This weekend, two people asked what advice I'd give to anyone starting a Blog. As the NBI is just around the corner, it seemed like a good opportunity to apply a bit of wisdom to this issue and then hand the entire shebang over to you guys as possible inspiration to go out into the world and MAKE BLOGS OF AWESOME. I thought when I wrote this massive opus about not simply the advice I'd want to give, but the raw materials you should probably gather before you begin. I reckon, if you're going to make a decent fist of this, there actually does need to be some organisation too. You'll thank yourself later.
Right then, to the list!
1. The Name Remains the Same
I spent a good portion of my life before kids in a business that had a ridiculous name, but because it so perfectly suited what was made, nobody cared. In fact, people would comment on what a fabulous name it was and how easy it was to remember. Titles matter, like it or not, but the problem with the Internet is that most of the good names are already gone when you turn up. If you come up with the most brilliant name in the Universe for your Blogging Adventures (TM) and then discover the URL is a holding page for a Chinese manufacturing company, do not despair. The use of the word BLOG in your webpage title is a good fallback (see above :p) You can still create a presence without having to go the extra mile of buying a domain as well (see Number 4.) I bought alternative-blog.net after three years, as my commitment to the fact I'm in this for the long haul. It isn't necessary however, what is FAR more important is your name covers what it is you're setting out to do.
2. Tell Me Why
That's the next issue. Your name should really reflect your desire to write, and why you are doing this to begin with. 'James' Gaming Blog' is all very well and good (extra points for correct use of the apostrophe by the way) but it only tells half your story. If you're covering a subject like Gaming, try and focus on the particular part of of the process you enjoy the most, or maybe identify an iconic part of gaming that might give a more general focus, but actually end up as unexpectedly personal. Some ideas for you in this vein are as follows (feel free to steal:)
Benched for Raiding
These should allow you a bit of freedom to cover a multitude of Gaming topics. If you want to be personal and talk about yourself occasionally, don't worry, we'll make sure you can do that in Part 3. If you're only going to be writing about Warcraft then you could pick perhaps your favourite place in Game as a jump off point (Slumming in Silvermoon) or maybe your most loved class (Hunting High and Low) I am available for naming duties if required, by the way. You know where to find me.
3. Build That Wall
Now it is time to set out your stall. I will suggest you sit in a quiet place with a paper and pen/pencil and actually write down What You Want to Achieve by Blogging. My remit's pretty much remained unchanged in five years. I write about a game I love, and if I can't find something that inspires me, I don't write. I don't deliberately 'do' personal stuff (in fact, I now have a separate site for just that formless ranting with a side order of my original writing) but in the last year here I have branched out and covered other games. However, I always come back to Azeroth, so people know that's where my heart and my writing lies. I'd suggest you use these notes you make to form the backbone of the 'About' portion of your website and at least keep them for reference. This is when you actually decide if you want to do this or not, because when we get to Part 4 you might end up spending some money and to do that when you're not entirely sure you want to...
Writing is not for everyone. With big words come great responsibility. If you want to do this, and well, there's a lot to consider. When you'll write, how you'll do it, what you'll cover, who you want to read it.
In shock news, people you have never met may end up reading your Blog. You need to be prepared.
4. All I Need.
You do not need to spend a fortune on hosting a site. Both Blogger and Wordpress offer fully serviceable packages for starter Bloggers for the grand total of NO MONEY. That's why I started with Blogger before Google bought them out in 2003 and with the functionality that company now offers in tandem with services like Picasa for image storage and Gmail for custom e-mail facilities it's still a decent call. However, there's a load of options. You could Tumblr your adventures. You could take your Tweets and Storify them... the possibilities are endless. The thing is, I'm not going to tell you what's best for you, that's your choice to make, and it will all boil down to how you feel most comfortable working. Look at where you spend your time: which forums you like, which sites you find attractive. Use these to help you drive your decisions. It doesn't matter where you write, after all, only that you do.
I wrote for a year on Blogger and never told a soul. Nobody ever found me. When I realised that I actually wanted people to interact with, it was time to work out how I made that happen.
5. Woke Up This Morning
If you want people to respond to your work, you need to tell them where to find you. This means, at some point, you're going to have to go public. I waited for a year because frankly, I wasn't confident enough I had enough material even after 365 days to make people want to read me. I didn't realise at the time it doesn't really matter one iota about quantity, it is all about quality and honesty. Just being myself is what has got me here, warts and all, hissy fits and depression and AWESOME with all points in between pretty much covered. This is what propels me forward too, the realisation I love writing and sharing it with people and hopefully infecting you all with UNDILUTED ENTHUSIASM. It works too, but only because I believe it does. That's pretty important in all of this. If you believe you can do it when you wake up, then write. If the writing just doesn't happen, don't force it and try and work out why.
Most importantly of all, if you write six posts in a day and then nothing in the next week, it's time to investigate the joys of time management and scheduling.
6. All of My Heart.
BE YOURSELF. Really, I cannot stress this enough. If you don't want to be what you are and insist on creating a virtual 'personality' for yourself be aware you'll be expected to 'perform' at all hours of the day and night as this person, and if that's something you really don't want to do, being you becomes a far more sensible alternative. If you do this, over time, you will find you are in a position to build meaningful relationships with your readers. No, you won't go out for dinner with them all but if you're lucky you'll get to learn all their names and your writing will stop being just about you and increasingly more about the people who interact with you. This is the BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. Trust me on this. This then in turn gives you increased confidence to push your limits and try more complicated topics. It also ensures that you're no longer alone, and as a writer, this matters.
The best work always happens when you have an audience.
|Make them all look this way. That's the brief.|
In the early days, you will be tempted to check your blog stats every hour. Hell, who am I kidding, I still do this, especially if the post I've put up is particularly contentious. I run quite a fine line some days between obvious disinterest and obsessive refreshing, and I'm here to tell you that overly fixating about your audience (or often the lack of them) is ultimately not healthy. Again, you'll just have to trust me on this one, but you won't gain anything long term by worrying about who's reading, or indeed if there is anyone there at all. If you write, people will come, especially if the content is strong and different from what everyone else is currently saying. That might be where I'm excelling currently, as I'm still enjoying a game lots of people frankly can't be arsed with right now. Often, it is hard to tell why something is popular, but every view is a victory and should be considered that way.
However, there are those who tell you it's dead easy to to target posts to specific audiences and they're right. I'm not here however to offer you growth hacks. Maybe that's also a part of my problem, but that's a post for another time. However, I guarantee that if you click my Twitter links I won't earn money from you. I am at least consistent in that regard.
As soon as you press 'Publish' on whatever platform you've chosen, be aware that what you've written can be seen by the entire Internet, even if the vast majority of them don't know you exist yet. That means, you'll be open to criticism. As a result, you'd better be ready to defend yourself if someone takes offence at what you've done.
Someone on my server towards the end of Wrath started a Blog that documented how he'd 'snipe' players using the Neutral AH when they'd transfer stuffs from Horde to Alliance and vice versa. A lot of chat logs appeared on his site in the brief time he was active, many of them were pretty much him baiting the players whose stuff he'd intercept. Blizzard were effectively powerless because he was doing nothing wrong, until one notable exchange when he was arrogant enough to let rip with a torrent of abuse which the player to whom it was directed sensibly capped and sent to Customer Services. A ban ensued, and he vanished, as did his site. The lesson to learn here is simple: if you write things, be ready to stand by them. Don't get cocky either. At some point it WILL bite you in the ass. Then it becomes how you choose to deal with the consequences.
9. It Just Won't Do
On this point, if you do upset someone, how you deal with that is actually pretty important. Internet status does not afford you anonymity, and really it never has. If you upset a reader, for whatever reason, you have two choices. You can choose to ignore it and simply mark this down to 'a difference of opinion' or you can attempt to manage the consequences. This one remains a vastly grey area, but as a rule I never write ANYTHING EVER in an attempt to deliberately offend ANYONE. No deliberate use of people's names or anything personal, because this is a game and I'm not running a tabloid newspaper. Why people take offence is a hugely complicated issue, so its a pretty good idea to have a plan to deal with stuff when it happens. The key for me is not to retract anything, not without a damn good reason. I think I've done this twice in five years, and in both instances I felt it was ultimately the right thing to do.
Some will say you should never retract anything you write. As I get older, more and more, this is how I feel too. If you publish something you should stand by it, because they are your words and they matter.
It's probably an idea once you establish yourself to learn how to promote your site. This Guide is not the place however, I've already critted you today with a wall of text, you don't need that twice over. I will therefore be doing a guide on how to bend Twitter to your will in the next few weeks. For now, understand that you can have an audience and the smart choice is to stay ethically sound if at all possible until the Right Person comes along and offers to buy you out for Loadsofmoney (TM) [*]. Again, if you wanna make a fortune from promoting yourself, you're definitely reading the wrong blog :P
11. Love What You Do.
Don't look at this as a job. I write that statement knowing full well that this, for me is JUST THAT. That's because I've always wanted to write like this, mostly because I realised it would allow me the opportunities I wanted as a person and ultimately allow me to become the woman I've always wanted to be. My journey is pretty unique: I've wanted this since I was about nine, and this is the culmination of many, MANY years of desire and personal effort. I realise that not everyone's turning up at this Guide to become a writer or to attempt to blaze their name across the Internets. If all you want to do is write once every few days or after you've done summat cool, you're still under the same rule I am.
If you don't love it, don't do it.
Write because it makes you happy, because it helps you deal with the world around you, and most importantly because you have something to say. Don't write becuse you feel obliged, or that you think people will like you more because you do. Write as a way to express yourself, always.
Finally, and most importantly. It doesn't matter about everyone else, this is for YOU.
In the end you may have an audience, and people who read you daily and possibly even fans and a five figure Twitter following. Did you really come here to do this for the fame and the recognition? No, you started this journey because you wanted to write, and in the end that's what it's all about. Getting jealous of people who seem to be doing better than you are? SO NOT WORTH IT. Make every word you write have a personal resonance, and never forget that all that matters are your words. If you just want to talk, people will listen, you just have to grasp the intractable truth that opening your heart and mind to other people isn't about becoming famous, it's about making you a better person. If you are doing this just to be an Internet Sensation you came in the wrong door. This isn't what writing is about.
Go start a You Tube/Twitch Channel instead :P
One last thing: even if you only last a month and never Blog again, you will be able to say you tried. Writing is the most unique form of human expression, but for many it never really fits, because finding the right words depends so much on being able to pull them out of your head and onto a screen/page/wall. For some people, however hard they try, it just never happens. However, if you want to write, the results can be absolutely glorious.
The choice is yours.
[*] It happens.