How to Become a Better Faith Blogger: Paint a Scene

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I have stared at my fair share of computer screens long and hard, praying for the perfect post topic, fumbling over introductions, and skimming past unresolved conclusions. I have tapped out words that were supposed to say something, but merely fizzled on the screen.

My fingers have rested on dull, unmoving keys, as if a literal muse could swirl into the room and animate them once I’d gulped enough coffee from my dark blue “creativity” mug or once I’d hammered on the delete key enough to purge the inane thoughts from my brain.

I’ve posted thousands of times, but I question how much I’ve actually communicated.

The problem was: I focused too much on what I wanted to say and not enough on what I wanted my readers to see.

In book publishing terms, I was telling instead of showing.

I could have lead off this post with something like, “Writing blog posts is hard.” While I would never be so bold as to suggest that anyone would remember this little blog post for the long term, I suspect that at least a little piece of my opening felt a bit familiar and at least a smidge more memorable.

I shared a scene you could relate to if you’ve ever struggled with a blog.

And if you’ll pardon me for being blunt and unimaginative, painting that kind of scene IS hard work. I use the phrase “painting a scene” on purpose. It’s not just a matter of relating ideas or reporting facts. We’re stopping for a moment to engage our imaginations, to see something, and to dedicate a block of time to laying out all of the details.

But we don’t stop there.

We look over everything we have written and cut what doesn’t fit, add what we’ve overlooked, and swirl together these scenes with our ideas.

While you can blog successfully without painting a scene, it will make your work more memorable and far more enjoyable to read.

Two bloggers in my circles who do this particularly well are Preston Yancey and Addie Zierman. I’ll share two rather different scenes from their blogs that illustrate painting a scene:

 

“Today, I want to take you by the hand. I want to guide you through the willow grove and down the cobbled path. When we reach the slanted fence, wooden beams showing old whispered rain shower stains, I’ll show you where the ivy grows thin and the lily first flowered, where the door with the copper handle never quite shuts.”

Preston Yancey—Then I Like Being Naïve.

 

“Among the things I cannot handle (even after the longest “quiet time,” even as I murmur prayers under my breath):  a new pile of dirty clothes at the bottom of the stairs after I just washed and folded five loads. The pre-dinner crankies and the post-bedtime mess and my son’s 3am night terrors. I can’t handle the unkind words from strangers, shot sharp and straight from somewhere in the Internet. I can’t handle all the Tired.”

Addie Zierman—More Than You Can Handle.

 

In both cases, we are standing beside them, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, and relating to them just a little bit better. By the time each respective post moves toward reflection and some central ideas, readers are heavily invested. They’ve been shown something new, invited on a journey, and felt something that needs to be resolved.

The challenge of all writing, even blogging, is making people care.

Preston and Addie are fantastic at painting scenes that engage readers and make them care. They set tables where we want to sit with them and hang out. I suspect they could write posts that are two or three times longer, and readers would be willing to stick with them.

The pull that readers of their blogs feel isn’t a mistake. Behind each word, phrase, and sentence is a careful mixing of colors, sketches of scenes, and loving edits that craft something beautiful.

They make us want to go to there.

I have never spoken to Preston or Addie about their writing processes, but I don’t have to. I can see the care that goes into the scenes they paint.

Some bloggers make a scene.

That is an entirely different matter.

Anyone can throw a punch, call names, or complain.

On the other hand, painting a scene is an act of love and reverence. The love is for us who read, and the reverence is for the ideas each scene serve.

The next time you’re stuck staring at a computer screen or freaking out about your next blog post, drop by Preston’s and Addie’s blogs to reconnect with this essential element of blogging. Paint a scene.

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5 thoughts on “How to Become a Better Faith Blogger: Paint a Scene

  1. balaam

    It depends on who you are writing for. Addie and Preston may be perfect examples of blogs written for certain people, but both left me cold.

    But then I’m odd. I am interested by science and mathematics, but know from the yawns when I’m talking that many are not. I’m more interested in concepts and ideas than I am in people. Not good in a Christian I know, but I’ve tried to be a people person, I’ve tried hard, but I’m not wired up that way.

    I can only blog about things that interest me, and I can only do it in a way I find interesting. I’ll have to leave Addie and Preston to those who like that sort of thing. They must be writing well for some people.

    They communicate because they are being real to themselves. If I emulated them I’d not be real to myself.

    And if I’m not being real then I’m not being honest.

  2. Charity Jill

    And even between these two painted scenes, there are big differences: Preston is using imagery, while Addie is using concrete words. He is working in a metaphor for writer-as-guide, she is layering pieces of physical reality to evoke the feeling of weariness.
    I’m a fan of concreteness. I don’t really get the draw of abstract kind-of-poetry, and I’m consistently unable to stick with blog pieces that features it for more than a couple hundred words. I don’t think I’m alone in that, either. I think people try to like it because it sounds “deep.”

  3. Annie Barnett

    One of things I appreciate about both Addie & Preston’s writing is how each “paints a scene” as you say, and then infuses that experience or image into places of tension or paradox they’re wrestling with.

    I love too, how different folks here in the comments relate to different writers, (and probably write differently themselves). Some are drawn to poetry and others to story and others to concepts. I think there are seasons too, where we gravitate towards certain styles and authors. I’m glad for the diversity and the beautiful mosaic it creates.

  4. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    Yes! Addie and Preston are such great examples of this rare skill.

    It’s funny, I find when I write posts that I either start with the nugget of a scene OR with the nugget of an idea. No matter which one first inspired the writing of the post, the hard work comes when I try to bring in the other—either the scenes to show what I’m saying about my idea, or the concrete ideas that wrap up what I’m trying to say about my illustration/scene. I will say this, though: A post without a solid “idea” seems to work much better than a post that’s all about the idea. If one has to go, it’s better to keep people right there, next to you, seeing and feeling what you see and feel.

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