Aug 052018 9 Responses

Reflections, Regrets & Responses to 1,000 Articles

I’ve always wanted to write. For many years, I did. Starting in 8th grade, I began to write a regular column in the student newspaper. In 11th grade, I wrote an article that nearly got my teacher fired. Not a surprise to many, the headline was controversial.

College and graduate school were filled with too much writing. The joy of theology is that fewer tests are multiple-choice and more tests are essays or papers. I continued to write. But as I graduated with my masters, my writing came to a halt. I was speaking each week which led to a weekly manuscript, but no one was reading it. I wanted to write, but I wasn’t. I had always dreamed of writing books, but the dream wasn’t coming true.

So I called my former journalism teacher. I told her of my desire to write and she suggested starting a blog. So I did. On January 1, 2013, I published my first article. My plan was to write for thirty days and not tell anyone. If I could keep that habit, I would make my blog public. However, in setting up my website, I unknowingly connected it to my Facebook page. Within seconds of publishing my first blog, a friend texted me. It was public, so I never stopped. Five and a half years later, I’m still writing. Two books have been published. The third comes out in October. The fourth rough draft is completed. And the fifth book is being developed. The blog has done what I hoped it would.

This is article number 1,000. It’s not the thousandth article I’ve written. There are probably a hundred articles I never published. Some weren’t good. Others were time sensitive and I missed the moment. A few of them, I just haven’t found the courage to publish because I think they would be too controversial.

But a thousand times, I’ve hit publish. Nearly one million words later, I’ve learned a few things, regretted a few things, but by and large, have been encouraged by the process.

Questions I’m Often Asked

What’s been the biggest surprise of the last 5 years? Criticism. I had no idea. I knew people might disagree with an idea, but I never knew they would judge my heart as evil or my intentions as selfish. I definitely didn’t know it would be a weekly event. I hoped some new people would start attending our church because of the blog, but I never imagined that some people would stop attending because of it. Had I known the amount of criticism I would receive, I would have never started writing. Thankfully I didn’t know.

What’s been most frustrating? Realizing that many people respond to articles without actually reading them. It took a while for me to figure this out. Eventually, I realized that far more people were commenting than reading. They were assuming they knew what I said rather than reading what I actually wrote. It’s also frustrating when people don’t let me define what I’m saying. They will say “you said X, but you meant Y.” But it’s not true. If I said X, I meant X. (See: Four Words that Make Me Feel Respected)

What’s been the most fun? Becoming friends with people I didn’t know. Sometimes it starts with disagreement. It’s always fair to disagree with an article or headline. I have no problem with disagreement; if I did, I should stop writing. It’s funny how disagreement can actually deepen relationships. Some of the people who disagree with me often, I respect the most. Listening and learning don’t ensure agreement, but it does often produce respect and relationship. It’s been fun to meet new people, consider new ideas, and have perspectives challenged and changed.

What’s been the most meaningful thing? Getting private messages where people thank me for giving voice to their experience or concern. Nothing compares to an email from a woman thanking me for writing about abuse or a text from a person of color encouraging me to keep writing about racism. For me, not every voice is equal. If two people respond to an article and one has direct experience with the issue and the other is just giving their opinion, I give more attention to the former. It’s also meaningful to consider how drastically opinions have changed on abuse, women, and football. I don’t know how much my article suggesting a zero tolerance policy regarding football and abuse influenced the national narrative, but weeks after the article was published, the discussion began to change. When national writers picked up the idea, the NFL and College Football did a 180 on how they approached the subject.

Why do you respond to Facebook comments? Social media is supposed to be a conversation. I try to keep it that way. But I’m very aware I’m not going to change someone’s mind while arguing on FB. So I try not to argue. I do try to respond. And I try to communicate a consistent Christian worldview. But mostly, I’m responding knowing that many people are watching/listening. I hope to help them think through issues and answer questions they might be asking or might be asked of them. I would say knowing when, if, and how to respond to comments is the most difficult aspect of writing.

What do most readers not know? When they argue over a headline, the headline and the article are likely very good. Headlines have to draw attention. They must evoke intrigue. When they don’t, no one will notice the article. I’m proud that over the last five years, I’ve avoided click bait. It’s tempting to do some bait and switch with a headline just to get clicks on an article, but in the long run, it’s not wise. There has only been one time I’ve used click bait. When the Ashely Madison list was released, I wrote this article and put click bait inside it–Click Here to Check the List.

How does the website differ from my day job? There is one major perk of the website. If I have an overzealous critic, I can tell them, “We both would probably be happier if you would just stop reading.” This isn’t something I can say to a church member.

What was the first article that got serious attention? What If Trayvon Martin Was My Son? The article was good at the moment, but time gives us more clarity. We now know that Trayvon was right and George Zimmerman was a murderer. I wish we would have known that then. At the time, the article was good, but I wish I would’ve spoken up more for Trayvon.

How do people react to different topics? Everyone shares and likes articles about faith, but few people read them. Everyone reads articles about sex, but they don’t share or like them. If you doubt racism is still a major issue, write an article about it. Wow. The responses are tragic. I love to write about decision-making, but no one cares about the topic. I miss Funny Friday.

What are the most-read articles on the website? Two articles make up over 80% of the all-time views of articles I’ve written. Because they went viral, I was able to get a book contract. Without The Number One Cause of Divorce or The Most Overlooked Characteristic of Who You Want to Marry, I don’t know where I’d be, but eight million views later they are still going strong.

What article are you more confident of now than when you first wrote it? Beware of the Crossfit Affair The response to the article was revealing. It published at 6:01am and by 6:30am my phone was ringing to warn me about the response. Had I known at the time about some local situations, I wouldn’t have published the article when I did. The timing was bad. Too many people took it personally, but there was no way for me to know. But the overall message was, and is, important. Working out is great and Crossfit is one of the best workouts. However, you must be aware of your own intention and the intention of others while working out in group settings. I’d write the article again today.

Part 2: The same can be said for the article I Still Believe Character Matters. The response to this article is still mesmerizing to me. I still like the article and would write it again. I still understand and appreciate how people of faith came to a diversity of opinions regarding the 2016 vote and no one should apologize for the conclusion they drew. I don’t regret mine. What I was taught as a kid in Sunday School about character and leadership was right then and is still right now.

How much longer will I blog? I have no idea. I am tired of it, but it’s somewhat necessary for writing books. I would stop tomorrow if I knew I could still get book contracts and not struggle with the discipline of writing every day. What began as fun has become a job. Yet there are moments in which I still find it important. The pastorate allows me to be involved in so many situations that there are times in which I know that what I’m writing is far more important than the average reader might understand. An article like You Know What You’re Saying might seem random or unnecessary or pot-stirring, but the email and text responses prove it is more necessary than most will ever know.

9 Responses to Reflections, Regrets & Responses to 1,000 Articles
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