Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Blogging Has Changed My Thinking and Writing

I wish I could say I start blogging to change the world. No, I started blogging with a very modest aim.

On January 23, 2011, I posted my first blog on this site. My aim was rather simple. I would ask students in the Spirituality of Contemporary World class to create a blog and post their journals there. Since I did not have the habit of blogging, I wanted to see how this worked. I created this blog and posted regularly in January and February. I posted 26 blogs in February alone. Then the number of blogs tapered off.

Many students in the course did not continue blogging after the class was over. But I carried on and had great fun writing it. In the year 2011, I posted 66 blogs. The number of words amounted almost to that of half a book.

Now with a year of blogging under my belt, I wish to look back to see how blogging has changed my thinking and writing.

First, blogging is thinking on the fly. You don’t have to do all the research in order to write a blog. If you do, it will be more like a research paper and not something instant. In the blogosphere, time is of essence. When Rick Perry drops out from the presidential race today, you can’t wait till tomorrow to write if you are a serious blogger. I sometimes wonder how Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers can comment so fast. This means you have to attend to current news and affairs if you want your blog to be fresh and relevant.

Second, blogging means writing fast. Although I consider myself a fast writer, blogging makes me type and write even faster. Sometimes it takes me less than an hour to write a blog. My colleagues and students are surprised that I have found time to do this, and they do not know that I sometimes blog at the end of day before I go to sleep. Since I don’t have much time, I just write what is in my mind to share with my readers. It may be the book I have just finished reading, the concert I attended, or anything I have read on the Internet. A blog is about 700 words. It's no big deal.

Third, I begin to pay attention to the craft of blogging. This is not a genre I was familiar with, since I write primarily for an academic audience. I look at how other popular bloggers start their first sentence, develop their narrative arc, and end on a high note. I learn to write in simple sentences and use simple words. I imagine my readers are from all over the world and may not know the U.S. context as well as I do. Indeed I was surprised to find that I have readers from Inner Mongolia, Iraq, Egypt, and so forth. I know not a single soul from these countries and am delighted to know that they have found me on the vast Internet.

Fourth, I learn that blogging can reach far more people than my books. For example, my most popular blog to date is “How to Read a Theological Book,” which has 4,179 pageviews, and the second most popular “Architecture of the Mind” has 2,330 pageviews. Many people have sent the links to their friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites. I encourage other academics to start blogging to popularize their ideas and to reach a much broader international audience.

Fifth, I cannot explain why some blogs are more popular than others. “Architecture of the Mind” is not a “popular” title and I was amazed to find that during one particular week 240 Russian readers read this and my other blog posts. I guessed a Russian professor might have found this interesting and assigned it to his or her students.

Sixth, even though I have written and edited numerous books, I am still intrigued by responses of my readers. Blogging allows me to gauge readers’ responses—number of pageviews and readers’ comments. After I post a blog, I check periodically to see how many people have read it and delight in seeing the number of pageviews grow. Blogging creates a virtual community. I envy bloggers who can post everyday and have many longtime readers who constantly give feedback.

Seventh, blogging changes my way of looking at the world. I become more alert to what is happening around me because I now have a medium that can capture snapshots in my life. It takes years to write a book and perhaps months to write an academic article. Blogging distills the moment.

Seven is good number and perhaps I should end here. How long does it take for me to write this? 34 minutes.