Newbie blogger initiative: how I got started, and some general advice

12th May 2012 – 3.04 pm

The Newbie Blogger Initiative is intended to offer advice and encouragement for anyone considering starting a blog but perhaps not quite knowing where to start. It may seem a little presumptuous to assume I can inspire new bloggers, but, to be fair, so is thinking I can tell anyone how to scan. Besides, writing about me is my favourite subject, so of course I'm going to participate. I present the why and how I became a blogger, and a few tips that I hope will be of some use.

Why I started blogging

After each weekly Dungeons and Dragons session, our little group would stand around outside and chat about what happened and what we might do next. Most of the time the conversation drifted, and some of the time we'd end up reminiscing about previous adventures, characters, and the bizarre situations we got ourselves in to. And one night I realised that all of our stories were only as good as our memories, yet we all got pleasure out of recounting them again and again. I thought we could do better, particularly with the internet allowing content to be made available to anyone. So I decided to record our anecdotes more permanently, and write down new ones as they happened. I didn't realise the significance at the time, but with the creation of Slain by Elf I was becoming a blogger.

I kept Slain by Elf going without realising that many others around the world were using the internet for the same purpose, but I eventually joined the ranks of Livejournal to have a more generic blog about me and what I got up to. When there was some uncertainty over Livejournal's future, I created a second blog of my own and started recording there what would have gone on Livejournal. As I became more aware of the blogosphere surrounding gaming, and MMORPGs in general, I naturally started including updates to what I was playing and what progress I had been making. Being on a Mac limited me a little, but I still had enough options to keep myself entertained and find subjects to write about. Then two things happened.

EVE Online was ported to the Mac, and I updated my old machine to be an Intel-based Mac, which was required to play EVE Online. I am more of a sci-fi fan than fantasy, although I enjoyed World of Warcraft for a few years, so EVE Online appealed to me. I opened a trial account, got hooked, and subscribed. My blog tended towards more updates about EVE Online than other games, as it was becoming my main focus in gaming, and its open nature allowed a more personal narrative to be told than in more NPC-driven games. As I got more involved in EVE Online, and my corporation pushed in to w-space, I found more opportunity to tell my story.

As the content of my blog evolved I realised I ought to give it room to do so. I moved the blog from a subdomain to being hosted on a domain of its own, which had been sitting dormant for a while. Tiger Ears was born. I continue to write and post about my time in EVE Online as it lets me scratch a writing itch that I have. I like language, words, writing, and being able to turn my small adventures in to stories keeps me feeling creative and productive.

My motivations for blogging are varied. For a start, I write because I like writing. I want to keep records of the fun times I've had, as well as some of the bad times so that history is less likely to repeat. And I also want to contribute to the blogosphere, to be a creator as much as a consumer. When my feed runs dry, I can write. These motivations are important, because they are what it takes for me to continue writing and posting. You don't need the same motivations, but you will need to be motivated in some way.

I would suggest not being motivated by recognition or fame. Unless you are charismatic, have good connections, or know how to promote yourself well, the odds are that you'll be just another blogger. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but blogging can feel like a thankless task at times. When you put a lot of effort in to a post and get no comments, no links, and none of the fabled e-mails or in-game recognition that others boast, you may wonder why you bother. But with the right motivation you will keep on writing, and the creation process will be its own reward. Each comment, mention, or link will then make blogging that much sweeter.

How I started blogging

I didn't know much about blogging at the time I started, not even being aware of any blogs in existence, and even though I owned a domain I thought I'd better get one with a better name for my Dungeons and Dragons blog. I also knew some tools existed, such as Movable Type, but most of them cost money and I didn't want to splash out on software that I wasn't sure I'd continue to use. Luckily I was turned on to Wordpress. I downloaded the latest version of the software, made a few mistakes regarding PHP and databases before realising my hosting service took care of that side of the installation, and managed to get Wordpress 1.2 installed on Slain by Elf.

It wasn't easy, in part because Wordpress itself was still quite new and not entirely straightforward, but I got it all configured and I was ready to write. I also knew a bit about HTML, because of writing my first web pages before many tools were around, and I managed to update myself with a little CSS knowledge when that became standard. As such, I don't mind tinkering a little with the files behind the scenes, although I really can't do that much with it. But I can mostly understand what happens and why, which made it easier for me to work with my own installation.

I kept my Wordpress installation up-to-date, so it was natural to install the same software when I migrated my personal journal from Livejournal. It was essentially the same installation when I moved everything to Tiger Ears from the subdomain. But there are more options for blogging, and none with any great cost. Wordpress now offers its blogging software and hosting in one package, along with self-updating features, so that you don't need to undertake much in the way of installation of maintenance. Blogger is much the same, but with a different interface. I'm sure there are other services too, like Tumblr, but I can't say I am particularly au fait with any of them. Essentially, it is now simple to start blogging. You don't need a domain, host, or much technical knowledge, just an internet connection. Pick a service, create an account, and start writing.

As for writing itself, I kept notes. Even though we often recounted our D&D tales to each other, there must have been many more forgotten. Rather than rely on my memory to create the posts, particularly as the D&D sessions finished late at night and the earliest I could draft them would be the next day, or even the weekend, I took a notebook along to the sessions and jotted down funny or interesting situations. The notes would be simple and brief, enough to remind me of what happened, with the occasional quote should it be the funny part of the story. The punchline, if you will. I would then turn the notes in to posts. I carried this process forward when blogging about gaming and other issues, and I have filled up quite a few pads with notes from which I've created a significant number of posts for Tiger Ears so far. In fact, this just happens to be my 1,600th published post on this site.

What's in a name?

Before I installed Wordpress I needed a name for my blog. That was pretty easy, as it was a Dungeons and Dragons blog and I was a fan of Scottish indie band Urusei Yatsura, who wrote a song about D&D called Slain by Elf. It's a good name, and it fits, but it is specific to what I'm writing about.

Specific is good, surely. Yes, and no. A blog with a specific name will resonate more freely with readers, is probably more likely to be navigated to in a page of links or search results, and gives an immediate sense of identity. But a specific name can limit what you write about. You may start playing EVE Online with an idea of being a pirate, and give your blog a low-sec piratey name, but then get swayed by industry or an entirely different game. Before you know it yarrlowsecpiracy.wordpress.com is all about market trading or My Little Pony Online. What once drew readers to your blog may now turn the new audience away before they even visit.

Another option is an irrelevant name. A good example is Killed in a Smiling Accident, taken from an A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch. You would not know what the blog is about from the name, as it is entirely irrelevant to the content. But whether they are discussing MMORPGS like Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, City of Heroes, Rift, or World of Tanks; single-player games like Skyrim or Mass Effect; writing thoughtful posts about the meta-game and game design; or poking fun at the absurd side of the industry; the name is equally as irrelevant to any of the content. And it's a name you'll remember, you will find it easily in a search engine, and you won't confuse it with someone else.

Be positive

Everyone will have their own writing style, even if it is probably modelled to some extent on others, so the best piece of advice I can offer is simply to find your voice. But there is one specific titbit I shall offer, and that is to be positive.

I suppose what I really mean is 'don't be negative'. Don't say sorry for not updating more often. Don't start a post by writing 'I don't generally write about X, so bear with me...'. Don't add unnecessary caveats, like 'unaccustomed as I am to public speaking'. Let me give an example.

Below is the first draft of my introduction to the Newbie Blogger Initiative:

As some will probably be aware, Syp of Bio Break is arranging a Newbie Blogger Initiative. The idea is for established bloggers to encourage and help new and aspiring bloggers along, with advice and encouragement though articles and links.

This is just a short post to announce that I will be participating and will publish a post detailing why and how I got started with blogging, and any tips that I think may be helpful for new bloggers. I have ideas, and the Newbie Blogger Initiative itself is offering more, but if anyone has specific questions they would like to see addressed, please feel free to ask it as a comment here.

It seems okay. And it should. It uses natural language, normal phrasing, and has a typo in the last sentence of the first paragraph. But it doesn't feel right. Let's see how I changed it:

Syp of Bio Break has announced a Newbie Blogger Initiative. The idea is for established bloggers to encourage and help new and aspiring bloggers along, with advice and encouragement given with articles and links.

I am participating and will publish a post detailing why and how I got started with blogging, and any tips that I think may be helpful for new bloggers. I have ideas, and the Newbie Blogger Initiative itself is offering more, but if anyone has specific questions they would like to see addressed, please feel free to ask it as a comment here.

That reads much better, thanks to a couple of minor changes. It doesn't matter whether some people already know about the initiative or not, what's important is the initiative itself. And there's no need to point out how short the post is, because that seems apologetic and detracts from the fact that I'll be participating. I stripped out the fluff and got straight to the point, creating a stronger post as a result.

It's not easy to spot how to make your writing tighter. You won't have even noticed the directness of my edited post, or registered that it was particularly short, without having the draft to contrast it against. And this is another thankless aspect of blogging. If you get it right, and your writing is good, most people won't notice because there's nothing wrong with it. But if you get it wrong, you can bet your readers will notice, and potentially judge the rest of your writing unfairly.

Recognising fluff will come with practice. Writing is a skill and needs to be learnt. Read other blogs, articles, books. See what you like about particular authors or posts, try to dissect them to find out what it is you like, and then use that knowledge to sharpen your own writing. And this leads me nicely in to the next section.

Read your own work

You must read what you write. I know that I often feel a pang of self-consciousness when I read back what I've written, but it's important to do so. First, if you can't read what you've written, you cannot expect others to do so. Second, reading what you've written lets you spot mistakes, and editing is as important a skill as writing.

The mistakes you find may be typographical errors, which hopefully your spell-checker will pick up; use of a homonym instead of the desired word; a factual error; a broken link; a missing word; or the flow of the writing doesn't work. Whatever doesn't look or feel right in your writing, reading back what you've written does a surprisingly good job at finding it.

As much as people like correcting others on the internet, few will go out of their way to point out a spelling mistake or grammatical error. You have to find those mistakes yourself. Keep an on-line dictionary open in a browser tab and use it to check words you're unsure of, not just the ones you definitely don't know, both for spelling and meaning. Remember that there's no better way to find a typo than hitting 'publish'.

I save every post I write as a draft and preview it as it would be seen on the site. I then schedule the post for a future time, and often a future date. Even if it could be published now, I'll schedule it thirty minutes or an hour ahead, because I know that when I walk away from the keyboard I'll remember a note I wanted to add, a better way to link two subjects, or realise I've made a grievous spelling mistake in the subject line. Of course, posts can be edited after publication, but a polished first effort will give a better impression.

Sell yourself

Even if you're writing because of personal motivations, it can feel good to be appreciated. You need to get your name out there. Read other blogs and comment, but keep comments relevant to the post. Your name and blog name are generally included as part of the comment, and your goal is not to irritate other people but to show appreciation for the efforts of others.

If you're writing about an MMORPG then there will likely be community forums dedicated to the game. Post in the relevant section about your new blog, and maybe occasional updates for posts you are particularly pleased with.

There will also be communities outside of the official website where fans share information, like reddit, which has its own EVE Online sub-reddit. Look out for them and submit your own links and contribute to discussions.

Tell friends interested in the same hobbies as you about your new blog, in person or by e-mail, as well as those players in your guild, corporation, or whatever social grouping your game uses. If those players are included in your posts, all the better to get them involved.

Add a blogroll to your site, showing others what you like to read. This will also propagate information to the blogs you link to, which can increase awareness of your own site. You can also create a reply to another blogger's post, where linking to that post will also raise visibility of your post and blog.

Or, if you are starting a blog as part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative, go to the forum and introduce yourself.

  1. 14 Responses to “Newbie blogger initiative: how I got started, and some general advice”

  2. Those really are fantastic tips. Much appreciated! And congratulations on your 1,600th post - you really do write a lot. :O

    By Layckhaie Kaele on May 12, 2012

  3. Great background and it motivated me to think about why I blog at all. It is not fame or fortune or the desire to keep a record but to focus my thinking and learn the craft of writing. Hence I love well-written blogs almost irrespective what they are about. I may miss blogs that may be informative but just full of jargon and bad English.

    From writing style - I still think your blog is the best in New Eden. And on WH life: I use your blog to instill the fear into the hearts of our new recruits. "If you don't d-scan, pjharvey will come and eat your children". And it works!

    Fly dangerously

    By Splatus on May 12, 2012

  4. First Congratulations on 1600th Blog posts. Hard to believe I've read over 3/4 of those post here. I still have some catching up planned to do on my reading schedule.

    "It may seem a little presumptuous to assume I can inspire new bloggers"

    I know you don't want to take credit or believe that you have inspired anyone to become a blogger. But I'm sure there are several readers that have been inspired by your writing and adventures to start inking their own blog. They may just never say it was really you that inspired them. I know with absolutely certainty that because you blogged these pages it inspired me to play EVE before I even played the game. I remember many nights at work late in the night I read many pages here for hours that sustained me as replacement for drinking coffee just reading every word.

    For weeks I read thinking to myself what a great adventure this person is on, I think its EVE but is this really in the same EVE that I heard about. And I read for weeks trying to find a post that simply just mentioned the word EVE so I was sure that was what you were playing. I was just inspired by your adventures at the time doing research on EVE before I actually played the game. Well you inspired me to play the game and if not blog about it too :) I'm sure you inspired many others as well.

    I've always enjoyed reading your writing, somewhere deep down it helps me to better articulate my own writing by consuming what you have so well written. You have one the best writing style of any other game blogger I know and much a inspiration i have to say. Needless to say your consistency is unmatched at daily blogging.

    Reflecting on this post, it says everything I wish I could say just articulated so much better than I can say it. I find allot of the very same reasons as you to why I blog. Many the same things I've learned also written in your post. And many the ideas or tips all of it is true i've found over the 5 years that i've blogged myself.

    Nothing helps like having positive attitude and having a motivating reason to always remember why you blog. It helps to carry you through some of those times when you really don't feel like checking in and inking a post.

    In the end because I blogged, I became a much better gamer and a more informed one as well.

    By Ardent Defender on May 13, 2012

  5. Thanks all, I really appreciate the compliments.

    I think you've hit on an additional point there, AD. Blogging helps you become better at the games you play, either from necessarily having to think about what you're doing so that you can write about it, finding other blogs as part of the experience and learning from them, or by helpful comments that offer good advice or corrections to common misunderstandings.

    By pjharvey on May 13, 2012

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