Blake Atwood is a friend (I’m pretty sure he’s ok with me saying that publicly) from what we call in the church world “my home church”. More than that, he’s a creative that I have a ton of respect for and highly admire. This week I got him to answer some of my questions about content and creativity as well as what his degree is actually in. I hope you guys enjoy!
Tell my readers a little bit about yourself.
I’m a recently and happily married man to a woman whose beauty and kindness often duel each other for my affections. We live and work in the Dallas area. I’m a full-time editor at FaithVillage.com, a sometimes writer at BlakeAtwood.com, and an every-so-often drummer. I haphazardly fell into being a featured subject in a Wall Street Journal article because I once used the word albatross in a blogpost. I also managed to compress my 15 minutes of fame into less than one second as an extra in Friday Night Lights, Season 2, Episode 9.
To anyone reading this, this question may seem completely irrelevant, but it makes sense in my head as being important to the rest of our conversation: What’s your degree in? I know you went to Southwestern in Georgetown, and I’ve known you as a church publications/media/web guy, and I think you did technical writing for a law firm, and now I know your title is Editor of Church Leadership (or something like that) for FaithVillage.com. So…what kind of degree prepared you for all those hats?
Though I almost certified to teach (and I have major respect for teachers of all sorts, many of whom I have as friends), I was adamant about not going into teaching after college simply because so many people assumed that to be my only route where my degree could hold meaning. They assumed I had to teach or keep going to school. Neither option appealed to me at the time. A few months after college, I landed my first professional gig: a proofreader for the Texas Senate. So, if you’re taking sloppy notes at home, my English degree from a small liberal arts school got me into the Senate as a 22-year-old.
How has that helped/mattered in each of those positions (and any other you may have had that I don’t know about)? Or has it at all?
It’s mattered in every single job I’ve held, but I was intentional about that. I’ve also been fortunate in that aspect as there are multitudes of people who don’t get to mix their passion with their profession. I’ve worked at a bookstore, as a proofreader, as a communications director, as a law firm copywriter, and now as an editor. Even with the retail job I held as an “inventory specialist” at a bookstore, I wanted to work near words, even if they weren’t coming directly from me. My English degree, as well as the well-rounded, liberal arts education I received at Southwestern, definitely prepared me to pursue my passion through my various professions.
What is FaithVillage? Someone asked me once “Isn’t that just a “Christian facebook”?” I don’t think it is, but I’m terrible at telling people about it.
We’re part Google, part Facebook, and part Amazon, though not (yet) quite with their reach. Our content is aimed at Christians.
- Google-ish: People can search for topics relating to Christianity and find articles, podcasts, or videos on that topic. We have 600+ bloggers and organizations that contribute content. There’s always something new to read, hear, or watch.
- Facebook-ish: We offer a free, custom-built social media platform for individuals and churches, complete with profile pages, friending, status updates, and groups. You could create a David Stippick fan club if you wanted to, but we mostly envision churches using it to create public or private groups for online collaboration, like a Bible study that wants to keep their discussions going throughout the week.
- Amazon-ish: We launched our bookstore about a month ago, stocked with 200,000 Christian titles. We also launched our Great Book Reviewers Group, where members can join for free and request review copies of books in exchange for a review on their blog and in our bookstore.
How did you get involved with FV?
One year after moving to Dallas, I found a job posting on LinkedIn for “Christian Living Editor.” I sent in my resume, thinking that the description fit me all too well, aside from a few minor parts. At the first interview, I learned that there were two other editorial positions available, neither of which were listed on LinkedIn. Tip: Always send in your resume to any jobs that look promising. You never know if they may have something else that’s a perfect match for you.
I was cautiously hopeful about getting the job. After two interviews and just a few short weeks, I was hired. Thanks to my time on staff at a church, I was offered the position of Church Leadership Editor.
Why do you think it’s important to have a faith based online outlet like FV?
This is a question we get often, especially with so many social networks available to us today. We understand it too: FaithVillage is on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. So why another social network?
For the same reason that you go to church and Bible study and hang out with Christian friends. We are not opposed to reaching out to the world (i.e. you can share content within FaithVillage via Twitter, FB, Pinterest, etc.), but there are particular conversations that can only occur within the confines of a church or between two Christians. Among other things, we wanted to create a safe place for those conversations to occur and for Christians to find encouragement to keep running the good race.
You’re involved with Art House Dallas. What’s that about?
Art House Dallas is a non-profit organization that brings artists and creatives together once a month to talk about everything a creative struggles with: the day job vs. the dream job, inspiration, the process, what you’re currently working on, why you’re not currently working on what you’re supposed to currently be working on, etc. It’s a great place to meet like-minded individuals with a creative bent that want to make the world a better place.
Alright. So here’s what I’m really excited to talk to you about – content. You write your own blog, you write for others sometimes, you write for FV as well as edit and manage content for them. That’s a lot of content! Did you ever think you’d be dealing with so much content development/creation?
I’d always hoped to work for a magazine or a book publisher or a media website. Still, I’m surprised by how much content our site generates on a day-to-day basis. The Internet is a hungry beast, constantly yearning for more morsels to feed its insatiable appetite. There are (depressive) times when I ponder the ephemerality of online content, i.e. if someone doesn’t catch one of our articles in their likely overflowing Twitter stream, they may never see it. On the other hand, the content is near eternal, insofar as our site doesn’t crash or the Internet itself doesn’t implode.
If I believe in an all-powerful God, I have to believe that he can arrange for a particular person to find a particular article at a particular time for a particular reason. I know how words have affected my life at particular moments, how much power and weight they can carry, and how they can spur you on to real-life good deeds and a closer relationship with God. It’s for these reasons that I don’t mind feeding the beast.
Do any of the areas you’re doing this in intersect or interact at all?
Quite often. When you work in a job that closely aligns with who you are, overlap is bound to occur. For instance, I contributed a few articles to a Mac-centric website called MacDaily.co. I’m also in charge of church tech content within FaithVillage. I’ve written a few guest posts for bloggers I’ve met as a result of their involvement contributing to FaithVillage. All of my former jobs prepared me well for what I’m doing now.
You’re clearly involved in quite a few things…how do you keep it fresh? How do you not run out of stuff?
It helps that we have 500+ contributors to FaithVillage. We’re never in want of content there. As for my personal projects, I often feel like the well is dry. I’d love to blog more consistently, but I also have an ebook I’m working on. My best advice for content creation is to always write down your ideas as soon as they come to you, even if they’re crappy ideas. Good ideas need fertilizer.
What’s your “creative process”? Do you have one? Is it different for these different areas?
Great question, and one that I’ve never actually considered in depth, even though I’m often interested in others’ processes. At this point in my life, my process involves (straining) to get up before 5:30am, then placing my rear squarely in my chair, setting my hands on my keyboard, and just writing … something. This doesn’t always happen. I’m a big fan of Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water is another great book on the creative process: “Someone wrote, ‘The principle part of faith is patience,’ and this applies, too, to art of all disciplines. We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.”
At my job, the creative process is more about forming interesting headlines and writing engaging, yearning-to-be-clicked status updates. However, my creative process may best be summed up in my title of editor. It’s all about winnowing down dozens of ideas into the best idea one’s willing to release into the wild at that moment. Since we create such a large amount of content, not every headline is going to be a winner simply due to time constraints. Sometimes you just have to ship.
In the Christian life/walk/journey/catchy buzzword why does content and creation matter?
Allow me to quote myself, along with L’Engle again. She said, “We cannot create until we acknowledge our createdness.”
In this blogpost, I said, “To be created in the image of a Creator God means that, by original design, we’re creative. Regardless of talent level, we are all born creative. Whether or not we foster that creativity or choose to use our powers for good is another story. By acknowledging our createdness, we humbly come to a much deeper appreciation of the tasks set before us. We incarnate with our art and our lives, bringing nothingness into somethingness, echoing God’s work at the dawn of time.”
Jesus seldom if ever settled for the expected approach. His answers, his words, and his life consistently defied the expectations of those around him, even those who spent the most time with him. He lived creatively because he was the Creator. We’re asked to follow in those footsteps, but it’s less like walking in a straight line behind him and more like following his lead in a dance.
How do we create better content (relationships, work ethic, whole life experience, etc.), that points to Jesus with our lives?
Be honest, transparent, and vulnerable. People resonate with honest stories well-told, whether they’re written or spoken. The Christian life is not all unicorns and rainbows, and we shouldn’t fear telling the truth when it comes to our shortcomings. If we really believe that Jesus is everything he says he is, then we should have enough humility to say “I don’t have it all together, but there’s one who keeps me altogether.”
Allow me to quote another author I greatly appreciate, Anne Lamott: “If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
Make sure you check out the links above. You can follow Blake on twitter.