Finding Your Time

Writing Blocks

This morning I am trying to knock a post out quickly before “Rainmageddon” gets here.  While I don’t really believe it  the neighbor across the street said we are likely to get “ten inches” of rain during the course of the day.  That would be absolutely insane.  My wife’s theory however is that she just misheard and the news actually said “two inches”.  In any case starting at noon today we are likely not going to want to be out in the world.  This is awesome because it means I can binge on video games.  What is not so awesome is the fact that I need to get a post out quickly rather than my normal lazy Saturday and Sunday posting schedule.  So I have a video game soundtrack on to block out the world, and am in beast mode!  Sadly my beast mode is more like a sleepy kitten, but in any case…  I am making things happen!  For those curious I am listening to the State of Decay soundtrack that is available on Google Play.

Normally Storytime Saturday is the day when I tell you some tale about myself, and I try really hard to make it one I have not already told.  The problem there is that I have shared so many intimate details of my life with you all, and that I have zero recollection of what I say on any given day.  Hell there are days I get to work and I will see entire sections of a post that I don’t remember writing.  In the spirit of the Newbie Blogger Initiative this mornings “Storytime” is more than likely going to be a free form rambling mess as I share indiscriminant tips and tricks I have learned over the years.  The key to thriving as a blog is to be predictable in your posting schedule, and in order to make this happen it means you need to set aside specific blocks of time to write.  How big of a block of time depends entirely on the style of post you make.  When I write a post that requires lots of research those are usually done over the course of several days, with me keeping notes in a Google drive document.  My “normal” style of posting however takes anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour of me sitting down at the keyboard and physically writing it out.

Finding Your Time

When I launched this blog in 2009 I spent a lot of my lunch hours writing posts.  For the most part this worked great because it was a fixed block of time when I was not really doing anything else.  The problem is as work got busier, and I started actually going out for lunch… my noon writing block evaporated.  There were more than a few days when I was working on a problem that I could not set down long enough to write a post, and by the time whatever had been fixed… I was usually too drained mentally to produce something worth reading.  I wont say this was the reason behind some of my larger lapses but it was certainly a contributing factor.  When I started on my “Grand Experiment” I knew I was going to have to figure out something else to do.  I had gotten in the habit of going upstairs with my morning coffee and piddling around in a video game for thirty minutes to an hour before actually going into work.  This “boot up”  time greatly improved my cognitive ability by the time I got to work, so it was actually something that turned out to be pretty beneficial.

When finding your own block of time you have to evaluate your own schedule.  Where is a block that you are doing something every single day, or every few days…  that you could tweak a bit to turn that into a time to write your blog posts?  For me I happily sacrificed my morning game time in an effort to give myself a regular place to write words and things.  This however has been a double edged sword.  I literally cannot start my day without writing a blog post, and the days when I have to do something differently and stage the post the night before…  I feel like something is off the entire day.  I have incorporated this writing phase into my morning boot up routine and when it is missing, I am just not fully functional.  Additionally the problem of writing while you are not entirely awake means sometimes entire blocks of text don’t really make much sense.  Thankfully the frequency of my posting makes up for some of this.  When you are posting every single day, your readers cut you a lot more slack for having an “off day”.

Keep a Contract

The other nice fringe benefit of morning writing is that you feel like you have accomplished some thing.  No matter how south the rest of the day turns, you will have at least had a tiny victory that morning.  For years my wife has done something that I just did not understand until I looked at my own blogging.  When we clean the house we usually divide and conquer, meaning I take certain rooms and she takes certain rooms.  One of the rooms she always wants to do is the Bathroom and I have never understood why she tackles it first thing.  She has always said it made her feel like she had accomplished something, and I guess in a way gets those good vibe endorphins flowing making the rooms that are more painful a little easier to do.  I can definitely see this whole process working because I absolutely see these same kind of benefits with my own blog posts.  No matter how frustrating the rest of the day is… I at least accomplished writing another post and I continued the chain of daily postings by one more day.

Whatever your block or your schedule I think the absolute most important thing is to treat it like a contract.  It becomes extremely easy to give yourself an excuse for not writing one day, that turns into not writing for an entire month.  Before I ventured down the path of daily writing there were so many times when I told myself “I just am not feeling it” and let myself off the hook without writing a post.  Then as months went by of “not feeling it” it became harder to actually start the process again.  In order to keep a schedule you need a certain amount of rigor in your life, and a willingness to sacrifice other things to make sure the ball keeps moving forward.  I know this might sound like an odd statement, especially for something that we all consider a hobby.  The problem is you can’t really treat it like a hobby and achieve the predictable regularity that your readers will want.  In many was blogging is a second job, admittedly one you do out of love… but there still needs to be some constraints on your time.  At this point I have blogged every single day for over two years… so I have this pressure built up in NOT missing a single day.  I have motivation to keep going, and keep writing… and I think it is this motivation that you have to find for yourself.

Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015

It’s That Time Again!

nbi-blog-logo Well folks it is once again May the First and as such time for us to begin the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  For those that are unfamiliar with this program, I thought I would take a few minutes this morning and talk about what exactly it is and what you can expect from it over the coming month.  May is essentially the month that bloggers set aside to helping create more bloggers.  In order to do what we do we need a thriving community to live in, and this is our version of a neighborhood block party.  I once referred to NBI as the BlizzCon of the gaming blogosphere, because really this is the event I look forward to each year.  It is exciting seeing all of the new faces filtered into our world, and seeing others rededicate themselves to creating more frequent content.  Others of us just enjoy helping folks out to get their start with whatever projects they are wanting to do.

For New Bloggers

If you have ever thought about creating a blog, a podcast, or a youtube channel this event is solely centered around you.  For years we have heard that “blogging” is dead but the fact that I have over five hundred active blogs in my feedly account would disagree.  Each time I go to read through my gaming blogs it is like drinking from a firehose.  I love this and I love the fact that there is so much creativity packed into this community.  However in order to keep this a vibrant and fresh community we keep needing to infuse it with some new blood and new ideas.  One of the most difficult parts about starting any new venture is getting an audience.  It can be frustrating to feel like you are writing into the void, and in part the Newbie Blogger Initiative is here to give you what you need most…  exposure.

During this month the gaming blogosphere turns its eyes to the Newbie Blogger Initiative and by choosing to start a blog during this month we are essentially hand delivering you readers.  Now of course starting the blog is the easy part, creating regular and creative content is the challenge.  Throughout the month veteran bloggers will be giving you tips and tricks that we have to help ease your transition.  This has always been a very blogging centric event, but we want to embrace all gaming content.  There have been quite the number of new podcasts spawned out of this event and the connections with other bloggers, as well as a few folks dipping their toes into video creation.  Essentially the sky is the limit on what you can do, but you have to start someplace and we are here to help.

For Veteran Bloggers

While all of this love is getting thrown around on the new bloggers, it is  really the Veteran bloggers that make up the backbone of this initiative.  We need you, your ideas and your wisdom.  Blogging is rough, and getting up and doing this on a daily basis means we need some tools to be able to lean on.  Each of you started out as a fledgling blogger at one point or another, and many of you got a massive boost by the Newbie Blogger Initiative in the past.  Now is the time for us to step up and help the next generation to become the awesome bloggers of tomorrow.  Many times these new bloggers just need someone to talk to and bounce their ideas off.  I personally am always open to new blogger queries and during the course of this event I will end up trying to make a personal connection with as many of the new folks as I can.

What we need more than anything however is for you to keep making awesome content.  Let the bloggers know what works for you, what you have figured out doesn’t work, and general ideas about how to make a blog successful.  I’ve talked about a lot of topics in the  past, and there are a few of them I end up dusting off almost every year.  More than anything we need you showing that this is an achievable goal, and that given dedication you can succeed.  Each of us has tricks that we use to keep us going, and at the end of the day someone starting this is going to need a big bag of tricks to lean on.  Channel your gifts in whatever direction you feel best be it with writing prompts, tutorials or lessons learned, but whatever they might be we need you to make this work.  There are already folks signed up on the forums waiting for us to find them, so I suggest you sign up as mentor today.

For Wayward Bloggers

Now especially I want to address a special kind of blogger this year that I might not have in the past.  Have you lost your way blogging, and somehow lost the will to put pen to paper and create new content?  While I am generally thought of as this prolific daily blogger, there are some pretty massive lapses in my blogging history.  I recently celebrated my second anniversary of making posts every single day…  but prior to starting that there was a seven month lag in my blog.  It is easy to “fall off the wagon” for lack of a better term.  Life gets in the way and your font of inspiration dries up…  then the longer you wait to make a post the more pressure you put yourself under about making said post.  We are our own worst enemies, and as the months tick you suddenly realize you are no longer really a blogger.

Newbie Blogger Initiative is also the perfect time of the year for you to get active once again.  Sometimes we start down a path that doesn’t end up as sustainable for our interests, and other times life just simply throws us a curve ball.  In any case I urge you to take this month to get back into blogging.  We are here and waiting to help you with whatever you might need to tweak on your blog to make it sustainable.  We are also waiting with a ready audience to consume your brand new and shiny content.  Each year we lose a number of bloggers to life, and I am hoping to help resurrect some of them and get them making content once more.  The Newbie Blogger Initiative is so much more than just a launch pad for new blogs.  It can be the vitalization of our community every single year, giving us a new perspective to carry us through the next year.  If you want to come back to blogging regularly, we are waiting for you.

#NBI2015

Not as Hard as it Seems

So You Want to Blog

This will be my third year participating in the Newbie Blogger initiative, and each year I have lead off with a post along these lines.  Without a doubt the hardest part of blogging is some how conquering that little voice in your head that says that you shouldn’t.  If you can ever defeat this inertia you can do truly wonderful things.  The problem is, this is the step no one can really help you with.  If you are like those of us who are already blogging…  you have ideas and thoughts that you feel like sharing with the world.  Chances are you started out as a poster on your guilds forums and then worked up courage to posting on your game forums.  Maybe you are the “social network pundit” that comments on various topics when someone else brings it up.

Essentially at this point you are this bottled up fountain of ideas.  I am here to tell you there is a cure for what ails you.  There is nothing quite so cleansing of these ideas as trying to write a post.  You can go from having thirty million things to say on a variety of topics, to not having a single thing at all to say when presented with the blank page of your own blog.  For the past year I’ve engaged in Mortal Kombat with the blank screen every single morning, and for better or worse made my mark on it.  When you finally wrangle an idea out of your head and break its will transforming it into written word…  it is a miraculous thing.

The hardest battle however is actually hitting that publish button.  There are many mornings I simply close my eyes and hit publish and then walk away from the screen for a few hours.  In truth this is helped by the fact that I write at 6 am as I am drinking my coffee and have a natural built buffer to keep me from fiddling with it otherwise known as my drive into the office.  There are going to be days where you write something you thought was great… and no one seems to care.  You are going to have topics that you threw together in five seconds that get way more hits than the rest of your blog combined.  But at the end of the day you get to call yourself a blogger, in a completely real fashion.  You are a content creator, you put words out into the internet and even if no one knows who you are…  eventually those words will reach someone thanks to the sorcery that is Google… and hopefully touch them in some way.

Not as Hard as it Seems

There are a lot of decisions to be made about your blog, but the most important one hopefully is that you have decided to make one in the first place.  There are tons of great free options that you can have started and running in a few minutes.  I happen to be in the WordPress camp and I choose to host my own version of the software.  However there are many people who have great results with Blogger, including my own wife.  I personally suggest you create a little proto-blog on each of the services and get a feel for how the tools work.  They each offer unique benefits, but also have some unique constraints as well.  I’ve personally found WordPress to be more flexible and more easily modified to do exactly what I want, however if Google already controls your life… then Blogger more easily integrates with G+ and Drive.  In either case you can literally have a blog up and running and open to the world in less than ten minutes.

There are as many ways to write a blog as there are people.  Some folks like to stage the entire post in a word processor and cut and paste bits into the blog software when they are ready to post.  For a few particularly tricky posts I have done this with a Google doc that allowed me to “chew on” the topic for awhile before finally entering it into my blog.  Other people like to stage their posts ahead of time in the blog software and schedule a specific post time.  This allows you to write an entire weeks worth of posts in a Saturday afternoon and have them trickle out throughout the week.  I’ve never been a huge fan of this, but it works well for a lot of people, especially those who write for multiple blogs.  Ultimate you have to find the option that works best for you.  I highly suggest you try lots of different things.  If you read my early posts they look nothing and feel nothing like they do currently.  This was a slow evolution over time where I found what I liked and didn’t like and started to develop my own blogging style book of sorts.  Ultimately you will end up doing the same thing for your blog whatever it might be.

Picking a Format

Now we start getting down to the more difficult decision territory.  Your blog is this “thing” and that thing needs to have a hook that will draw people in.  What is your “thing”, are you supremely devoted to this one game or even this one niche of this one game… or are you more of a generalist wanting to talk about lots of different things.  Tales of the Aggronaut for example started its life with the intent of being a World of Warcraft blog.  More so than that… the intent was to be a World of Warcraft Warrior Tanking blog.  A niche within a niche within a very specific game.  I have to say there is a beauty and a simplicity of writing a blog about one specific thing.  When someone asks you what your blog is about you have a very handy answer, that immediately makes sense…  at least to anyone who has ever played World of Warcraft.

I quickly realized that I had boxed myself in a corner, because it meant that from that point onwards… I would have to write about World of Warcraft Warrior Tanking.  The biggest advice that I can give you after five years of blogging… is to pick a “thing” that is livable.  Essentially you want to try your best to quell any excuse you might have NOT to post a blog post.  For the first few years of my blog there were some massive lapses in posting, and each one relates to a period where I just was not feeling the theme of my blog.  I didn’t want to be a rant blog, and if I didn’t have anything that made me excited about something… I stopped writing about it at all.  This was the achilles heel of being about a specific thing.  So I went through a series of “format changes”.  For awhile I tried to be a blog about raiding, or a blog about World of Warcraft in general.

Finally I had a massive reboot and become an official Rift Fansite for a bit, when I was hot and heavy over that title.  Thing is it wasn’t just my site that was changing, but it was me as well.  I had played this one game for seven years and I was entering a phase in my gaming where I didn’t really want to be tied down to this one thing any longer.  I am so thankful that early on I picked a pretty ambiguous title for the blog.  “Tales of the Aggronaut” can be so many things, and regardless of the game I am playing I always seem to have Tanking tendencies…  so Aggronaut always makes sense.  Had I been thinking properly at the time I would have simply named my blog Belghast.com and been done with it, shedding all illusion about what it would be.  Having an open ended name to the blog has allowed me to shift the format around a bit to fit whatever felt right at the time.

Now five years on you have a blog that is vastly different than where we started.  I am now habitually and happily poly-amorous when it comes to gaming, and my blog has become a cult of personality of sorts.  People are interested in reading what I write more than what I happen to be writing about.  I feel grateful and lucky to have reached that point, however in the beginning after watching lots of new bloggers hit the scene… it is probably better to try and be a blog about a “thing”.  Those blogs seem to have far better traction because they are easily relatable and more importantly easily integrated to an existing community that is whatever that “thing” happens to be.  All that said… when you name your blog, I highly suggest you give yourself an escape clause. Name your blog something that will make sense as this “thing” you want to write about, but also make sense as something else too.

Accessing the Community

I know the irony that is me writing about community after various posts I have made in the past about blogs and community.  However if your blog is going to get traction you need a community to support it.  This can mean different things, but ultimately you want to find a niche in the “thing” you are writing about, and also a niche in the community of bloggers that share that space.  This is the aspect of the Newbie Blogger Initiative that makes it so helpful.  By starting a blog right now, you are getting dumped into a shared space with lots of other budding bloggers, and a huge chunk of the blogging community is paying attention to you.  For example within the next few days I will be starting up a special blog roll again just for the NBI Class of 2014 giving each new blogger prime placement in my visual blog roll.  Similar lists are going to be spread throughout the verse showing you as someone they should be checking out.

One of the hardest things I find about making a successful blog is the self promotion aspect.  It is the piece that feels the least genuine and the most needy.  By entering the Newbie Blogger Initiative you are getting a bit of a pass on this one… at least for a little while.  We the established bloggers are going to be doing your promotions for you.  All you need to do is sit down and focus on producing great content.  There has been talk over the last few years that blogging is a dying art form.  While I don’t necessarily agree with the dying part… I do agree that we are in desperate need of fresh blood in our community.  So much of what we do is fed by interaction with others, and we need an ever widening circle of people to talk with.  There are moments when I swear I have had the same discussion with the same bloggers multiple times… and the more of us IN that conversation the less that is going to happen.  Won’t you please join the madness that is blogging, and leave your mark upon our community?

#NewbieBloggerInitiative #NBI2014 #GettingStarted #JoinUs

Sponsors Unite

Class of 2013

nbilarge

Yesterday the 2013 Newbie Blogger Initiative officially kicked off and the new blogs are starting to trickle into the forum.  Yesterday I updated my blogroll to include the five blogs that had signed up to date, and over the night another two have joined the fray.  Here is hoping that the effort will continue to grow throughout the month.  Last time we ended up with I believe 110 new blogs starting the process, so we have a long ways to go before we see those numbers.

I will update my blogroll accordingly later today… but currently this years crop looks a little something like this…

Check them out and give them some link love.

Sponsors Unite

Similarly, yesterday kicked off quite a number of “advice” posts from the sponsors.  Like always these varied in topic greatly covering general tips, where to find inspiration, and various technical tidbits.  I am sure in the coming days we will be seeing a lot more of these posts but so far here is the run down of topics that were posted as of this morning.

I am sure as the month rolls on, we will see quite a few more sponsor posts as well.  I think for the first day, the program was pretty well represented.  My goal is to do a short daily synopsis of what all has been happening on the days I am not posting an advice article myself.

Heroic Characters

EverQuest2 2013-10-02 06-22-05-44

A few days ago I had posted about the fact that October 1st was the beginning of the ability to create a free Heroic Character in Everquest 2.  Most of us initially thought this was for subscribers only… or in EQ2 nomenclature “Gold Members”.  However yesterday Stargrace of MMO Quests pointed out that ANYONE can log in and create a free level 85 character during the October 1st – October 15th period.  Additionally they have once again tightened the reins of the free to play restrictions.  Previously it was extremely frustrating to play a free to play character, because you could not equip Legendary or higher items…  which meant that essentially you could not equip anything that came from a dungeon or most world drops.

With the introduction of Heroic Characters, all of these item locks are gone… as are the various items that were sold on the store to unlock the ability to equip them.  Additionally as of yesterdays patch… much like they did in the past with other expansions… Destiny of Velious is now included for free.  This gives you access to content up to level 95, and covers all of the newer zones added into the game.  They have also broken up the Age of Discovery features into bite sized chunks that allow you to gobble up only the pieces you want, for example you can buy access to mercenaries only, or just the beastlord class.  Since they are removing some of the appeal for remaining a gold member, they have added in a permanent +15% coin loot bonus and +10% mount speed bonus to all existing gold members.  They have also mentioned they will be adding more perks into the equation to keep maintaining gold level a valuable thing.

The Swash and Berserker

EverQuest2 2013-10-02 06-37-39-56

Wanting to take advantage of the free promotion, I logged in both of my accounts last night and created and or upsized characters on each.  For some time I had been trying to level a dps character on my main account, and had created Belgrifter a Ratonga Swashbuckler.  Namely the Swash is a very high survival dps, and I was having a decent time leveling him.  Ultimately I ran into the same roadblock I ran into with all of my characters however.  Once you have had flight in EQ2, you simply do not want to level a character without it.  So essentially I was stuck with a decision… either grind up tradeskills or grind up levels.  I managed to push him up to 55 before something shiny caught my eye and I abandoned the effort.

Since I could not really see myself returning to playing him until I had flight… I decided to go ahead and use that accounts token to super size my Ratonga.  The gear that they give you is extremely nice… far nicer than the gear I have ever started velious content in before.  I seriously doubt if I will replace any of it during the Othimir quests, it seems to be on par with that level of item.  The weapon choices were a little wonky, giving me a sword and a mace… but I can live with that.  The big problem is I have NEVER used a mace on my rat… but they auto leveled all of my weapon skills for me… so that really is not a problem.

If you look at the image from the above paragraph you will see Belglaive my new 85 Iksar Bezerker.  On my second account I mostly had support classes, as I used to regularly dual box before the release of Mercenaries.  As a result I really did not have anything “tanky” on that account.  If I ever wanted to dual box again, I figure it would end up extremely handy to have access to a tank, and Bezerker is the one I have never really played to high levels.  I have a very small dwarven one on my main account, but I think he is somewhere in the 30s.  The best thing is… the changes give me full access again to my Dark Elf Warden, since I had stopped playing him due to the item restrictions and not wanting to maintain a second subscription.

Wrapping Up

The ability to create a free level 85 character is an extremely amazing offer.  If you have ever considered playing EQ2, I highly suggest you make an account during the 1-15 period and create a level 85 even if you do not intend to play it right now.  You can do a lot of cool stuff with an 85, and even use it to feed lower level characters items.  I have always loved EQ2, and I will admit the prospect of fresh high level characters has gotten me pumped about playing it some again.  Just not sure how often I will do so… given my current addiction to Final Fantasy XIV.  If you do end up rolling characters, I highly suggest Antonia Bayle the Roleplaying server.  It has probably the best community I have seen in any game… other than potentially Landroval in LOTRO.