Word of the Week

I write a lot these days.

I write here at Preacher on the Plaza. I write sermons (that I always don't publish) for churches where I'm preaching. I write for the Feed the Children blog called BEYOND where we tell the stories of the good work of this humanitarian organization. And, I am a contracted ghost writer for several folks-- helping them craft their ideas into pieces to be shared with a large audience. 

So how do you do it? I am by no means an expert but this is what I've come to claim about the writing life:

1. You must write a lot.  

Write with a journal. Write with a computer. Write with scraps of paper. Write when you don't feel like it. Write when you do.

As much as any of us might have a natural inclination for words and beautiful sentence structure, we all still have to learn the craft. We all still have to write shitty rough drafts as Anne Lamott would say. There's no short cuts to your 10,000 hours of practice as my tutors at the Collegeville institute taught me. 

2. Write during your most creative time of day.

For me this is annoyingly the moment I put my head on my pillow at night. I lay there and my head floods with topics for new blogs or ideas for how I want to arrange the chapters of  book project or an opinion column for a religious blog. I try to fight it, telling myself to forget until morning. But, usually such a declaration doesn't work. So, I say, if creativity calls, run with it. Get up out of bed and do it. (Just don't publish a blog after 11 pm. Most I know are usually sorry for this in the am).

3. Write with heart.

Readers will forgive a multitude of grammar sins if they see the person behind the copy.  Especially in persuasive writing (which is what I mostly do), I believe readers want to know you personally care about what you describe. There's nothing worse to read, I think, than a journalistic type writer trying to give you the facts and then expecting you to care when you have no idea if the writer cares first! Caring of course don't have to explicit. People know if you do or don't implicitly.

4. Make friends with other writers. 

Other writers speak your language so listen. Non-writers just don't see prose they way a writer does.  My mom or my husband, for example, will read my stuff and will often comments in helpful ways, but their feedback is never as a good as that of my writing friends. Fellow writers will  say I had "a nice turn of phrase" or "this theme connection really made the essay work" or "I didn't start liking you as a character until half way through the chapter."  Also make friends with writers of other genres than your own. This is one of the reasons why I've enjoyed being a part of the Feed the Children copywriting team so much Maybe my sentences don't need to be so complex after all . . . 

5. Do not be afraid of the delete button. 

When I began writing sermons every week, I felt anxious about cutting large chunks of the piece out.  It is so easy to be in love with your own words. It was so sad to see a paragraph go that I would cut and paste it into another word document hoping to come back to it later. The funny thing is that I NEVER would need it.  Sometimes the delete button can be your writing project's very best friend. Tear the band-aid quickly though and you'll .

And, most of all read about writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.

 (Maybe some of these ideas are not only good for writing but any art form?)

We live in a growing interfaith world.

We simply do not marry or interact or learn from people who come from the same exact faith background as us.

Rarely do any us stay "one thing" our whole life without influence from another tradition. And, because of social media, have so many opportunities to know who God by route of those who might call God a different name than us.

Today I'm sharing the story of how I released the exclusive beliefs of my childhood through relationships with interfaith friends. I know the teachers of my evangelical past might say that I've lost my way, but I've chosen love and shared wisdom over judgment. Here's my surprising conversion:

The first time I heard the phrase “God is too big for any one religion” I was in seminary in North Carolina.This statement was found on a bumper sticker on my roommate’s car. I looked at it every morning when I walked out of the house to go to school. I was intrigued, but confused.

Growing up with a “Jesus is the only way to God” upbringing, I had no idea about what to think of my Baptist soon-to-be clergy friend’s bold declaration on her car.

Was she crazy being so public about her inclusive theology in the Bible Belt? I worried about her safety on the road.

Several years later I found myself pastoring full-time in the Washington DC area—the land of much cultural and ideological diversity. In my free time, I dated Kevin, also a Baptist, who lived in a shared house in the city with two other guys. I liked them a lot. They were funny, smart and accepting of my growing presence in their home. They just so happened to be Hindu and Baha’i.

Read the rest over at my friend, Rev. J. Dana Trent's blog.

How many times have you read or visited a blog only to not ever read it again?  I do it all the time. 

It's a painful confession to make especially for someone like me who is a blogger and wants other people to read my blog.

But with so little time in the day and SO many people and organizations fighting for our attention online, if a blog isn't "good" there's a good chance we won't go back. Right?

Yesterday, as part of the Interaction 2014 Forum, I attended a session called, "Why are so many organization's blogs so bad?" It was led by Jennifer Lentfer and Oscar Perry Abello.

Because I am part of the editorial team of Feed the Children's blog, BEYOND, I wanted to know if we might be on the right track. I hoped our blog won't be among the great offenders in the room (and I don't think it was!)

I enjoyed hearing from colleagues from wide spectrum of organizations about why they think so many non-profit blogs are so bad.

Here's some of what the group came up with. A blog is bad if:

1. Lack of thoughtfulness about audience. (Always ask yourself: who am I writing to?)

2. It has too much technical jargon. (Instead write in language the average person can understand).

3. Not using internet writing style of short sentences and paragraphs. (You aren't writing an English term paper).

4. It tries to do too much. (Think one idea. Say and say it well and be done).

5. Shows fear of what really needs to be said. (The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. ― Anaïs Nin)

6. Copy is not appropriate length. (Think less 400 words for a quick read or more than 800 words for a longer read).

7. Too many voices. (Group blogs are great but is everyone thinking about the same audience?)

8. And last but not least: Uninteresting topics. (Remember it's not all about you. Go back to #1)

I think it's a great list to consider for churches and pastoral blogs as well. We, like the rest of our non-profit friends  can so easily present bad blogs, even with the best intentions.

So, here's my take away from the session at Interaction. Blogs are great. They can be powerful tools for storytelling and platform building. People are much likely to visit an organization's blog than they are a website. So it's important to have them.

But, think twice about starting a blog if you do. It's like a marriage. You have to be all in. And when you do, beware of laziness allowing your blog to move into the bad blog zone. Learn the ways from the blogger mothers and fathers and keep improving your craft all the time. The future of our great ideas to share depends on it!

No one gets publishing deals these days without a lot of sweat and tears and a huge platform.

When you are a person who wants to publish a book one day the number one thing that potential editor will ask you is, "Could you describe your platform?"

Having a platform is social capital. Who do you have in your corner? What kind of people read what you already produce? How many hits does your blog get a month?

Publishers care about social capital because they want to sell books. They want to know if your platform is substantial enough to turn a profit. Especially as a first time author, the strength of your platform is everything in terms of making a first impression.  Without a platform that others deem worthy enough, you might as well go back and crawl into your writing hole and try again later.

Maybe I'm being dramatic, but in this cut throat world of publishing and superstar bloggers, subscriber lists and retweets, having a strong platform is everything to making your up the ladder in the big girl publishing world.

I understand-- it is just the way the world works, but at the same point I'm completely frustrated by the whole bit.

Why? Because some of the most spectacular voices I know aren't those without audiences that would be deemed notable.

They are friends who've published their first book and are in the proposal stage for their second, though the Huffington Post or the Christian Century won't give their ideas the time of day.

They are friends who're dreaming about blogging more than once a month with wisdom to offer that leaves me speechless but have other commitments other than writing for now.

They are friends who shoot me their essays every now and then with such gems of language that make me want to weep but their lack of internet skills mean they'll never have a blog.

And I'm influenced by all of them. I'm challenged by their grit, their honesty and their wit. And though they go unnoticed by the large media and might be deemed unimportant by those with the power to say their words get out to a larger audience or not, their voices-- at least to me-- still have worth. I follow them even though they may only publish an article once a year or blog every six months. And I'm all the better for having experienced their offerings.

I've been blogging now for over 8 years. When I first began this journey I did so simply because I loved to write and the idea of sharing my thoughts with others. And my friend Amy started one. She usually had good ideas. So I tried it. And it was a lot of fun.

Over time as my love of writing and big picture thinking grew so did my interest in having a larger audience. I wanted to have conversation with others who needed a companion for the journey, hoping that all my late night musings would be of value to someone other than my husband.

But here I am in year 8 feeling slightly frustrated by the whole platform thing.

Sometimes it feels like I am just throwing my words into the sky and no one really cares.

Sometimes it feels like the Google search engine algorithm is out to keep me down.

Sometimes it feels like I will never find a publisher because I haven't found a way to stand on one foot while juggling and patting my head at the same time-- what the big girl writing world seems to require.

Sometimes it feels like my dreams for my life will simply not come to fruition.

But, whatever. Here I am. Writing a couple of times a week. Writing because I don't know how else to figure out my life. Writing not because of the number of you reading, but writing because I have something to say. For those of you who are faithfully with me on this journey- thank you.

Rant over.

304305_10151240270714168_178293183_nOne of the fun parts of my new volunteer job at Feed The Children is being a part of the writing team. Back in the fall after many months of dreaming and planning, Feed The Children launched it first ever blog. We felt it was a great way to not only keep donors and other interested persons up to date with real-time stories, but also to provide a venue to challenge the norms of what has always been the norm in the relief and development world.

You all know I always like a challenge and who doesn't like sharing good stories about feeding children? Through the course of my travels, I had already seen so much that needed to be shared! So of course I jumped in right away!

My first post back in December highlighted how I went "From Skeptic to Believer" as far as Feed The Children was concerned. And my latest post tackles the issue of hunger right here in the USA. Here's a portion of it-

When hard times come, we could all use a little safety net. We could all use a little help knowing that we won’t have to make the choice between keeping a roof over our heads and feeding our children. We could all use a little encouragement knowing that we aren’t alone—even if we feel this way.

Through our Americans Feeding Americans campaign, Feed The Children is doing just this for countless families who have fallen on hard times.

In December, our big trucks rolled through the rural South Georgia town of Sylvania, the county seat of Screven County (population 15,000). Screven ranks among the poorest counties in the state with at least 33% of its residents living below the poverty line. Sylvania is a forgotten town which took a big hit 20 years ago when all the major factories closed their doors and took most of the county’s jobs with them. With jobs not readily available for parents, one in three children here are at risk of going hungry on a daily basis. Keep reading by clicking here.

Keep watching the Feed The Children blog for even more stories each week!

January 2013 began with a bang. A quiet bang that is. I left my position of pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston in pursue more writing projects and support the work of Feed The Children. I blogged and sought to practice Sabbath keeping as I transitioned. Some days it went better than others.

imageIn February as I settled into my new life of nomad in chief (spending half my time in Arlington, VA and half in Oklahoma City, OK), I continued the tradition of cookie on a stick baking for my new Feed The Children family throwing one amazing Valentine's party (If I do say so myself :), I visited new churches like this one in Tennessee and was humbled along the way, and I fell in love with the ministry of writing.

In March, I participated in my first US Feed The Children food distribution in my hometown of Washington DC realizing how hungry some of my neighbors actually were.  I continued to pack and re-pack my bags learning more about simplicity every day. And I wrote a post for the Associated Baptist Press called, "I Left the Church, Don't Hate Me" that explained how I was trying to figuring out my pastoral calling in my new life.

As April rolled around, I continued to breathe deeply even though I wanted to hyperventilate some days out of feelings of "What am I doing with all this new free time I have?" I thought a lot Imageabout the young men with disabilities in Kenya that I'd met the previous August and how work makes us feel useful. One day in Oklahoma I went without shoes along with the rest of the staff of Feed The Children to raise awareness about childhood poverty. As I got deeper into the journey of writer-pastor I faced fears of the big questions of life like "Am I good enough?"

In May, Kevin and I traveled to Central America for the first time together. Guatemala won a special place in my heart for its beauty and the kind souls of its children. Oklahoma City was never the same after the F-5 tornado hit Moore. I wrote this prayer in response that went viral the week of the tragedy.

Women of WatongaAs the summer began, I continued to preach once a month at Watonga Indian Baptist Mission in Oklahoma, took a short vacation to Costa Rica for the wedding of a dear friend and got in a ride on a zip line through the jungle, and reflected on the fact that Kevin had been at Feed The Children for over one year. Oh what a difference a year can make in your life!

In July, I spent some time back at youth camp with my friends from Son Servants. And, it became clearer and clearer that my vocational calling as I looked forward was all about creating something that didn't exist.

August was not a great month in the Hagan household as if out of nowhere, I got sick with an infection that caused much havoc on all of my lower abdominal organs. I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital in Oklahoma for several days. I learned much about being cared for by others and resting deeper than I ever had in my entire life. Though it took me till September to feel like writing about it.

HBApreachingIn October as I started feel stronger every day, the travel picked up again. I worked in Nashville, TN alongside Feed The Children assisting with social media at several key events. I preached at Hawaii Baptist academy as their pastor for Christian Emphasis week. I hit my stride in truly feeling at home in my skin as a pastor outside of the church-- even writing a three-part series about it.

The highlight of November was absolutely our trip to Africa. My heart overflowed with JOY with every minute I was in Kenya. I couldn't but write about joy with every post describing this trip. I became official at Feed The Children (it was a long time coming!) taking on the position of Ambassador of Social Advocacy though my pay did not change (I am learning to work for free).

1425738_10152117196929809_1922494367_nThough I didn't blog about it here, in December Kevin and I continued our Christmas tour in Central America-- visiting with orphans and other children in our programs in Honduras and Nicaragua. We played the part of "father" and "mother" Christmas bringing gifts to thousands of children. It was an amazing privilege of presence. On the blog, I joined with colleagues and friends to bring you the Baby Jesus Blog.

This sermon I preached at my church, Martin Luther King Christian in Reston, VA in early August theologically sums up how I feel about 2013. This was a year of suffering. This was also a year of resurrection.

I am glad, though, that through it all grace has been ever present and I've survived. Thanks for reading and cheering me on along the way.

Happy New Year!

Over the past couple of years and more specifically this calendar year, a lot of my energy has gone into assisting organizations and individuals (including me) with strengthening social media practices.

Hoping to answer the question: "How do you build online community?"

And then, actually doing it post by post, tweet by tweet, share by share.

Most recently, I've joined the social media team at Feed The Children. Exciting new things are happening in the communications department and next week I look forward to telling you all about our newest project launch!

I've also assisted individuals as well as small groups of people with growing their online presence. (As my bio says, I'm known for making folks disciples of twitter . . . strange but true). As an aside, if you want to have a conversation with me about this, feel free to contact me through the email address under About Elizabeth.

All this strategizing about social media has got me thinking about my own writing life in conjunction with it.

So to writers who say they want to go to their bubbles of offices and deactivate their WiFi to meet their deadlines, I beg to differ. I believe I am a better writer because I am a social media practitioner. And it's not just because I'm procrastinating. Here are some thoughts:

1. You really can say a lot in 140 characters.

When I first started tweeting, I was overwhelmed as many new to twitter are that I had to something in less than a sentence or two. How was that even possible (especially from overly verbose me)? But the more I wrote and edited tweets I found myself going through a daily editorial exercise without even thinking about it. There were words in a given sentence I didn't need. There were abbreviations that I could use instead of other words. And I saw that it didn't take a long paragraph to convey emotion, passion or even conviction. 140 characters was enough indeed.

2. Clever humor is so attractive.

When is the last time you read someone's post on Facebook or someone's tag line on Instagram and laughed out loud? Maybe I just have found some really witty accounts to be associated with, but reading other people's funny posts pushes me. It pushes me not only to laugh more (it is good not to take life so seriously), but also to think of ways to craft more appealing sentences myself.

Sure, I could just say, "I'm watching the Miss America pageant tonight on tv. Trying not to be snarky." But it is way more inviting to conversation with others if I say something like, "Irish dancing is always cooler than a tutu. She's looking at all the other contestants and saying top this #missamerica" Simply put, participating in social media stretches my creative muscles and I believe my longer prose thanks me later.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

In the weekly discipline of keeping up a blog, perfectionism goes away. A blog is never meant to be perfect. It just is. So the best thing a writer can do happens: there are words on a page.

When I have conversations with writers who wrote prior to the "post your every thought online" times such as these, one of the most positive reflections I hear from such writers is this: you don't know how lucky you are as blogger to have so much practice! And it is true a blog is great for trying out any new ideas. It's great to see what ideas stick and which ones don't.

And, while the act of blogging and sharing your writing on other social media channels can easily lead to narcissism or not taking the necessary time to churn out rich thoughts that more established publications can provide-- a blog is good because it keeps you writing and conversing with your community of readers. Practice does not make any writer perfect, but it does keep us moving in the right direction.

I've been in the blogging game since 2006 back before blogging was cool or everyone and their mother had one.

My friend, Amy first told me about hers and I was inspired. (We were both kids back then! Pictured to the right). Like her, maybe I had things to say too?

(If you've been keeping up with me since the end of my seminary journey until now, you deserve a prize. Please raise your virtual hand and I'll give you one. Seriously, I will. I'll know you're legit if you can identify the name before I was: "Preacher on the Plaza")

Recently I was reading over some of the earliest posts-- posts I might have previously thought were to simple or not very challenging theologically or mostly a journal of life-- and I missed them.

I missed old school blogging. Blogging that told stories of people's kids or family parties.

Or blogging that documented vacations or life milestones.

Or blogging that wasn't afraid just to say something out of fear of how it might come back to bite your next job search.

Or blogging that only your closest friends and maybe a rare stranger that soon turned into a friend read. A blogger and friend tweeted something along these lines recently too. And got me thinking . . .

Where did the old school blogging go?

For me, I am a different kind blogger now.

I'm a blogger who is the wife of a guy who runs a global non-profit and though I say that my opinions expressed are my own, I have to remember that what I write ultimately in some way reflects back on him.

I'm a blogger who believes in the power of online community-- I write not just for friends but for those of you who I don't know in person (but maybe one day I will!).

I'm a blogger who believes in the platform of a site like this: a platform to challenge the religious norm, to be a voice when social crisis plagues our world, and to speak to those who I might never have a chance to sit down with a cup of tea with but in whom we might have a lot to learn from each other.

I'm a blogger who can't live without a blog. Though it began as a hobby and something fun to share with family and friends, over the years, I've learned that writing in a public space like this is not only important to my personal processing but to those who might want to enter into the conversation with me. Many of you have told me over the years that you are reading and thinking with me. And for this I'm so grateful.

And while I long for the days of simpler posts of what I did last weekend or what is my favorite ice cream, I can't write like that anymore.

These past years there have been some great challenges, challenges that have put me face to face with what calling, vocation and faith in deeper ways than I've ever known.

The more I grow in my understanding of God (or the mystery thereof) and how the world works, I know I have to keep wrestling with the big questions. It's just who I am. It is why I blog. (Though not to be discouraging on others who write for other reasons, of course).

My hope is that as you stop by from time to time you'll keep reading, keep commenting, keep pushing me toward new ways of thinking about life in this world.

While I might miss the ease of old school blogging, I know where I land on the other side will keep taking me to the next place I need to go. 2013 will soon be old school too!

One question I've gotten recently is "Why haven't you changed the name of your blog?"

The official title of my blog is Preacher on the Plaza. I started this blog back in January 2009 (back when not everyone and their brother had a blog) when I became the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist (WPBC) in Reston, VA. This church sat as the centerpiece of a commercial/ residential district of Lake Anne with our next door neighbors being a coffee shop, a real estate branch office and a Thai restaurant. (What fun, right?) Hence the name-- Preacher on the Plaza--- I was the only "preacher" on Lake Anne Plaza.

On my last Sunday at WPBC, I was given a couple of gifts. One of them was a binder full of my blogs printed out (remember the 2012 election joke about binders?). It was a funny yet appropriate gift. The congregation knew me well. They knew how much I loved writing and sharing the story of our little church with the larger community. They knew the blogs I'd written during my tenure with them meant something.

Though blogs are not meant to become doctrinal statements or even be the kind of thoughts shared that you'll always go back to years later-- I kind of like having these binders in my closet as a way to remember WPBC and their thoughtfulness.

So, when January 2013 rolled around, I thought about changing the name of this site. A chapter in the life had ended, you know. I was no longer "the preacher on Lake Anne Plaza." One day, there would be another pastor to care for this group of people I loved so much. Maybe he or she would want to be "the preacher on the plaza?"

But somehow I just couldn't change the name. The title had become a part of what I was and who I was in the process of becoming.
I decided to remain "Preacher on the Plaza" for two reasons:

1. In this current phase of life, God seemed to be calling me to be a pastor who was "on the plazas" of life (as I always seem to be somewhere that wasn't where I was the week before). I would not pastor a traditional church, but I would be out among the people where I found myself seeking opportunities to engage others in the deeper stories of life. The plazas of this world would be my new ministry. And I would need to write about them.

2. The church that made me their "Preacher on the Plaza" gave me my voice. One of the greatest gift my tenure at WPBC gave me was confidence in the leader/ teacher/ preacher I was made to be. I tell the truth when I say NEVER did WPBC ask me to be any less than who I was-- a rarity among churches these days. I actually think they would have been ill at me as a congregation if I'd backed down to be any less than I was. In keeping the name "Preacher on the Plaza" for my blog, it's my way of paying tribute to this wonderful congregation that empowered me in my becoming and having a piece of them always with me.

So, thanks for reading, oh faithful blog readers. Thanks for being on this journey with me-- this journey that I often have no idea where it is going from day-to-day.

I look forward to possibly visiting a plaza near you sometime soon!

You haven't seen me blog as much as I normally do lately other than posting sermons. Writing like a crazy woman some days, I've sought to give more attention to my book long project instead of other stuff.

When I come out of my writing cave and seek to tell people what I've been up to, the number one thing people say often in a condescending tone of voice is: "That must be so healing for you" or "Writing is so therapeutic, so good for you."

And in response, I use self-control to not growl. And I really want to growl.

I realize people mean well. They're just trying to be supportive. Many can't imagine writing as honestly as I am trying to do.

But, I want to proclaim writing is not an "all about me" task. It's not something I do rooted in selfish motives. I' m not trying to throw up my emotional baggage on the world. I write because I am a writer. I write about painful things sometimes because painful things have happened to me and need to be heard. I write about joy sometimes because happy things happen to me and I want to encourage others. I write because like a painter or a carver or a sculptor, word choice is my art form. I write to practice my art. Sometimes what I produce is good art. Other times it needs to be sent back to the drafting board altogether or thrown in the trash. But it's still art. And I still must write.

If I wrote for therapy, then I should get a journal or talk to a therapist (I already do both from time to time). These things are less painful. More private. Less drafting and wasted paper.

It's burdensome task, I believe, putting your honest self out to the world, having no idea how people will respond to a story that isn't just a story to you. It's your life, and the only one you've got. Writing about your own life, I believe, can be one of the most courageous things people do.

Sure, as they say, writing can mature the soul. In writing, the pain has somewhere to go: to the paper. And, when you have to think about something long enough to find just the right word, you usually walk away with heighten self-awareness (which is never a bad thing). Healing and self-awareness are cousins. It's true.

But I don't think most writers, write because of personal sickness (though I'm sure some do, but I'm not friends with these folks). I don't think writers write so that just anyone can know their less than flattering thoughts or moments. I don't know think they write just to feel better. Writers write to connect them into what it means to be human.

And this is my point: I write because I don't know how to not write. So if you stick around, you'll have more to read in the future. And, this is what I can promise you, the stories to come will be my truth.

Recently I have found myself being asked more about writing. Such as: "How do I find time to do so much of it?"  "How do I decide what to write about?" "Why write a blog when you don't know if anyone out there is really reading?"

I giggle a little to think that someone would ask me such questions because only in the past six months have I been able to confidently say that I am a writer as much as I am a pastor among other things.  Yet, the truth of the matter is that I've been steady at the discipline of blogging since 2006-- back before it was a cool-- and have loved every minute of it.  If you want to make me smile, let's have a conversation about writing.

If you want to know why I blog, check out the "About Elizabeth page."  For the rest, here's my in the process of learning list for today:

1. You must write and write a lot to get better at it. Sounds un-profound, but it's true. There is no magic formula to being a writer.  As much as you might have a natural inclination for words, you have to learn the craft. Blessed be the friends who read you stuff even when it is bad and don't tell you how bad it really is-- these are the people you need in your life cheering you on believing in the fact that it will get better. They'll be plenty of editors or critical blog commenters who will tell you the truth!

2. If you are going to be a writer, you need to know when is your time of day when ideas come. For me this is annoyingly the moment I put my head on my pillow at night. I lay there and my head floods with topics for new blogs or ideas for how I want to arrange the chapters of my upcoming book project. I try to fight it, telling myself to forget until morning. But, usually such a declaration doesn't work. So, I say, if creativity calls, run with it. (Just don't publish a blog after 11 pm. Most I know are usually sorry for this in the am).

3. Write with heart. Again, not profound. But often, I've found readers forgiving me for a multitude of grammar sins if they know I believe and am passionate about what I am trying to say.  Especially in persuasive writing (which is what I mostly do-- sermons and op ed type pieces), readers need to know you personally care about what you describe. There's nothing worse to read, I think, than a journalistic type writer trying to give you the facts and then expecting you to care when you have no idea if the writer cares first! Caring of course don't have to explicit. People know if you do or don't implicitly.

4. Make friends with other writers.  Non-writers just don't see prose they way a writer does.  My mom or my husband, for example, will read my stuff and will often comments in helpful ways, but their feedback is never as a good as that of my writing friends. Fellow writers will tell me that I had "a nice turn of phrase" or "this theme connection really made the essay work" or "I didn't start liking you as a character until half way through the chapter." Other writers speak your langauge and so you always need to stick close to them.

5. Do not be afraid of the delete button. In the beginning of my weekly writing career, especially with sermons, I was really anxious about cutting large chunks of the piece out.  I had worked so hard! It was so sad to see a paragraph go that I would cut and paste it into another word document hoping to come back to it later. The funny thing is that I NEVER would need it.  Sometimes the delete button can be your writing project's very best friend. Though a tear may be shed, the best thing is to just go with it. Tear the band-aid quickly though and you'll feel better for it.

And, most of all read about writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.

Last week, while I was at the Collegeville Insitute, I got a lot of questions about my blog. Some of my colleagues there had them, but mostly to post sermons, but no one (unless I am mistaken) had a blog for the purpose of sharing personal stories, reflections or their hopes or dreams for the vocation. Suddenly, I was the blog expert on campus.  Jaws dropped in awe when I said I wrote for Preacher on the Plaza a couple of times a week (how do you have that kind of time? How do you have that kind of discipline?).

Though I've been at this online publishing medium since 2006 in one form or another, I feel my practice is quite ordinary and am by no means an expert. However, not to take anything for granted, I thought it might be useful to other inspiring bloggers out there to answer some of the questions I spent some time pondering with others last week.

Why do you blog?

I blog because I enjoy writing and having other people read my work inspires me to write better and more often. It is as simple as that.

Spiritually, for me, though, the blog serves an even more personal purpose: it slows me down. If I have to sit down and write about an event or experience, I am going to think about it much more clearly and if I just zoom on through to what is next. Blogging is a way to have Sabbath like moments in my days. To the benefit of everyone around me, in writing, I might find gems in a situation I previously judged harshly or ignored. Writing regularly on this site exists as a grace of holy reflection that I wouldn't have if I was just writing in sermons, newsletter columns or even journaling alone at home. Blogging makes me accountable.

What is the purpose of blogging?

For me, as a pastor of an urban congregation with some members that I only see on Sundays, blogging is a way for us to stay connected. My congregation, through the blog, gets to hear more about the particular thoughts on my mind about the church's growing edges, the larger world and sometimes my life. It is a relationship building tool at its heart.

Even more so, often folks who are thinking of visiting Washington Plaza, read my blog first (no pressure of course) and figure out more of our leanings as a congregation and whether or not they'd fit in here.

But, there is another audience that I hope to reach through the site and that is other pastors. There's something strange about the vocation of ministry-- the ups and downs, the unusual experiences, the long hours, etc. that is it good to know that you aren't alone. I hope my writing connects with them too to either give an idea of something we've tried in congregational life here that did or didn't work, a book or text I found interesting or a conference or workshop I've found that they might want to explore too.

When do I blog?

Whenever I have time and an idea that I think I can write at least 500 or 600 words on, I post. Often my best ideas come when I am putting my head down on my pillow at night. It's annoying because I don't really want to get up and write then, but I seek to store them away in some chunk of unoccupied space of my brain and explore the topic as soon as I can.

Sometime I blog at home on my couch or in my favorite sermon writing chair. Sometimes I blog at church at my desk or on the couch where I meet with parishioners. Sometimes I blog when I'm out-of-town when I'm in a place with a WI-FI connection. Truly, the beauty of the web is that you can blog anywhere! I have found that during times away, such as my Israel adventure in January, blogging is even more useful because the people you love don't feel so far away.

If I am thinking of blogging, what advice would you give?

Beginning a blog is a commitment. You are only as good as your last post. So, if blogging is something you want to try ask yourself: "Do I have the personal discipline to keep this up?"  If you are a sporadic writer or you are the type of person who regularly starts and stops new things, maybe blogging is not for you.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't write-- for there are other forums that could be perfect for your style, feature articles from time to time, for example-- but that you just shouldn't blog. There is nothing that makes me as sad to find a blog that is well-written and interesting only to find that it is rarely updated. In the online world of constant movement, you have to keep up or move out.

Get a theme and stick with it. Decide what you are going to write about and stay on that course. I'm not a great example of this because I seem to write about all sorts of things . . . But, I'm told that if you want larger amounts of web traffic and regular readers, pick one thing you want to write about and stick with it. For example, do you want to share about your experimenting with recipes? Do you want to detail your trips as a traveling journalist? Do you want to give advice to other writers? Do you want to share about what it means to parent a child with an eating disorder? It's best not to go from sharing your favorite recipe one day to a dramatic story about the death of your parent the next. You audience will be confused. Be specific and write regularly!

And, make friends who also blog. The details of how to post, where to plug-in pictures, how to change fonts, etc are often things you have to learn on your own, but it is always good to have friends who care about what you do too. It has been great to ask folks, like those on my blogroll, questions about how to make my page look more attractive and who are willing to share what they have learned about the practice as we go through it together.

What is the danger of blogging?

There's a record of your words that can and will be used against you from time-to-time. Blogging is one of the most vulnerable things I do in my ministry. But, I try to not let the fear hold me back.

I could sit around and worry all the time about how what I say this year will come back to bite me in twenty days or twenty years or more (because nothing on the internet is really ever gone), but I honestly try not to think about it. In my faith tradition, I cling to an understanding of my imperfections. I will make mistakes. I will not live up to my potential. I will make people mad with me. I will cause hurt from time to time. Yet, the larger goal remains: using any tools this day and age as given me to share the goodness of life as I've experienced in my Creator and connecting all of God's children with the love of God I've known through the church.

So, I'll keep blogging. How about you?

Any other questions? I'd love to keep sharing ideas.