#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

person holding chocolate bar near laptop
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

=====

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.

brown pinecone on white rectangular board
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

=====

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

 

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

=====

The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

=====

There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

#FridayFive — 08/24/2018

Five Medium stories to check out as you cruise into your weekend!

=====

I photographed the Charlotte protests. — Going through my old Medium bookmarks, I came across this series of photos from Sean Rayford, taken back in September 2016. The powerful and provocative images here, even this far outside their original context, serve to remind us that media narratives may be simple but reality is not.

The “Burner List” — In a day when everybody has a complex system for improving productivity, Jake Knapp simplifies things in a way that’s really helpful. You just need a piece of paper, a pen, and a basic knowledge of how kitchens work.

Stuck? Switch to Play Mode. — Another quick piece by Jake Knapp. This time, he suggests that the best way to break through mental blocks is to do something…fun? That’s crazy!

This 100-year-old Theater is Now a Bookstore — Here’s a little eye-candy for you bibliophiles. Places like this make my heart skip a beat, I’m not gonna lie.

She Was One of the First Black Women to Host a Television Show — Finally, here’s a fascinating slice of history from Ashawnta Jackson about the career of (unknown to me) 1950’s TV star, Hazel Scott.

=====

Your Turn!

Have you read any interesting stories online that you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!

The4thDaveReads: The AccelerateBooks Platform!

Unsuprising confession: I own a lot of theology books. In fact, I own a lot of theology books I haven’t read yet. Okay, possibly hundreds. I own possibly hundreds of physical and digital theology books that I haven’t read yet. (I say “possibly” because I haven’t bothered trying to count them.)

It’s my fault, of course. I’m easily distracted by the new and shiny, and my trusty, old To-Be-Read shelf waits patiently for my attentions.

Maybe you’re like me and you want to read ALL THE THINGS, all the time. You flit from book to book like a hummingbird, which is great for beach reads but not really useful for the weightier matters of theology. You think you can bop around with Calvin or John Owen? Get outta here with that noise.

Fact is, as disciples of Jesus who are seeking to grow in the faith, we want to absorb as much edifying truth as we can, but many of us don’t have a lot of spare time to do it. That’s where the good folks at Top Christian Books have stepped in to address that need with their new subscription site, Accelerate Books

The stated goal of Accelerate Books is to provide “a digital tool for Christian leaders designed to accelerate your learning through book briefs.” It was launched primarily with pastors and seminary students in mind, but can be useful and beneficial to anyone from lay church leaders to homeschooling moms to new Christians wanting to learn the core ideas of the faith.

For a monthly subscription rate of $11.99, Accelerate Books provides new summaries of Christian non-fiction books (mostly from a Reformed theological perspective) that can be read and digested in under 15 minutes. Each book brief gives a general overview of the book’s main thesis, highlights two or three main ideas presented in the book, and then summarizes each chapter in a sentence or two, along with some pull quotes. Some of the book briefs may include infographics, animations, or MP3s (features that the TCB team is taking their time to roll out, in order to ensure quality).

There are currently 9 books available in the Accelerate library, by authors like Tim Keller, RC Sproul, John Piper, and others. More titles are scheduled for release in the coming months, along with improvements and additions to the current selections.

While the program is still in the “beta testing” phase, and not all the features are operational at this point, it’s plain to see that the layout and design of the homepage and book briefs are clean, clear, and easy to navigate. As time goes on, the TCB team is sure to add even more value to the platform.

The question remains: Is this service is right for you? Well, that depends.

Accelerate Books is great for:

  • Providing “executive summary” style briefs of books that I don’t have the time or great desire to read slowly: This includes books that may have useful information, but aren’t high up on my list for whatever reason.
  • Determining if a book is worth diving into later: After reading the book brief for Voddie Baucham’s Expository Apologetics, I immediately put the book on my Amazon wishlist. From what I understand, this is not uncommon for Accelerate users. This platform provides a means of previewing future book purchases.
  • Quick absorption of information: Because each brief distills the book down to its core outline, you can quickly absorb the basic arguments and ideas at a glance. This is great for business/productivity books, but I’m admittedly a little unsure on how this works for theology.
  • Research/reference for writing: If you’re writing a manuscript or academic paper, you can find out quickly if one of the books in the Accelerate library applies to your point of study. This can allow you to skim the book’s main points or follow up with the full version for more context.

In short, Accelerate Books can be a very useful tool!

However, the platform does have some limitations. It may not be helpful with:

  • Absorbing devotional material: While Accelerate Books may be excellent for information transfer, it will not leave room for you to meditate on truth the way that a more thorough, thoughtful reading does. Moving slowly, even paragraph by paragraph, through a challenging text gives the heart more time to grapple with its ideas. If you’re anything like me, your online reading habits have been trained by hundreds of ‘listicles’ to skim over bullet points without stopping to chew on them.
  • Developing a fuller understanding of a topic: The summaries are just too short for that. If you’re wanting to really dive into, say, Sinclair Ferguson’s examination of the “Marrow Controversy” in The Whole Christ, the book brief will give you the bones of the discussion, but there’s not enough meat for you to come away with a deep grasp of the issue.
  • Working through more complex argumentation: Due to the nature of the briefs, in particular the reduction of chapters to a sentence and a few short quotes, I’m not sure this approach would be helpful for working through Calvin’s Institutes or the works of Edwards or Owen. Some books should not be distilled that much. (However, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Your move, TCB.)

Essentially, this format is helpful for quick reviews and busy readers but may not be able to stimulate extended thoughtful consideration.

Would I recommend the Accelerate Books service?

Possibly, if you have the means and you understand the limitations of the platform. I was given a membership in exchange for the review, and I fully plan on using it because the opportunity to “preview” books is valuable to me. However, when it comes to deep study or even devotional reading, I will return to the full version of the books–even if it takes me forever to get around to reading them!

If Accelerate Books sounds like a useful tool to you, you should click here for more information and to take advantage of their 7-day free trial.

=====

Many thanks to Accelerate Books and the folks at Top Christian Books, who generously provided me with early access and a lifetime membership, in exchange for an honest review. (I hope they don’t regret that.) The opinions above are my unbiased review of the resource.

 

#FridayFive: 8/3/2018

Happy Friday, y’all! Here are 5 stories with a “screen” theme!

[Note: A couple of these throw in some profanities, I think, but I can’t quite recall which ones. If you’d rather not risk it, feel free to pass on reading this week’s entries. Hit me up on Twitter, I’ll give you a nickel-summary of them!]

What I Learned About Deep Productivity from a 30-Day Digital Declutter: This post by Nick Wignall provides a case study for what happens when we start re-training our brains to do “deep work” for sustained amounts of time. The read is a little longer than some of these others, but it provides some interesting ideas about how our attention spans can be adapted (or “hacked,” if you want to be click-baity about it).

Facebook’s Addiction Wasn’t Free: Programming guru DHH explores some of the true costs of Facebook usage. Like many others, he addresses the idea that we, the users, were the product being sold. It reminds me of another article I read recently (but can’t remember the author, in order to cite him or her), about how writers/creators should seek to build their own websites and platforms, because to create content and put it on a social media site like FB or Instagram is basically “digital sharecropping.” You get the scraps, while the boss (in this case, the platform you are using for “free”) gets the benefits. I’ve been considering this lately in the context of my own professional and creative plans.

Why I Don’t Think #DeleteFacebook Will Stick: Back in March, when the Cambridge Analytica firestorm first broke, Dylan Sellberg wrote this post to predict why he thought the #DeleteFacebook movement would fizzle out. Four months later, it appears he may have been right. While there have been some who followed through on closing their Facebook accounts (I know a few, and none of them regret it), many of us who clucked our tongues at that story kept on clicking. If the popular history of social media had been scripted 20 years ago (specifically, the hybridization and monopolization of user data and platform access into the hands of a few key players), you would have expected it to be the set-up for a dystopian novel. Well…the future is now.

Florence: Sharing this story feels like a bit of a paradox, because I both wanted and didn’t want to read it myself. It contains spoilers about the new app-based story-game from the creators of Monument Valley (which is an outstanding and elegant puzzle game I can’t recommend highly enough). But this article is fascinating to me both as a casual gamer and as a writer because it demonstrates how this team conceptualized a video game about the life cycle of a romantic relationship. I love games that tell compelling stories in unique ways. I look forward to exploring and experiencing this one.

I’m A Millennial Tech Worker Who Switched to An Old-School Flip Phone: The title pretty much spells it out, doesn’t it? In the interest of full disclosure, I would probably have earned the author’s reply of “Hogwash!” as she describes those who claim they “need” their smartphones. I’ve only had one for a few years, and I admit that I’ve become more dependent on it, particularly as my home computer has become less and less dependable. I use my phone as my food/weight tracker, map, side-hustle platform, calendar, notebook, etc. I’ve made myself dependent on this device. On the other hand, there are times when I look back on the days of having a “dumb” phone and slightly regret making the switch. There may come a point after my smartphone bites the dust that I go back to the much-cheaper dumb-phone era. If I could find a decent slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, I’d be almost all the way sold.

=====

There you go, friends: five tech stories for your consideration this weekend.

Let me also challenge you (and myself): Pick a block of time this weekend to go “screen-free.” Talk a walk, hang out with a friend, play a board game, or maybe read a paper (!) book. I think we all could use a respite from screens now and then. I know I could.

Have a great weekend!

#FridayFive: 07/20/2018

You know the deal–let’s do it:

Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.

The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.

5 Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective: Another Goins post, this time on the weak/filler words that creep into our writing and water it down.

Why You Don’t Need to Read Those Productivity Guides: Although the author drifts dangerously close to “not having an act is your act” territory, he makes some good points here about “enough,” a word that is almost anathema in productivity discussions.

A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.

=====

Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!