Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Let's Address Some Topics

The second week of Blapril is Topic Brainstorming Week according to Belghast's handy cut out and keep guide. It's intended for "the mentors among us". I didn't register as a Mentor this year but I'm not going to let that stop me.

I probably should, (let it stop me, I mean) because coming up with topics is hardly my strong suit. Or, I should say, coming up with lists of topics other people could use isn't. I tend either to have one or two ideas floating around that I'm itching to write about or else I just sit down, start typing and see what comes out.

If we take it that any advice being handed out here is only likely to be of use to people who haven't been in the game long, it might be instructive to look back at the very early days of this blog. To a time when I had even less idea what I was doing than I do now, if you can imagine such a thing.

The first two posts fulfill the original intention of the blog in that they're about inventory management. I had this bizarre idea I could sustain a blog writing about nothing else. Lasted about a week.

The next three posts are all about the MMORPG I was mostly playing back in the summer of '11, Rift. Things have really moved on for me since then, as you can see from what I wrote this Tuesday.

So much for my first full month of blogging. I managed an astonishing four posts. And they were short. Well, short by the standards of what was to come. It takes some bloggers a while to get rolling. I'd forgotten I was one of them.

In September 2011 I almost doubled my post count with seven entries. By this point, with hindsight, we can already see a pattern starting to emerge: there will be certain topics to which I'll return, over and over again, regardless of whether anyone but me is interested.

The one I'm already employing most frequently is "games I am playing". Most bloggers go for that one. Some rarely write about anything else. That can work for you or against you. If you're playing a very popular  game or the latest flash in the pan, you'll quickly pick up an audience. If it's a ten year old MMORPG or some obscure import no-one but you has ever heard of you may find you're talking to yourself.

None of that should stop you. As a reader I firmly believe it doesn't matter what game you're writing about. What matters is how entertainingly you write about it. Some of my favorite blogs over the years have focused on games I wasn't playing at the time or have never played, Wilhelm on Pokemon or EVE Online being a prime example.

The huge advantage of writing about the games you're playing is that you'll always have something to write about. Ditto books or comics or movies or music or however you choose to while away your endless, sunlit days.

I would never discourage anyone, if they're stuck for something to write about, from just bashing out a few hundred words on whatever they'd amused themselves with the day before. It's the blogging equivalent of that old staple of harried teachers everywhere, "Write an essay on "What I did at the weekend"".

Looking back to September 2011, we can already see other tropes beginning to appear, tropes that will, in the ensuing years, become all too familiar. Look! There's my first post on repetition, a topic I'll return to over and over with no apparent sense of irony.

In quick order we move on to the quality (or lack thereof) in the writing of quests, the way I play MMORPGs "wrong" (Hi, Naithin!), how great flying is, how everything was better in beta, how low level play beats endgame, how MMORPGs aren't as social as they used to be...

Need I go on? God, I hope not. Seriously, my second month of blogging and it's already a shopping list of personal hobbyhorses, gaming cliches and dead horses, every one of which I have returned to belabor and bully into submission countless times since.

And so have most of the bloggers on my blog roll, or at least all the ones who've stuck at it for a while. And yet here we all are, still reading and posting.

I believe there are two lessons to be taken from this salutory dip into the stagnant waters of the past. Firstly, originality counts for zilch in this game. Don't beat yourself up because you can't think of anything to say that someone hasn't said a hundred times before - just say it anyway! Everyone else does - that's how you came to hear it a hundred times in the first place!

In fact, take that a stage further. Don't worry if you've said it a hundred times before. Repetition is a valid rhetorical device: use it!

Secondly, don't concern yourself that no-one will want to read you if you keep saying the same things over and over. People don't remember most of what they read, far less where they read it. Chances are they won't even notice. And even if they do, all the evidence is that they won't care. They may even come to welcome the familiarity.

The key thing is what I said several paragraphs back. Be entertaining in the way you write and you can write about anything you want.  Within reason, obviously. I have yet to see anyone, no matter how sprightly and joyful their prose style, manage to make Destiny 1 or 2 sound interesting.

Seriously, if we all had to come up with an original topic every time we published a post, most of us would probably struggle to get something out there once a month. I know I would. (Now there's a blogging challenge: post every day for a month on a different topic that you've never written about before. Bonus points if it's a topic none of your readers has ever read about before either).

Yeah, well, that's a challenge I won't be taking up. I like to write about what interests me and perhaps it's not surprising that the same things continue to interest me years after I started writing about them. It's foolish consistency I can't be doing with, not consistency itself.

My advice on coming up with something new to write about when you're feeling blocked, stuck or uninspired is simple: drag out an old favorite and write about that again. If you feel up to it, try and come at it from a different angle, use different examples to illustrate your points or find some new sources to stand your argument up.

If you can't come up with any new wrinkles, though, just double down on what you said last time and the time before. At least that way you'll begin to build up some gravitas and authority on the topic. Maybe. You can hope...

I'm not advocating a tin-foil hat wearing, soapbox on Hyde Corner, the Day of Judgment is Nigh level of commitment to a theme here. We don't want to scare anyone. Just give yourself permission to return to your favorite subjects as often as it amuses you. And if you can make it amusing for your readers, so much the better.

This has been one of those posts I referred to right at the start, by the way; the ones where, to quote myself, "I just sit down, start typing and see what comes out." That's my go to for days when I have no ideas, which is often. It's always a surprise for me to hear what I have to say, even when it's something I've heard plenty of times before.

Isn't blogging wonderful?


  1. Haha, I love that Simple Pleasure's post btw -- and I can relate. Not many MMOs these days let you get those sorts of kill numbers up I reckon, but in Asheron's Call the complete 360 circle in particular was a great one to aim for.

    The fact you could make it 360 was bonus points too, because it showed you didn't rely on a wall to keep your back protected. xD

    1. Another piece of advice from that Simple Pleasures post is "Don't say you're starting a Feature and then forget all about it", something I've done several times.

  2. "There's my first post on repetition, a topic I'll return to over and over with no apparent sense of irony."

    I don't think I'd had to laugh out loud today before reading this, so, thanks! :-)


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide