Staying Motivated – Extrinsic Motivation (A Blaugust 2021 Theme Post)

It’s Staying Motivated week for Blaugust 2021, and for me, today marks a pretty good occasion to discuss why I write. However, if I write all of that, we’ll be here a while. So instead, let’s drill down on a very specific topic – extrinsic motivation.

Most bloggers I know write for intrinsic motivation. They do it because it makes them happy, because the act of writing is a cleansing, purifying time for them. They do it because getting their thoughts about an experience, an interaction with media, a time in their life – whatever they blog about, getting it recorded and easy to find later as a reference is nice, or just to get it out of their system.

I do enjoy writing mostly for intrinsic motivation. I would, however, be lying if I were to say that was it. Sure, way back in February of 2017, I was very much of the opinion that my blog would never do anything, as I started it, wrote a few posts, abandoned it for literal months, then came back promising Final Fantasy XIV content that took another 2 years to materialize and instead just wrote a lot about WoW. I went from guidewriting to metagame discussion to news recaps before I settled on analysis through the lens of my play experiences – the first theme for the blog that fully stuck and felt substantive and interesting to write and have in the public sphere.

In truth, analytical posts were the most fun for me to write, and any idea of anyone reading my posts was secondary. In fact, a part of my process I still pride myself on is that I write like no one is reading it – I love using a written voice that is like having a conversation with myself, I’ll use weird turns of phrase and references that maybe only I’ll get, I constantly reference inside jokes, and generally, I don’t let metrics sway me.

Well, mostly.

In 2017, when I set out in my head with the conceptual framework of how I would write content here and what my “style guide” would be, I never expected that anyone would find me, much less read me, much less comment, and certainly not link me elsewhere on the internet. Nah, it would never happen. But it has, it does, and it continues to – and I take a certain amount of pride in that and derive from it a certain amount of joy.

For most of the last 4.5 years, this blog has largely been a small community page – I know most of my commenters on some level, and I’ve talked about WoW, FFXIV, games, or life with them many times on these pages (and in the Blaugust Discord very slightly). Even as my metrics grew, it was never in my field of view that my blog would break out. To a certain extent, I loathe the idea of a blog “breaking out” – it always felt to me like a manufactured thing, because I could only envision organic growth – that metrics would grow slowly over time as more people read, and there wouldn’t be a moment where things would explode and suddenly, a site would be popular. Even if that was a thing, surely it wouldn’t happen to me, right?

Well…I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Over the years, I have watched my metrics and discussed them at times (usually for the small windows in which I would do monthly recaps, or if I do anniversary celebration posts), but generally, my own growth trajectory has been a genuine shock. In 2017, 1,452 total people visited 2,566 times – and I thought that was massive because I had been linked on MMO-Champion and NeoGAF. 2018 nearly doubled both numbers which was cool, because I had been more consistent and roped in a regular audience, but it didn’t feel crazy. 2019 tripled 2018, and now we’re at a point that was so weird for me – thousands of people (about 1k a month) had stopped by to check things out, and things I wrote were being linked from outside more regularly. Not explosively so, but my traffic was far more predictable then. 2020 totally stunned me, though, because I gained nearly 4x on both views and visitors and posts felt more vibrant with more comments and likes, and I was pretty well stunned, because that was a huge jump and it wasn’t like I’d changed anything – I wrote almost the exact same number of posts year over year for like 3 years, with similar voice, style, cadence, excessively-long length, and all – and it was getting…popular? You have to understand that every creative project I had been on before this was, by metrics, a failure – no one was watching or listening and the most viewed thing I ever made before was either a very nervous me with a bad Adobe Soundbooth dub narrating a trip on a hacked Cataclysm alpha through the Halls of Origination or me yelling about a 13-episode anime for 10 minutes (okay, yelling is a stretch).

(for contrast, this video has, in 6 years, gotten fewer clicks than a post about playing games because of my dead father I posted like a week ago)

All this preamble is to say something rather funny to me – that in just the last 50 days, my blog has had more views than all of 2020. Out of nowhere, seemingly – there are some decent posts that I’m proud of in that stretch, but also, it’s really not my best writing ever or anything. Somehow, I just hit a critical mass, and on the back of that, as of yesterday, I had passed 100k views in a year for the first time ever, nearly doubling my 2020 total already, with 4 months to go. At this pace, I may have another 4x year!

Now, I know why some of it was attractive to people – my post about things I thought FFXIV did worse than WoW ended up being trollbait, and I got a detail in it wrong, which drew out the worst elements of the FFXIV fanbase and led to more comment blocks than I’ve ever done on the site period – 4x more than I’ve handed out prior, period. One of the most popular posts (my post about deciding to stop raiding) has become my site’s lifetime highest-read post, and it was way too long, ended up being outdated, and I think it ended up doing so well just because it came out right around 9.1 in WoW and even then, before the CA DFEH lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard, people were just falling off the WoW train for Shadowlands.

But I feel a certain sense of pride in the fact that people do come to read what I have to say. Most of them even seem to like it! My metrics aren’t my main motivation, or really even in the calculus for why I write what I do – if that were the case, there’s no chance in hell (this is really funny to me knowing the end of this sentence) that I would write wrestling posts, much less like this last month, where I’ve written like 4 of the things! Certainly, when I started in February 2017, I would have laughed if you told me that in one month, nearly 31,000 people would read things I wrote a combined 38,000 times, and that the month in question was still only 80% complete at the time of that metric! In a way, it becomes motivating – when I started, I was writing into the void and my friends would largely roll their eyes when I mentioned my blog. Now, I feel a certain sense of pride and obligation to my audience – that I need to write (when it makes sense to do so or to meet a challenge like Blaugust) in order to sate someone’s thirst for content. It’s even funnier that my blog is big enough that it gets ripped off with whole posts being stolen outright and put on sites with really dumb names like Legit Gamers Gaming, and you can tell that someone spent about 5 minutes using a thesaurus to sometimes replace words in a single paragraph, which, with my adjective-heavy writing style, makes an absolute word salad that is so funny to read that I haven’t thought about pursuing legal action against them especially since they’re often designed as malicious attacks to comb for your data when it’s disclosed in the course of a DMCA takedown.

At this pace, it is in the realm of possibility that I have over a million views next year, and that is a really cool thought. It’s also a very scary thought in some ways. In a lot of ways, I’ve actually downplayed my blog – I rarely link it on my real social media or to friends or family, I almost never discuss it with anyone save for my wife (and usually then we talk about metrics or the responses I get from people), and even when I participate in communities about writing or blogging, I mostly lurk. I was really bad about this in Blaugust 2019, where I was in the Discord and said maybe 2 things, never shared a post, and then muted it after the event until this year’s event, when I made a point of trying to discuss topics and at least share my new posts there. I’m out here, just quietly doing my own thing. I know that my metadata, tagging, and general writing style all lend themselves exceedingly well to SEO and thus I rank highly and get found quite easily when searching for the topics I write about most.

Over time, I’ve tried to remain grounded even as my blog has met with genuine success and a constant growth trend. I don’t want to become so enamored with metrics that I write to please SEO or an algorithm, or that I modify my style and push out readers who like how I write (for whatever reason that might be). However, I will admit that I am very pleased with myself and the results I’ve gotten, and that for whatever reason, people come through, read, comment, and share – and while sometimes metrics scare me (I have no Facebook auto-share but over 1,400 shares on the platform and I can only find 1 with a search on the site!), for the most part, I find it validating that perhaps I’m onto something – that my sometimes-odd rambles are fun for someone to read after being fun (usually!) for me to write. I’ve been a part of or the whole face of projects that have failed or had incredibly anemic or outright negative growth, so it is almost weird to me that I found a way in a format that people think is dying because of attention spans. It is deeply satisfying to me that this happens in spite of the fact that I ignore almost all advice about blogging – I write long, conversational posts that blow out most people’s word limits, I post a lot on weekends and most of the time at 3 AM on weekdays despite a vast majority of my audience being American, and yet, still, somehow, over 100,000 visits to the site this year already.

I tried to not make this a brag, and on that measure, I have failed. But I wanted to share because I think a lot of bloggers are nervous to say that they enjoy extrinsic motivation – that views are satisfying, that more are more satisfying, and that having a huge number makes you feel really, really good – and that has knock-on effects on your writing and presentation.

For me, I certainly know that seeing people wanting to read my stuff makes me more likely to write more often, and that is the very nature of staying motivated.

3 thoughts on “Staying Motivated – Extrinsic Motivation (A Blaugust 2021 Theme Post)

  1. I used to watch my numbers obsessively. Every day, often several times a day. I had a lovely graph where the line started flat and kept going up in a steady incline year after year after year. There were peaks and troughs but the trajectory was solid. And then something happened.

    The line started to soar. It went up and up and up. I’d been averaging around 20k page views a month for a long time but now it was 40k then 60k and still rising. And yet nothing had changed. I wasn’t writing more or differently. I wasn’t getting linked on big traffic sites. It took me a while to figure out what was going on but it turned out to be something about how Google gather their data. Suddenly all the hits from bots seemed to be counted. All of those new page views were meaningless.

    When I looked into it further I realised so had a lot of the earlier ones that made up that steady 20k. I fiddled around with things for a while until I was failry sure I could tell how many actual people were visiting the blog. It was about a tenth the numbers I’d always thought. Somewhere around two thousand unique visitors a month.

    After that I lost interest in the numbers. I stopped looking at the daily report at all. I still read the monthly Google Analytics report for a while but lately I’ve stopped even doing that. I actually tried to find a way to opt out of Analytics altogether but apparently that’s not possible so I just excercise restraint and don’t read them.

    I estimate I have something like 250-300 regular readers of whom maybe 15% ever leave a comment. I get around 1000 to 1500 unique visitors a month. My main metric is comments. I’m happy if I get two or three comments on half the posts i write in a week. I get a bit itchy if I go several posts with no reaction but some posts just don’t get much in the way of feedback (music posts especially) and i tend to know when it’s going to get arid in the comments section.

    If I was confident that the numbers reported back to me really meant something I’d be more inclined to start looking at them again but honestly I don’t. I don’t know how they’re gathered (even after reading a ton about it) and I don’t trust Google to deliver meaningful data any more. I know that’s how they make their billions but I wonder now if it’s not all mostly smoke and mirrors.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations on the numbers success! Even if you do write for yourself, it’s nice to see that other people enjoy your output. Personally I also get a kick out of seeing that someone can be successful as a long-form blogger in this day and age. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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