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?
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