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Patrick Phillips blogs at Patrick’s Place where he aims to share “regular doses of common sense.” He is active on Twitter and shares thoughts and insights with others during weekly Twitter chats. He answered some questions about blogging for us in this edition of The Authentic Storytelling Project’s Spotlight.
Question: How did you get the blog started? And why? And when?
Patrick: I wanted to have a little place that I could write about what was on my mind and have a little fun with it. I always loved Andy Rooney, and I knew I wasn’t going to be the next Rooney, but I had that in mind as the tone I would start with.
I knew next to nothing about building a website, and tried a freebie site that would let me build something from scratch with one of those “easy builder” sites. It wasn’t very pretty, but the bigger problem was there was no way to get multiple pages out of it.
About that time, I realized that AOL (remember them?) had a blogging platform it called “AOL Journals.” So I thought that would be a good place to start (and it was free). I published my first post in February of 2004.
Question: Tell us about the “common sense” line. How did you come up with it? How do you know it’s common sense?
Patrick: The “common sense” line was my way of solving the niche problem.
For years, my blog didn’t really have a formal niche. The blogging “experts” out there insist that if you blog on more than one topic, you should have individual blogs for each major topic you want to write about.
So I tried that. And I hated every minute of it. I never felt like I spent enough time on any of them or that I posted enough to most of them. So after about a year or so of multiple blogs splintered off of the main blog, I brought them all back into one.
My choice was then either to just ignore the niche idea or find a primary topic to write about. I liked the topics I had, so I tried to figure out what it was that all of my topics had in common — at least with respect to how I write them.
And what I came back to was the idea that I try to look at problems and debates and find the common sense middle ground that so many people seem to either miss or ignore these days. I’m a big believer in the notion that when you’re given a choice that has to be all one way or all the other, reality is often somewhere in the middle.
So for me, common sense involves cutting through obstacles and finding the simple, rational ideas that so many people seem to miss these days.
How do I know it’s common sense? Well, my readers sometimes email me to tell me that they appreciate the way I cut through the rhetoric, so largely I suppose they confirm that what I think is common sense resonates with them. They don’t always agree, but I think they understand my motive and respect that.
Question: How did you grow your audience?
Patrick: The biggest way I think I’ve grown my audience over the years is by simply respecting them. I try not to talk down to them. I try to take my blog seriously and provide content that I think (and hope) they’ll be interested in.
I’m also actively trying to build community. I encourage people to comment and I try to make it a point to respond and continue the conversation with them. Many of them wind up commenting back and forth with each other when I’m not at the keyboard, which I absolutely love, because that tells me the community is growing.
Another way I’ve grown the blog would be using an editorial calendar and theme days: they help me organize my content into a presentation where people who visit often can always know when to expect certain topics and I’m consistent about offering those topics on their days. Since switching to daily posting, there’s always something new. I think that has helped, too.
Question: How do you decide what to write about?
Patrick: Mostly on conversations I have with readers and Twitter chat participants, current trends in social media, and then anything that catches my eye where there might be some debate worth tackling.
For my grammar posts, for example, I write about common errors I see, mistakes I have a hard time avoiding, or pet peeves others tell me about. For my faith posts, I write about what my Christian friends are talking about or things that I see in faith communities as being at least somewhat inconsistent with what I understand God to be. Again, it’s subjective, but I at least try to get the dialog going.
Question: Anything else you’d like to share?
Patrick: When I first started blogging, I fully expected it to be something I’d do for a few months, get bored with it, then move on to something else. I’d have never imagined that I’d still be doing it a decade later.
As much as I enjoy it, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the readers. On those days when blogging gets frustrated, it’s the readers who make me keep coming back!