Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ten Tips for Successful Catholic Blogging

A couple of readers have asked for tips in starting out in Catholic blogging. I don't have any great secrets, and can think of plenty of people more qualified than myself to answer, but here are the things that I wish I had known (or thought of) back when I was first beginning.  I'll mention up front that I haven't always done everything on this list -- some of these are areas where I'm aware I need to improve.

5 Tips for Starting Your Blog
    Lionello Spada, St. Jerome (1610)
  1. Why do you feel called to blog?  Start by asking yourself this question.  What do you feel like God is calling you to do?  What are you hoping to get out of it?  How serious are you in your commitment?  Pray on this.

  2. What do you love or hate about other blogs?  This is the easiest way of figuring out which things to do, or to avoid.  Chances are, the things you really like or really hate are going to be things other people really love or hate.  Regardless, you don't want to be the kind of blogger that you can't stand.  I believe it was C.S. Lewis who pointed out that true humility is a trait we admire in others, while neglecting it in ourselves.  Whoever it was, it's a sound point.  We can often see the flaws and the strengths of our neighbor more clearer than we can see them in ourselves.

  3. Figure out your “genre.” Sin is monotonous: the pleasures of the earth are finite, and end in nihilism, as nearly any addict can tell you.  Sanctity, in contrast, is vibrant and unbounded, since it's a love affair with the Infinite.  Are you going to write about canon law?  Parenting?  Art and beauty?  Apologetics?  Catholicism and politics?  Liturgy? Pro-life and social justice issues?  Before you write a masterpiece, you need to figure out your “genre.”  Some blogs are able to cover multiple genres well, but many aren't.  For example, think long and hard about getting into the weeds on political issues on which Catholics can take either side.  This can be either a good way of stimulating discussion on the dual roles of faith and politics, or a quick way of alienating even other Catholics.

  4. Set a tone.  I think that the most successful blogs are somewhat predictable: regular readers have a feel for what they're getting.  This includes the topics or genres covered, but it also includes how you cover them.  For example, how much of the blog will be able your own experiences?  Figure out if you're more like Augustine or Aquinas. But it's much more than that.  Look at the contrasts in how  John the Baptist and John the Apostle present the Gospel.  Same content, different tone.

  5. Jacob Wrestles with the Angel (1866)
  6. Choose a name wisely.  Names are incredibly important in Scripture (e.g., Gen. 17:4-5, Gen. 32:28, Mt. 16:17-19, Rev. 2:17), and in the life of the Church (particularly at Baptism and Confirmation), and should tell us something about you.  The same holds true for your blog's title and for the titles of your posts, particularly since these are the things people see before they enter your site.  This is usually all the advertisement you get.

    Personally, I try to keep things relatively lighthearted, while addressing serious topics.  The original names I was mulling over for this blog (like Catholic Defense or Catholicism Contra Mundum, etc.) sounded too boring, stern, or pretentious.  Finally, I asked my Calvinist friend Don for suggestions, who without skipping a beat, answered, “Shameless Popery.”  That name captured the feel of the blog better than anything I could have come up with.

    My point is this: a blog named To View the World Through Blood-Colored Lenses evokes a very different feel than a blog named Little Catholic Bubble.  It's likely to appeal to a different crowd, even before anyone opens the page.  
5 Tips for Keeping Up Your Blog

The internet is filled with abandoned blogs, tiny ghost towns lining the sides of the Information Superhighway.  What do you need to do to avoid consigning your own blog to an early death?
Diego Velázquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1618)
  1. Fill up.  You can only give what you've received.  When I find myself getting snarky, or running out of ideas for things to talk about, or finding myself unable to turn my idea into a a coherent post, that's usually a good sign that my tanks are running low.  I need to step away from the computer, spend some time at Mass, in prayer, or doing some spiritual reading, and fill up those tanks.  This both revitalizes the spirit, and frequently inspires good posts.  Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” We could benefit from a similar attitude: everything, including blogging, goes better with prayer.

    Cutting out prayer time with God because you want to blog about Catholicism is like saving time on a long roadtrip by not stopping for gas: it may seem smart in the moment, but it won't end well.  Worse, it may be a sign that you're trying to be the Messiah -- trying to save people through your own intellect or rhetorical skills.  You can't.  Only God saves.  The best we can hope for is that, like St. Paul in today's First Reading, we can be a “chosen instrument” in God's plan of salvation (Acts 9:15).

  2. Consistency.  This is the single most important distinctive in blogging, in my opinion.  I try to post daily (or nearly so) every Monday through Friday.  Missing a day or two is fine, but if you don't post anything for a few weeks, people will move on.  The reader base that you spent months building up can be lost very quickly through inactivity.  So if you do need to take an extended break (eventuallyalmost everyone does), and want readers to be there when you get back, try to let them know ahead of time.

    This also means that you can't afford to be a perfectionist.  You can't spent two weeks on each post to make sure they're perfect.  Give what you can, and leave the rest to God.  You'll surprised by the results.  I have posts that I spent hours painstakingly researching that nobody seemed to care for, and posts that I rushed through in a few minutes that took off like hotcakes.  For example, one of my more popular recent posts was this one: it's only four paragraphs long, and consists primarily of my reaction to a First Things article and a Catholic Vote post.  I almost didn't publish it, because it didn't seem to have a point.  I suspect this is all another way of God reminding me that He's the one in control, not me.

  3. Valentin de Boulogne, Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (1620)
  4. Content.  This is hopefully obvious, but your blog isn't all sizzle.  It needs some steak for people to come back for more.  Keeping your audience in mind, along with your purpose in writing the blog (see above), write the posts that you would want to read.  Write the posts that you think other people need to hear.

    Don't wait until you're the perfect Catholic Saint / encyclopedia: this blog has helped me grow as a Catholic.   Things that seem obvious to you may seem insightful to those just discovering Catholicism.  Those who are spiritual infants, just learning to walk in the faith, may find it easier to learn from a toddler than from a sprinter.  Keep the Catechism and Catholic Encyclopedia close if you're not sure about what you're saying (or just don't say it), be prepared to apologize and fix errors, and cast out into the deep.  Having said that, don't contradict or undermine the Church, and don't dwell on disciplines you wish She would change.  You should be building up the Body of Christ, not grumbling (1 Cor. 10:10).

    You should aim for a mix of your own content, and your reactions to other people's posts.  You also don't have to dominate the discussion.  Sometimes, it's enough to just get the conversation going.

  5. Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1652)
  6. Beauty.  This is something I realized far too late in the game.  If you read my older posts, they're often just walls of text.  Now, I try to enhance the post with Catholic art and even the occasional video.  You can find plenty of art for free, from places like Wikimedia Commons.  If nothing else, just use a site like Biblical Art, and find relevant art by Scripture passage.  And remember, we're Catholics; we believe that all beauty points to God.  On a related note, see how your blog looks in different Internet browsers, different sized windows, and on smart phones.

  7. Marketing. Even if you're doing everything perfectly, you may be ignored.  It helps to talk to more successful bloggers, particularly those who are good about promoting upstarts.  Mark Shea, for example, was the first to plug my blog, and Pat Madrid linked to me early on (on his old blog).

    Two people you should know about, who do an amazing job of directing traffic towards Catholic blogs: Tito Edwards, who runs The Pulp.it, and has a recurring Register feature highlighting Catholic blogging, and Kevin Knight of New Advent.  You'll know when they link to you because hundreds (or even thousands) of people suddenly show up.  I was blessed in that they found me, but I don't think it's wrong to send your particularly good posts to them in the hope of getting a plug.  After all, you're writing this stuff for people to read, right?
There's much more that can be said: how active to be in the comments, how to handle rude or blasphemous commenters, whether sleep is really as important as people claim, etc. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments. Honestly, though, Jen Fulwiler understands this all better than I do, and wrote a two-part series on blogging here and here. So maybe you should check her out, instead?

Finally, heed the words of St. Peter: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

P.S.  Please, feel free to post links to your own Catholic blogs in the comments, particularly if you're just starting out!  If you'd prefer, link to a specific post or two you'd especially like to share.

60 comments:

  1. Thank you! Now I can finally start writing my blog!

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  2. You could always do it the old fashioned way and just develop a fan so rabid that he will market your blog to Kevin & Tito without your prompting, no?

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  3. Love this!! And, you should hear what I almost named my blog. [shiver]

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  4. I love this post...especially tip #1. So TRUE!!
    I will be watching your blog...I'm so glad I found you through the Catholic Bloggers Network.
    I hope you can come and check out my blog www.EquippingCatholicFamilies.com. I hope that I'm following your tips!

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  5. Great suggestions! I started a blog this past Christmas: Catholic Sacristan. Your counsel concerning beauty resonates with me. I have work to do in that area.

    Thanks for the advice!

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  6. Thank you so much for this comment. As a fellow blogger, I appreciate your insights. The advice you give here can be used for any denomination and blogging can be a powerful way to speak ones conviction of truths. Thanks again!

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  7. Awesome post! Love the art. I too realized that great resource of Catholic art a little late in the game, but once I started browsing paintings, I discovered a whole new hobby! :-)

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  8. I should have passed my blog title through an editor...

    Defend Us In Battle... sounded fun, passionate, and exciting.

    Little did I know that I would someday win an award for being: "Most Church Militant..." :P

    Names are really important though, and I think this ties into genre, and post content.

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  9. Great advice, Joe! You nailed each side of blogging--the practical, psychological, and the spiritual.

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  10. Very good indeed. These things have worked for me. www.battleforthecoreoftheworld.blogspot.com

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  11. Good tips! I shall have to try posting more often myself.

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  12. Thank you. These are very good tips for starting out in the blogging world. I have been reading your blog for quite some time and have even shared some of your posts with my anti-Catholic mother. I wanted to share my blog with you, I have been working on it for awhile now. Blessings to you and keep writing!
    http://mothermovedbygrace.blogspot.com

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  13. Thanks for the tips! I ran out fuel for months but I'm getting back on it!

    www.spiritualdre.blogspot.com its called: Catholic And Excited About It!

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  14. This is terrific information - thank you! It's a timely and much needed reminder for me to stay focused on my particular mission and stick to the areas where God is calling me.

    My husband Joel Schmidt and I blog at The Practicing Catholic. We launched the site summer of 2010 (more about that here) and are slowly building up a following. Joel is in deacon formation in the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa and our prime mission is to evangelize in our backyard given there is not much of Catholic new media presence here. Having said that, we certainly enjoy interacting with folks all across the globe.

    Here is one of our most read posts. Matt Archbold linked to it via NCRegister - that made us smile! The Sisterhood of the Rosary

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  15. Great tips, thanks for the advice! It was interesting for me to read all of this advice after I have been blogging for nearly three years and I am on the verge of abandoning my blog or maybe deleting it entirely. I read all of this with a completely different perspective than what the post was intended for and it leaves me with much to ponder in my decision making. I especially appreciated the bit about filling up on prayer-perhaps my tank has been a bit empty lately and a blogging sabbatical is what I most need...

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  16. I happened upon this post first thing in the morning, before the rest of the family was awake. Good thing, too, or my kids would have seen their mom talking at the computer screen: "Yes, that's right!" "Of course, why didn't I think of that?" "What a great idea!" I blogged at A Perpetual Jubilee for just over a year before, discouraged and burned-out, I decided to take a hiatus. Now I'm back at APJ and am most eager to implement your suggestions. Thank you for being generous in sharing your insights with other Catholic bloggers! God bless!

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  17. Just made my 350th entry prior to coming across this post in my Facebook newsfeed. I started in 2008 and my greatest difficult is making regular posts. Real life just seems to get in the way sometimes.

    http://catholicponderings.blogspot.com/

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  18. Thanks for the advice, as well as the links to free picture sources. I know I need to get on a blogging schedule, you are very right about the need for consistency. My blog is The Alluring World. I intended it to be a news/economics site, but it turned into a site to write about my interfaith marriage and attempts to network with others in similar situations.

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  19. www.thejoysofbeingcatholic.blogspot.com

    I'm a newbie Catholic, (2008) and so I have all the zest of being in love and probably all the superficiality too. I was raised super anti-catholic, so I come from a background of that perspective--so many cradle Catholics will wonder why certain things are so meaningful to me.

    Thanks for the opportunity to advertise! God bless.

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  20. I just realized that I did everything wrong when I started my blog 2 weeks ago. :-) Thanks. www.catholicpsychdoc.com

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  21. Joe,

    Thanks for the great advice...God bless you!!!

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  22. Thanks so much! A great service to all for "evangelizing the digital continent"! Here's my blog: The Heart of Things - http://missionmoment.blogspot.com/

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  23. I have been doing this for a near 10 years. Not everyone agrees with me. I do not agree with most.

    Common sense is 2 words that I use. I am though so soooo sick of how politics and blogging is tied with righteous Catholic living. There is too much idealistic nonsense tied with who is good and who is bad. I go for the visual and local travel stuff and less for the lonnnnnng theological treatises that no NO ONE WANTS TO READ.

    I show Florida and give links.

    I almost gave up and shut it down but it is easy to do this. When we adopt a child, I may change the name or rename it with a link.

    Over the years, I have had imitators and threats and a lady who named her blog my blog name and put the number 2 after it, but she stopped after I threatened to sue her.

    It has been interesting.

    Most of those ultra Catholic bloggers turn me off to the faith because they make it look like you have to DO IT THEIR WAY.

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  24. I'm just catching up on my Shameless Popery and what wonderful timing! Today I'm reading the final chapter of "The Church and New Media" by Brandon Vogt which also contains some really good blogging tips:

    http://www.churchandnewmedia.com/

    http://www.amazon.com/Church-New-Media-Blogging-Activists/dp/1592760333

    Brandon might not be shameless enough to plug it here, but I am ;-)

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  25. Oh yes, and my own tip:

    keep paragraphs short - it makes the page look less intimidating and it's easier to speed read :)

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  26. Joe: Thanks so much for posting this advice! Being new to the game, any help is always helpful, and I will certainly take this tips to heart. At the moment, Elizabeth and I are pondering over whether or not to change the name of the blog, provided we can come up with something a bit more eyecatching. I dearly wish I could come up with something as witty or amusing as "Prosblogion" or your own excellent title, but I suppose I ought to take your advice and look to outside contributors for suggestions.

    Also: thanks so much for linking to us as an example. Our view count went up considerably as a result, and I thank you for getting us a little more exposure than we otherwise might have had.

    Have a wonderful day!

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  27. I like you comments on being consistent and writing content you would like to read. Great post.

    http://www.thereligionteacher.com
    http://prayerhabits.com
    http://togetherforlifeonline.com

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  28. Joe - I absolutely loved this post! The part about learning to step away and seek time in prayer was priceless. As a matte of fact, I took your advice and did just that this morning!

    Thank you for sharing.

    God Bless,
    Gary

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  29. Excellent advice, and very recognisable. I've been blogging for two years now, and I can't find much to disagree with here. And thanks for that link to 'Biblical Art on the WWW'. That'll be very useful.

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  30. What great advice, especially point#5! I admin a group blog (http://journeytowisdom-ocbs.blogspot.com/) and some of our authors struggle with feelings that they have nothing wise to say that could be of help to someone else! But it is uncanny how each post finds a place in someones heart! Thanks for an encouraging post!

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  31. Great post & thank you. I agree with the name. When I started three years ago, I had mommmy blog friends and that's the name & idea I went with.

    Now, I would like to write more about my faith but feel trapped in the mommy blog. I do like it as a family blog so to speak but it would have been better to be my blog. Also, there isn't enough time in the day for two.

    Great tips!

    Tina @ http://www.mypricelessfishers.com

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  32. Thank you for this most helpful article! My Catholic blog is only about 3 months old, so I'm still learning and your tips really help.

    I'd love if you or others here would review my blog, and tell me how to make it better!

    p.s.- I "heard" my blog's title while in prayer!

    "Catholic Frontier...Promise of the New Evangelization"

    http://tsahaylu.blogspot.com/

    God Bless

    (I'm adding your blog's link to my
    favorite links, anyone who wants to do a blogroll exchange, let me know. Thanks!)

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  33. Hi from a new blogger in Alaska, humble bloggy neighbor to that Most Church Militant guy Joe. I loved the Aquinas/Augustine thoughts, it helped to chill out and realize we're all fruitful in our own way.

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  34. Thanks so much for the help! I've had a blog for a few years now, but I did let it waste away for a bit which was bad! I just thought I didn't have time, but after some prodding and putting it to prayer, I started up again just this week & I've done two entries already.
    My son, who is in Rome studying for a semester, also has a blog he started after a lot of people at home wanted to hear about his travels. He was going to do facebook, but he thought a blog would be better. He was right & his numerous entries are so well-written and thought provoking, I have a hard time remembering they've been written by my kid! His blog can be found at http://amoreantiquiritus.wordpress.com/
    Thanks again and blessings to you!

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  35. I enjoyed this list of things to consider with blogging. My blog is there so I can develop the discipline of writing daily. Perhaps not a brilliant reason, but it is not a brilliant blog either. It is a learning experience and I found a name that fits ME, and I blog on what comes to my mind. Bit by bit as the daily writing takes place I am finding sort of mini-topics that are developing within the write anything mix of my blog, so perhaps eventually it will have a consistency that will be worth reading-- but I always value posts about blogging by more successful bloggers since I never know where the advice I most need to read will be found. Thank you.

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  36. So Joe, since you shared such great points here, and have been a great personal encouragement to me and my writing as well, I am going to "shamelessly" plug my own blog right here and now if I may. It is http://catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com and I would love to see any of your readers and followers stop over anytime. I cover a lot of current events and also deal with my own story as a man with SSA (same sex attraction) who has found a solid refuge in the Church. Blessings to you all.

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  37. Really helpful and encouraging suggestions. Thank you!

    I'll gladly accept your invitation and invite you and your readers to take a look at my blog and my recently released book:

    http://harvestingthefruitsofcontemplation.blogspot.com/
    http://catholiclane.com/forgotten-truths-to-set-faith-afire-words-to-challenge-inspire-and-instruct/


    May both bring glory to God!

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  38. http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/

    My blog's supposed to be irenical, which I is why I don't post much. I'm trying to be Chesterton but I'm more naturally Belloc-cose. Fake it till I make it, I guess: Something to work on.

    I particularly like these posts:

    http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/look-at-the-body-of-christ/
    http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/original-sin-means-hope/
    http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/chaos-theories/
    http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/good-without-god/

    Any suggestions for a better blog name? Ecumenism without Compromise, perhaps? (From the ecumenism lecture by Peter Kreeft.) I can't really think of anything punchy or no-holds barred when my statement of purpose explicitly rejects odium theologicum.

    1. Bellicose Irencism --- too high-brow, and not the right tone.
    2. Fury of the Peacemaker --- it sounds like a B-movie sequel.
    3. Ecumenism without Compromise --- too hard to attribute, (I don't want credit for the phrasing.)
    4. Odium Ecumenism --- not quite it.

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    1. Why would you use "odium" though? It's a bit harsh isn't it? What about "Elegiac Ecumenism"?

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  39. Just the advice I needed. Thanks! I write a Catholic dad blog at liamferguson.blogspot.com. Dulcius Ex Asperis--Sweeter After Difficulties.

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  40. Great post. You really hit on some things that I never thought of. I've read your blog numerous times before but of course find it ironic that it showed up on The Pulp.it. Thanks for your inspiring posts.

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  41. Thank you for posting this! I just started my blog www.catholicpilgrimagesites.wordpress.com a couple of months ago and I found this to be very helpful!

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  42. This was a great post and timely for me as I am new to blogging. Most concerned about the discipline and follow through part as I tend to have passions that fade after a time (if nothing comes of them). Much prayer has led to the decision to try anyway though. We need to fill the blogosphere with faithful Catholic voices.

    Inspired by NCRs Jen Fulwiler and Simcha Fischer (among others), my blog centers around being a catholic mom but takes on current cultural/political/apologetic issues as well. As a mother, and a convert to Catholicism, I am very motivated to speak up for the faith and a culture of life.

    Jennie

    Http://www.sweetlycountercultural.blogspot.com

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  43. Great post :) you really nailed the spiritual side of Catholic blogging.

    It's easy to fall into the rut of just writing another post (and another, and another) because, well, you have this blog so you might as well use it, right?

    Taking time for prayer and personal reflection really is so important in fighting the effects of writers block :)

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  44. These comments have been fantastic -- I've been exposed to a whole slew of Catholic blogs, many of which I'd never heard of before.

    And Robert Ritchie, that is hilarious! Everything makes so much sense now. You're one in a million.

    I.X.,

    Joe

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  45. Thank you for the post and for the invitation to post a link to our blogs. I am a Catholic wife and mother. Our oldest son was killed in a car accident 16 months ago, my blog is our journey through grief, with Mother church as our guide.

    http://www.backofthenorthwind.com/?p=1683

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  46. If my blog is anything it's eclectic. It's a mix of what makes me tick. You'll find everything from apologetics to my cat. It's a very incarnational blog. All that life is made up of.

    www.abbaslittlegirl.blogspot.com

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  47. Although I've had the blog address for a while now, I've decided to really go for it after this post. I hope you enjoy part one of "Why I'm Catholic."

    catholicboerseun.blogspot.com

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  48. Thanks for posting. It's great information. It confirmed some of what I was doing and gave me thought in other areas.

    Feel free to check out my blog. I post articles and links to news of Catholic interest. I have a passion for Catechetics and Moral Theology, so they tend to work into my posts quite a bit.
    theologygeek.blogspot.com

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  49. hello Fr.Andrew and Joe :)
    i'm Anna. i'm catholic and like to blog.do check out my blogposts when you get time. http://hiddensoulja.blogspot.in/2011/09/meeting-christ-in-christina.html

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  50. Hi guys! I have had a blog for a few months now, check it out! http://www.catholicmaiden.blogspot.com/
    It's tons of fun =]
    God bless you all

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  51. Thank you for this post. It has inspired me to finally start blogging. I've only done a few posts so far. Check them out. http://catholicsanity.blogspot.com/

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  52. Thanks for these tips! I've been blogging sporadically for the past year, but would like to write more. http://theological-librarian.blogspot.com/2012/03/compassion_23.html.

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  53. Thanks for writing this post. Our missionary community www.fmcmissions.com just started blogging and your advice was looking for. "Banished to the Cry Room: A Parent’s Plea to the church" has been our most popular post so far: http://www.fmcmissions.com/2012/11/08/banished-to-the-cry-room-a-parents-plea-to-the-church/

    This is our latest post: http://www.fmcmissions.com/2013/02/21/how-do-you-respond-to-a-love-like-that/

    Thanks again!!!

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  54. After wanting to for a while now, I finally started blogging a few months ago! Thank you for the advice, its nice getting tips from someone you admire in the community!
    website design.

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  55. Well it seems I'm late to this party. But I did find this to be an interesting and informative post. I wonder how many people bombard you, Big Pulpit and New Advent with request to check out their blogs? Well far be it for me to be above self promotion. My own contribution in the ever growing blogosphere is at:
    http://tombalistreri.blogspot.com/
    The name of my blog is "From Balderdash To Epiphany" (and all thoughts in between).
    Thank you.

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  56. Thank you so much for the advice; I am just starting out and find this information helpful. My blog is: http://surrenderinglife.blogspot.com/

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