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The Christian Blogger/Writer Rat Race

Two years ago I started reading a bunch of Christian bloggers. I started learning who the talented writers and the popular bloggers were. Severals of these writers published books, which I read. I experienced wonder. I saw beauty in a lot of this writing. I was inspired.

I also experienced jealousy. But jealousy can be a motivator, let me tell you. In an effort to grow my blog and build a platform as I wrote my spiritual memoir, I started commenting on blogs I read and following Christian bloggers on twitter. I started making connections with people online, and then via email, and occasionally in person. My blog morphed into a faith blog primarily. Instead of seeking publication in literary journals, I began seeking publication on online Christian sites.

I have been fortunate to have been published in a few Christian outlets, but none of them are major players when it comes to the rat race. Despite all the connections I was making and the writing I was putting out there, which I consider to be just as good as a lot of the other spiritual writing I read, I was not making a name for myself. My blog was not getting lots of views, none of the popular sites for Christian writers were accepting my submissions, and no one seemed to care about my story. Yet I pressed on. I started a Facebook writer page and promoted myself even more on Twitter. I did guest posts on other bloggers’ sites and asked other bloggers to post on mine. I kept running and running in that spinning wheel, and I got nowhere. 

This is what I was talking about in yesterday’s blog post when I said there is the struggle of always attempting to make it out on top.

It turns out that I am not alone. I have a friend who had a major article published in a major spiritual magazine, and her article got 1.6 million views. And yet she still feels like her blog hasn’t gotten the traction she wants, and she feels confined to writing about topics that will build her “platform.” I have another friend who has an agent and is almost done writing a book, but is afraid her agent will drop her because her blog may not be popular enough. We’re all running in this rat race, and none of us know how to win it. 

I haven’t figured out how the winners got to the finish line, and I’m not trying to blame them for my failure. But the realm of spiritual writing/blogging is extremely difficult to break in to. And quite frankly, I am done with the worrying and the waiting and the hoping and the wondering when my writing will be “noticed.” I am done trying to keep up with the big guys and trying to make it out on top. I am done with the over-promotion and the constant search for a place that might like my writing style and content. I also think it would be good to have a deep conversation about blogging versus writing, and how they each change a person, and how they each affect a person’s message. I think the spiritual blogging world sometimes gets confused about what true writing is. But maybe that is a blog post for another day.

Something has changed. I finished writing my spiritual book, and then suddenly I didn’t really care if it ever got published or not. I wonder if I was writing the book in order to get published instead of writing the book in order to tell my story. I wonder if I was trying to prove something instead of trying to create something beautiful for the world. And I wonder if, when I finished, I had lost a love for my own manuscript because I’d written it for all the wrong reasons. 

I cannot tell you how agonizing the last two years have been. They have been fruitful, yes, and I absolutely do not regret writing full manuscript. I learned a lot about writing, and I learned a lot about myself. One of the best things that came from writing my manuscript was that I was finally able to confront my past and write about my upbringing in Thailand. There are so many complexities there, and they have to do with culture, language, place, relationships, loss, love, and heartbreak. And I can write about them now. But the constant push to write and publish was so prevalent everywhere. I felt like I was rushing against time, trying my best to get myself out there before I was too old and it was too late.

What I meant by yesterday’s post is that I am stepping out of the rat race. It is too hard, and I can’t keep running anymore. I can’t keeping trying to make it to the top. I’m sticking to the cave beneath the mountain, where the air is cool and the space is not crowded. I’ve been turning back to my more literary roots and submitting to literary magazines and journals. I’m about to work on a YA novel. I even have some new ideas for the blog. I want to write about the homeless people who sell the $2 newspaper on street corners in Nashville. I want to write about riding in riverboats (without life jackets) in Thailand. And I want to write about the curse of the square kitchen.

I think the hard part about all of this is that moving away from faith writing and moving away from faith kind of feel synonymous. If I quit writing about belief, does that mean I lose it? Or was it already lost? Faith has surrounded me my entire life, and there are times I feel like I don’t know what else to write about. But another thing I came to learn from writing that manuscript of mine? One of the early drafts was all beliefs and ideas. But I had forgotten to write about the relationships. I had forgotten about the stories that make it all come true. I had forgotten that life is about the love we can share with people, not the dogmas we can articulate.

So I can write about small encounters, and almost lost conversations, and quiet memories. I can write about the people and places that remind me every day of the urgency and strength of humanity.

Here is my manifesto, stolen from Rilke:

And if the earthly has forgotten you,

say to the still earth: I flow.

To the rushing water speak: I am.

 

 

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17 comments

  1. Melissa Chapman says:

    Just don’t keep writing… I love to read what you share with us! You always inspire, encourage, and challenge me. Thank you!

    • I think this post was inspired by our conversation and the comments in the last post. It literally just hit me last night that the reason why I don’t care that much about publishing my book anymore might be that I wrote it for all the wrong reasons. I still think it’s a decent book, and eventually I may try to publish it, but I’ve lost my love for it. And I think it has to do with the rat race. I really do.

  2. Amy says:

    Writing and revision in creative nonfiction are ways of seeing our lives afresh, making sure that we are giving attention to what it means to be alive in this world. To me, that’s greater than publication could ever be. I’m excited to see how your new convictions about what it means to be a writer lead you.

  3. I agree with Amy that writing helps us see ourselves, and the world, in a better perspective. Only you can interpret the lessons you’ve learned from writing the memoir and participating in the “rat race.” I would just like to say, for your consideration and the consideration of other writers who might be reading this, that it doesn’t have to be an “either-or” choice. There are successful authors who never participate in social media at all; they don’t blog or do Facebook or Twitter. They are able to spend time mostly alone, honing their craft. Other successful authors do it all–blogs and FB and Twitter–and also spend time alone writing excellent books. I think the difference is maybe they don’t consider their time spent with social media and efforts to build a platform and get published as the “rat race.” Or they don’t let the “rat race” get them down.

    I’ve been blogging 3 times a week since 2007, and I’ve been active on Facebook and Twitter for several years. I was also a regular blogger on the Southern Authors’ Blog, “A Good Blog is Hard To Find,” for several years. I attended conferences and workshops. I organized and led conferences and workshops. And during this time, I drafted 4 books and published a dozen essays. I love social media and building a platform and marketing my work. I would go crazy sitting alone without this contact with the outside world. So, for me, it’s not a “rat race.”

    But you need to find what works for YOU. And above all, never consider any time you’ve spent writing or participating in any activities related to your art as wasted! My first three book-length manuscripts (one novel and two memoirs) will never be published, but it wasn’t “wrong” of me to write them. I learned from them. I healed by writing them. They fed my energy as I drafted the fourth one, which is the book I really want to publish.

    Hope this helps. You’re a terrific writer!

    • Susan,

      Thank you so much for your thoughts and suggestions. I really appreciate what you said about never consider any activity related to your art as wasted time. I want to make it clear that I was not referring to you when I said Christian writers/bloggers. :) I think you do a really good job of using social media as a platform without being obnoxious about it. And I also think you are really good at surrounding yourself with the literary world and literary contacts. (I say literary not to be snooty, but because I am not sure what other word to use to show contrast.)

      I am more referring to a community of online Christian writers (mostly Protestant, but not all, and often progressive, but not always). Some popular sites I’m thinking of are She Loves, A Deeper Story, and Relevant magazine, if that gives you a context. Some of these writers have written books, and others are just bloggers or in the process of writing books. But I would call it a “spiritual” community rather than a “literary” community if that makes sense. There are literary things going on, and many of these people are fine writers. But it is a context that definitely has a rat race, and it is a context that has an underlying vibration of promotion and platform.

      I enjoy those sites, and I enjoy many of these writers/bloggers, and there are people who aren’t as worried about platform as others (one of my favs is Addie Zierman, who wrote a great memoir called When We Were On Fire, and she never seems to get pulled into blogging about controversial issues just for the sake of talking about “what’s big right now” or getting followers. I’ve met her in person and she’s very real and down to earth.)

      My point is that I have to let go of building a brand keeping up with the Joneses. I have to write for the right reasons. I absolutely believe in blogging, and I strongly feel that blogging regularly has helped improve my writing. I think that you are ahead of the game in that you write for you, you’ve made connections with other strong writers, and you use – but don’t abuse – social media to spread your voice. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Marilyn says:

    I cannot tell you how this resonates. I did the exact same thing for a while. About two weeks ago I was emailing another writer/friend and I talked about how 6 months ago I stopped reading any of the big name Christian bloggers. I realized that I wasn’t learning anything new, I was just feeling stymied and frustrated. Also realized that I don’t want a solely Christian audience, so why did I think I was supposed to compete. And as I stopped, I began loving writing again. I began seeing it as a gift, and I went back to the beginning of why I wanted to write in the first place. I love your honesty here. It’s only in being honest that we realize we feel so similar to others and can encourage each other in our unique work and our unique audience. There’s enough room for all of us in this big world. Thank so much for this.

    • Great lessons, Marilyn! I’m glad to hear you had the same experience and were able to push through it. I agree that the Christian blogging world can feel like a ferris wheel sometimes. Always spinning, but never getting anywhere new. (Might that describe me, too? Maybe.) You’re right in that there is room for everyone’s unique story.

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