A couple of readers have asked for tips in starting out in Catholic blogging. I don’t have any great secrets, and can think of plenty of people more qualified than myself to answer, but here are the things that I wish I had known (or thought of) back when I was first beginning. I’ll mention up front that I haven’t always done everything on this list — some of these are areas where I’m aware I need to improve.
- Why do you feel called to blog? Start by asking yourself this question. What do you feel like God is calling you to do? What are you hoping to get out of it? How serious are you in your commitment? Pray on this.
- What do you love or hate about other blogs? This is the easiest way of figuring out which things to do, or to avoid. Chances are, the things you really like or really hate are going to be things other people really love or hate. Regardless, you don’t want to be the kind of blogger that you can’t stand. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who pointed out that true humility is a trait we admire in others, while neglecting it in ourselves. Whoever it was, it’s a sound point. We can often see the flaws and the strengths of our neighbor more clearer than we can see them in ourselves.
- Figure out your “genre.” Sin is monotonous: the pleasures of the earth are finite, and end in nihilism, as nearly any addict can tell you. Sanctity, in contrast, is vibrant and unbounded, since it’s a love affair with the Infinite. Are you going to write about canon law? Parenting? Art and beauty? Apologetics? Catholicism and politics? Liturgy? Pro-life and social justice issues? Before you write a masterpiece, you need to figure out your “genre.” Some blogs are able to cover multiple genres well, but many aren’t. For example, think long and hard about getting into the weeds on political issues on which Catholics can take either side. This can be either a good way of stimulating discussion on the dual roles of faith and politics, or a quick way of alienating even other Catholics.
- Set a tone. I think that the most successful blogs are somewhat predictable: regular readers have a feel for what they’re getting. This includes the topics or genres covered, but it also includes how you cover them. For example, how much of the blog will be able your own experiences? Figure out if you’re more like Augustine or Aquinas. But it’s much more than that. Look at the contrasts in how John the Baptist and John the Apostle present the Gospel. Same content, different tone.
- Choose a name wisely. Names are incredibly important in Scripture (e.g., Gen. 17:4-5, Gen. 32:28, Mt. 16:17-19, Rev. 2:17), and in the life of the Church (particularly at Baptism and Confirmation), and should tell us something about you. The same holds true for your blog’s title and for the titles of your posts, particularly since these are the things people see before they enter your site. This is usually all the advertisement you get.
Personally, I try to keep things relatively lighthearted, while addressing serious topics. The original names I was mulling over for this blog (like Catholic Defense or Catholicism Contra Mundum, etc.) sounded too boring, stern, or pretentious. Finally, I asked my Calvinist friend Don for suggestions, who without skipping a beat, answered, “Shameless Popery.” That name captured the feel of the blog better than anything I could have come up with.
My point is this: a blog named To View the World Through Blood-Colored Lenses evokes a very different feel than a blog named Little Catholic Bubble. It’s likely to appeal to a different crowd, even before anyone opens the page.
|Lionello Spada, St. Jerome (1610)|
|Jacob Wrestles with the Angel (1866)|
|Diego Velázquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1618)|
- Fill up. You can only give what you’ve received. When I find myself getting snarky, or running out of ideas for things to talk about, or finding myself unable to turn my idea into a a coherent post, that’s usually a good sign that my tanks are running low. I need to step away from the computer, spend some time at Mass, in prayer, or doing some spiritual reading, and fill up those tanks. This both revitalizes the spirit, and frequently inspires good posts. Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” We could benefit from a similar attitude: everything, including blogging, goes better with prayer.
Cutting out prayer time with God because you want to blog about Catholicism is like saving time on a long roadtrip by not stopping for gas: it may seem smart in the moment, but it won’t end well. Worse, it may be a sign that you’re trying to be the Messiah — trying to save people through your own intellect or rhetorical skills. You can’t. Only God saves. The best we can hope for is that, like St. Paul in today’s First Reading, we can be a “chosen instrument” in God’s plan of salvation (Acts 9:15).
- Consistency. This is the single most important distinctive in blogging, in my opinion. I try to post daily (or nearly so) every Monday through Friday. Missing a day or two is fine, but if you don’t post anything for a few weeks, people will move on. The reader base that you spent months building up can be lost very quickly through inactivity. So if you do need to take an extended break (eventually, almost everyone does), and want readers to be there when you get back, try to let them know ahead of time.
This also means that you can’t afford to be a perfectionist. You can’t spent two weeks on each post to make sure they’re perfect. Give what you can, and leave the rest to God. You’ll surprised by the results. I have posts that I spent hours painstakingly researching that nobody seemed to care for, and posts that I rushed through in a few minutes that took off like hotcakes. For example, one of my more popular recent posts was this one: it’s only four paragraphs long, and consists primarily of my reaction to a First Things article and a Catholic Vote post. I almost didn’t publish it, because it didn’t seem to have a point. I suspect this is all another way of God reminding me that He’s the one in control, not me.
- Content. This is hopefully obvious, but your blog isn’t all sizzle. It needs some steak for people to come back for more. Keeping your audience in mind, along with your purpose in writing the blog (see above), write the posts that you would want to read. Write the posts that you think other people need to hear.
Don’t wait until you’re the perfect Catholic Saint / encyclopedia: this blog has helped me grow as a Catholic. Things that seem obvious to you may seem insightful to those just discovering Catholicism. Those who are spiritual infants, just learning to walk in the faith, may find it easier to learn from a toddler than from a sprinter. Keep the Catechism and Catholic Encyclopedia close if you’re not sure about what you’re saying (or just don’t say it), be prepared to apologize and fix errors, and cast out into the deep. Having said that, don’t contradict or undermine the Church, and don’t dwell on disciplines you wish She would change. You should be building up the Body of Christ, not grumbling (1 Cor. 10:10).
You should aim for a mix of your own content, and your reactions to other people’s posts. You also don’t have to dominate the discussion. Sometimes, it’s enough to just get the conversation going.
- Beauty. This is something I realized far too late in the game. If you read my older posts, they’re often just walls of text. Now, I try to enhance the post with Catholic art and even the occasional video. You can find plenty of art for free, from places like Wikimedia Commons. If nothing else, just use a site like Biblical Art, and find relevant art by Scripture passage. And remember, we’re Catholics; we believe that all beauty points to God. On a related note, see how your blog looks in different Internet browsers, different sized windows, and on smart phones.
- Marketing. Even if you’re doing everything perfectly, you may be ignored. It helps to talk to more successful bloggers, particularly those who are good about promoting upstarts. Mark Shea, for example, was the first to plug my blog, and Pat Madrid linked to me early on (on his old blog).
Two people you should know about, who do an amazing job of directing traffic towards Catholic blogs: Tito Edwards, who runs The Pulp.it, and has a recurring Register feature highlighting Catholic blogging, and Kevin Knight of New Advent. You’ll know when they link to you because hundreds (or even thousands) of people suddenly show up. I was blessed in that they found me, but I don’t think it’s wrong to send your particularly good posts to them in the hope of getting a plug. After all, you’re writing this stuff for people to read, right?
|Valentin de Boulogne, Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (1620)|
|Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1652)|
There’s much more that can be said: how active to be in the comments, how to handle rude or blasphemous commenters, whether sleep is really as important as people claim, etc. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments. Honestly, though, Jen Fulwiler understands this all better than I do, and wrote a two-part series on blogging here and here. So maybe you should check her out, instead?
Finally, heed the words of St. Peter: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
P.S. Please, feel free to post links to your own Catholic blogs in the comments, particularly if you’re just starting out! If you’d prefer, link to a specific post or two you’d especially like to share.