A pointed comment in a Facebook group today really cut me to the quick. Another blogger had prefaced a post that he shared with an apology for sharing it and promoting himself. So he was complimented for not being like “those other” self-promoting blog-spammers who think that every Facebook group they belong to is their personal platform, etc. As a self-promoting blog-spammer, I feel a mix of wounded, confused, indignant, and convicted.
Before I started doing this, the concept of blogging seemed utterly disgusting and diva-ish to me. In seminary, I found myself writing a lot of Facebook notes which felt dirty and irresponsible even though I was working through theological topics. It seemed like the pure, holy thing would be to stick to my “audience of one” and write my thoughts privately in a hand-written journal for only God to see. But I’ve never been a very pure and holy person in that sort of way.
When I learned that John Wesley had a journal that he wrote for public consumption and a separate diary that was private, that helped me rationalize this strange addiction/vocation that I had. As I was scribbling an agonized conversation with God in my journal over the question of whether to start a blog, I sent a piece that I wrote to Bishop Ken Carder, a mentor from seminary. When he told me I needed to blog, I felt sufficiently confirmed that writing might actually be what God was calling me to do and not just an abhorrent need to be a superstar.
The main reason I started blogging was because I’ve had an evolving vision for a book over the past decade and I knew that publishers would laugh me out of the room if I didn’t have any audience already established when I approached them. Plus I figured the blog would be a place to work out the ideas I would put in my book. I didn’t ask to be given the things God seems to be giving me to write down. If He closed off my inspiration, I would quit, and that’s what I’ve actually asked him to do on several occasions.
Well, now a little over 600 posts into this, I’m not sure whether my blog has become an idol or a cross. I do know that without it, my life would be a lot more manageable and relaxed. And yet every time I resolve to delete the whole thing and walk away from it forever, somebody has to say something that indicates that God has been using what I write to build His kingdom.
A friend said today at lunch, “It’s a real discipline for you to write that much.” I laughed because it’s the opposite of discipline; it’s compulsive. I am a slave to it. Part of the reason is that it’s the only thing about my ministry that’s even moderately successful. I suck at preaching. I’ve managed to drive away just about every first-time visitor at the languishing contemporary service that I lead with an overeagerness that must reveal how desperate I am. I’m an organizational disaster. But the blog has seemed to bear fruit and touch people’s lives, so that’s where I go to hide from all my other failures.
What’s hard is the fact that most of my readers come to me when I share (or spam, if you prefer) my posts in the Facebook groups I’m a part of. I’m not yet at the point where other people spontaneously share my stuff like they do with Rachel Held Evans, Kurt Willems, and other bloggers who are on the other side of making it. I wish you could understand how much I hate promoting myself. It is the ickiest thing in the world. And it feels like in the Information Age, writers like me are set up. The only way to survive without “spamming” people is to have already made it. Without social media, the blogosphere wouldn’t exist.
The way that you make it today as a writer is not to write something that catches the eye of an editor or publisher on its own merits; your primary task is to build a platform that will be big enough that they can’t ignore you when you have an actual idea to pitch to somebody in the publishing world. In the street-hawker-like economy of the Internet, that means prostituting yourself in the most dignified and pragmatic way possible. You try to learn how many comments you need to make in an online forum between posts that you share.
Early on, I tried putting together pieces for magazines like Relevant and Christianity Today in order to expand my reach, but Relevant has ignored me and Christianity Today has rejected everything I’ve ever sent them. Writing a magazine-worthy piece is a considerably greater investment of time and energy, though I suppose that would be deemed the “correct,” non-spam way of building your platform. I got into the Huffington Post but it actually hasn’t done a lot for my readership; they’re oversaturated with bloggers.
So if you’re one of the people I piss off who thinks I’m some uber-arrogant narcissist every time you see my blog in your newsfeed, I’m sorry and I don’t blame you. Before I started doing this, I looked at bloggers the same way you do. I’m probably at least as disgusted with myself as you are with me. If it weren’t a vocation, I wouldn’t do it; since it is, I have to figure out how to do what I need to do without making people mad. In the meantime, pray for me and show me some grace.