The nice thing about blogging is that when you first start out no one reads your posts except your mom.
This gives you plenty of time to learn the ropes, find your voice, and make a few mistakes before readers start disseminating your ideas via links, Twitter, and Facebook....which is an especially good thing for writers like me who like to dabble in controversial topics like evolution, women and the church, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, doubt, politics, and cookie-stuffed cookies.
After three years of blogging and lots of trial and error, I’ve learned some important lessons about how to write a controversial post without regretting it the next day.
If something makes you really mad, it’s best not to blog about it right away. Give yourself time to cool down, gather your facts, and come up with something constructive to add to the conversation. It’s true that the first to post typically wins the day (see Justin Taylor’s post about Rob Bell for Exhibit A), but sometimes wining the day comes at a cost (see Justin Taylor’s seven “updates” for Exhibit B). The single best way to avoid blogging with regrets is to wait a few days before handling a sensitive topic.
2. Be specific.
Instead of making generalities about the people or groups with whom you typically disagree, cite specific quotes or events that will generate discussion on the blog. Rather than saying “Calvinists claim…” or “evangelicals believe…” or “Republicans are…” stick with concrete, documented examples like “John Piper said…” “The Evangelical Theological Society’s Web site states…” or “At CPAC this week…” This will protect you from accusations that you’re attacking a straw man and will help anchor the conversation in reality. (Note: Dan gave me this advice about a year ago and it’s helped immensely!)
3. Be kind.
Never attack someone personally simply because you disagree with his or her position. Just don’t do it…ever. Instead, stick with the issues at hand. This can be tough when you find yourself the target of someone else’s online criticism, but I’ve been amazed at how a kind response can diffuse the tension….even in the hostile, anonymous world of online media. Add a touch of humor, honesty, and self-depreciation to each post for good measure.
4. Let someone else read the post first.
Lately I’ve been letting Dan take a look at my most sensitive pieces before they go online. Find someone who is wise, humble, and even-keeled to help you manage your tone and point out any potentially inflammatory sentences or words.
5. Don’t feed the trolls.
If a random reader shows up on your blog to tell you that you’re going to hell, just ignore it. (And if they start telling your readers that they’re going to hell, delete it.) Only engage with readers who contribute to the conversation by offering encouragement, constructive criticism, and interesting ideas. Arguing with the trolls will just put you in a funk and make you more likely to say something you regret.
6. Own it.
Once you’ve done everything you can to make your post fair, factual, and civil, don’t get all apologetic and sheepish about it when it garners a big response. Speak up for what you believe, even when it’s controversial. Don’t let a few critical comments get you down.
7. Apply items 1-6 to your interactions in the comment section, Twitter, and Facebook.
You might not always be the first to respond to a news item or the first to come up with a wittty remark….but at least you won’t regret what you’ve said later on.
What have you learned from writing controversial posts? Made any mistakes?
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