So, you want to be a blogger?

I was listening to VirginWorlds on my way to work this morning, episode #119, I think (I’m behind, my phone broke a couple weeks ago, and I just got my replacement), and Brent read a question from a listener who was asking about how to become a game blogger.

I started this blog about a year ago, so I figured I’d share my experiences. I take what I write seriously, but I don’t feel compelled to write something here every day. I’d rather write when I feel like I have something worthwhile to communicate. With RSS feeds, there’s no reason to feel like people are going to lose you if you don’t write every day, or every couple of days. If people like what you write, and you write at least semi-regularly, seeing a new post from you in their RSS feed is enough reason for people to keep you on this reader. That said, if you update once a month, you might want to think about whether you’d really like to be a blogger 🙂 If you write that infrequently, you might be better off trying to write articles for other sites. I noticed Gamers with Jobs has a link explaining what they’re looking for if you’d like to write for them. If anyone knows of other sites that solicit articles, post ’em in the comments! You’re not going to get paid for your posts, but it’s a great way to get exposure and connect with other gamers.

Brent’s response in the podcast was right on. The best way to be a blogger is to just do it. Check out WordPress or Blogger and see which seems easier to use, or which templates you like better, and set up a site for yourself. My blog is damn simple, and I like it that way. I’m not one to mess around with CSS or Photoshop, tinkering and puttering with the look and feel of the blog. I chose a theme, grabbed a screenshot, messed around with the links and the blogroll and the basic shell, and I was ready to write.

I’d get some posts on your blog first, before I started asking people to be added to their blog rolls. I’d guess that before someone is going to add your blog to their blogroll, they’re going to want to know that you update frequently enough to warrant a spot on their list. No one wants to link to a dead site.

Just writing this makes me a little sad, because it seems that Foton over at AFKgamer has taken a break. I should probably take him off my blogroll, but his site is so damn funny that I’m hoping he comes back soon. Anyway.

I know I usually only add people that I read regularly. I don’t think I’ve ever added someone because they asked (actually, I think only one person has ever asked to be on my blog roll, hehe). I add people because they’re the sites I read first when I see something new from them in my Google Reader list.

I’ve also never asked someone to be on their blog roll. While I don’t think it’s bad manners if you do ask, I’d prefer to let the blog owner make that choice. However, that’s totally a personal decision. If you’ve got a good site that’s updated frequently and gets decent traffic, I don’t see anything wrong with politely requesting to be added to someone else’s blog roll. Everyone’s got their own preferences for their site, though, they may want to keep their blogroll short and manageable. Don’t be offended if someone turns you down. If I had all the sites on my Google Reader list on my blogroll, it’d totally hose the page layout balance.

I don’t get a ton of traffic here. I’m sure my numbers pale in comparison with Tobold or Keen and Graev, but I’m fine with that. I write because I enjoy it, and I’m kind of digging the fact that things are growing very organically here. The only “advertising” I do for this blog is posting comments on other blogs. I get to add the URL in when I post a comment, and that seems like the best way to build an audience. First of all, you’re supporting other blogs when you take the time to post a comment on their site. Second, you get a chance to show people what kind of writing they might find if they click on your name in the comments and check out your site. Third, you’re going to be making some friends and acquaintances who enjoy the same things you enjoy. Well, maybe not the part about the ponies, but definitely the part about the games.

Some of my posts started as comments on other blogs, but when they get to a certain length, I prefer to break it out into a blog post and link to the other site. I don’t think people read super-long comments in a blog post, and I don’t want to hog up space on someone else’s blog. Plus, you’re giving the original blog post a bit more visibility by linking to them from the front page of your blog. I’ve found a lot of good sites that way; it’s how I found Keen and Graev, for sure.

My last bit of advice for building an audience, which is worth as much as you’re paying for it, is to find a gaming community of some sort. I’ll admit it right up front, I’m terrible at taking my own advice here. I belong to Gax Online, I just joined the Gamers With Jobs community to play TF2 with them and an old WoW/Eve acquaintance from The Well, and Steam seems to have a great community. There’s a ton of places where gamers congregate, and you probably already frequent a few regularly. If you drop your blog URL in your forum signature or your profile, you’ll probably get some visitors that way as well.

I’m not nearly aggressive enough in keeping up with the social networking sites to promote my blog, but I don’t really mind. I write because I enjoy it, and I enjoy meeting thoughtful and interesting people who have left comments here. For me, promoting the hell out of this site would make it too much like a job, and I already have one of those 🙂 I want this to be a place that I enjoy coming to, where I can write about whatever random thing pops into my head, and hope that people enjoy reading it. You’ll find your own reasons for blogging, but the biggest reason should be that you love to think about games (or whatever you choose to blog about), and you love to write. If those two things are true, you’ll likely be a good blogger, and enjoy doing it.

One last plug: If you do enjoy writing, but you find yourself not setting aside the time to write regularly, I’m reading a great book about being a writer. It’s called “Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day”, and you can get an inexpensive used copy on Amazon. The author, Joan Bolker, has years of experience writing and assisting writers, including time spent at the Harvard Writing Center. It’s not just about writing dissertations, although it scales up to that type of task very well. It’s more about allowing yourself to write, instead of putting roadblocks in front of you. Her approach to writing, and the process a writer goes through, makes so much sense to me. When I write larger pieces, I want to jump right in to writing the finished product, which is quite impossible, although I didn’t really understand why until I read her book. Her approach to the whole process of writing details how my brain usually works, and how what I thought was unproductive or wasting time is actually a valuable step toward the finished product I think I should be writing in my first draft.

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14 Responses

  1. The only “advertising” I do for this blog is posting comments on other blogs.

    Great tip 😉

  2. “I don’t get a ton of traffic here. I’m sure my numbers pale in comparison with Tobold or Keen and Graev,”

    Just quoting something you said there, it does make me wonder somewhat what they do in particular that grabs some attention.

    Personally I delve into Keen n’ Graev’s blog a fair bit, I like the variety of comments and motions they bring up, although there seems to be a certain back hand slate towards their actual ‘experience’ – although whether that directly matters in blogging is a different matter.

    Whilst I must say Tobold’s blog is… well… I personally don’t rate it, let’s put it that way. Yet it seems to be hugely popular (and for the life of me I can’t work out why).

    In terms of my own blog… well… I have a tumblr blog going but since I took a break to go to the Isle of Wight i’ve struggled somewhat to get back into it. I think it’s actually fairly hard to step back into something that does require some form of process/thinking once you’ve had a break. It’s like needing a kick up the back side to get it going again.

  3. First I want to say that I enjoy reading your blog a lot Rick. Grats on being up for a year!

    You’ve hit most of the major points that I can think of in regards to being a successful blogger. The big ones are 1) Just do it, 2) Do it for YOU and not for ANYONE else and 3) Have fun, or quit.

    I’ve been “blogging” now for a year and 3-4 months. I’ve done nothing special to bring people to my blog other than be myself. My brother has done nothing fancy either. We are who we are and we write what we want to write and people come back for more. Bizarre, I know, but it’s the truth. 😛

    Keep up the good work. 🙂

    @Shamutanti: What ‘back hand slate’ toward our ‘experience’ are you referring to? I’m happy to clear anything up for you.

  4. I’m glad I didn’t think about it too much before starting. We did have a few worries we’d run out of things to say, but I think it’s gone the other way some days and we kind of splurge out our thoughts a bit too often. But it’ll all even out I’m hoping, plus, I’m mostly doing it for myself as a record of my thoughts and feelings about Warhammer before, during and probably after 🙂

  5. @Shamutanti, I think Tobold is really good at asking questions that get people to comment, and then the discussion is on. I think it takes on a life of it’s own after a while. Keen and Graev do the same thing, they’ve got a really lively audience, and someone always has interesting things to say in the comments.

    Tobold posts way more than I ever could, though. I’m impressed with his dedication, although I don’t think I have that much to say every day.

    @Keen, thanks for the compliment, it’s appreciated 🙂 “Be yourself” is excellent advice.

    Is it my imagination, or is arbitrary Graev? It sounds like a follow-up to Keen’s comment; there’s a couple “We’s” in there.

    I totally know what you mean about sometimes having too much to say. I don’t post daily, but when I do post, it tends to get long! Brevity’s never been a strong point.

  6. “What ‘back hand slate’ toward our ‘experience’ are you referring to? I’m happy to clear anything up for you.”

    @Keen
    I don’t want to de-tract from Rick’s blog post in truth, derailing isn’t something I enjoy so instead I’ll try and ‘link it back’ somehow.

    Through a variety of websites, I’ve seen comments about yours and your brothers blog and the amount of ‘experience’ you have, along with your opinion relating to gaming matter. It could be simply fanyboyism (which in my view is something always to avoid. Fanbois are a ‘danger’ I find for bloggers, at least new bloggers, in that their often fantatical and strong minded views come across as hostile, sometimes offensive and can place a seed of doubt/why? upon the building of a possible great blog) or possibly just, ‘haters’ (my how I love that word), but either way I’ve seen attempts to discredit the weight of your blog posts when used as ‘evidence’ for support upon certain arguments, reasonings behind things etc.

    That is, some people dismiss the quality of your posts/comments/thoughts with a suprising hostility, emplowing acid tongues, often stating your knowledge/experience isn’t as ‘large’ as is made out (although quite frankly I couldn’t give a toss – good posts are good posts, especially if the context can be transferred/used in other places) and your (Gah, my mind boggles, drinking does hurt the ol’ memory banks) validity it seems as a blogger appears underminded in places.

    That being said, people do like to ‘speak their mind’ upon the internet and often that can mean abuse to achieve that.

  7. @RicK: Arbitrary is not Graev. He’ll always post as “Graev”.

    @Shamutanti: Ahh, you’re referring to the hate we get. That’s just nerd rage from people who disagree. Most of what you read deals with Age of Conan, am I right? We stood out from the mob mentality when neither Graev or I liked Age of Conan. We called Funcom’s bluff by stating what he disliked and pointed out several issues we anticipated would be a problem (like things being unfinished or left out of the game). The hate ensued and we ignored it. A month later all of our predictions and experiences in the game were proven correct. Trolls will be trolls, and that’s all they’ll ever be.

    As for my experience I’m not sure how that can ever be brought into question. I simply list the games that I play and then I talk about them. I’ve been playing and testing mmorpgs since The Realm (graphical MUD) was in Alpha testing (around 1996). I’m an open book in that regard and never claim to know more than I can back up. *shrug* I’m happy to clarify any questions regarding what experience I have and do not have.

    For future bloggers this is a good lesson to learn early. Not everyone will agree with you. Some will passionately disagree. And then some will even hate you for your way of thinking. As a blogger that’s not your problem, it’s theirs.

    No one can tell you that you’re wrong for having an opinion. Remember that.

  8. Advice that’s well worth taking up mind you. Thick skin is sometimes needed when blogging because of the comments you will recieve. Especially when they deliver hate and so forth to you because they’ll call in everything about you and your experience within gaming. Your opinions upon matters are ‘put on the scale’ by people.

    You’know it’s funny in a way though, you see someone’s blog and you always think “I wonder what it could take to simply ‘talk’ to them beyond the blog”. When you have someone who carries a name like say yours Keen around the gaming blog world, which in truth it does in a fairly wide area, be it only the Virgin Worlds ‘community’ as I see it, them being the center framework to out branching bloggers (at least that’s how I’ve found every blogger going that’s been a good read) there appears, at least to me, a ‘barrier’ between the blog and the blogger and even comments can at times only be one directional.

    Yet when you, let’s say invade, cause we’re taking over Ricks blog here, to chat/talk, it seems that walls breaks apart. It’s why in many ways I think it’s important to become part of a social network such as Gax AND make blogs. So to new bloggers or even old bloggers I would say connect with people outside of your blog when possible, don’t just hide behind it and that in many ways includes talking ‘beyond’ the comments section, that is, answering comments upon YOUR blog via comments on YOUR blog means you’re still… you guessed it, in YOUR blog. Break out a bit from it.

    Interaction between blogger and reader is at it’s best when it’s broken down.

  9. I like it when people invade. I can’t possibly think of every angle myself, or have the experiences other people have had. I spent a lot of time on forums, newsgroups, and listservs, having conversations with other people. Blogs are much more fun when they’re a conversation.

    I’d be way bored with myself just broadcasting stuff here and never getting any feedback.

    I also grew up being one of only a very few people I knew who were gamers. Some people would play games with me, but not a lot of people wanted to play games as much as I did, or wanted to talk about them as much as I wanted.

    It wasn’t until the early 90’s, working in the tech industry (manufacturing semiconductor materials), when I found other gamers. Part of that was the tech/geek culture at my job, but part of it was also the growth of personal computers and the internet.

    The internet is what really helped me find like-minded gamers from all corners of the world. I never would have known so many smart, funny, dedicated gamers without the internet. I feel pretty lucky to live in an age when I can find people who share my hobby just with a Google search and a few comments on blogs I like. It’s a good time to be human.

    Shamutanti, I really like Gax, and I’m going to try and spend more time there when I get back from vacation. I think it’s got a chance to take off and turn into an interesting place for gamers. I just wish I could push my blog posts from here on to my Gax page. I guess I’ve got to stop being lazy and cut and paste stuff over there. Or maybe I should write Gary or William and suggest it, see if there’s a way to bring bloggers into the community without them having to post in two different places.

    I’d love to do all my blog reading on Gax, sort of like a social network RSS feed. The more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to mail someone over there and see if they’re considering anything like that.

  10. Oops, I should have specified where I was from 🙂

    I have a Gax account, but haven’t used it in a while – I should really. Or start another one as ‘arbitrary’. Am trying to get all my net IDs to the same place!

    Sorry for the confusion.

  11. If anyone ever wants to hit me up outside of the “blogosphere” I almost always have Steam, MSN, AIM, Yahoo, Emails, Guildcafe, etc available. I will also be meeting several people at E3 who read my blog and at future events such as Gamesday LA, Blizzcon, etc. I’m all for breaking down the barriers of a monitor and getting to know people.

    All made possible by having a blog, btw. (/tie in to Rick’s post)

  12. It’s encouraging to see a post like this. I too find it difficult to write on a daily basis, but that’s all right imho. I’d much rather produce content that is meaningful and well thought out than writing just for the sake of increasing my stat count.

    I just wanted to elaborate on your final paragraph about writing. I find it helpful to set up a Google Document and bullet out all the ideas you might have for different posts. I then use sub-bullets to flesh out each of the ideas – kind of like a mind map.

    It’s much easier to break down your ideas into smaller pieces that you can elaborate on rather than starting from scratch and trying to write the finished product start to finish without any sort of guidance (as Rick says).

    This is a tip I picked up at a songwriter’s workshop and it has been invaluable for helping me overcome writer’s block and adding more detail to my stories.

  13. Rick,

    Thanks for putting to words your thoughts/experience of putting up this blog.

    I think most of us who visit blogs play with the idea of starting up our own.

    I keep putting it off because of the initial investment of time to research the differences between wordpress and blogspot and taking the plunge. Yet, I spend so much more time visiting other peoples blogs, my reason for not starting my own is weak.

  14. @Snafzg – Your first paragraph sums up how I feel about writing. I’ve worked on this blog for somewhere around a year now, and I’ve only ever posted things that interest me. I can’t put out a post or two a day unless it’s on topics that I can’t NOT write about.

    I’m not saying other game bloggers post things just to get stats, but as soon as I personally put stats over content, I’d get bored with myself and quit writing 🙂 I just trust in RSS to get my posts out to people who might be interested in reading them.

    I love Google Docs, and Google Reader, and iGoogle. I’d love it if Google had mind maps too. I’m kinda hoping they pick up Mindmeister at some point. Good tip, and I’m happy you added it here for anyone else who reads this.

    @ Andrew, you’re welcome 🙂 If you find yourself spending as much time writing comments on blogs as you do reading blogs, you might be a blog writer! That’s kind of how it happened for me. When I realized how much I was commenting on other blogs, I finally saw that I could probably produce enough content to make my own place.

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