Blogging Outside Your Comfort Zone: 7 Tips

(Blogger’s Note: If you’re a blogger or writer, I’d love to hear your own experiences about writing outside your comfort zone. Please share away!)

Traditional tips you’ll read about effective blogging will typically tell you to write about the things you know, choose a niche and pitch yourself as an expert and an authority.

It’s good advice. Everyone’s an expert in something, and there’s definitely something to be said for consistency in your blogging topics. It’s the best way to build a strong platform and a loyal audience. Your readers should come to expect a certain style in your work.

But the adventuresome blogger, will, from time to time, will make a gutsy move and go outside his comfort zone for the sake of curiosity, and just to see what happens. That’s exactly what I did yesterday.

My brand of writing is designed to make people think. Not necessarily to change their minds, but to think differently with new perspectives about certain things. Mostly, I enjoy using Biblical metaphors and writing about the application they have in our present lives. But every so often, I’ll jump outside my writer’s comfort zone to experiment, and yesterday’s blog, titled Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j …. was just that. An experiment that proved interesting.

The blog’s topic was the national attention that’s been drawn to the University of Arkansas’ football program and the subsequent firing of head coach Bobby Petrino. Moreover, it speculated the Razorbacks would attempt to lure Arkansas State University coach Gus Malzahn (just 300 miles down the road) as his replacement.

It’s a topic ripe for speculation and controversy, and so I ventured into the unknown to see what attention might be drawn to my theory of how the scenario might play over the next few days.

The results: A record number of hits for a single post with readers in seven countries.

In thinking about writing outside our comfort zones, I wanted to offer seven tips, lessons learned, if you will, for how this post generated record traffic. Consider these tips in a future venture outside your own blogging comfort zone.

  • LOOK FOR A HOT TOPIC – Even if you’re not an expert, it’s okay to jump in the middle of something. Sports, especially college football, is a big deal. In the SEC, some call it Saturday Down South. Take advantage of writing directly to a well-defined audience. SEC football fans are pretty well-defined.
  • SPECULATE – That you are not an expert – it matters not. Opinion piece writing generates more opinions, and more hits on your blog. It creates conversation and back-and-forth dialogue. Everyone has an opinion. Share yours.
  • TAG TAG TAGHere in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j had some 50 tags attached, and the search engine results showed the tags worked.

  • USE POWERFUL VISUALS – It was an easy choice for this particular post. Choose an image of a Razorback and one of an Arkansas State University Redwolf, and the collective blood pressure of football fans across the state skyrockets.

  • GO PLACES YOU’VE NEVER GONE BEFORE – I placed this post on Facebook pages everywhere … official pages of both universities, football blogs across the South, media outlet blogs, and it worked.
  • USE POWERFUL METAPHORS – The Perfect Storm perfectly described the possible scenario for the outcome of this unique situation. All the elements are perfectly lined up for a monumental fight if UA even breathes on Malzahn.
  • BE INTENTIONAL IN LOOKING FOR RIVALRIES – For your post it may be politics, education, religion or whatever. College football in the South is ripe with rivalries and putting yesterday’s post in the middle of it all just added a small bit of flame to the fire. That’s what writers love, right?

Niche, consistency, expertise – yes – it’s the best way to blog. But stretch yourself sometimes and get in the thick of something wild.

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Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm

I have some 20 years experience in the news media – writing, editing, publishing, and as much as I love sports, I’ve never written a single sports story. Today will be different, however, if just an educated observation.

College sports in the South is business. Football is serious stuff. It rocks our world. And a major tremor hit here in Arkansas last night. The magnitude and collateral damage could be significant. Only the dawn of Wednesday will tell.

First – hats off to University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Faced with pressure from all points we can only imagine, Long fired a Razorback coach who put a team in contention for a national championship last season. Bobby Petrino is a winner on the field, but we now know that he’s only human, not a superhero, off the field.

There was every reason in the world for Long to find a way to allow Petrino to stay. Millions of dollars were at stake, and the diehard win-at-all cost fans wanted him to remain.

But at a 7 p.m. press conference last night, Long announced Petrino’s termination, no strings or perks attached. He’s done, and the collateral damage Petrino has brought onto himself is now his alone with which me must deal. It’s no longer a professional issue for Petrino. The consequences will last forever. I hope his family heals and forgives over time.

But what of the future?

Here in a remote corner of the state is Arkansas State University, the stepchild, clambering for attention for decades and making strides with a magnificent season last year under coach Hugh Freeze, who immediately afterward RAN to the SEC leading the Ole Miss Rebels. You can’t blame the man, but from ASU’s standpoint, it’s hard to be the doorman at a revolving portal.

Then – as if manna from Heaven – ASU pulls its own miracle hiring coach Gus Malzahn, an up-and-coming SEC star courted by many reputable schools, and some how, some way, ASU financial supporters court Malzahn well enough to convince him  ASU would be a great place to take a program it its next level.

Billboards go up across the state. Game On, they say. It’s the era of Howlzahn. Finally, the stepchild is getting some well-deserved attention.

Now, 300 miles down the road, there’s an SEC opening anyone would kill to have. When Malzahn came to ASU, there were even rumors the U of A Foundation helped make it all possible, setting Malzahn up for his next job at U of A.

Unless Malzahn comes out TODAY with the announcement he’s staying put – it’s on.

We’re about to find out. It’s going to be one of those hot, humid, sticky days in Arkansas where you can just feel something coming headstrong through tornado alley. We will look to the western horizon to see what develops. It may just be a famished, blood-sucking Razorback with sharpened tusks looking to wreak havoc on Jonesboro.

Did Jeff Long go into his press conference last night knowing he had an Ace in the Hole? Stay tuned. It won’t be long. If I were a betting man, I’d double down.

ASU fans have long-awaited the day they would match up with the Razorbacks on the gridiron. Well, game day is here, and it’s the Perfect Storm.

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Discovering Tozer

Two good friends recently turned me on to the works of A.W. Tozer, who in 1919, began 44 years of Christian ministry. His works are among the most insightful I’ve read. It’s as if they were written just yesterday.

Among the more than 40 books he authored, at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

I wanted to share selected exerpts from the preface of The Pursuit of God, written June 16, 1948. See his insight just as it exists today:

“In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct “interpretations” of truth. They are thirsty for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water…

“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, or anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy…

“I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of  Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: ‘Orthodoxy, or right opinion is, at best, a very slender part of religion…

“Thanks to our spendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church  the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us…

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness ofr the very  God Himself in the core and center of their hearts…

~A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God

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Is the Easter Bunny the Anti-Christ?

Last Christmas eve I attended a candlelight service where 50 or so people came together to prepare their hearts for the celebration of Christ‘s birth.

I’ve attended many of these services over the years at many different churches and I like them. I like that we sing the traditional Christmas songs; I like that kids come in their pajamas in anticipation of the wild morning ahead; and I like how it makes me think back to more than 2,000 years ago when the world received the miracle of miracles.

As I walked into the foyer for that particular service, one of the sweetest ladies I know was the first to greet me. I was prepared to give her a hug and wish her a warm Merry Christmas.

But before I could extend a hand and offer a warm greeting, she took the initiative with this:

“Don’t tell me Merry Christmas. Say happy birthday, Jesus.”

And she meant it.

I remember the strong movement a few years ago against the “Xmas” phrase. And for the record, it’s a movement I support. It does, in fact, take the Christ out of Christmas. But Santa Claus isn’t the devil, and neither is the Easter bunny.

For the last few years, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Among many evangelical Christians, Easter has now become “Resurrection Sunday.”

It’s certainly true enough. Among all things, first and foremost, Easter is the time when we recognize the one aspect that makes Christianity unique among all other religions. We serve a living God, not one who is dead in the tomb, or worshiped as a stone carving. Christ is alive, and it’s a belief I hold to be as true as the air I breathe.

So Resurrection Sunday – it’s a good thing.

But what of the extremity of this … because I like Easter.

Ninety percent of the references I heard in my church yesterday were to Resurrection Sunday – not Easter. That’s fine, but when did Easter become such a bad thing that we go out of our way to avoid the word?

I don’t hate the Easter bunny…and I don’t believe Jesus would either.

He’s soft, cuddly and has that really cute cotton tail.

My grandmother loved flowers. She particularly loved the Easter lily. I wonder if it should now become the Resurrection Sunday lily?

I’m not anti-Resurrection Sunday.

But I am pro-Easter.

Hop on Peter Cottontail. Jesus loves you too.

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Happy Transparent Birthday, Dana.

Happy 39th birthday, my sweet love. What would I do without you?

39 Reasons I Love You…

  1. You make me smile and laugh.
  2. Despite my quirks and faults, you love me without condition.
  3. God‘s face shines through your eyes to every person who sees you.
  4. Your compassion, that which comes straight from your heart, is your greatest characteristic.
  5. You forgive.
  6. You came along.
  7. Don’t know a single person whom you haven’t blessed.
  8.  Since I first met you, life has never been the same.
  9. You’ve taught me great life lessons.
  10. You held me through those nights that were so hard.
  11. You gave me a “man” room.
  12. Your face is pure beauty, but your heart is more so.
  13. Basherte.
  14. Helpmate.
  15. Friend.
  16. You make everyone you touch, including me, better than we/they are.
  17. You love my family.
  18. You know when to reign me in.
  19. You make a great first impression.
  20. You overlook my mistakes.
  21. Your sense of adventure inspires me.
  22. You never ask for much.
  23. You look great in a sundress and cheap sunglasses.
  24. Your eyes pierce through to my heart.
  25. You play a mean conga.
  26. I love that you can be cosmopolitan one moment, and country the next.
  27. You never stopped believing.
  28. You understood the hurt.
  29. You bring people together and know your role on the team.
  30. You lead quietly, making things happen, and no one ever knows it.
  31. You care not for the credit.
  32. No one looks better in a funky hat.
  33. Your touch overwhelms me.
  34. Your soul speaks to mine.
  35. You came along.
  36. You came along.
  37. You came along.
  38. You came along
  39. And you saved my life.

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Aggressively Pursuing the UN-balanced Life

Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

~ James Dean

For years, I’ve considered my obsessive-compulsive behavior to be a character flaw.

But, alas, I believe I will now embrace it.

Several weeks ago, I hired a coach to help keep me disciplined in specific areas of my life I deem important. We’ve had interesting conversations about dreams, goals, and mostly he has helped me take a view of things not just from the surface but from an “elevation of 20,000 feet.” It’s given me a new perspective on the totality of life.

In our last conversation as time came to a close, he pitched the idea of the importance of living a balanced life. He explained how too much focus in one area can detract from another, and the danger of creating “deficits” in some particular life compartments.

The balanced life.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve decided, as good as it sounds, it’s not for me.

I’m 46 years old. Had some major highs, and some of the lowest of the lows. Each high and low has been a great lesson. There have been some mistakes, and I’d take a “do-over” on some things, but I’ve had a great life, unbalanced as it may have been.

And I’m not sure I can change that now. The last thing I want to be is milquetoast. I don’t want to pursue a little bit of anything.

I want to stand on the equator, close my eyes and marvel at the magnificence of God‘s creation.

When I can wrap my mind around running again, I don’t want to exercise for 30 minutes a day. I want to train for one last marathon.

I want to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children.

I want to exhibit the radical love that Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery.

I want to feed the hungry, comfort the hurting.

I want to collaborate with a small group of committed people…and change the world.

I want to lavishly spoil my wife, kids, mom, best friend and other friends with love, kindness and gifts.

I want to write books, not for the sake of calling myself an author, but to be a best-selling writer, and to offer readers a new perspective on things that really matter.

I want to drink thousand calorie milkshakes whenever the urge hits me.

I want to live life to the RADICAL EXTREME.

A balanced life. It sounds so right…and yet so boring.

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Taking a Break from Breaking News

 

From 8 to 5 or so each day, I have the privilege to work with a tremendous group of people.

With about 30 or so employees, we are small in number, but significant in influence. The work we undertake has a positive impact on nearly 2,000 companies internationally.

As it exists, our work environment is male-dominated. Ninety percent of our staff is men, and it creates a certain culture, particularly since every individual is entrepreneurial, driven, vision focused and committed. It also just so happens that we all get along really well. It’s a great place to work.

Our shared personality traits make for a dynamic work environment where we focus corporately on the task and hand, and we also have a lot of fun.

And, on a fairly frequent basis, we have some pretty intellectual conversations.

At mid-morning yesterday, one of my bosses, an intellectual, worldly and thoughtful man, handed me a daft letter he’d composed as a letter to the editor for our local newspaper. Seems my boss had become (I’ll use the word disillusioned) with the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, and the inflammatory nature of its portrayal, particularly in the television broadcast arena. It pushed him to his tipping point, enough so, that he took time out of his day to communicate his utter frustration.

And for what it’s worth, I agree with him.

The news stresses us out.

Just last week I read three local newspaper accounts of a local police chief charged with sexual assault of a minor, a pastor from my hometown who had kidnapped and assaulted a minor, and another law enforcement official 10 miles down the road involved in an internal department scam. A bloodpressure spike is a great way to start the day.

How does a news junkie like me control the natural tendency to stress over the news and its impact on my local community.

Later in the morning, I had lunch with another work colleague. We often talk about our life’s journey, the challenges we face, and give encouragement to one another to keep moving forward.

As we talked about the news, he shared an interesting experience.

Years ago, he said, a study in which he was engaged suggested a weeklong “news fast.”

His study indicated that a morning dose of the daily news, with all its negativity, hype and hoopla could subconsciously get our day off to the wrong start.

It can mean the difference between being outwardly impacted, or inwardly focused.

Isn’t that interesting.

I’ve always felt a need for the news. For many years, it’s been my livelihood. The need to be informed, is crucial, I’ve thought.

Or is it?

I’m thinking about taking a break from the breaking news.

This will be interesting.