31DBBB Day 13: Take a Trip to the Mall and Improve Your Blog

This is Day 13 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, a group project 60+ of us bloggers are doing together in an effort to help each other become better bloggers.

Today’s assignment is to discover different ways to derive inspiration. As I read the assignment I found myself cringing a bit as it looked like I was going to add something more to my plate (as if most of us don’t have enough already). Then I began to realize it wasn’t adding anything at all but rather forcing me to get things done.

Take the Time

As I thought about the idea of pushing myself away from my computer and going to the mall it became apparent I was going to have to leave the house. Not something I really like doing (at least going to the mall part). But I decided, begrudgingly, to follow the suggestion to see what would happen.

As I entered the mall I began making my observations and it suddenly became interesting. I saw the people, the businesses, the advertisements and the structures differently. I started asking myself some questions. Who are these people? Why are they here? What attracts them to such a crowded space? I started to see people rushing by but I could sense they each had a purpose and a direction. Each store was intentionally designed to reach a certain people group. They used colours, displays and other attractions to grab these people’s attention. It was interesting how the mall itself was laid out to make it easier for people to find their particular niche store.

I accumulated a large amount of data in a very short amount of time. So, I sat down in one of the chairs and began to record what I had observed. I even took time to ask myself some more questions and reflect on the answers. By the time I was done I could sense I was ready to write this post.

Be Prepared

Prepare yourself with the right attitude. Keep in mind this is something that will make you a better blogger. Also equip yourself with some tools to help keep you on track. A standard pen and paper is a start. However, I also found that I would like to take along some tech tools to help me. These could include: an ipod or iphone, a notebook, a digital camera, a digital recorder or other tool that would help record my thoughts.

Review the Process

Go – somewhere and intentionally make it interesting for yourself. In order to refuel and get some addition insight I found I need to get out and go to the mall, the library, the park, the sports arena, the amusement park or some other place of interest.

Observe – the things that are happening all around us. Many bloggers are already keenly observant. But this skill needs to be continually worked on or it becomes dull.

Question – like a child. Asking questions can be difficult but it is the way Jesus got His disciples to discover things for themselves.

    Who? – Who is at the mall?
    What? – What are they buying?
    Why? – Why do the stores use certain colours?
    When? – When do the stores see the most activity?
    Where? – Where are the displays put for the various stores?
    How? – How do the malls direct traffic?

Record – your observations so that you can take time later to go over what you have heard, seen, felt, smelt and touched.

Reflect – on what is going on around you as often as possible. I have found that I need to intentionally make the time for quiet reflection in order to bring together and make sense of all the experiences I have in a day.

Share – what you learned with others. Blogging is often just answering questions that you or someone else may have asked.


  1. Where are some of the places you find you are most inspired?
  2. What are some practical ways you gain inspiration?
  3. Post a link to a post you have written with a comment telling what inspired you to write the post.

The Extra Mile

A few other things you can do to take your blog, other bloggers, and this project even further today…

  • Reply & give other bloggers feedback on the little things they do.
  • When other bloggers include a link to a new article they’ve posted today, click, read, and comment on it.
  • Check previous posts in the series for new comments.
  • Tweet, share, & bookmark this post.
  • Please review Seiji Yamashita’s blog, The Ignition Point, and give him some feedback.

Rob Ross is the coordinator for Oikos Ministries (a network of organic churches). He is a disciple of Jesus (Making Disciples) who lives in Calgary, AB with his family. Connect with Rob on Facebook or Twitter.

About the author

Rob Ross

Rob Ross is the coordinator for Oikos Ministries (a network of organic churches). He is a disciple of Jesus (Making Disciples) who lives in Calgary, AB with his family. Connect with Rob on Facebook or Twitter


  • I think it depends a lot on what type of blog one has. My blog is much more doctrine/theology orientated. So, instead of cruising the mall, it may be a good idea to hang around the local Christian book store to see what people buy.

    • Hmmm….I have a similar situation, since my blog is about prayer. And yet, if I can reach non-Christians and convince them that prayer is real and effective, because there really is a God to whom we can pray (because He loves us) then that would be a great thing.

      Similarly, I think theology and doctrine can speak to non-Christians. Too many Christians hear the the words "doctrine" and "theology" and instantly fall asleep out of boredom, and yet those things tell us who God is and what He like, and they can have very real ramifications on our day to day life.

      LOTS of people are seeking spiritual truths – not just Christians. Acts 17:27 reminds us that God has placed everyone in their particular place and time so that they might look for Him and perhaps find Him. What does going to the mall tell you about what people are seeking? How can you address those things on your blog?

    • Hi Mark, like Scott said, this is the first time we've done 31dbbb here. It sounds like a lot of the people participating are learning a lot and their taking significant steps forward with their blogs. So, there's definitely a possibility that we could do this or something like this on a regular basis.

      I'm going to wait until this project has finished and then also ask for feedback from everyone participating before making any decisions about future 31dbbb projects.

  • The mall. The mall? Ugh! I guess I am like many men, I have almost an allergic reaction to the mall. But I get the point, the marketing, what drives people, what they are looking for… Okay, I'll do it. Pray that I'll have a better attitude about it. I'll post later what I find.

    • It might be worth trying to just get out and go for a walk. I know the book suggests going out and gazing at marketing and such, but it's probably just as effective to get out and away from the computer. I think that going for a good long walk could be almost as good as long you don't TRY to think about anything. Once you get out of your own way, chances are that writing will be easier and you'll get some great ideas ontop of it. Like how all your best ideas come to you when you are doing something completely unrelated to writing you know?

      • I agree about the best ideas coming when doing something other than writing. I was just talking to a friend the other day about this very thing. He asked me if I wanted to be a writer, and I told him, "No, I want to be a Christ-follower who lives the kind of life worthy of being called a disciple of Christ… and then make sure that I'm writing about that."

        The point is well taken that our blogging should come from experiences that we have in the real-world, not just thoughts we have while hiding behind a computer.

  • Excellent post Rob! Telling personal experience seems to connect well to people like me. Unexpected, rich experiences challenge us.

    Like some of the other work we have done, this one is about observing. Of course there was the observing what is happening in marketing (i.e. pop culture and shopping trends). That seems to evoke some pretty severe allergies in some bloggers. But, it can remind us of the variety of things, colors, types of pictures, that create an inviting presence for a blog or post. The help is probably in the details not the big picture there.

    To me the main value is observing people and relationships. That's relevant to anything we write – how does it (or God) connect to people. What aspects of our created being (even our fallen being) have I become numb to or never seen before that God wants to use in communicating the message(s) in your blog?

  • I can't exactly go to a mall today due to where I live, but I am walking downtown and back so will observe what I see during that time. Some of the places I'm most inspired are online – church experiences, small groups, Facebook, here, while chatting with friends. I also get inspired through physical church services, things I do, playing with kids, reading blogs, looking outside, etc.
    I gain inspirition from friends online or offline, reading other blogs, doing things online with other people, youtube videos.

    The Children: How I Started Blogging (inspired by a video on Tony Morgan and his sister Jen's blogs) Jen's video of the children inspired me to start blogging. I wanted to share it with my friends on FB or Twitter but it was beyond 140 or 280 characters and just wouldn't fit, I needed somewhere I could write several paragraphs about it. This inspired a public blog and it went from there.
    Tony's blog –
    Jen's blog –

  • Sheesh. I'm back. I'm flabbergasted at how amazingly full my plate is because of some things that were handed to me. I work for a church, and Christmas and Easter are usually very busy, but those pale in comparison, and now, on top of everything, my daughter and wife are both sick.

    Hence, I missed yesterday's assignment. I'll go back and revisit that one later. And I'll stop whining now 😉

    I found today's assignment pretty interesting, and I didn't really get why going to the mall would be that helpful until I read his blog post describing what he learned by going to the mall. Now I get it.

    Whenever I'm out and about, I've always got an agenda, so I've never seen things that way. When I'm at the mall, I'm usually just annoyed by all of the in-your-face-ness of everything, and it never occurred to me to stop, look, and listen. We can learn a lot about our culture there, and then be able to speak into that culture.

  • You did a great job on today's post, Rob!You did a great job on today's post, Rob!

    I don't think I'm going to the mall today, but I've got some other errands to run, and I'm going to make it a point to pay better attention to what's going on around me and make some notes and see what ideas come out of those observations.

    Today's post on my blog "Protected"… (and actually, tomorrow's too) came from reflecting on the travel post I posted yesterday. That's really an example of how posts can spring from other posts, but it all goes together.

    I find I am really inspired by being out in nature. I find inspiration in taking a walk outside, watching my kids play at the park, spending quiet moments in reflection and prayer. I guess it doesn't take a lot to inspire me. I just need the chance to be quiet and reflect on everything!


    • Jennifer, I found it interesting how you spun that idea of you protecting your children into how the Father protects us. So many of our parenting stories reflect how the Father works in our life. I currently have one swirling in my head–and my son is 21. He recently began doing yard work for friends of ours as finding a job is beyond difficult. It took him longer than I thought the project should. But when he returned, he said, "I wanted to do it just like Dad would have done." He's a perfectionist, my son went on to comment. It's in my list ideas section.

      • That sounds like a great idea for a post, Janis! I think it's worth writing down EVERYTHING even if we never use it because when I don't, the very idea I didn't think worthy of committing to paper is the one I want to use but can't remember.

        Since I became a parent, I see a lot of parallels between how God cares for us and how we're supposed to care for our children. It just seems to naturally spring out of those little moments every day!


  • Nice article today, Rob.

    Though my blog is usually spiritually themed, it is often in the daily occurrence of life that I experience things that I want to write about. I went back through my blog today and found several instances of events, meals, trips, etc that I found rich pictures of life that inspired me to write.

    I'm not going to the local mall today because I'm sick in bed, but the assignment did remind me of a paragraph I wrote based on being in an open market downtown.

    "We walked through the open market in downtown Boise yesterday pushed together more by our shared heartache than by the pressing crowd. Jamie commented that the tenderness of her wounds also created a tenderness of heart towards me and to Jesus. That is a great observation. Pain can lead to tenderness if we let it."

    It was a simple observation, but it is a moment, and a thought that have stuck with me.

    I've enjoyed these assignments so much that I've fallen behind on some of the book reviewing I need to do. I wrote one of them today, a review of Todd Hunter's "Giving Church Another Chance." It was far different than most book reviews I write. This one was more of a confession:

    Also, though I didn't comment on here yesterday, there was some great interaction on my blog regarding two short videos of pastors dealing with heresy.

  • Nope . . . not going to the mall, either. I usually do go, though–oh 2-3 times a year. 😉 But I'm staying home today, and the only things around here are deer, turkies, the occasional elk and mountain lion or coyote/wolf cross . . . bobcats–they don't read blogs, though.

    Going to fix my kiln. I spent half the day yesterday looking for a part so inconsequential that when I finally found it, the guy wouldn't even charge me for it. But I did learn (again) just how eager people are to help. Everyone I spoke to spent at least 15-20 minutes trying to help me find this one little (apparently very unusual) screw I needed. I finally got one at a computer repair shop. They thought it was weird, someone coming in looking for a kiln part, but they found what I needed!

    I just put up a new post, but I didn't write it. Please all of you take a moment to visit my blog at… and from there, go and sign the petition to free Alim, a brother imprisoned in China for our Lord.

    Blessings, Cindy

  • I think it's worth noting that in the 31 Days ebook, the main purpose of this assignment is not to look for ideas for new blog posts (though that may be an added benefit.)

    The main purpose of this assignment is to learn how to better organize and present your blog in ways that increase engagement. If you didn't read this post which was referenced in today's lesson, it's really worth the read.

    10 Lessons in Blogging Learned on a Shopping Expedition

    When you look at the assignment from that perspective, it can be very valuable regardless of the content, because the assignment is not really about content.

    • Great point Paul! It's easy to let this conversation slip into content rather than overall presentation. I've been a part of some conversations with the rest of the editorial team about site design and layout that have been very interesting, and has been dealing with some of this very same stuff.

      It is good for bloggers (especially ones who want to take it to the next level) to consider MUCH more than their content, and become experts (or at least students) in marketing.

      Thanks for pulling the conversation back in!

    • Even in missing the main point I was able to get a nugget of wisdom. I'm sitting at work and I allowed myself a few minutes thinking about one of the local malls, layout, people in it and I came up with a lot of ideas for content generation.

      However, I do see the point of looking at how things are designed and interact an applying those lessons as to attract and keep more readers.

  • I've noticed that when I just sit in front of the computer, it can be a dead end. No new ideas or feedback comes to me. But leaving the confines of my home to even just breathe in the hot air outside stimulates the brain cells. I'll be heading to the mall for observations.

  • No malls for me.. I avoid them like I do the plague, the movie theatre, the Barbie Doll aisle and Southern Baptist churches!!! haha .. I can say that as I'm a recovering Southern Baptist minister!!!

    I get the point of slowing down and taking it the layout and setup of a mall.. What draws people and etc.

    But no mall for me.. Did make a Home Depot/Academy Sports/ Lowes run today.. 4 hours of my life I'd like back…

  • Commitments to work and my family will not let me get out and explore today, so I will have to take an incomplete on today's mall walking assignment. I love Mark Batterson's phrase: "Change of place + change of pace = change of perspective." I believe that is the core of today's assignment and look forward to getting some new insight into my blog from a field trip.
    Here is my post from today:

  • I have learned this kinda learning can happen almost everywhere. Even walking on the campus of my college I have often found a lot of ideas or thoughts that had potential to become a blog post eventually. Great reminder today.

  • Thanks for the comments. I have read each one. I usually manage to post a comment by the end of my work day. I sure can relate to the comments regarding not having enough time.

    As Paul commented the lesson is meant to provide some tips on organizing your blog and helping present your blog in a way that engages your readers. I found the assignment very useful in helping me see that I can find inspiration in the things I normally do and put them into a context that readers are able to find engaging.

    I have an older post on my site that suits this topic. The context was inspired by the home improvement shows my wife and I watch. The Walls

  • I may be a day late but on UK time I'm still in on the same day that Paul posted this 🙂

    Anyway, I'm not a 'mall' (shopping centres we call them) person but I do like to people watch. As it happens today – the day after this day's assignment – I have to go to our local retail outlet centre to hand out CV's for my son to get a summer job … so I shall make an extra special effort to watch the people and see what they react to.

    I think today's posting is more about trying to identify why folks come to our blogs in the first place – i.e. what are they shopping for – and then try to draw them back in – i.e. what can I do to make them stay or return.

    So what I need to do is somehow take the "Up to 75% Off" signs and similar and translate them to a meaningful way of drawing the crowds back. So a series post or an offer of a discount or …

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