Blaugust 2021 – Lessons Learned Part 3: Blogging and Community in 2021 and What I’ve Gained From Them

There’s something vaguely interesting about the idea of blogging in 2021.

On the surface, it’s a dead format, right? Long-form thoughts? Psh. Everyone has microblogging or vlogging. Surely no one just writes anymore, just writes stuff for people to come and read?

Blaugust is an interesting experiment because it reveals that blogging is declining somewhat, yes, but also, there’s still a very strong and dedicated core there. While the number of participants and thus overall posts tends towards a downward trend, there’s a certain energy about blogging, especially in this way, that is infectious.

When I started this site in February 2017, I never really thought of it as a community site. It was never, in my mind, going to be anything other than where I wrote about World of Warcraft, then Final Fantasy XIV, and sometimes wrestling. Like a lot of things I’ve done in life, there was no grand aspirational goal or plan to grow readership. I just wanted to share my fun in WoW, and the avenues I had available to me at that time (a podcast/YouTube channel with friends) were failing me at that. Legion was probably my favorite modern WoW expansion, and even though I can, in retrospect, identify how a lot of the ailments that plague the game today started there, I still have a rose-tinted outlook on that era of WoW. A big part of that will forever be that it is when my blog came into being and when it blew up.

That moment was a perfect storm for me, a lot of different things conspiring to push me towards making the site, because blogging is a challenge, let me tell you. As a hobby, it can often feel weird – writing about games instead of just playing them? There’s also a certain amount of personality one needs to make it really work – a small dose of narcissism alongside the ability to contextualize and explain in a way that isn’t dull or repellent. Almost 5 years into this grand experiment and I still don’t think I’ve got it down just right yet, not by any real measure. I had a small moment of imposter syndrome today because the end of daily posting meant the last two days have been my lowest since mid-July, and while they’re within expectations and still on track for a great month, it did make me wonder what was driving that a bit.

Blaugust and other similar blogging events and prompt challenges work because they try and cut to the heart of what blogging is and should be about – the writing. A lot of people spend weeks or months setting up their perfect blog site – graphic design on-point, headers and footers immaculately constructed, niche identified and analyzed, sidebar built, and the content calendar to match it all. And then they just…never write. Blogging is a hobby that can be a trap in a lot of ways – you perfectly construct everything around the writing without thinking about the actual content you’ll produce or how to stay accountable to that. It reminds me a lot of PC building, where for me, the actual games I spend the majority of my time playing are secondary to the computers I build myself. For friends and family, I get to practice the cautious restraint and measured builds that are use-case appropriate. My personal builds are dumb for a guy who spends most of his time playing WoW and FFXIV, both games that can run very well on a much simpler machine.

In a lot of ways, it seems almost too simple, but the best advice most people give a new blogger is this – start. Start now, start today, not building a site, not thinking about a niche or theme, just fucking write. My site is still, in many ways, a relic of that very mentality. It’s hacky and weird, I’ve done sneaky little CSS tweaks to a stock WordPress theme but otherwise, the site is very much the same as when I first built it. I made tweaks to images for the homepage, tweaked the homepage blog post flow, and flipped the column formatting on blog posts to push ads to the right instead of the left so the content is always first, and everything else is just cookie-cutter theme. I have a Contact page I rarely use (I do read the emails and try to reply and I owe a reply to a reader that I’ll likely write before I go on vacation in a day or two!), I have my old descriptions from when this was going to be theorycrafting in my head, and I’ve got a lot of blogger no-nos (I have no sidebar or feed of what I’m reading, for shame!) on the page.

But I’m up to almost 700 posts in 5 years, and I’ll likely hit that milestone easily before the blog’s big number 5 in February 2022. You just need to start. I didn’t research hosts or analyze the best way to take my site – I just saw that wordpress.com was free and used simple ads to pay for the site’s resources and I said sure, and I had that basic dummy wordpress URL until January of this year. (Now that WP.com is embedding sponsored content in free-plan blogs, that might not be the best plan for your site…but there are reasonable alternatives.) Are they the best host? I actually still think pretty highly of them, but that is with the gift of hindsight, and a lot of people might disagree.

But I think something does need to be acknowledged, as I started to above. Starting is hard. Continuing is hard. I started my blog, wrote for a few months, and then took a few months off. I had no consistency in posting and I got lucky that I was ever found at all. Even to this day, I tend not to plan too much ahead or get too invested in the blog as a task – I check on it a few times a day for comments and discussions, I write a post every 1-3 days on average, and I try to read and follow others. There are a lot of moments where the blog could have functionally died if I hadn’t gotten a dopamine hit from a stat jump or bogged myself down in too much minutiae. Sure, yes, as a business a blog should have an identified niche and all that, but this blog was a far cry from that.

The community that has found its way here has enriched my writing and this aspect of my life so much and I can’t always communicate that as effectively as I’d like. Agree or disagree with the posts, I found a lot higher degree of discussion than I would have otherwise expected and I always think that is a huge positive. When I tried being a gaming YouTuber, engagement was hard to come by, but I think blogs are really good at driving that.

Speaking of engagement, I think that this remains a weakness of mine, one that I have awareness of but always struggle to fix. I won’t say I read every Blaugust participants posts, and even the ones I did, I often would either just nod and close the tab after reading, sometimes rarely throwing a like, sometimes even more rarely adding a comment. This is something I notice applies to a lot of my social behavior – I enjoy very much being in the shadows and supportive, but it becomes progressively harder for me to mount a response beyond that threshold. I saw a lot of great posts, but a lot of those bloggers might not even know I engaged. Even in the Blaugust Discord, I often saw and read posts but failed to meaningfully engage outside of a couple quips and a couple Discord reacts, and in a few cases, I’d bring that discussion, as read, into a post for a point. To the point made by Nimgimli in his Blaugust end post, that’s not necessarily that Blaugust or its participants are being cliquey or unwelcoming, but just rather that my social mode (much like Pete’s) is not one that things I have a lot or anything interesting to say in such settings. The irony of it, given the ever-growing size of my blog, is that a lot of people come through and read what I have to say, but I always consider my site my platform and the Blaugust Discord is someone else’s space that I’ve been invited to.

So like in years past (although I think I’ve only pledged it out loud once), my goal in the near future is to be more engaged with other people’s content. To write more comments, to leave more likes, and to generally engage more. A lot of what led my blog to where it is today is that people with bigger platforms came along, liked my stuff, and shared it, and then stayed engaged with me and were a part of my community. A lot of the people who came along then are still around, almost 5 full years later! I think I have a role to play in helping other people grow their sites too, and to have more discussions in more places that add more value to the writing work we’re all doing. It took a lot of people putting trust in me, that they could send their audiences and communities to me, for me to have a lot of the readership I have today, and I think I need to repay that to the broader community.

A lot of things are fascinating to me about blogging in 2021, and recent events have put that into ever-clearer context. The deaths of Epic Insanity (who did a lot of podcasting) and Rades (who blogged at the very-funny Orcish Army Knife) gave me a lot of pause – I know I met Rades once at Blizzcon and I probably at the very least stumbled past Epic Insanity at some point while staying up too late in the Hilton lobby, and the news about both so close together caused a lot of self-reflection.

Ultimately, they’re both pretty similar to myself, and it was hard to not think about what would happen if I died tomorrow. Honestly, that’s a thought I have with some frequency – it fills me with a strong dread, but it also is this momentary check-in to make sure I am living my best life (I hate that phrase, btw). In my life, I’ve followed a lot of passions – I’ve been able to go around the world twice (literally, a circle, both times), performed stand-up comedy, wrote a novel, get to call myself a Kindle Bestseller (it’s on a technicality I’m not that far up my own ass please believe me), trained for pro wrestling including getting in the ring (taking bumps gives you an appreciation for what wrestlers endure to entertain), and now I’m here writing and having a pretty good go of it, all things considered. If I died tomorrow, it would be pretty okay, all told – certainly not how I’d want things to be, but I’ve made a lot of my life and taken a lot of the opportunities I’ve been given and I am thankful for them all.

I know that the common feeling about the internet, social media, and the like is that it preserves our worst moments and can be an albatross tied around our necks, and that is true – hell, it’s even true of a few posts here. At the same time, though, I like having documentation of all the happy little moments, too. A lot of us turn to gaming, to writing, to hobbies in general, for solace – to find shelter from a world that is often unkind and uncaring, and find that in those little moments. I won’t remember what I enjoyed about WoW’s actual gameplay or design, or FFXIV’s either, in 15-20 years (assuming they die or I stop playing them at some point in that period!), but I can always look back on content I’ve written here, to remember my journey with the Mage Tower in Legion, the story of Shadowbringers that brought a tear to my eye, or how writing itself became a passion and such a big part of my life. Someday maybe my nephews and niece (my sister has 5 children, all boys, what luck!) could also read them and understand some of things I showed them when they were kids, know me better, or remember me.

That is the value of starting. That is what I would encourage you to get to by just writing that first post. Put it wherever you can easily host it – Tumblr still lives and that works or you could go all the way to fully custom hosting with a tricked-out WordPress installation. All of that is secondary to the first, though – just write. There’s always some value in it, not just for you but for someone else, and you’ll never find those someone elses without putting it out there.

Blogging in 2021 kind of seems like a seedy enterprise to the mainstream – that everyone is a shark swimming to find the right SEO, sponcon, affiliates, and ad networks to make a quick buck with recycled and regurgitated content, and that can be true. However, what I’ve found is a network of people who are excited to share their passions and engage – and yes, bots and content mills too – but a lot of people I share kinship with. On a weekly basis, more or less, I get to hear from people in New Zealand, Russia, the UK, other various parts of the US, and more – all people who, despite thousands of miles and hundreds of different cultural norms, all share interests with me, and we get to talk about those things. No matter how old I get, how old the internet gets, and how ingrained in daily life it is in 2021, I will never not be floored by how insanely special that is.

But I need to circle back to the point about life and reflecting on it, because a vibe I put into Blaugust this year is that it is one of change. Over the last year, I’ve been working on figuring out a major puzzle in my personal life. In June 2020, I lost my job. It was stressful, difficult, and downright awful – but it was a blessing in a lot of ways. I’ve never really had a job that was all me, reflective of who I am, what I want in life, and that enabled me to do anything more than subsist with the occasional moment of joy (trips to Blizzcon, trips around the world, etc). For much of the time since, I’ve been thinking about what the next chapter of my life looks like. Returning to the workforce seemed the most likely, but my wife and I (mostly her, tbh) enabled something that I am thrilled for – a chance to work towards self-employment.

Writing is something I’ve always wanted to do at a high level, but I’ve rarely invested the effort needed into it. When I have, it’s been successful (I am able to claim that something I wrote charted on Amazon, and a Kickstarter success got me my first full novel, including paperbacks!), but that has been rare, save for those efforts and this blog. My goal by the end of 2021 is to change that.

I want to be very clear up-front that this blog is always going to be about passions, written from the heart and mind with a clear editorial focus on discussing things I care about. I’m never going to write sponcon here, or have what I write dictated by SEO optimization, algorithms, or whatever else. Having said that, I’ve made a couple of small tweaks this year, and there will be a couple more coming in the next few weeks.

Firstly, when I finally upgraded my WordPress.com plan, I did enable WordAds. It’s been a nice way to get a little bit of scratch on the side, and I went with it because the ads were, in my experience, largely unobtrusive and without annoying hitches. I’m in the process right now of working with Ezoic, a premium ad network, to bring that to the site instead. Their ads should retain the unobtrusiveness, although their whole gimmick is the use of AI/ML to determine the ways to best place ads on the site from user behavior. The overall number of ads should remain the same and they should not be annoying, which is my main criteria – I’ve put in a lot of research to keep my user experience as clean as I can get it. For how small my living expenses are right now, this change will let me get to around 10% of my expenses covered just from the ad revenue, based on current traffic. I share this not to boast (okay, maybe a little) but because I want to be clear where my motivation for such a change comes from. I want my blog to retain readability and not be a swamp of bullshit links and ads, so I’ve put a lot of effort into making sure that my site is always going to be neat and tidy. I’ll ask one time, here in this post now – if you like reading my content and want to support me, please consider whitelisting my site from your adblockers.

Secondly, I’ve applied for the Amazon Associates program, so I will have some occasional affiliate links on the blog. I plan to use them sparingly (not every post, only when it makes sense, so mostly Sidenote posts and a link to purchase expansions or game time here and there) and I’ll be crystal-clear with disclosure above and beyond the program requirements.

Thirdly, my writing will be expanding beyond the blog, now that I can take those hours from Blaugust and channel them into other work. The first is a set of projects I’m working on with my wife – a series of instructional eBooks. We’ll both be writing different things and working together to edit and market them as broadly as possible. One thing I am really excited for about this is that my efforts on the project will use a bit more of my writing style and voice – instead of simple, dry instructional material, my hope is to provide narratives and interesting stories of applying the advice given. For me, I have 3 books coming out under that label – a book about my weightloss in preparation for wrestling (I lost 108 pounds in 8 months!), a book about traveling internationally for a fairly low cost (using my two world trips as examples), and then most relevant here, a book about launching a blog and growing it, using my journey on this site as the narrative that ties the whole thing together. I won’t be hard selling them here, but I will write posts about them and link to them once they are available to purchase. We’ll be self-publishing via Gumroad, and if you like what I write here and have an interest in that instructional side of things, I’d be thrilled if you’d check them out.

Fourthly, I plan to dabble in writing one last way – through resuming self-publishing of stories on Kindle. First up, I’ll be writing a travel memoir about my first world trip and my plan is for that to be the first of many stories. After that brief non-fiction jaunt, I’ll be moving to some fiction. I have a couple of fantasy series in mind that I’ve been working on for literal years (I have an Evernote worldbuilding note that goes back to 2013 for one of them and 2015 for the other!) and I’m going to try to put my money where my mouth is about storytelling and the continuity of a fantasy fiction narrative.

Finally, I am working on a game! This one is definitely more of a passion project, but I want to chase it in what free time I’ll have after writing all day, and to that end, I’ve picked up a lot of Unreal Engine assets to make a playtest build and see if the core gameplay concept holds up. I expect this one will be a long-term project and not something I’ll have done in the next year, because there’s a lot to learn, but I have been chipping away at the design end first and slowly dipping a toe in the Unreal Engine’s various editing tools. As that process unfolds, I’ll probably document choice bits of it here – I plan to be a bit more guarded and protective about that project until it’s ready for showtime, but I think I have an interesting core design that will hopefully stand up through a playtest.

For the immediate future, here, however? Well, Blaugust is done, and this weekend my wife and I leave for our 1st wedding anniversary vacation. I’ll be writing and scheduling out a couple of posts tomorrow that should fill the gaps while I’m gone, but I’ll be responding very rarely to comments since we’ve got a pretty full slate of activities planned.

I can’t close out my final Blaugust 2021 post without a note of thanks, however. The community is smaller than before, but there was still an energy that was infectious, and even though I struggled to participate in the chats in Discord, it was firing off frequently and I really enjoyed following along with it and seeing how people were doing and what things caught everyone’s attention. A big shout-out is owed to Belghast for continuing to run the show year after year, and I also want to acknowledge the efforts of mentors. For me personally, Naithin is always active, reading, and participating in a way I want to emulate, Wilhelm Arcturus is one of the elder statesmen of MMO blogging and I always find his perspective interesting (also I promise elder statesmen is not a dig!), and Aywren has such a fascinating approach to their blogging that I enjoy reading, especially for the interesting aspects of their blog (transitioning between Tumblr and WP?!). On the newbies side, I saw a lot of great posts from Thyanel and Blockade85 – I especially appreciate that even as a lapsed fan, Blockade was my go-to “one game blogger that engages strongly with my wrestling posts.” Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading established bloggers like Tessa, Krikket, and MagiWasTaken.

Circling back to my Blaugust theme posts, I will say it one last time for the year – I always find value in Blaugust for what it gives me in terms of education and optimism for the future of the site, and I enjoy how it connects me to a lot of other great writers. If you’re looking to start a blog to share your thoughts, don’t wait for the perfect site theme, perfect niche, or ideal blogging event – just start.

You’ll thank me later. (Or curse me, because I know I spend a lot of time writing here and curse myself for it sometimes!)

3 thoughts on “Blaugust 2021 – Lessons Learned Part 3: Blogging and Community in 2021 and What I’ve Gained From Them

  1. I’m in the reading camp about blogging, definitely. Personally I don’t like vlogs, cause you need to spend a certain amount of time into the video to even learn if it’s worth watching at all, and also navigating through the video and returning to pieces you find interesting and worth commenting, and rewatching them is pain. Such a loss of time.

    Personally I like your posts for being so profound and long – that’s exactly my piece of cake 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my gripes about adblockers is that they default to blocking, and when it comes to blogs I often don’t even realize there are ads to be blocked. I work on commercial sites so at least part of my salary comes from ad revenue; for a long time I would try to shame people into not using blockers. But then so many sites starting having such annoying/intrusive ads that a blocker is almost required these days. So I use one even though in a way I’m shooting myself in the foot.

    So I’m absolutely happy to whitelist personal blogs and sites which run ads that don’t get in the way of content or start playing videos with sound or whatever other awful scheme the marketing folks have come up with this week. Which is a long-winded way of saying I just whitelisted this domain. 🙂

    Looking forward to watching your success in the coming years!!

    Liked by 1 person

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