The4thDave Reads: “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport

We’ve seen the blog posts and editorials for years: “How I Gave Up Social Media for 30 Days and It CHANGED MY LIFE!” “Why I Quit Facebook and Got My Life Back” “Quitting Instagram Helped Me Lose 40 Pounds and Run The Boston Marathon!!!” (Okay, maybe not that last one.) Hand-wringing posts about the dangers of online culture, social media addiction, and how often we contemplate quitting (or quit and then come back) are almost becoming a cliche lately. (Guilty.) But no matter how many productivity gurus talk about the power of “digital detoxing” and the benefits of set fasts from social media, many of us are still struggling with this form of addiction. (Yes, us, I’m a junkie just like you.)

I read these types of posts constantly. The most clear-headed thinker I’ve found on this topic is Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. I’ve shared the link to his TED talk about quitting social media in the past. I heard sometime last year that his next book would deal with the idea of “digital minimalism” and was immediately intrigued. Well, it was well worth the wait.

Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in A Noisy World is a persuasive call to reconsider the choices we make about our digital lives.

Newport challenges the reader not to throw away all technology–he’s no Luddite seeking a purely analog life–but rather to ask very pointed and thoughtful questions about why and how we use technology. He challenges the notion that a mere potential benefit of a device or service is a good enough reason to adopt its use, or that having more features is automatically better. He draws the reader’s attention to the fact that we are the product being sold by social media corporations, and that our time and attention have been monetized for someone else’s benefit.

Beyond a Simple Detox

Newport suggests a 30-day challenge: an intentional digital fast (with common-sense provisions for certain necessary work/life demands), followed by a slow and deliberate re-integration of tech. During this post-fast period, he suggests that we ask 3 questions of our devices and apps: Does using this tool support a belief or priority that I deeply value? Is this the best way I can pursue that ideal or value? Can I optimize the way I use this device or program in pursuit of that value?

For example, if we use social media for keeping up with our family, Newport would argue that what we’re doing when we like or share or comment is mere connection, and it doesn’t take the place of real communication. Instead, while we might still use social media in a very limited way (both in time and scope) to catch up on news about our loose circle of acquaintances, we should also pursue actual communication with people who matter to us via in-person visits, phone calls, or even video chats (for far-flung loved ones). The complexity of face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication, Newport writes, is what provides the richness of human interaction–a complexity that text-based communication falls short of providing.

Don’t Click “Like”

Throughout the second half of the book, Newport gives recommendations of practices one can pursue as part of the “Attention Resistance” pushing back against screen consumption. Some of these ideas are pretty simple (make time for solitude, go for walks, pursue an analog leisure activity that requires physical exertion), while others are a bit more challenging, at least for me.

One such challenge Newport makes is to stop clicking “like.” He talks about how social media introduced the “like” button as a way of providing a minimal amount of feedback that still stimulates the user (the “digital slot-machine” idea of irregular positive feedback conditioning). I struggle with this, because I use the “like” button a LOT (as those of you on my socials can attest). However, I see what he means. A real-world example: I just posted on Facebook 42 minutes ago that we were having another baby. As of right now, 3 people have actually commented (2 of which said “congrats!”), and 20 people have hit the “Like/Love/Wow” emoji. [Update: I’ve gotten more comments since then, but the ratio of reactions to comments is running about 4-5 to 1.] Now, I do appreciate that these folks reacted to the news (that’s how Facebook describes it–reacting), but the vast majority so far have only reacted enough to click a mouse or tap a screen and then likely moved on with their scrolling. And I can’t fault them; that’s just what we do, isn’t it? But Newport suggests we stop, because this isn’t actually communicating anything. It’s one bit of information, a blip on the radar. And it’s a far cry from actual human community.

(And for the record, if you are one of the “likes” on my FB wall right now, this isn’t a slam against you. Thanks for taking a moment to read this. But hey, gimme a call sometime, so we can catch up, yeah?)

One Weakness

The only critique I have of Digital Minimalism is a worldview issue. Newport is writing from a secular perspective, so when he talks about the evolution of man as a social animal, he is missing a glaring clue as to why we are social creatures. Mankind was created by a personal, social, communicating God, a God who speaks and interacts with His creation, and because we bear the imprint of His image, we are social and communicative beings. That’s part of the reason why this reduction in human interaction is so unnatural; we were made by God for community, but our community is being undercut by a digital counterfeit that steals time away from incarnated interaction. The spiritual element of this whole idea is missing from Newport’s thinking on this subject, which is why other books by authors like Tony Reinke and Andy Crouch are necessary and helpful supplements to the ideas Newport presents.

Final Review

Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism does more than simply point out the problem of digital addiction and social media enslavement. Newport helps the reader consider how to use these tools in a way that is healthier and more intentional than simple consumption and constant attention. While I think there are some blind spots in his argumentation due to differences in worldview, I would happily recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the idea of giving up digital tech or social media but still wants to reconsider the way he or she approaches these tools.

Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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What a difference a weekend’s non-stop news cycle makes.

I was going to write a post about the latest internet debate last week, concerning razor advertisements, implications of toxic masculinity, and the necessity of teaching young men virtue. (Of course, by the time I had started to put some thoughts together, several writers of higher calibre had already written excellent pieces in that vein, so I left off.)

Then I spent Friday and Saturday with some other men from church thinking through discipleship at home and in the church, and Sunday with my church family and friends. As I slowly got back online yesterday evening, another outrage had replaced the last outrage–this time, regarding the issue of racially-based disrespect and (later in the day) media narrative bias. Some people who were quick to repost the initial reporting began stumbling over themselves to walk back statements and reassess the latest available information, while others were doubling-down and disregarding any other data points or newly-available information.

One could point the finger of blame at social media for the flare-up of such stories, but then again, if not for alternative outlets beyond the “big three networks” and the cable news channels (ever the bulwarks of, um, “fair and balanced” reportage), we would not often get additional data points that challenge the way stories are framed.

Yes, there’s the ever-present danger of “fake news” and false leads (as was demonstrated when a young man was apparently misidentified as the infamous “smirker” and was hashtagged, stalked, harassed, and doxxed over the course of a few hours). On the other hand, if you limit yourself to what the “officially verified” and check-marked set report, you still may not get the full story. (After all, what’s the good in listening to only one verified source of “real” news when that source is Pravda, comrade?)

Suffice it to say, social media was abuzz with the reaction, the counter-reaction, the reactions to both, and the finger-wagging and tongue-clucking pointed in various and sundry directions. I got sucked in, reading about the drama, forming opinions on second- and third-hand accounts, until I realized I was doing the same thing everyone else was–feeding on the drama as an outside observer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with social media and how that engagement affects me.

Some of that thinking has been helped by recent books (Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Senator Ben Sasse’s excellent book Them). Some of it has grown from observations in myself and others, through the ebbs and flows of social media’s outrage spin cycle.

I’ve arrived at a few conclusions about how I need to change my social media use, which I will think through and share over a few posts in the coming weeks. Here is the first:

I am choosing to minimize the amount of rage-baiting in my feeds–both in terms of what I write and what (and whom) I read.

I doubt that term’s original, but I haven’t heard it used much, so I’ll claim it. “Rage-bait,” like “click-bait,” is an attractive invitation to engage–but specifically to engage in order to get angry.

Ben Sasse talks about “nut-picking” in his book Them–the practice of finding an extreme example of bad behavior or ignorance in another ideological tribe and holding it up as an example of that whole group. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, even without realizing it. We post and share stories that incense us, but if we were pressed, I doubt many of us would honestly say that “Wacko #5” is truly representative of the millions of people we would classify in the same ideological tribe.

But man, Wacko #5 gets us those sweet, sweet clicks, doesn’t he…

I want to resist the temptation to rage-bait. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that deserve our outrage; on the contrary, there are realities that rightly require attention, comment, and even strong rebuke. It may not be healthy to fly to the opposite extreme and live in blissful ignorance of real-world concerns and issues, if we want to be good citizens and neighbors.

The problem is, to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles: If everything is outrageous, then nothing is outrageous.

Internet outrage becomes white noise. It’s barely a blip. One outrage sweeps in after another like waves lapping the shore, and we are all awash in it–partly because we choose to accept it and engage in it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to distinguish which issues are worth discussing, and which ones we can just ignore. In other words, we don’t need to go off every time someone is wrong on the Internet. We can just shake our heads, close the browser window, and move on.

(And if there are specific people or sites in our feeds that are light on information or content and heavy on rage-bait, maybe the best response is to click that “unfollow” button. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So here’s my challenge to you, reader: Take a step back and look at what you post and read on your various social media feeds. Consider the posts and tweets and shares that provoke you to anger the most. How much of it is actual issues-focused interaction…and how much of it is rage-bait?

Does the rage-bait actually make you a better citizen? A better neighbor? A better person? Or does it just make you angry?

And what might you do about that?

#FridayFive: Five Goals for 2019 (12/28/2018)

Happy Mid-Holiday Week, friends! (Or if you prefer, Happy Fourth Day of Christmas–hope you are enjoying your 4 French hens, preferably in a warm and delicious soup!)

Since we are fast approaching the start of a new year, everyone in the world is ready to post their resolutions for 2019, things they hope to accomplish in the next 12 months. Well, call me a bandwagoner if you like, but I also came up with a few goals for the next year that I hope to pursue (and would appreciate your encouragement for, if you don’t mind!). These aren’t quite set in stone, yet–they’re just some ideas I’m considering:

I want to kick the sugar habit. Y’all, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but sugar and caffeine are my addictions of choice–and I’m not giving up caffeine anytime soon. I was doing pretty well on the ketogenic diet for about 5 months this year, but I used some life circumstances as an excuse to slide off the path. I quit working out, I started eating carbs again like I used to, and I’m probably staring at a gain of 15-20 pounds in the last 8 weeks. So I’m going to enjoy the holiday treats and sugary cereals for a few more days and then toss what’s left on Tuesday. It’s time to get serious again. I have a specific weight loss goal in mind for this year and next, and the clock is ticking. Cutting out the processed sugars and carby treats is a big, big part of that.

I want to pray every day. Last year was the first year that I read through the Bible between January and December, and while it would be neat to do that again, I think a better goal for me (besides daily Bible intake) is daily prayer. This is an area of my walk with Jesus that really needs to grow, especially considering the new ministry opportunities I may be stepping into next month. I know there is no tip or trick other than just doing it. I’ve downloaded the apps, I’ve read the books, but unless I’m willing to do it, really do it, nothing will change. So I’m praying for the desire to pray more.

I want to use Twitter to benefit others. Some of you may remember that many of us recently mourned the passing of Donna Guy, the “Kindness Ninja.” Her example of using social media to be a blessing to others has really stayed with me, and I want to make an effort to use my social feeds, specifically Twitter, to be an encouragement. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like, but I want to make sure that anyone reading through my tweets comes away wanting to know Jesus better, not just wanting to win giveaways or read my online content.

I want to write a lot more than I did this year. I was able to get into a bit of a blogging groove toward the end of this year, so I’d like to keep that going, but beyond that, I want to get back to my first love of writing fiction. Part of the reason I’m kicking around this #100Stories idea is that I want to explore the short-story format and work on some short material that I can offer to you (via a mailing list or something like that) and/or compile and publish as an e-book. In any case, I’m looking forward to making writing a daily practice instead of a 2-3-times-a-week exercise.

(I think) I want to become an early riser. I’ve read over and over and over again that people who make a habit of going to bed early and getting up before the sun often find the time to accomplish their goals and become more successful. For years, I considered myself a “night owl” and found that staying up late seemed to work best for me. But now as a husband and father, I’m realizing that late nights are just not tenable when you have a toddler, and it may be better to claim a few extra hours at the start of my day to pursue my goals (like the ones above). My noted hesitation is that I know making this circadian shift isn’t easy or fun, but if it’s worth it, then I just need to push through until I get it right.

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Did you accomplish any 2018 resolutions? Do you have any goals for 2019? Any advice for my 5 goals above?

Let me know in the comments below!

One More “Thank You”: To the Kindness Ninja, Donna G.

Social media is weird, y’all. It’s tribal and loud and angry and strange, and it’s easy for peaceful, fun interactions to turn suddenly hurtful and frustrating. You have to develop a bit of thick skin and expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented from time to time. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical in your social media interactions.

I don’t remember how I “met” Donna G. No doubt, she found me or I found her through a mutual Twitter follow, but somehow, we were connected. I don’t know much about her. She loves her kids (grandkids?). She loves her Florida Gators. And she was a genuinely kind person.

She constantly tagged people in #FollowFriday posts, and would pull you into group-tweets with 15 or so people to wish you a “Happy Wednesday!” (Have you ever been part of a neverending “Stop-replying-all!” email thread? It’s a little like that.) I have to admit, there were times that I would get a little annoyed when my Twitter mentions would blow up because Donna tagged me on one of those threads, but I never once asked her to stop. I always appreciated it. And I would always try to respond to her (and to her only!) to say thanks.

Donna often asked about my daughter and even asked for pictures. That would be weird, normally, coming from someone I’ve never met. But it made sense coming from Donna. She was like a sweet aunt you don’t ever get to visit, but who tries to stay in touch. So I would DM her a pic now and then of me and my toddler, and she would ooh and aah over how cute she is or how big she’s getting.

Donna’s whole persona, her whole thing on Twitter, was “The Kindness Ninja.” No matter what was going on, you could always count on Donna to share a word of Scripture, an encouragement, a funny GIF, or just a “Have a great day!” She was a singular figure, a bright light in a very hazy medium.

I found out tonight that Donna passed away. I don’t know the circumstances (not sure if she had some sort of lingering illness or if it was sudden). But I have to admit, it’s really hitting me for some reason.

Tomorrow has been declared a Day of Mourning in Texas for the passing of the late President George H.W. Bush. Well, meaning no disrespect to the president, I’ll be mourning the loss of Donna.

I never had the privilege of meeting her in this life. I honestly don’t think I could pick her photo out of a line-up. But her sweet heart, her shining kindness, was and is unmistakable.

Enjoy your reward, Donna. Drink deep of the joy of your Master, and rejoice before Him. One bright day, beyond the River, I look forward to hugging your neck and introducing you to my family.

Thank you, dear Donna, for your kindness. In your daily graces, you have blessed and changed so many of us. We thank God for you.

–Dave

What’s Next? (My 3-Step Plan)

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Happy December, friends!

After finishing #30ThankYous in November, I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit of pressure to top that with something even bigger. But that’s totally bonkers and just not feasible at this point in my life.

Instead, I’d like to use some of that energy and momentum to make this site better than ever, heading into the new year. So, how can we do that?

Step #1 is Consistency. This was the beauty of the #30ThankYous project in November–it forced me to publish on a daily basis (albeit imperfectly so!). And while it wasn’t the home run I was hoping, you know what? I posted 22 out of the the 30 days. I’m proud of that, folks. Because in recent years, it would have taken me months to post that many times. And while I’m not going to keep up this blistering, Challies-like pace, I can see now how a 3-posts-a-week process is a very realistic goal. So that’s what I will be shooting for, starting this week.

Step #2 is Content. According to my internal metrics, you folks really enjoy book reviews and Bible discussion, so I’m going to make those weekly features for the next several months. Along with that, I’ll keep posting the #FridayFive, but starting this week, I’m going to mix in some themed “top-five” style lists to mix it up a bit.  I may even post some fiction or poetry here or there throughout the year. No matter what, my goal is to produce content worth reading, posts that matter to you and bless you for having read them. The best way that you can help me be successful in that is by telling me which posts are actually helpful to you, so that I know I’m on the right track. Which brings me to Step #3.

Step #3 is Conversation. Here’s where I make my big ask: I want to interact with you more. Along with producing interesting and helpful content in the coming years, my plan is to be more intentional about posting questions for discussion and responding to your comments. These days, I think most of us are really uncomfortable and anxious about interacting with ANYONE online, and hey, I completely understand that. But I would love to create a forum on this site to talk through ideas and provide suggestions and feedback. So I’m inviting you to engage with posts, interact with me and each other, and join the conversation. I welcome your comments–even your critical ones. (My only request is that you keep things respectful and watch your language.) More conversation may make this a richer experience for all of us.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Your Turn: Three posts a week means I need some great ideas STAT. So what would you like to talk about? Is there any topic you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments!

#30ThankYous “Day 27”: You.

Dear reader,

I have been blogging on and off since 2002. When I first started blogging, I was on the cusp of a job-and-relationship-collapse, and unfortunately the internet bore the brunt of my overblown emotions. After a while, I found my groove, I think. I talked about pop culture, church life, my feeeeeeeeelings, and other trifles. For some reason, people kept reading. (What shocks me beyond words is that some of you are still reading, after all these years!)

My online writing has evolved, as I have grown and (hopefully) matured. I’m learning how to write things that actually benefit others, rather than treating my online presence like a public diary with which to vent my spleen. Over the last few years, I’ve had more and more people follow my progress and subscribe to my site–as of yesterday, The4thDave.com is almost up to 100 followers!

Those kind of numbers don’t really move the needle for the “platform-building” gurus and social media experts. But you know what? They really matter to me.

You really matter to me, dear reader.

I want you to know that I don’t take for granted the time and attention you generously give me. I want to make sure that what I write is encouraging, inspiring, provocative, and entertaining. I want to keep growing as a writer, so that I can be a blessing to you and others through my work.

Years ago on another blog (don’t dive into the archives, it was really terrible), at one of my really low points, I wrote that the reason I blogged was to pretend that I wasn’t alone. While a good deal of that was just the self-pity and lingering break-up hangover talking, there was a glimmer of truth there. That old blog became the one “friend” who always had time for me. Praise God, life kept moving, things changed, I grew up quite a bit, and my heart has healed. Now, my life is full of people I love who love me. Blogging isn’t a lifeline or a drug; it’s a joy and a responsibility. It’s a gift that I can give to others, and a gift that they–you–give to me.

So thank you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me and this blog a chance. Thanks for being patient when my posting schedule has been erratic at best (or, more often, non-existent). Thanks for supporting my work here. Thanks for sharing my posts, and interacting in the comments. Thanks for just being there.

I plan on doing this for a long while, Lord-willing. I’m looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Your friend,

Dave

#30ThankYous Day 8: Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels

Ted and Zach,

Allow me to gush for just a second, baby. (May I gush?)

There’s not a podcast notification on my phone that makes me giddier than the Gut Check Podcast. Maybe it’s the avant-garde release schedule that makes it such an unexpected treat, but getting that little bubble on my Castbox app letting me know there’s untapped Gut Check ahead just makes my day.

The way I’ve described your podcasts to people (possibly on this blog but more likely in casual conversation) is that it’s like getting to listen in as two guys you think are really cool just sit around and shoot the breeze, and you are let behind the curtain and get to hear all the in-jokes and repeated references. Gut Check listeners become part of your crew, just hanging around the periphery of the scene. Basically, we’re all the Charles and Sue to your Trent and Mike (but without the penchant toward random firearm-waving or Wayne-Gretzky-super-fandom).

Not only am I a fan of the pod, but I’ve also really enjoyed your books.  Ted’s collabs with KDY are top-notch, and Zach’s novels (Playing Saint, All Souls Day, and The Last Con) were all fantastic reads that helped restore my faith in Christian fiction actually being, you know, good. Heck, I even bought The Gut Check Guide to Publishing (which is currently sitting on my To-Be-Read shelf).

Thanks to Gut Check, I was introduced to the writing of the magnificent and terrifying Cliff Graham, I have a more profound appreciation for the finer points of Die Hard, and I now understand the true hero of The Karate Kid is the kid who actually trained in karate.

You two are moguls, mavens, entrepreneurs, and supreme rulers over the greatest media, coffee, and/or fashion empire in any boxing-glove-shaped state or Bible-belt buckle. Thanks for all your work, and here’s to another 100 episodes over the next 5-7 years approximately.

I remain, your humble devotee and loyal footsoldier in the Gut Check Army,

T. 4. D.

 

 

“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!