Blog Month: Behold, Your Blog Idols

October 18, 2010

 Last Friday, I asked you who’s in your blog reader.

A lot of you shared a lot of blogs.  Blogs that make you laugh, cry, inspire you.  Even some blogs that you look up to as bloggers.

I call those the “Blog Idols.”

Those are the blogs you wish you were writing.  They give you something to look up to.  But looking up to blog idols often leads to blog envy, and then blog insecurity.  Suddenly, you’re not just enjoying a quality blog.  You’re cursing the heavens, wondering why you can’t write a blog as good as that one.  It’s really something everyone does whether they blog or not.  Why can’t I be as tall as that guy?  Why can’t I make as much money as that person?  Why can’t I have a body like hers?  Why can’t my wife have a body like hers?  Why can’t my kids be as above-average as those kids?  People are never happy with what they have.  So even if you don’t blog, listen up.

Speaking of blog idols, I just have to share with you one of my highlights at Catalyst was getting my copy of Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely autographed by Jon Acuff…and then Anne Jackson.  Opening bids on eBay are $375, with all of the proceeds benefiting me.

The idea of “blog idols” was brought up by commenter Sonny last Friday, and it’s something I know well.  For a long time, I read the “big boy” blogs, the blogs that everyone read.  It was depressing.  I’d come back to my humble blog and wish upon a shining pixel that Jeff, the patron saint of blogging, would sprinkle the same magick silicon fairy dust on my blog.  (Notice I spelled it “magick,” to show you how serious I was.  None of that fake Disney Tinkerbell magic.)  Failing that, perhaps I could steal the identity of my favorite blogger, commandeer their online persona, and then I would be happy, and all will be right with the world.

But of course, neither of those things have happened…yet.  Rather than getting down on yourself for not writing a blog that’s as good as your favorite blog, here’s what I suggest.

Three Things for Blog Idolators to Do

Write a Better Blog

That makes me smile just to write that.  Note to self: be more talented.

Seriously, everyone’s got room for improvement.  So look at what makes your favorite blogs good, and learn from them.  Don’t moan and wail that you can’t write like someone else.  Just pick out what it is that makes you connect with that blog, and use it.  Looking back on what I was writing a year ago, I can’t believe anyone was reading that garbage.  But even a perfect person like me can become perfecter.  I thought I was writing brilliant stuff when I first started…well, maybe not brilliant, but at least decent.  Now I can’t read my posts that are over a year old without dry heaving.

It’s the same with everything.  Fashions change, opinions and knowledge changes, and everyone dry heaves while looking at old photos of themselves.

I’m going to spend a post talking about how to improve your blog’s content, but for now the lesson is to just promise yourself that you’re going to get better with practice. 

Don’t Try to Write Someone Else’s Blog

When I say “learn” from someone else, we all know that “learning” doesn’t mean copying.  That’s just being a cheat.

It’s pretty lame to write a copycat blog.  Do you want to be the generic “Always Save” version of your favorite blog?  Do you want to be the cheap knock-off brand with the garish label and the ridiculous name that people know isn’t as good, but they’ll buy it when the church is doing a canned food drive because they assume poor people won’t be able to tell the difference?  Because that’s what copying makes you…a big yellow bag of “Fruity Hoops” with a frightening and soulless cartoon character on the label.  I guarantee that you won’t be as good as the person you’re emulating.  Every once in a while, I’ll come across a blog that’s obviously riding the coattails of a much better endowed blog, and it’s just obvious that the author is compensating for his own inadequacy.

Look, you’re the only person who is you, and you have interesting things to say.  So say them!  I can’t tell your stories.  Don’t deprive us of yourself because you’re too busy emulating someone else.

Define “Success”

Talking about “success” in blogging kind of grinds my gears.  It makes blogging feel like a corporate enterprise.  But, blogs are maturing as a mainstream medium, so I guess we have to talk about it.

There will always be people who are better than you, write a sexier blog than you, and have a sexier visitor count than you.  Equally frustrating is the fact that there are a ton of blogs whose authors seem to put next to no effort, and yet they inexplicably have a million zillion visitors.  They’re like the Paris Hiltons of blogging.  No one knows why they’re famous, except for being famous.  I read blogs that the author could not have spent more than ten minutes on, and they have a trillion comments.  You read some of these blogs too.  It grinds my gears.  But I have to get over that.  I can’t slack off and have that success.  I have to work hard and take what I get.

Besides that, you should just know that the internet is huge, but you’re competing for a very small piece of it.  The fact that my numbers can be where they are, and I’m within striking distance of the most popular Christian blogs says to me that it’s a very small pie to begin with.  On the other hand, the fact that there is such a huge gap between me and the top also indicates that for most of us, the pie is very small.  If Tim Challies’ blog is Wal-Mart, then I’m the crappy little hardware store down the street.  Most people are just going to keep going to Wal-Mart.

Your success isn’t going to look like someone else’s.  When you define success as “beating” someone else, you’re going to fail.  When you define success as improving your craft, you always win.

All right, fess up.  Whose blogs do you idolize?  Who writes the blogs you wish you were writing?  What does “successful” blogging look like to you?  Have you looked back recently on what you were writing a year, or even a month ago?

35 responses to Blog Month: Behold, Your Blog Idols

  1. “There will always be people who are better than you, write a sexier blog than you, and have a sexier visitor count than you”.

    I find that hard to believe.

    Success seems to equal numbers, either in readership or cash. To write a thing and have nobody read is means you have labored in vain; to write a thing and have people read it without paying for it means you have an expensive hobby…

    Or, you can write for self-satisfaction and to praise God, like singing a hymn as you drive alone in your car.

    As Christians I don’t think I’m in competition with anybody because there is no one else in the universe who can fill the spot God has for me. There’s no competition to get on a cross.

    Sexier than me–Ha!

    • //to write a thing and have people read it without paying for it means you have an expensive hobby//

      That isn’t true either. I think of blogging as a gift to my readers. It’s an art form. I’m going to turn my blog into a book. And I bet Matt will too or some variation of that idea. But if we just tried to sell a book out of thin air, people would be like, “And who are you?”

      nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

      • Maybe it is an expensive hobby. But what hobby isn’t expensive? But just because you don’t recieve monetary compensation, it doesn’t mean you haven’t recieved value from it. I think that’s one of the difficult things to communicate to non-bloggers – the non-monetary value of blogging. But everyone does things they don’t get paid to do just because they enjoy them. And even at work, most people feel they don’t get paid enough for what they do, but they still want to do the best work possible, because being good at what you do is a bigger motivation than money.

    • That’s exactly my point, John. When we set ourselves up in competition and define winning as “success” we will probably be disappointed. When we define success as loving what we are doing and mastering our craft, we can’t help but win.

  2. I don’t blog, just read them. But I think you’ve got some good points. Especially when you state that “Look, you’re the only person who is you, and you have interesting things to say. So say them! I can’t tell your stories.” That is so true on so many levels, not just blogging.

  3. The blog I idolize most is probably “Science and the Sacred”, the Biologos blog (biologos.org/blog). The various authors there write incredibly eloquently about issues at the intersection of science and faith.

    I wish I was Ed Yong, writing about awesome science and winning $20,000 for being this year’s best science communicator in the “online” category: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/10/14/i%E2%80%99d-like-to-thank-the-academies/

    The ultimate in successful blogging is when your blog (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy) leads to a book (http://www.amazon.com/Death-Skies-These-Ways-World/dp/0670019976), which lands you a gig as the host of your own show on the Discovery Channel (http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/bad-universe), blowing stuff up and riding in jets.

    Looked back on my old writing? Yeah… Just imported some old stuff to my new blog. I don’t think I’ve changed much… that’s probably not a good thing. 😉

  4. Being that I’m a humor writer first and foremost, it’s easy for me to look at Acuff’s empire and wish God would have slapped me in the head with his idea. Then I remember that he is talented and works harder than anyone else, and I get over it.

    good stuff Matt.

  5. Matt, you’re my blog idol for the simple reason you have time to write one–as my untouched blog since September shows. ;^)

  6. John, you, Tony, Anne, Bryan, Seth, Trevin, Don, Carlos…..do I need to keep going? Or have I convicted myself already?

    Ugg…Who will save me from this body of death?

    I didn’t even think about it when I wrote this, but how many of us need last names to know who I’m talking about? Funny how I just assume everyone is on a first name basis with these popular bloggers, huh?

    It’s a daily struggle for me to not try and keep up with the Jones’s blog. If I push myself to put out content and polish my content up to where I want it to be before I hit publish, then my blog will be successful only at the detriment of my other responsibilities. I do most of my blogging from work, when I get a few spare moments, but those are few and far between. When I am home, I try to be Daddy, and you can’t do that from behind a computer screen.

    Even though I lust after a wildly successful blog with followers and readers and community and an imminent book deal, I know that it must take a back seat to my duties as a husband, Daddy, and worker. So for now, I publish the best I can when I can.

    And sometimes it helps to scream at myself in my own head, “Not my will, but Yours.”

    jj

  7. Okay, so I can relate to dry-heaving over old posts. I spent the weekend reading a lot of my old stuff and got disgusted. I thought to myself, “I thought they were clever at the time.”

    Blog idols…I have a few, but I try my best to be different. Anne Jackson is at the top of my list.

    But ultimately, I do it because I have fun with it.

  8. I like blogs that make me laugh and my three favorites are:
    Mama’s Losin’ It (she even provides writing prompt ideas for the res of us!) http://www.mamakatslosinit.com/2010/10/babysitter/

    I’m Living Proof That God Has A Sense Of Humor
    http://2setsoftwins-helene.blogspot.com/2010/10/i-wonder-what-he-was-thinking.html

    For Love Or Funny: http://www.forloveorfunny.com/2010/10/dont-do-this-at-a-football-game/

  9. Definitely SCL. He’s got millions of visitors. All ages can read his stuff and he just got a job at Dave Ramsey. Okay, I guess the question is, am I idolizing his site or him?! Hmm…

    “Successful” to me means that people will enjoy what I write and look forward to the next post. I find that invaluable. If I can become a full time writer and get paid, that would be my ideal definition of success.

    Yes, I look back on what I wrote a year ago…UGH! It’s like I just took a crap on the keyboard and hit publish!

    I think I’m being more honest(I know that sounds cliche) and more descriptive in my writing style. I’m putting a lot more detail and I notice I take more time crafting my posts, thanks to only posting 3 times a week now (which is an idea that I gracefully stole from you Matt).

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

  10. “Looking back on what I was writing a year ago, I can’t believe anyone was reading that garbage.”

    Well, thank heavens I just started reading 6 months ago!

    Rachel Held Evans is definitely my blog idol. I read her stuff and say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think, only she writes it so much gooder than I do!” And some days it makes me all mopey and depressed that I’ve been blogging for what feels like forever and am not any better than I am, and then on good days (which are hopefully more frequent than those other days) it makes me want to really work harder to find my voice and polish what I’m saying.

    For me, success has been about engaging my readers more — building more of a community. I feel like that has slowly been happening over the past few months for me, and so I feel like I’m being more successful. And just blogging with more frequency. There was a long time (most of my blog’s existence) where I wanted people to read, but was terrified that they would actually READ what I was writing. I had to give up my fear and just start writing, and I think when I did that, it changed a lot. That has been a massive success for me.

    • “For me, success has been about engaging my readers more — building more of a community.”

      Yes, i feel that way, too. There are some folks i read just for the enjoyment (Pioneer Woman, but i can honestly say i don’t “want” to write her blog, just to read it), but most blogs i read are to try to connect with people. Sadly, i seem to be about as clueless at that on the internet as i am in real life.

  11. Whose blogs do you idolize?
    None really – I have analyzied the trend for some of the big guys that I read and it’s just not me.

    Who writes the blogs you wish you were writing?
    Again – no one really. I do like yours very much and often say amen or LOL as I am reading.

    What does “successful” blogging look like to you?
    I thought it would be having great readership – but what I enjoy the most is the comments and interaction. Success is engaging the readers and finding out what they think.

    In the end, because I am Christian writer, it is that Jesus would approve of what I say, and think. Yeah, I know the (W)orship, (T)eaching, (F)ellowship blog probably should be taken down. 😉

    Have you looked back recently on what you were writing a year, or even a month ago?
    I do a lot of times – I still like the message some times, but the writing sucks. I am not sure what I will do next – maybe learn English, or do a Portuguese blog.

  12. Now I’m starting the think it’s bad that I don’t really care. I use my blog as a way of keeping friends up to date, ordering my thoughts, and occasionally as a quick way to show potential clients my informal prose style when I send them clips. I never thought too much about growing a community or being a “successful” blogger. Now I’m starting to realize that in this age, I might have to have an established “blog presence” to get freelance jobs more regularly as a young, unestablished writer– that kind of makes me feel sick and nervous and inadequate.

    • No no no! You’re falling for it! Look, if you don’t care to begin with, then that’s great. :) No one’s saying you should care. Lots of people blog for the reason you just mentioned. If you enjoy blogging, then keep doing it. For a lot of people though, there is a drive toward some definition of “success,” and I’m trying to clear that up. You’re right, you may need an established “presence” as it pertains to your career, but just enjoy it. And don’t feel inadequate! That’s how the blogging demons want you to feel.

  13. I enjoy reading other blogs. Do I read for inspiration? Absolutely. Am I envious? No. I write because I feel compelled by God to write. I know He reads my posts. And just the act of writing them forces me to listen to what He’s telling me.

    Besides, there is no way I’m ever going to be as cool as you. 😎 I write like a middle-aged woman because I am one. If I tried to write as if I was in my 20s or 30s, I’d sound even more lame than I already do!

  14. For starters, I don’t know who this “Sonny” clown is who started all this crap, but I say we burn him at the stake for inciting this madness.

    To illustrate some of your points, as I was reading your post today, I kind of did a little sing-sing chant of “Oh yeah, that’s right – Matt mentioned ME by name in his entry today. Whas’sup, y’all? I’m famous! I got a shout-out AND a hyperlink to my Twitter account! I’m gonna get followers! I’m gonna get followers” head bob and told everyone in my house about it.

    Neither my dog nor my toddler were impressed or amused.

    For me, success comes when some random scribbling that I threw down actually hits home to someone who comes across it. I mean, yeah, I know my mom reads my blog and thinks I’m just THE coolest, but when a total stranger whom I have never met in person and may never meet on this side of Heaven emails me saying what I wrote (which is actually only what I transcribed from what the Spirit showed me) meant something to them, then boom. That’s success.

    I may never get published in anything resembling a traditional format. I may never get payment in little green slips of paper for what I share with the world.

    I write because I have to. I blog because I have to. Because, to be frank, to do otherwise would be to ignore what God has laid on my heart and compels me to do. If no one besides my mom and Random Person X ever reads it…I can live with it.

    I may just start signing everything “Donald Miller” just to up my readership. I think that’s a good pseudonym.

  15. I blog for an audience of one, and He confirmed this to me via answered prayer this last week. Success, failure, reputation, are in His hands. If He does something with my blog, great; if not, great–it’s His. That said, my last name is Jones, and you need to keep up with me. 😉

  16. SCL is probably the only other blog I catch myself sometimes wishing I was more like, but then again I’m glad I’m not. I think I have my own voice, and I like that.

  17. My favorite blog is A Holy Experience written by Ann Voskamp, followed by Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like. Your blog is right up there too Matt so keep it coming.

  18. Great post, but I got so distracted by the great thoughts in the comments that anything in my brain escaped. Thanks Matt.

  19. I have been blogging since July 2005. I have been through all the cycles of blog motivation, stats, bragging rights, etc. But really, as a writer, I love blogging for it’s instant gratification of the need to write daily. Down side to that is, I let it replace the writing I needed to be doing on my book, because of the instant gratification it give. A book that is still not finished. So, to me, blogging is like coffee and wine, gotta use self control and not let it or who does or doesn’t read it, control me.

    As far as favorite blogs, there are three that I read every day, jesusneedsnewpr.net, Carlos ofcourse, and Ben Arments. Skye Jathani only blogs once a month maybe, that’s his magik, I wait for those juicy steaks like a dog under a table. I also love Stuff Christians Like and Donald Millers blog but am not as addicted to them as the others.

  20. Every now and then my mum “kindly” sends me stuff I wrote in the sixth grade. Now, THAT makes me dry heave. My old blog stuff… not so much. It’s like you say; writing is a process that should get better with time, and it’s amusing to look back at the old stuff sometimes and wonder what I was smoking on October 5, 2006.

    As for blog idols… meh. If it interests me, I’ll stick around; if not, I have a delete button on my blogroll. I couldn’t even tell you who the big blogging names are.

  21. I would love to write Michael Hyatt’s blog, but I’m not as experienced and I haven’t lived as much life. I’m still allowed to look up to him and his writing, however. :)

    To me, success is building a platform; a community of people who believe so strongly in what you’re trying to say or accomplish that they read regularly and genuinely support your cause.

    Look at what Jon Acuff was able to accomplish on Friday and Saturday with his blog. I think that’s epic. If I can turn my blog into a platform that turns into a movement to change this world for the better, that’s my version of success right there.

  22. For me, blogging is about being creative on a regular basis. I’m enjoying the process. I’m so glad I am no longer the only person who reads my writing. I’m so grateful to the family, friends and strangers who have taken the time to read what I’ve written and encourage me. I don’t have time to be envious. I’m too busy working and sharing my art with others.

    My God’s spirit fill you anew,

    Lazy Silly Girl

  23. TallSkinnyKiwi has the best blog out there in my opinion.

  24. I keep working on my blog and I think it’s getting better, but in a cyclical way, not necessarily in a linear way.

    I read Fred Clark, at Slacktivist.slacktivist.typepad.com He’s my blog idol. I don’t know much about him personally, but I’ve been reading his blog for years and creep back daily to see if there are new posts.

    It’s the community of readers he has that I adore most. I want discussion, I want debate, I want openness instead of mouth-pieceyness. I think I may have to get more controversial for that, though.

  25. Matt,

    Thanks for writing this. I’m literally on the edge of giving up, as i’ve been slogging it out for the past two years writing a blog and recently i started getting anxious about the other people who seem to have more success than me despite being hurtful, or badly thought out, or ill-focussed.

    It’s comforting to remember that i didn’t get started to impress people, but for the non-monetary value of a blog and the community that comes as a result. I think walking away would be a mistake, but you’re a part of my journey in realising that, so THANKS!

    (PS. I definitely idolise Don Miller’s blog)

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