Wednesday, April 29, 2020

It Was Fun For A While

It's week five of Blapril and I can tell from many of the posts I've been reading that it's been a long month for some. I'm not going to link or quote the many expressions of exhaustion, frustration and general "looking forward to not having to do it any more" I've seen, but there have been quite a few.

Every time Belghast runs one of these things he takes great care to emphasize that it's not a competition, that there are no "win" conditions and that the awards are only there for fun. Even so, every time there seem to be quite a few Blaugustians or Blaprilistas who don't seem to be finding it anything like as much fun as they thought it would be.

It reminds me very much of the Seasons in Guild Wars 2's World vs World. Unlike Blaugust or Blapril, those, of course, were intended to be competitive. ArenaNet ran two Seasons, both of which stand out for me as highlights of my time with the game. Then they stopped, saying there would never be another.

The problem was that although Seasons drove participation in WvW to unprecedented levels of engagement while they ran, when they ended that participation dropped off a cliff. Worse, it never climbed back up even to the status quo ante. People burned out and in doing so some of them lost their enthusiasm for the game mode for good.

This isn't what anyone wants. The fundemental purpose of events like Blaugust and Blapril, as I understand it, is to encourage new people to take up blogging, to motivate current bloggers to continue and for everyone to have some fun. Blapril, specifically, came into existence as a positive distraction from the turmoil of Covid19.

The last thing anyone wants is for people to find blogging turning into a duty, a burden or a chore. We're in week five of six but it shouldn't feel like the light at the end of the tunnel coming into sight. It ought to feel more like we're gazing longingly at the last couple of slices of delicious cake left on our plates. Blapril needs to finish with everyone saying "Wow, that was amazing! When can we do it again?" not "Geez, thank god that's over. I thought it would never end".

So, how do you stay motivated if it's all starting to become a little too much? Sadly, I'm not sure I'm really the person to ask. I have the opposite problem.

It's extremely rare for me to have any kind of difficulty either coming up with ideas for posts or finding the enthusiasm to turn those ideas into something I can publish. Most days there's little I'd rather do than write. Only yesterday I was complaining to Mrs Bhagpuss as we took our daily walk that I had so many topics I wanted to write about I didn't have time to play my games as well. It varies according to what's going on but on average I'd rather blog than game, most days.

Even so, there are occasions when I don't really have anything pressing I feel I have to blog about. When there's nothing much in the news and all I'm doing in game are a few dailies, when other blogs are quiet and no-one's teeing up any juicy topics for me to bounce off, there are still a couple of things that can get my blogging juices flowing again.

One is playing about with style or presentation. Regular readers may have noticed that I don't always write in exactly the same way. Sometimes I post pieces that read as though they were intended for a news site or a magazine; journalistic prose, complete with sub-headings and pull-out quotes. Other times what I write could have been pulled straight from a personal journal, all in-jokes, asides and notes to self.

Just a few days ago I wrote this piece on the Block By Blockwest festival in Minecraft. It has a peculiar format in which every line ends with a carriage return. It's not free verse but it looks as though it might be.

I didn't sit down that morning intending to play with the form. What happened was I read the news item on Pitchfork, got an instant idea for a post about it, opened Blogger and started jotting down my thoughts in note form, with no paragraphs or line spacing at all.

When I started to edit I noticed what I'd written had a staccato ryhthm, all short sentences and phrases. Instead of fixing that up and turning it into properly punctuated paragraphs I started making it choppier still, cutting what I'd written into single lines.

It was fun. I re-wrote all the bits that read like normal prose so they'd fit the new format. I played around with ideas to get things looking how I wanted them on the page. At one point the whole piece was right-justified but although that looked good, it made it too hard to read.

It's not a great post by any means. I wouldn't hold it up as a particularly good example of my own work let alone suggest it has much merit in any other context. That's not the point.

This isn't a post about literary quality. It's a post about how to stay motivated when writing a blog and the point is I had a lot of fun writing that post. It amused me to do it that way and I was happy with the end result. Well, I would be. I'm both easily pleased and my own biggest fan, two personality traits that make it very easy for me to stay motivated.

Also, it's a post on a topic that I'm aware is not one that interests all of the people who read this blog. FFS, he's droning on about his terrible taste in music again. Wake me up when he has something to say about games. From the reader's perspective, posts like that can use any help they can get, which makes them a great opportunity to try some new ideas, have some fun.

If you already know you're mostly writing for yourself, it gives yourself permission to make yourself the audience, but while you're indulging yourself, you can also try to make it eye-catching or amusing. After all, when you write on the latest hot game or chime in with your opinions on a current controversy you can rely on the content to carry the weight but if you're off on a jolly the responsibility's all on you.

Bullet points, lists, unusual layouts, illustrations, video clips, anything to break the text up on the page. All of that adds interest, for you and for your readers. Okay, sometimes some of it will annoy someone and not everything you try will fly but you can't please everyone or get it right every time. Your blog is a safe space to experiment, or it should be.

It's not just the look of the thing, either. Try changing the way it sounds.

I like to write in different voices. Sometimes I'm demotic, sometimes formal. I can be chatty or academic. I can also be horribly self-indulgent but that's what blogs are for, isn't it? And there's nothing like an homage to Damon Runyon or Hunter S. Thompson to freshen things up, once in a while. Probably once in a very great while, unless you have a gift for mimcry.

The thing is, it's your blog. Not your readers, precious though they are. And anyway, if you're not having fun, chances are they won't be either.

I said earlier that there were a couple of things that juiced me up when I was feeling dry. Actually, they're both the same thing: variety. And as well as varying the form and the voice I vary the content.

I didn't used to do that much. It's kind of a recent innovation and I've found it liberating. I started posting on music last summer and it's fair to say that I've found I enjoy it even more than posting about games.

My range here on this blog is beginning to expand further. I've posted a couple of times recently about visual media and I talk increasingly often about ordinary life. In Pandemia everyone's doing a bit more of that. It's a difficult situation. We may as well get what we can out of it.

Posting about music motivates me not only because I get to share my discoveries but also because I get to listen to the music while I'm writing about it. That's something you can't really do with games. I find it very engaging to have songs or bands playing as I'm typing stuff about them. It also gives me an opportunity to watch videos as I choose examples to use in the post. It's a fun way to spend lockdown days.

It also feels creative and what motivates me in this hobby more than anything is the creativity. All of the ideas mentioned in this post are basically the same idea: making something that's fun in the making. Form follows function. If it's fun to do it should be fun to read.

That's the best advice I can give for staying motivated: indulge yourself. Have fun. Play.

Blogging isn't work and it very definitely isn't a duty or a responsibility. It's an indulgence, a pleasure and a privelige. Enjoy it! But never feel guilty if you don't.

If blogging's not working for you, if you're not feeling it, skip it. Come back to it tomorrow or next week or next month or don't come back at all. You aren't letting anyone down, not your readers, not yourself. No-one out there wants to read what you write so badly they want you to feel bad for having to write it.

Give yourself permission to enjoy blogging. If Blapril's wearing you down, rest on your laurels. You don't have to do this. You wanted to do this. Now you've done it. Go you!

And maybe when you feel you don't have to write you'll find you want to. People are funny that way.


  1. I'm on a server with a very active WvW scene. Although I haven't tried to log in there for months, the last time I tried to join, I had a 30 min queue so I passed. I wish played more when I had the time, I also wish I could play more without the queues, but I get why they're there.

    You might have read my post on running out of juices, but most of that has to do with something not Blapril related. I really enjoyed this blogging event and I want to do it again. Next time will be better. But everything I do with words is extremely exhausting atm, as I force my brain to do things it doesn't want to do.

    I also use my writing juices for my fiction writing career so I'm reliant on them. I'll always write but it won't always be for my blog.

    1. WvW has picked up so much over the last couple of months. I posted about it a while back. Obviously so many people being at home is part of it but also the big balance patch back in February, before the lockdowns really started, made quite a difference. I play an hour or so of WvW most days now, whereas it had dropped off to just a few minutes doing dailies before that.

      Quite a few Blaprilians mention also writing fiction or for other websites or for work/college. If you're blogging on top of an already busy writing schedule I can easily see how it would come to feel like a bit of a chore. I've written all my life and for quite a while I felt I "ought" to be writing fiction but although I can do it I find it incredibly hard work. I think my natural writing style is probably the essay and blogging is as good a platform as I've found for that.

      I used to be very active in fanzines and apazines and the production side of things is almost as natural to me now as the writing. I wish Blogger was more felxible with layouts but I've learned from experience that it's very easy to break things that way and a lot harder to fix them again!

  2. While I doubt that blogging on a platform such as Blogger or Wordpress is a path to riches these days, I do wonder what sort of impact influencer culture has on the desire to keep blogging. For us older folks, I doubt there's any impact at all, but younger people who run a Twitch channel and idolize Pewdiepie? It just might have an impact.

    I'm not going to oversell that angle, because the people whose blogs I read have been around a while and have seen this sort of burnout before, but I do think that the younger bloggers do look at blogging as a "cheap way to riches" without realizing that if you're going to monetize your social media, you'd better approach it more like a job than a lark.

    And therein is the problem: people look at "work" and "fun" as two separate things. I grew up with Mary Poppins turning chores into "fun", but the realize was that once I got my first job I discovered that jobs were definitely NOT fun. After all, it's hard to turn a janitor's job into "fun" without likely getting yourself fired. So when what was once described "fun" becomes "a chore" or "a job", that means people are no longer necessarily having fun. Sure, it can happen, but most likely it doesn't.

    For that, taking a day or a week off might set your mind straight. If you're new to blogging and you haven't been exposed to the potential grind that maintaining a blogging schedule is, then yeah this can be a bit overwhelming once the luster has rubbed off.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not truly surprised by the widespread burnout/struggle, but I am saddened by it.

    1. I don't think there's any realistic chance for anyone starting a gaming blog in 2020 to spin it up into anything that could match the attention of a halfway-successful vlog or streaming channel. It's a format for enthusiasts, either of particular games or genres or of a partiular approach to writing. Although, come to think of it, I have no idea whether there are blogs about the really big games like Fortnite or League of Legends or Call of Duty... and if there are, what kind of reader numbers they get.

      I do know from working in a bookshop that in other hobbies a successful blog can still be a route to a publishing deal and a career in other media. Some of the more successful cookery titles of the past few years have come directly from bloggers and there are quite a few in the craft section too. Also I've seen a few novels, particularly in YA and SF, that started as writing/fiction blogs.

      We also still sell a handful of titles on starting and running a blog and I've been asked for advice on it by customers a few times. Invariably what that means, though, is what I'd call a business website. People seem to use the terms interchangeably.

      Any of those require a lot of work as you say. The successful food bloggers tend to post daily and treat it as a business. They have fun doing it but they're not doing it for fun.

  3. I always feel bad when folks seem to struggle a bit. It is this moment when I start to question if I should ever do another event like this again. I am never certain how it is going to end up. I think blaugust as a community has been good, but I am not sure if blaugust as an event really bears the fruit I ultimately hope it will. Those of us who are regular bloggers will stay regular bloggers, but I am not sure if we are really making any new ones from our mold.

    1. I think the Blaugust/Blapril events are extremely valuable. They really help to build a sense of community and every time I get introduced to some great bloggers I haven't seen before. Whether those are complete newcomers or just people who already blog but whose blogs I didn't know about is another matter.

      I tend to get the sense that the pressure, such as it is, comes from the Award system. It's similar to what you see in games with achievements - with some people, once they know they exist they feel obligated to get them. You couldn't really have made it any more clear that the awards are just for fun but their mere existence has people setting targets.

      Then again, I have the opposite personality type - I never really care whether I finish anything and if I'm not enjoying it I'll drop it without a second thought, so it might just be personal bias when I label that as the problem.

      Anyway, I very much hope you carry on organizing these events. Maybe, as you were wondering on your blog, August might be a bit to soon for another round but maybe if the format is tweaked a bit? Perhaps something shorter and sharper?

  4. I think this post highlights something very well that sets you apart from many other MMO bloggers. (And I don't mean your opinions, which are often refreshingly different!) You come from a history of writing and have done that for a very long time, because writing is an intrinsically gratifying thing for you. Writing is often your primary motivation, and games are just as good a topic as any to write about. For others, the games are the main motivation, and writing about them is more of a means to chronicle their experience or discuss. Of course, it's not that binary and there's a spectrum, but my impression is you definitely are far towards the "writing" end. I think many bloggers would not have considered such structural literary analysis, or even noticed, especially not in the heyday of gaming blogs. As those fall silent, more and more of those that remain show that it's not only about the topics for them: they switch them, either permanently, or broaden by going back and forth.

    What did I want to say by that? Typing this o a phone took so long that my conclusion has fled my brain and all that is left is the way there. Or maybe somewhere else.

    Where was I?

    Oh, right. One thing you mentioned is that you often use different voice or structure for your blog posts. After thinking about this, it feels to me like rather than the exception, this is the norm with many blogs I still read. They have different types of posts that serve different purposes. Information. Opinion. Personal diary. Roaming thoughts. And each often has their own voice, or several. In a way, it's like a newspaper or magazine on steroids: there will also be articles presenting facts, commentaries, restaurant critiques, book reviews, etc. Just that most magazines won't have quite that spread.

    But yes, in a way, for me, that variety of form kind of defined blogging. It certainly was what I did when I still wrote mine.

    I, by the way, ended up not far enough towards the "writing" end of the spectrum. I liked the actual stylistic tinkering with posts, but I ran out of ideas for topics to write about, and so writing became more and more onerous for me. I didn't make the step to write for writing's sake. I sometimes bemoan that fact, but then I guess if I didn't find the motivation to continue, it was because there just wasn't enough intrinsically there.

    1. Congratulations on typing all that out on a phone. I can barely manage a couple of sentences if I try to comment that way.

      I was going to use the magazine comparison in the post but I couldn't fit it in. One of my first jobs after university was producing the house magazine for an insurance company. The whole thing was done in-house and I ended up not just writing and editing it but doing the full layout on a drawing board, using scalpels and Spraymount. I went on to use those physical techniques for a decade and a half, putting fanzines and apazines together and I loved it. I liked the design elements as much as the writing but more importantly I saw them as inextricably linked - how something I wrote looked on the page was as important as what I had to say in it.

      Blogs are interesting in that way. Some of my favorite blogs are really not much more than text with the occasional illustration, while some of the ones that use lots of design elements I find really quite irritating. I'm not sure why but the kind of visual elements that work well in magazines don't seem to translate to screen viewing.

      If I had a platform that allowed me to be a lot more creative in visual design I'm not at all sure it would be to the benefit of the blog - or the readers it has. I suspect that the limitations of Blogger have encouraged me to concentrate more on what I'm saying than what things look like and that's probably a good thing.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide