Rethinking My Feeds: Unfollowed.

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[Note: The timing of the post is incidental. There is no joke coming. FYI.]

A couple months back, I shared some thoughts about rage-baiting and resisting the pull of hot-take media seeking to enflame our passions and soak up our attention for ad revenue. (At that point, the outrage du jour was Gillete’s “toxic-masculinity” advert and the Covington boys’ protest debacle–feels like a year ago, doesn’t it?)

I’m still thinking about my relationship with social media and how I use it. My recent dive into Cal Newport’s writing has further encouraged this self-analysis. (I’m currently listening to his last book, Deep Work, and it’s really, really good.)

New Twitter, Who Dis?

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about audience and curation–whom I’m speaking to, and whom I’m listening to. (Since Twitter is my main social platform, that’s the focus of my consideration here.) I’m reminded of a suggestion from Senator Ben Sasse in his book Them. After talking about a prolonged hiatus from Twitter, he came back to the platform with an entirely different perspective. His intended audience changed. When he used his personal Twitter account (his “professional” account is run by staffers), he stopped trying to impress the mass of humanity who happened to stumble across his tweets. He said he started writing to a specific audience–friends of his from his early adulthood, people he still kept in touch with over the years, despite physical distance. He said he wanted to write for them, to connect to them, to make them laugh.

Sasse described how having a specific audience in mind for his social media posts helped him focus on how to use the platform more intentionally.

Digital Connection Isn’t Worthless, It’s Just Insufficient

This idea of having a specific audience in mind got me thinking: why am I on Twitter, really? Though I have to admit that I have sometimes chased the attention of “celebrities” or others that I esteemed highly, over the years what has kept me on Twitter is the “digital friendships” I’ve made with like-minded people online, across the country. I’ve only met a handful of them in real space, but I hope to–that’s the biggest reason I want to make it to the G3 Conference or ShepCon one day.  It’s this group of connections that keeps me coming back.

If you recall my Digital Minimalism review a few weeks back, I wrote that Cal Newport dismissed these digital interactions as mere “connections” rather than communication, and he argued that digital connection should have the explicit goal of providing logistics for in-person communication. I think that’s partly true, but on the other hand I think there’s a place for the encouragement and (dare I say) friendship that can grow out of initially-digital interactions.

Are these folks on Twitter my friends? In one sense, no, because there’s no real-space experience communicating with each other. But in another, I can’t help but think of these people as my friends–my Twitter squad.

Trying Something Different

This leaves me with the question: if I’m going to use Twitter in an optimized, healthy manner, what would that look like? Two specific goals come to mind:

  • Following My Squad: One way to optimize Twitter is to dramatically reduce the accounts I read and engage-with to the handful of people I enjoy most. Here’s the thing: I don’t care to use Twitter for engaging ideological opponents or calling out falsehood. Maybe that’s your mission or ministry–have at it. I’m not trying to change lives here. I’m just looking for a little encouragement, a little humor, and the occasional free book giveaway. Limiting my inputs to people who provide that specific value could eliminate a lot of needless scrolling and still maintain some of those digital connections I enjoy.
  • Seeking Edification: Following people whose content challenges and encourages me in my faith and thinking is another beneficial method of approaching Twitter. Following the accounts of certain theologians and groups can bring a net-positive into my feed.

Now, there’s a clear disadvantage to this approach–namely, that it makes it much easier to crawl into an echo chamber and not engage ideas that differ from my own. I’ll grant you, that’s definitely possible; but isn’t it better to risk doing so and be honest about it? If you follow everyone under the sun but only stop to read and engage positively with the tweetfolk with whom you agree, what’s the difference, other than a bit of self-congratulation because your feed is “diverse”?

And that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to follow people whose views diverge from my own. I have several beneficial friendships and interactions (both in real life and online) with people who vehemently disagree with my religious views, politics, and perspective on the world. Some of those interactions (specifically, the IRL ones) produce good conversation and understanding, especially when we are reminded that the other person isn’t an abstract idea but a person with dignity and value.

That said, I don’t feel the need or obligation to expose myself to interactions that serve only to enrage or frustrate me. I get to make that choice, because Twitter (like all social media) is a voluntary program. I can choose whom to follow, whom to mute, whom to block. I shouldn’t be afraid to do all three, as need be.

If I’m mindful of the dangers of groupthink and seek high-value interactions online, there’s a good chance I can make it worthwhile to stay on social media, while limiting the scope of how I use it. I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?

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Here’s my question for you, dear reader: why do you use social media? Who’s your audience? Do you agree or disagree with my proposed “squad and edification only” approach to Twitter, described above? Sound off in the comments–I’d like to hear your perspective on this. Thanks!

Taking Suggestions…

 

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Hey gang! Just popping in to ask for your help with something. 

I mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday that I have this crazy idea to read 100 short stories next year and write about them. I may do posts about some individually or write blog posts that respond to several in batches–I haven’t decided yet. But I want to expand my experience in the short fiction realm!

I’ve gotten a bunch of recommendations so far, but I wanted to widen my net and get recommendations from as many people as possible.

So here’s my question, faithful reader: What is your favorite short story ever, or one that you think every person should read–and why?

Put your recommendations in the comments below! Thanks!

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 7: Team Pyro

Gentlemen,

It’s not easy being a Christian blogger, especially if you are actively seeking to teach and correct through your writing. People assume the worst possible motives in your words, misread your tone, take you out of context, and otherwise seek to condemn you for being judgmental or hypocritical. That’s what you get for kicking over hornets’ nests and tipping over sacred cows, I guess.

When the Pyromaniacs blog was in its heyday, every post’s combox became a bit of a rhetorical brawl, as the usual suspects showed up to lob accusations and misconstrue what should be PLAINLY OBVIOUS IF YOU READ THE POST. Nevertheless, you all handled these volleys with aplomb, often by logically and carefully responded to the fool so that he did not continue in folly, without stooping to foolishness yourselves.

I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for caring deeply about the Church, and spending time and effort to proclaim and defend the truth. Thank you for being willing to interact with people, confront ideas, even challenge foolish arguments. It was instructive for so many of us who were watching and growing from the interactions. Thank you so much for the edifying and challenging Sufficient Fire Conference. (I’m still holding out hope for a Sufficient Fire 2 someday. If you announce it, you can count on me being there!)

Most of all, thank you for the example each of you set:

  • Phil, thank you for not shying away from controversy, but being willing to continue standing up and speaking out about issues in the wider evangelical church. Your appearances on Wretched Radio are always instructive and beneficial, and of course your contributions to the ministry of John MacArthur and GTY continues to bless countless thousands.
  • Dan, thank you for your books, which continue to be a blessing to me. Thanks also for your example of faithful local ministry at CBC. You exemplify the day-in, day-out pastoring that Paul and Peter describe.
  • Frank, thank you for your wit and wisdom online, and also for your wise example in pulling away from social media engagement when you found it to be too destructive. And that’s not a back-handed compliment, either. There is so much discernment in stepping away when engagement begins to tear down the user. Too many people lean in despite these dangers and shipwreck themselves. Thank you for setting a good example in this.

In the world of Christian blogging, particularly discernment blogs of a reformedish nature, there are some real jokers and seedy characters. You guys have managed to be one of the few that not only didn’t go off the rails but continues to set the standard for how such writing should be done. Thank you for staying faithful to the task, in whatever context each of your finds yourself.

May God bless you as you have blessed (and continue to bless) His people.

–Dave

“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!

 

This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN): 7/16/18

This isn’t going to be super-long, but I want to give an update/explanation of what will be happening with the blog throughout the rest of the summer and likely into the fall.

The thing I struggle with, vis-a-vis blogging, is that I’m torn between two desires: the desire to build a portfolio of work for the day when I really transition to “professional writer mode,” and I’m ready to up my profile and start promoting creative work using the blog (the “Jeff Goins” method); and the desire to use this blog as more of a journal, filtered but honest, less focused, more free-form and personal (the “Xanga” method).

At this point, with the current load of obligations and projects I have going on, I don’t think I’m up to providing consistent original content that isn’t of the public diary, TIWIARN variety. I’ve been thinking a lot about goal setting since reading Finish! by Jon Acuff. Part of that goal-completion process is deciding what things I am willing to intentionally “fail” at, in order to prioritize other things. To be honest, “consistent blogging” is one of those things. (“Aren’t you doing that already, Dave, har har har”–fair enough.)

So, despite what I posted a week and a half ago, I’m actually going to pull back a little more from blogging, rather than worry about producing more. I’m going to post book reviews/reflections as I finish them, either individually or in batches. I’ll post some “Friday Fives” when I have the chance. I’ll throw in some of these update-type, TIWIARN posts. But that’s gonna be the vibe of the blog for a while.

Obviously, this will affect if or how often I post elsewhere, like The 4thDave Papers. (Sorry, Tuck.) It’s something I will probably pick up again in the future, but I can’t make any guarantees. I really shouldn’t have said anything about it until I had a few posts “in the can,” as they say. But who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise you sometime.

[Good grief, does this post sound as tired as I think it does?]

Thing is, I’m not tired. I’m doing pretty well, all told. A bit frustrated with a stubborn scale, moving in the wrong direction despite my faithful efforts. I’m a bit anxious for a friend of mine and a project he’s battling to keep going. I’m feeling really busy and at the same time like I’m in a bit of a rut. I want to do a dozen things and none of them at the same time.

So, for the time being, I really just need to put my head down, write a few book reviews, work on the other stuff in my life, and not worry about it. This blog is not my life, and it’s not my job. It’s a hobby that I enjoy from time to time, but one that I can and should set aside when other things need more attention.

You folks who have started following me recently–thank you for that. I hope you’ll be willing to keep my on your feeds for a while until I can get this other stuff figured out and start churning out words worth reading.

That’s all I got today, folks. See you around.

Happy (early) Birthday, America!

Hey friends! I wanted to pop in briefly and give you an update:

  • No–I’m not falling off the “semi-frequent posting” wagon. Expect another #FridayFive post this week, and then more fun stuff next week.
  • I just finished a book by Jon Acuff called Finish! and will have a review coming soon, after I give it a bit more thought.
  • Currently Reading: the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan; American Assassin by Vince Flynn; and the book of Isaiah. And I have a stack of library books and e-books I’m about to tackle. Whew!
  • I’ve just been really busy lately. I’ll probably post a “This is Where I’m At Right Now” post of some kind in the next week or so. Maybe an update on the new eating plan and some other things going on.
  • One of the big things I’ve been working on is Presto! Fairy Talesa Youtube webseries of funny and bizarre retellings of long-lost fairy tales (in which I act a bit and also wrote the majority of the lyrics for the original songs). We’re having a blast filming Season 2 right now, but Season 1 is slowly rolling out as well (Episode 4 should be coming out this week!). I’d love for you to take a look, share it with friends, family, kids, fans of musical theater, anyone you can think of.  And if you enjoy it, please SUBSCRIBE!
  • And yes, tomorrow is the Fourth of July, a celebration of the United States’ independence. Which reminds me: Wasn’t I working on a side-blog of American history? Oh yeah! The 4thDave Papers! And guess what? A new post is coming to you…next week! (Putting myself on the clock: check!) It’s about time we get back on track with that one, too!

So, suffice it to say, lots of fun stuff coming soon on the blog. In the meantime, enjoy some Presto!, have fun with friends and family, and if you’re a fan of the United States, set something on fire tomorrow in honor of freedom.