On Blogging More

This is an amalgamation of an old draft from March 2017 that I never got around to publishing, probably because I never found a picture for it, and some new thoughts because the subject came up again this past week.

My keyboard, stylistically distorted purely for artistic effect, not at all to mask the dust and dirt that showed up because of the side lighting angle.

Roger wrote a post called Where Have all the Bloggers Gone? I believe the gist of it is that he’d like more bloggers to write more blog posts so he will have more to read with his morning coffee. I like that idea too, except that I usually read blog posts throughout the day as they appear in my RSS reader.

I can only speak for myself, but there are essentially two issues limiting the number of blog posts I write: Topics and writing schedule.

Finding an interesting topic

I don’t see very many interesting things happening in the MMORPG space right now. Admittedly part of it is my own ever-present burn-out, but I very rarely see something on a news site and think, “Ah ha, I have a unique perspective on that topic that I can explore in a long-form post.” Most of my responses to gaming news can be summed up with one of three sentences: “It’s too early to comment on that game,” or, “I’ve already written about that topic a thousand times,” or, “I’m not particularly interested in that.” A fourth possibility I often encounter is, “There is only one possible reaction to that and it’s so obvious there’s no need to write about it.” (I’m now using my weekly post for these one-sentence comments.)

That means I have to think of topics myself, which is difficult enough even without the burden of a schedule. It mainly has to be something that is interesting to me, potentially interesting to readers, and possibly cause a worldwide stampede of traffic to my site. And though I’m not terribly picky about topics, I try to stick at least within the ballpark of MMORPG gaming. (Most of my attempts to branch out into other side topics like genre fiction have fallen pretty flat. I can’t find much to say beyond, “Hey I liked this thing. Um. That’s all. Bye!")

Lacking any other decent ideas, most of my posts end up being, “Here’s what I did in this game that I’m playing.” I try to spin them into interesting narratives and add some nice screenshots but I usually find that these are my weakest posts. It’s hard to make a game experience fun to read about. (As opposed to playing the game or watching someone else play, that is.) I keep trying though because I feel like I should post something now and then. (Also, I know there are plenty of people who are stuck at work, and reading about games is all they can do, which is something that I always appreciate when I’m stuck at work.)

Roger mentioned that comments on MassivelyOP could serve as inspiration for articles. I’m sure that’s true, but I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t read very many comments on news sites. The article itself is the content I’m there to read. The comments are … let’s just say they’re usually not written by professionals in the industry.

Making time to write

In my blogging life, I have written most of my long-form posts when I’m bored and/or stuck at work. At those times, it’s not so much that I’m dying to tell people about something, it’s that writing is a life-saving self-medication that keeps me from otherwise going stir crazy in situations I might not choose to be in.

When I’m at home, I rarely feel the need to write for those medicinal reasons, so I have to wait for “inspiration.” Most of the time, I’m just not very inspired and I usually opt for something easy like playing a game or watching Netflix. As I’ll discuss below, writing is hard.

Now it’s certainly possible for me to setup a writing schedule and force myself to write and post more often. But there are a few problems with that, in my opinion. The first is that I don’t really get anything out of blogging, other than the knowledge that I can do it. I could improve the statistics on my blog I suppose, but that’s fairly meaningless. I’m never going to be lying on my deathbed thinking, “My life was so fulfilling because I improved the readership of my blog by 20% that one time.” I’m never going to put ads on this site so that will never translate into anything tangible (eg. mortgage payments). (I mean, unless the site gets really popular that is, then I will totally put ads on the site to pay for my mortgage.)

The second problem, which is the more worrying one for me personally, is that posting on a schedule means some of the posts aren’t going to be that great, because sometimes you have to shovel something out the door to meet the schedule no matter what it looks like. And while there is certainly value in practicing that skill (to use in professional writing settings), there’s no compelling need for me to do that here.

And honestly if I were going to setup a more rigid writing schedule, I’d much prefer that time be dedicated to writing books. It’s more fun to write fiction than blog posts, and also, while the chances are slim, it’s at least possible to turn book drafts into actual money so I can quit my day job.

Finding pictures

Now that I think about it, there’s a third issue with posting more: Finding pictures to put on every post. Posting any kind of article on the Internet without a picture is a cardinal sin. Sometimes I get to a point where I think a post is ready to publish (like this one), but I don’t have any pictures to go with it. With game posts I can almost always find a screenshot or two, but I’m not going to find any screenshots that would work with “general topic” posts like this one. I try to avoid “stealing” pictures too much, so I go to Wikimedia Commons, but there’s never anything good there (see this post and this post). So sometimes a draft might stay a draft just because I can’t find a good picture. This very post might end up being one.

The Newbie Blogger Initiative

As for the Newbie Blogger Initiative, personally I’ve always liked it because it’s a chance to network and help people starting out. However I know it’s a lot of work to run those kinds of things, and these days I suspect there are dwindling numbers of people who even want to start out. I can’t even remember the last time I ever saw anyone say, “Hey, I’m interested in starting a blog, what should I do?” (Almost every new blog now starts as one facet of a multimedia sales strategy, the other facets being video and podcasts and social media.)

I would love to be wrong, but I feel like everyone who wants to start a blog probably already has. Newer folks are much more likely to simply write comments to express themselves, on sites like MassivelyOP.

There’s another issue with the Newbie Blogger Initiative: I feel like in 2018, everything that needs to be said about “how to start a blog” has already been said, a thousand times over. I know I’ve written a number of posts about it, so if there were any future NBIs, all I would need to do is say, “Please refer to my previous posts.” I feel like future NBIs would need some kind of a different theme to get all of us jaded old bloggers excited about it (my vote would be a series of interesting writing prompts, to perhaps inspire newer bloggers not by telling them how to blog, but by showing them what creative blogging can look like).

The video angle

As an addendum to what I wrote above, I think there’s another side to the story of the seeming decline in blogging that came up this past week. Recently, Aywren wrote a post about the waning blogosphere, and there was also some discussion of it on Twitter. Forgive me for quoting a tweet, but:

Faeldray has physical issues with typing, which I can certainly understand as I get up there in years (as I’m typing this, my right eye cannot read any text on my computer screen at all-none, zero, zip, completely 100% blurred-because of a cataract, which happens to make it somewhat challenging to write). But the tweet also speaks to an issue which I don’t think we can ignore: For a lot of people, for various reasons, it’s just faster and easier to make a video or record a podcast than it is to type up a blog post. In the gaming space, streaming is even easier.

One of my theories is that, for most people, writing is hard. The vast majority of people I have met in life are far better at talking than writing, so for them, recording videos, podcasting, and streaming is simply the path of least resistance for expressing themselves on the Internet. Personally I’m much better at communication through writing, but I’m in a tiny minority across the world’s population.

But even though I’m better at writing, it’s still very time-consuming. Here is a recent example from my own blogging life: I just started re-playing Dark Souls the Remastered edition. I could technically write post after post about how great Dark Souls is and all the fun experiences I have in it (someone in the blogosphere did just that within the past year or so but I cannot for the life of me find it to link to it). But it’s really time-consuming to do that to the level of quality that I would want to publish. God bless everyone who still does, like Syp’s recent post about his experiences in Alone in the Dark, but for me it’s a lot of work to take all the screenshots and write up all the narratives for what is effectively a series of creative non-fiction short stories.

It’s so much easier to simply push a record button in OBS while I play, then throw the results up on YouTube. The viewer can experience all the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat first-hand there, along with all the verbal notes that would have become blog posts. (Something else I’m relatively good at is talking to myself a lot.) I don’t have to do any work, beyond thinking up titles for the videos and finding suitable thumbnails (which is actually a huge pain-I’ve mostly given up trying to put effort into it, until or unless I become a YouTube superstar raking in thousands of dollars a month).

Not only are these videos new Internet content to post (which is of marginal value), it’s more importantly a complete and accurate archival record of my experience with the game. Assuming I have enough hard drive space, and I take notes and/or name my video files with sufficient detail (not always a sure thing hehe), I can zoom in on any moment of the game to study later, or even capture frames for blog posts, so I don’t have to rely on my flawed memory or hitting a screenshot key at precisely the right moment. Occasionally I even turn the verbal notes from my videos into blog posts, but those are usually “first impressions” posts.

There’s an initial investment in time and energy to setup video recording solutions, but after that, at least for me, it’s quite literally push-button easy. I push a hotkey on my keyboard to start a recording, and everything I see on my screen and say into my microphone goes into a video file. I push another hotkey to stop a recording. Then (assuming it turned out okay and I don’t need to edit anything) I rename the mkv files to something descriptive, and double-click a script file to convert the mkv files into YouTube-ready uploads. Bing, bang, boom. I could theoretically start uploading to YouTube within 10 minutes of pressing the stop button.

I could theoretically stream at the same time I’m recording, too, but I don’t have much interest in streaming as long as it remains so heavily focused on replacing social media, and I have to take gaming breaks every half hour or so anyway. I’m given to understand that stream viewers like to keep their eyes glued to streams for up to and beyond 24 continuous hours these days, I guess to see if the streamer will actually die live on stream.

The point is that given the general lack of response I and many other bloggers get these days in terms of traffic, it’s just not worth the time it takes to write a lot of long-form posts, particularly about gaming experiences, unless you happen to be one of the rare people who naturally writes quickly, or you want to make an archival note of something, or you enjoy writing just for the sake of writing (that’s the category I fall into). I think those are mainly the only people left in the blogosphere, and probably those are the only kinds of people who might consider starting a blog now.

By the way: I’m well aware that making videos and streaming is worse for the consumer, and people (at least those in certain demographics) greatly prefer to read posts in seconds than sit through hours of videos, so don’t @ me. :) The only point I’m trying to make is that people, including creators, tend to gravitate toward the path of least resistance.

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