Blaugust and What the Hell to Write About

We’re past the first full week of Blaugust so it is time for another community post.

This week the schedule of suggested topics says something about topic brainstorming.

Here’s the thing.  I never have a problem coming up with topics.  I mean, have you read this blog at all?  I can clearly poop out 500 words on just about any tangentially video game related topic… mention the main event/title/actor, bring up a bit of history, relate it to myself and my experience, speculate a bit on the future, and were done.  And if I warm to to the topic then we’re probably into the 1,500-2,000 word range.

And I have mentioned how I crank out all these posts… a simple lack of standards and a strong sense that having written something, even if it is junk, is better than having written nothing.

So nearly thirteen years down the road I have a blog of some 5,000+ posts adding up to nearly 4 million words that feels like a giant first draft of something.  When it comes to the sheer mass of words I’m catching up to the Wheel of Time book series, which weighs in at 4.4 million words, and I don’t think I have over abused nearly as many turns of phrase. (He said, tugging on his braid.)

The thing is, at some point along the line I actually decided what I wanted this blog to be.

I am sure that sounds like a “well, duh!” sort of statement because I am sure many people start out thinking they know what they want to write about and what they want their blog to be about.  And I am sure I did too.  But I was wrong.

Or, rather, I was not specific enough.  So for the first couple of years I wrote all sorts of things about all sorts of semi-related topics.  I wrote 490 blog posts in 2007, the first full calendar year of the blog, more than any other year and they were all over the place in terms of style, format, direction, and what not.

Eventually though I figured out what I wanted the blog to be.  It took some time and it came to me via what was a rather random event in the first month of the blog.  For no particular reason, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, I wrote a month in review post.

It was short, ringing in at just 500 word, relative to my current monthly monsters, which can loom towards the 3,000 word mark without much effort.  But the basic elements were there.  And I kept doing it, month after month until I hit the one year mark of the blog.  With the first month in review of the second year I added a new element, the “One Year Ago” section.

And that was the magic moment, though I did not know it at the time.  The first few attempts at summarizing what happened a year back were pretty rough.  But it got me looking back at 20-40 old posts at regularly monthly intervals in order to decide what I ought to bring up, which got me thinking about which posts were important, which posts mattered to me, and which posts did not stand the test of time.

If you have done any systems analysis, you will see that I managed to accidentally create a feedback loop that was triggered at regular monthly intervals.  Every month I would review and evaluate some old posts to see which ones were worth bringing up again and which I should let fall by the wayside.  That let me know which posts were important to me and shaped what I would write going forward.

It took a while to gel.  I had to go a full year before I even started on that, so there was a lot of chaos in the first twelve months as I thrashed about in my writing.  And then looking back a year took some refinement as well.  You can see in that 13th month in review that I didn’t even link back, I just wrote a summary.  I had to develop how I even did a “One Year Ago” section.

So I would say, in looking at how things went, that the whole process didn’t even settle down until some point in 2009, and there was some over-correction in 2010 and 2011 as I chased after some things I might not have written about in later years.  2011 was the year with the second most post, ringing in at 488. (It was a busy year.)

Eventually though I managed to hit something of an equilibrium.  Looking back a year in 2008, I would end up excluding a lot of posts I had written when it came to the summary.  They just were not worth mentioning.  But as I have moved along, the ratio of posts written in a given month to the number of post mentioned in the following year review has narrowed dramatically. (All of my month in review posts are collected in a single blog category here.)

And even what to include has changed some over the years.  Generally, when I go to write a month in review today, I do the “One Year Ago” section from scratch.  Then I go back four years ago and take the “One Year Ago” section from that post and use it as the core for the “Five Years Ago” section.  But I go review what was in that year to see if I need to add or amend anything.  Then I go back five years to use the “Five Years Ago” section as the core of the “Ten Years Ago” segment.

That process has gotten much easier over the years.  There was a point when I was rewriting whole “Five Years Ago” segments because what I had written at the one year mark was insufficient.

These days the source for most of my “Five Years Ago” links is generally pretty solid.  I only add something if I feel I missed an event that I did not post about at all.  You will get the occasional Wikipedia article link in the midst of those for an expansion or launch that I might have neglected to mention, but which seems important in retrospect.

And I am getting to the point where the sources for my “Ten Years Ago” sections are starting to be pretty solid, though I do go through and add some links there fairly often.  And, in a few years, when “Fifteen Years Ago” becomes an option, I think I will be able to mostly just copy and paste work I have already done.

But that doesn’t really get to the whole topics question directly, now does it?

The thing is, in looking at what has been important to me in the past serves as a guide as to what I ought to write about in the future and has shaped what sort of posts I take the time to write.

The end goal of the blog is to write something or a narrative history of my gaming.  That wasn’t what I set out to do, that is just what I ended up with after going through and deciding what was important to me.

That does tend to make the blog very event driven.  Something happens, a launch, an update, a battle, a dungeon run, a major announcement, or whatever I filter that through what has become my criteria of importance, which I can sum up simply as, “Will I want to remember this in a year?”  If the answer is “yes,” then I have a topic and a blog post is on the way.

Now, it is not infallible.  I still write stuff that I don’t end up caring about in a year.  You will, for example, see that I rarely ever mention the Fantasy Movie League posts in my monthly review.  The week to week scores just are not that interesting a year later, unless something outrageous happens.  I do mention the end of season posts.  Those seem worthwhile.

And, of course, I write about things that seem very much off topic at times.  I have done book reviews and posts about our cats and vacations and other similar things.  Those don’t get triggered the way that a lot of gaming posts do.  However, they do act as sign posts along the way, points of reference as to what was going outside of video games.

But you still don’t have a topic to write about coming out of this, unless you want to get meta and write about what your blog is really about, what posts appeal to you immediately or in the hindsight, and whether or not you are like me and reflect on the past on a regular basis or just write and move on and never look back.

So maybe think on that.  That might be a topic for you.

6 thoughts on “Blaugust and What the Hell to Write About

  1. Asmiroth

    I was under the impression you had a randomizer algorithm that just picked out topics from a hat.

    Personally, there’s a PILE of stuff I’d like to write about, but both time and context make it a challenge. If I did have a suggestion, it would be to understand how the scheduler works in blogs. Many times I’ll get a half dozen ideas at a time, and its easier to put them all out and schedule them rather than write on a daily basis.

    Like

  2. bhagpuss

    I struggle with the idea of finding it hard to come up with something to write about. Often I have two or three things percolating in the back of my mind, waiting to come to the boil. If I don’t have anything in mind, by the time I’ve been through what Feedly feeds me and clicked through the new posts on my blog roll something will usually have given me some kind of idea.

    If I’m still dry after that, I just think about what I played yesterday or what I’m going to play today and work something up from there. Or I look through a few screenshots and something will give me an idea. After eight years of writing almost exclusively about MMORPGs, averaging about a post every other day, I still have little trouble thinking of topics. I’m trying to open my blog to other areas of interest because I have a lot of ideas for non-gaming posts that are nagging me to let them out, not because I’ve run out of ideas on MMORPGs.

    My strong feeling is that blogging is something one does for fun. If you end up finding it a struggle to come up with topics and you’re not enjoying it, then take a rest. It’s not a job, it’s a hobby. If it isn’t calling you on a particular day then let it lie fallow until it does. Strict schedules are great for those who find them helpful and supportive but if they start to feel oppressive and restrictive then just let them go. If you have regular readers they’ll be there when you post even if it’s sporadic and unpredictable. That’s why we have RSS feeds.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. mikeazariah

    Hell, I tend to hit forums and reddit in relation to the game I write about the most or get set off by some world current events. Also made the first week in and still at it. Thank you for this challenge, I blame you.

    m

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  4. Naithin

    I’ve mentioned this before — but I have benefited greatly from your experience here in learning about creating a journal of things that matter to you.

    When I came along and read your about page in the context of the first month in review posts I’d seen from you, something just crystalised. I knew at a very core level that this was what I wanted for me, too. This is the ‘why’ I wanted to pursue. Not just for any particular game or for internet brownie points. But rather for an injection of personal significance, too.

    So this additional insight into how this has unfolded for you is awesome. :)

    I’m still very much in an ‘all over the place’ mode in what I’m covering, or even the *types* of things I’m covering. I expect that much of what I do cover now will be less useful when coming to do a ‘year in review’ from next January onward. I sort of knew this already, but you’ve helped solidify it for me in a more practical way.

    Having said that, I don’t yet know what any form of change might look like. But it’ll come. More important to me right now is really and truly bedding in the habit of writing. I’ll learn what I can from bedding it in, but the more consciously directed tailoring, trimming and improvement can come after. :)

    Like

  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I like the FML posts too, but a year down the road they do feel like an artifact of the moment rather than history I want to relive. FML feels both too short term (all about a specific week) and too long term (13 weeks of this?) at times.

    @mikeazariah – As I tell my daughter, you can always blame me if you need an excuse.

    @Naithin – The only thing I would emphasize is the rather accidental nature of my process. This whole post is very much a piecing together of what happened through the lens of hindsight. I am not sure 5 years ago, or maybe even 3 years ago, I would have been aware of it. It has been a long process, and is not perfect. I still end up with things I wish I had written about.

    Liked by 1 person

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