Saturday, November 30, 2013

Working Post: My Missionary Project

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Originally, I was going to create a website for missionaries that come home early for my final project. I have created that website, and I like it. However, I have decided to convert that website into a blog because as I continued to do research and meet others that came home early through my website (and those who want to help) I realized that there are so many grey areas when it comes to missionary work. And although I had an experience with coming home early from a mission, I have realized that I am by no means an expert on the subject. I would like to become on though and I think a blog will be one of the best ways to get started.

So, I have decided to transform my website into a blog. By making it a blog, I will be able to receive feedback through comments and have a more approachable format for people to contribute their own stories through guest blogging. I can ask my readers what they would tell someone in a grey-area situation instead of trying to come up with a solution for the situation largely on my own. I can also talk about missionary work in ways more than just coming home early, although I do plan to have coming home early be a focus of the blog.

Main Purpose
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The main purpose of my blog will be two-fold: (1) Have a place for those that feel like "misfits" in the world of LDS missionary work to come and read stories from others and to receive advice on what steps they should consider taking next in their life and how they can still be missionaries even if they do not serve the typical full-time mission, and (2) To change the LDS culture surrounding missionary work. This is something the Church is already trying to do; missionary work is not just for full-time missionaries. We know this. But for those that want to serve, there are other options than serving full-time proselyting missions and these options need to be more well-known.

Initially, my blog will probably focus more on missionaries that come home early, but eventually I hope it'll include topics that go beyond coming home early from a mission and focus on other topics that need to be talked about but are generally ignored concerning missionary work. (E.g. Serving the full amount of time but still feeling like a failure, or that you could have done more, etc.). 

Preliminary Exploration
I have read blogs, articles, and gone to presentations regarding early-returned missionaries. (Yes, I know I said I hate that term and I would prefer it not to be used, and I still think it is a pejorative in LDS culture, but I hope to change that through my blog). I have written a lot on my website, and I will probably use what I have written there for my blog posts. I have also used Wikispaces to curate other articles and blog posts on the subject, as well as ideas for my blog both in subject matter and aesthetics. 

Relevance
My project relates to this class by using digital means to get something very important out there. Originally I tried to talk about this subject through traditional means, i.e. writing a book and getting it published through Deseret Book. That did not pan out, however, so now I'm trying to talk about it through digital means. I think this will be better for my audience since the topics will become more of an open discussion rather than me generalizing my experience onto others that go through similar experiences. I think that this more open format will help others a lot more than my book would have done.

Format
My format for this open discussion will be a blog. Eventually, I may create a website, but that will not be until I feel comfortable with the rhetoric of websites and feel like I know and understand enough about these difficult topics to create a website. Later on, I may rewrite my book and submit it for publishing again. But for now, my format will be a blog.

Outlet
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Professor Burton suggested I do a press release for my blog once it is ready. Does anyone know how to do a press release? Who should I contact?

Other thoughts I had were to do maybe a guest blog post on a more popular Mormon Blog site. I could contact whoever controls the Mormon Archipelago site and ask that my blog be included in the archipelago.  I could also contact reporters and see if they'd be interested in doing a story about my blog.

And, of course, I could definitely make a Facebook page for my blog. Twitter is also a useful option. In order for these two to be useful though, I'd need to do some advertising with the above outlets.

Curation
Samuel Adams in his movie Returning with Honor
My primary sources have largely been my own experiences. However, I have also read several blog posts  and articles online about coming home earlt and stored them in my wiki. I have a DVD that I borrowed from Dr. Burton called Returning with Honor that I plan to watch tomorrow, and probably write a blog post about (then put on my blog once the blog is set up). I watched a four minute clip of the movie here. I encourage anyone else interested in my project to watch the clip too. He does a good job of capturing what early-returned missionaries feel when they come home (at least, what I felt, and what others who I have met have felt). 

For secondary sources, I have looked at the Church's website and read more about missionary work to find out what are cultural expectations and what are the Lord's expectations. I wrote about what I found throughout my website and stored the articles in my wiki. 

For community, I went to a presentation from Dr. Kris Doty and her team of students that for two years studied the effects of coming home early from an LDS mission. At this presentation Dr. Doty and her students reported their findings. I emailed Dr. Doty and her lead assistant after the presentation to see if I could publish her findings on my website after she and her students had written them up, but I haven't heard back from either yet. Perhaps once my blog is more established, I'll email her again.

Social Proof
I've used Facebook to gather initial social proof regarding my subject as evidenced in my blog here. I have also left comments on blogs and reached out through Twitter to gain social proof for my subject. So far, I have received enthusiastic replies about my project from both early-returned missionaries and others who wish to help early-returned missionaries. I have also received enthusiastic replies from those I have told about expanding my project to encompass more than just early-returned missionaries, although the number of people I have told about that so far has been significantly smaller.

I made a good connection too with someone who is excellent at blogging and using Twitter. She is in one of my editing classes and initially I hired her to be an editor for my website until deciding to turn it into a blog. When I told her about my decision to turn it into a blog, she supported my decision and told me that if I would like to do a blog consultation with her, she'd be happy to meet with me. She thinks we make a great team and would love to continue working with me. That made me very happy (and relieved to have an expert at blogging and Twitter want to work with me!). I made an appointment to meet with her on Monday for an hour and a half. To prepare for the appointment, I have been looking at LDS blogs, self-help blogs, and personal blogs to gauge what I like and don't like about blogs and to get a better idea of what I want my blog to look like and sound like.

Next Steps
My next steps are to meet with my blogging consultant, get the blog set up, and then write like crazy. I'll probably get 3-4 blog posts ready to go to post as soon as the blog is up. I won't wait until the blog looks perfect before I get it going, but I will want to wait until I think it looks at least professional and presentable before I start advertising it through different outlets. 

I'm also debating about the name of my blog. Should I should still use my domain earlyhomecoming.com for the blog's url and name the blog "Early Homecoming," or should I change it to something else to better encompass other issues within missionary work? Any thoughts?