about the Gospel stands at the heart of who we are as preachers? The revelation would be gradual, a kind of discipline of a school of thought developing out of continual practice and expression of ideas. But this is vague––perhaps a thought for another post.
What's even better, blogging is a mental ("metacognitive") exercise. Good blogging means personal betterment. We all want that! Forcing ––er, impelling oneself to write encourages a kind of discipline in thinking and the expressing of opinions and ideas. It's thinking about thinking. What about my thinking could be interesting to others? As I mentioned earlier, there probably ought to be a balance between opinion, idea, and fact in blogging. I was thinking about the art of icon writing. Could a good blog post be like an icon? Beautiful in itself, compelling and attractive, but pointing beyond as well, to a common origin.
At any rate, what's needed is courage. And of course, some happiness. The Puritans deep inside us would think our apathy about maintaining our website is just moral laziness, but perhaps it's a lack of courage. In a sense, the task of putting forward a message is daunting. It's much easier to tell you about my summer vacation than to preach or to present an idea, theological or otherwise––which (as anything on the internet) will be critiqued. Of course, it's also easier to vituperatively criticize, pontificate and opinionate. I am reminded of a song from a band that a good friend of mine introduced me to in college, Relient K. The song is called "Apathetic Way to Be" and a particular part seems apt.
"You will laugh at me like I'm not happy
With anything, anytime, anywhere
And the half of me is all about apathy
And the other half... just doesn't care."
Rather than risk pelagian moralizing for a conclusion: "pull yourselves up by your bootstraps"––I'll suggest that the goal here is to encourage courage. It's usually in getting down that first sentence, making that first brush stroke, coming up with a thesis statement that tends to force us into routines like starting every homily with a joke or retelling the scene from the Gospel as a kind of throat-clearing. Well, no throat clearing here: Take courage, sit down, write! You'll be better for it. Share it, and we'll all be better for it. As the song suggests, perhaps what we need is a little bit of apathy. If we all cared a little less about what others thought about our ideas [and if, in fact, we cared a little less about other people's expression of their ideas], we'd likely share them more often, with more clarity, more freedom and showing more progress in thought.
UPDATE: I saw this quote on someone else's blog, thought it was apropos: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint Exupéry.