What I learned at Bloggers Night Out via CHEA
I attended the Bloggers Night Out this past weekend hosted by the Christian Home Educators Association (CHEA) of California. This was prior to the 33rd annual Convention at the Pasadena Convention Center.
Among the exhibitors in the vendor hall were resource companies, cottage industries, and curriculum suppliers such as A Beka, Apologia, Rod & Staff, Lamp & Quill, Math U See, and Institute for Excellence in Writing, to name a few. Curriculum developers and designers were on hand to demonstrate their concept and ideas to families seeking solutions for all manner of subjects, such as science, math, biology, language arts, chemistry, and other.
One highlight of the convention was the Bloggers Night Out. This was the second year a panel of established bloggers met with interested bloggers or aspiring bloggers to share ideas, answer questions, and make suggestions. Kristi Clover was the emcee along with Gerald McKoy, Marianne Sunderland, Rachael Carman, Davis Carman, and Heidi Rohland.
What I Learned at Bloggers Night Out 2016
As we spent Friday at the convention browsing the tables at the exhibitor hall or sitting under the edification of the many workshops available in between, I looked forward to the evening of Bloggers Night Out. I had the good fortune of being able to soak in what could have been several more years’ worth of great lessons in under 2 hours. I’ve been blogging since 2010 and have learned plenty by trial and error, designing and redesigning the assets of my blog, from web design, to logo design, to widgets and html code. And this is just the web building aspect to blogging; the writing also requires time, effort, and intent. The list of speakers, as mentioned above, included some very fascinating individuals, like the married couple Davis and Rachael Carman (President of Apologia Educational Ministries and author, respectively) and Marianne Sunderland, a homeschool mom of eight, two of which are world-record-setting sailors who’ve traveled around the world!
From Rachael Carman: I don’t want to be a Facebook mom but a face-to-face mom.
Rachael Carman, one of the keynote speakers for the convention, was a guest panelist for Bloggers Night Out. She is the author of How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You? and How to Have a HEART for Your Kids. She challenged us to put our families first, before our blogging goals. “I don’t want my blog to be another mother’s reading priority above her reading to her children.” In other words, the fine line between being consumed as a blogger, or a reader of blogs, is delicate. As moms of homeschool children, we know that our devotion and calling is to serve our Lord first and foremost, but what if we get so close to turning our blog into an idol? It’s a convicting thought that requires more consideration than we tend to give it. Rachael’s husband, Davis, on the other hand, challenged us to be consistent in our blogging and to avoid political controversy. It is a tall order, as homeschoolers are targets of political spin and persecution in the age of our current culture, with all the divisiveness in our country. However, as believers, we need to maintain our focus on good things of everlasting value.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
I don’t want my blog to be made of vain babblings (2 Timothy 2:16) or empty words, but rather be that which brings grace to the hearer:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)
I like the tip that Davis offered when it came to writing what may be a delicate subject for some to read. He said that in occasions as this, he casts out a question to his circle of friends. He asks them what types of questions they may have about XYZ matter, which relates to the post that he’s working on. I thought this was a good strategy because it allows bloggers to see a potential land mine ahead. Friends can inadvertently help us see what we can’t see when we write and therefore, we may need to tread lightly before publishing a post. Asking our friends questions about the topics we are choosing to write about helps us prevent disastrous outcomes, or at least, warms us up to what types of responses we should expect from our readers.
From Kristi Clover: Bring the little lunch to Jesus and He will multiply
Kristi Clover is a speaker and author of the blog, Raising Clovers. Her admonition to us all was to be prayerful about our blog. We must rely on God to lead the way, from the very start of our blogging journey. Nothing is too small to get us started. We can begin writing with what may seem little to offer in the plethora of information on the blogging superhighway, but with little, God can make much. He did with the boy whose lunch seemed insufficient to feed the five thousand, didn’t he? So He will with our little lunch as well.
Those in the audience who were thinking about beginning a blog were at a wonderful advantage since they could glean from all this valuable advice and apply it accordingly over a clean slate. Although most of the information offered and the majority of the questions asked came from prospective bloggers, the information was indeed relevant to anyone already in the throes of blogging. In order to succeed at blogging, we need to actively listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The key to blogging, Kristi said (and who in the house wouldn’t agree), is prayer. Other ideas shared were:
- Don’t follow a formula for blogging. Blogging will begin with the content that represents where you are today.
- God made us for fellowship, so we should share our stories with each other.
- Trust the Holy Spirit to move those readers who need to hear what you have to say, so don’t sell yourself short or sabotage what may be a blessing to you and others.
- Sometimes we need to get help. Not all of us can do Twitter, or Instagram, or all of the social media platforms, but we can do what we are able to manage. There is no one size fits all for bloggers.
- There are seasons in our lives which will warrant specific responses or experiences. Our content should reflect those seasons.
- Be authentic. Put aside the imposter syndrome writers endure. If you truly know God has called you to write, then write. It is your gift.
- When our children see us follow our dreams, they will be blessed by it. We shouldn’t put our gifts on hold because we’re moms and that is all we do. We are eclectic and are not to live in a monolith as moms. Let’s thrive and show our children that we work hard and exercise our gifts so they will model that too.
- Do a check-in of the heart. We need to ask ourselves if we are being too indulgent, or too proud when we write. Who are we writing for? Did we say something that was insensitive? Knowing this helps us maintain perspective while acknowledging that all matter of growth is painful…at first.
- Rejection from friends will come when we write what they don’t like. We need to always make sure that we are writing in the right spirit, devoid of stirring up strife or division. Is our writing edify and exalt the Lord? After we confirm this and our friends or acquaintances abandon us, then it is likely a purging from God. We may need to consider that He may be eliminating those from our lives because a new season is at hand. Leaves grow on trees and then fall into oblivion. Such is the case with our friends at times.
- We have the choice to fear God or fear man when we write. Will we be writers who step out in faith and let God lead despite the attempts from the enemy who wants to silence our voices?
The most important question I went home asking myself was: “What do we do as Christian bloggers, and how do we give our readers value? How do we glorify God with our blogs?”
It’s Never in Vain
It’s not easy for everyone to take a few days off from their busy schedule and attend a convention, with or without children. There are businesses to build, projects to complete, budgets to maintain, families to feed and love on. Yet, this year – and every year in the past 3 years I’ve homeschooled – my family has found our trip to the CHEA Convention to be well worth the effort. I was sharpened by seasoned homeschoolers, from the Board of Directors to the person sitting next to me with a fussy baby. I’ve made new friends while catching up with acquaintances along the way. I’ve only been blogging for six years, and last night – as well as last year – Bloggers Night Out opened my eyes to endless possibilities and purpose. It has encouraged me to be more intentional about my blog, and most importantly, my walk with the Lord. A lot of questions were asked that I’ve had myself, so below, I’ve listed some tips you may want to consider on your blogging journey as well:
- If you want to market your book or product: try a giveaway on your blog or give your product or book to a blogger to write a review post. Whether you want more visibility for your book, curriculum, craft, or self-care product, asking a blogger to review your product is a win-win. They get your product and (hopefully) love it, promote it on their blog, and you get the visibility you need to bring interest to your product and traffic to your sales.
- If you are wondering how to organize your thoughts and ideas: try cloud computing. I use Google Docs as my word processing tool on the go. I pull up the app on my phone, and find the doc (right now I have several fictional stories in my folder, each one in a doc) and continue writing wherever that idea belongs. If I have a thought or idea that belong in an XYZ story that I am developing, I open that story and jot down a scene, for instance, or a dialogue sequence between characters. You can also collaborate with others if that is ever necessary.
- If not Google Docs, then I use Google Keep, an app that keeps brief notes.
- Both products are on a mobile device and can be accessed on desktop as well. Both require a Google account of course.
- Need photos that are open source, current and fresh? Try Unsplash to add images that speak to your writing content. All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.
- Need to edit photos, or add text layers to a photo image? Try PicMonkey. It is also free and you can learn it as you, experiment and play.
- Need more advice? A lot of people are recommending Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform. I’ve attended a few of his webinars and he is the go-to person for more help. In this step-by-step guide, Michael Hyatt, former CEO and current Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, takes readers behind the scenes, into the new world of social media success.