Content Creation and The Soul Sucking Search for Purpose

(editor’s note: this is mostly just off-the-cuff musing about a piece of media I found interesting and relatable that also serves as a segue to discuss my writing outlook and some struggles I’ve had with it recently. I understand that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so if so – see you tomorrow for some Dragonflight analysis?)

Today, Super Eyepatch Wolf released a lengthy series that starts off about the insidious nature of social media influencers and their courses on how to achieve fame, before it takes a mid-act swerve to the addictive and soul-crushing ways that social media platforms use analytics as a weapon against creators at all levels, to push them to create more, drive more value, to constantly one-up themselves in a way that feels really bad, before the video then finally pivots to SEW’s own tale about how hitting a million subscribers on YouTube was, in a way, a defeating moment – not transcendental or joyous, but instead inspiring a certain sort of dread, both the journey to it and then the moment of finally reaching that mountain. It is an excellent long-form video and well worth a watch, so here it is:

When I watched the first part of this video, I found myself sort of thinking it was an interesting topic just for the basic premise. I’ve seen takedowns of the various influencer course scams that exist and SEW brings a lot of interesting nuance and investigation to the topic in a way that I really enjoyed. However, as the video went deeper and deeper, I found myself with the horrifying realization that I was relating to it too much – not the successful part (obviously lol) but the feeling of analytic obsession, the search for some sort of meaning in all of it, and the ways in which negative comments and such were influencing my views of my own work.

I’ve been writing here for five and a half years – not a long time in the context of either a WoW or FFXIV blog, but long enough that I have seen old bloggers go and new ones come in, even with the shrinking viability and audience of written, long-form content. My first goal in writing is always to write what I want – what speaks to me, what I find interesting, and about my experiences in games and media. But I’ve always had a second goal of sorts, and while it has changed multiple times, it always has some form of the concept of proving myself – proving that my vision for content and voice has value, finding creative fulfillment, making some amount of ad revenue, getting an item named after me in WoW, and the like. I started the blog in large part because a creative project with friends on YouTube was creatively unfulfilling – I felt like I wasn’t working on a vision I believed in and wanted to prove that I could do better with my ideas. After my visit to the Blizzard campus in 2018, I wanted to work there, and a lot of my content was built around the idea of demonstrating an aptitude and eye for game design – it was what I wanted to write even without that goal, but I made really sure to put that spice in there, so I could apply, reference my content, and then hopefully at least get an interview (I didn’t, and that is probably a good thing at this point so hey). Last year, I had my biggest year in terms of growth, with a 4x increase in views over 2020, my prior best year which was a 3x growth over the prior year, which was my best year to that point, and you get the idea.

But I’ll also admit that the last year of writing has been the most challenging to me, ever.

This year has been slower than I expected, and will likely be my first year down in analytics ever. And, to be honest, that’s fine to a point. My analytical brain gets that the rise cannot happen forever – that eventually, I’m going to hit a saturation point of people willing to read 2,000+ word blog posts about MMOs that sometimes slips in wrestling references. I also expected a decline for the calendar year because late last year, I stopped playing WoW (November 12th, 2021 to be precise) and I wrote pretty publicly that I was done with the game for the time being. A lot of my audience is here for WoW, and while a switch to more FFXIV content would offset some of that loss, I knew it wouldn’t offset all of it. Even still, WoW was a in a general decline in terms of content consumption and FFXIV has a more niche content creation scene – FFXIV fans generally enjoy playing the game and tend not to seek out as much stuff about it outside of it unless it is a guide (and my guide posts on gearing for the patches this year have been my most successful of the year so far). I could keep some readers who are here for me, I’d keep some WoW readers who enjoy my analytical takes on WoW, and I’d keep some WoW readers who have an interest in FFXIV, but I knew I’d be alienating and losing some readers. Ultimately, that was a decision I was okay with to a point – not because I want to alienate anyone, obviously, but because it remained true to me writing about what I want. When I do write about WoW, it’s topics I feel I have something to say about, and some of my WoW posts this year are things I am quite proud of.

But with some success (however minor it might be), came some of the same issues described in the video.

Before I start this, I need to share something about myself as a person – I am very conflict-averse. If someone has a negative opinion of me, I take that extremely seriously, no matter how much context might suggest I should not. Over the years, I’ve gotten better about this to a point of being able to brush-off first timer comment trolls. Last year, I wrote a handful of posts about my guild situation, my relationship with WoW, and my opinions about some things I believed WoW did better than FFXIV, and each of these posts inspired some small-ish amount of negative and personal commentary. I was told to kill myself, called a couple of slurs, had some free-speech warriors (with totally coincidental Nazi references in their email addresses, I’m sure), and generally drew out a minority of strongly-negative first time commenters. And like, that isn’t fine and I didn’t like it, but it was easy to trashcan the comments before they ever even saw the light of day and to block the commenters. I’ve had lighter degrees of that kind of commentary before and I’ve had a relatively easy time with blocking it. The tools on wordpress.com aren’t perfect for that kind of thing, but they generally work pretty well – I haven’t had ban evaders or repeat offenders and I feel suitably in-control of the kind of things I allow.

What I did have some trouble dealing with, admittedly, is a long-term commenter going sour.

Over the years of writing, I’ve worked really, really hard at building my skill and resilience in handling disagreement – learning to identify when someone disagrees with me personally instead of with the point I am making, working to filter my view through that lens, because as someone who often shares his opinions online, I fully expect and am okay with people disagreeing with me. On some level, I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it – in my personal life, I used to be a wreck dealing with either and now I can handle a high measure of idea disagreement and a small measure of personal disagreement just fine. I made it a specific point to learn that lesson as early as I could, because if I even got anywhere near successful, I would have to be ready for it on some scale. Ultimately, the thing I always suspected is that if a couple hundred people read my stuff a day, I could be okay with the scale of positive vs. negative thoughts, because it would likely be pretty one-sided and I could live with that. For the most part, I can – I don’t really often get negative comments, even counting those I filter through my backend controls and I have a fantastic set of long-term reader-commenters that I vibe with pretty well, I think – even if we disagree, the tone is light and always concerned with finding and reconciling viewpoints.

But over time, it became obvious that I had a commenter who was interested in pushing my boundaries, who escalated over time from agreeable and interesting to a troll, posting passive-aggressive to actively-aggressive comments and questioning my skill as a writer, accusing me of being unread in the basics of the genre and regurgitating old posts (which I also, in his estimation, hadn’t read…?). Now, he rarely did this on comments directly – he’d kind of do so indirectly, and then link back to my blog in a post with the accusations (easiest pingback I ever turned off!), or write thinly-veiled subtweets about me on his Twitter.

And in truth, I probably shouldn’t have cared about or read them. It was clear just from my blog comments that he had stopped discussing things in good faith quite some time ago and was more interested in getting his cheap shots and jokes in. At the same time though, I have a certain level of appreciation for long-term commenters, to a point that I probably follow all of my main commenters on Twitter and read what they have to say, and I sometimes leverage that as ways to make my posts better. In this particular case, though, he just didn’t like me and was making that incredibly obvious. It was also stagecraft to a point though – hostile but still sort-of framed comments here and then more open hostility in the subtweets, with the same tepid and dull generic complaints – the vague complaint I was writing a topic that was “5-10 years” (almost always this exact and incredibly large timeframe) old, that I had nothing new or interesting to say, and that he, an elder of the blogging scene, had seen it before and found it boring. Yet somehow, he always found his way here to read and write his insipid comments, in spite of all of that.

Intellectually, I knew that this was empty-headed nonsense, that my writing was reaching a good number of people with a historically-similar amount of engagement and interest, and I was even quoted in a Polygon article about WoW this year. I’m not always amazing at my craft, but I take a great measure of pride in the work I do put out and I often let things simmer in the drafts if I don’t think I can make something interesting. I make a point of still writing to my own style, even as it means disregarding common ideas about blogging (the Blaugust discord semi-regularly discusses capping posts near 900-1,000 words and I routinely write 3,000+ per post, haha), and if I had to attribute my small amount of success at writing to anything, I would say it is that approach – the adherence to my personal voice and style, my willingness to step far beyond in word count or complexity if I think I can write something interesting, and the willingness to kill my darlings and let posts die in the drafts if the early work doesn’t seem like it is leading to an insightful write-up.

But at the same time, I took his weaselly commentary personally and I did let it color my writing and perception of my writing a bit too much. The idea that someone who once brought a lot to my comment section could go that far in the other direction kind of got to me, such that I wavered about banning his comments for months while sort of rolling my eyes anytime I saw him in the notifications. I scrapped a few drafts and ideas because of how it made me feel, to be quite honest – which was absolutely stupid of me, but it was also very hard to ignore. A nice thing about writing FFXIV commentary for most of the year has been not seeing his comments, and while that was probably not in the top 50 reasons I made the switch in writing, it was definitely in the top 100.

It took me a long time of ruminating on that, of letting his opinion get to me, before I finally decided I needed to do more than just take it on the chin. I made an assumption of good faith and put forward that his comments were wearing thin and would lead to a block, and his response (and accompanying subtweet) made it clear that good faith was long-gone on his side and had been for a while, so I did my first long-term commenter block and forced an unfollow.

And so that leads me to the now, and why I’m even writing this. Firstly, I think it’s fair to say that I really enjoyed the Super Eyepatch Wolf video I linked, and it gave me a lot to think about that I didn’t expect. It went in a direction that made me contemplative and eager to reflect on my own experience as a small creator in a different medium, and the ways in which I’ve allowed analytics and singular negative commenters far too much control over what I am willing to engage on and how I’m willing to express myself. That all is responsibility that ultimately falls on me – as nice as it would be to blame the rogue commenter, I let him run on long past the point I found his commentary here valuable or interesting and I allowed his opinion of me, misguided and empty as I found it, to shape my content in some small ways. I allow myself to be beholden to analytics and to let the success of some posts and the (relative) failure of others to change my output in small ways as well. It’s not necessarily easy to not allow those things to happen, but it is something I am making effort towards. A big part of my early success was engaging with those things – lots of analytics checks and lots of reading and replying to comments and trying to dig to find out what my regular readers really liked and wanted. But at the same time, I can realize that some of that is revisionist – I’ve always looked at my analytics, but it has only rarely actually changed my course of action, and it’s been a while since I made the effort to respond to every comment with a comment – I’ll typically respond to a couple and then if a theme emerges in replies, aggregate a reply as a new post.

For me, I think that the last year has been a bit rough both personally but also in writing, as I’ve genuinely struggled with switching subject matter mix here and maintaining interest in what I have to say, and it was a perfectly-mixed bomb to the self-confidence to have a long-time reader being an asshole to me over a prolonged period of time while my analytics slid and while I was struggling with some stuff in real life. Going forward, I’m making a point of adjusting to get back a bit more to roots – more personally filtered writing with less external voices chirping negative thoughts in my ears, more interest-based writing, pulling fewer punches, being more willing and proactive to recognize when someone is operating in bad faith and to respond accordingly, and to let some content fly and escape just for the sake of writing more and putting forward more writing that is authentically me. Personally, it will be an interesting time – I’m currently in the process of getting into school again for game development, of all things, and so that may end up being an interesting lens by which to write analytical posts in its own right.

I know I’ll never be successful to the point of a million people actively following my content, but WordPress’ estimated 1,100ish audience is far larger than I ever thought I would get to be, and the volume of references, link-backs, and valuable conversations had in comments is reassurance that for any bumps in the road I have had, I am on a good path and I feel like I can sustain that. More than any of the admittedly misguided goals outside of just writing good content I’ve had, I think that is what I really need to focus on as motivation to stay the course and get back to it where I’ve strayed. In that way, I found John’s video (is it to parasocial to use his real name?) to be really good and relatable, and it admittedly hit me more than I initially expected.

And while I still won’t put forward a formal comment policy, if I find you being an asshole consistently, I’ll warn you and then gladly deodorize as needed. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Content Creation and The Soul Sucking Search for Purpose

  1. Catering to the audience is an interesting topic. It touched me less as a blogger, but a lot during my 15 years as a band leader and songwriter (and observing other bands in the scene trying to find their course). This is always a voyage between Scylla of creating what you like and Charybdis of what audience wants. And the audience always wants “the same, but always better” – but “oh, but don’t you dare to bore us… I don’t know, do something new, but it must be the same good old thing”. I think every media, like movies, series, music, books, blogging eventually tries to survive this very gauntlet.

    I figured out for myself that you surely should consider the points and things that make your audience happy, but never build your content strategy and creativity around that. It’s passion, vision and – yes, creativity – that wins in the long run, and trying to keep your sub/viewer/reader numbers by trying to cater them and taking to heart all the comments eventually leads to a decline. If an activity stops being fun for you, or you feel like the audience dictates it, better wrap it up and start something new – new topics, new projects and everything 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. ZOMG blogger drama! I was kind of wondering what was going on when you mentioned some hostile subtweets and stuff in the post about talents. All I can say it does indeed suck when you feel you have a connection with someone through your blogging and then things go bad one way or another. Not gonna mention any details, but I’ve had my own encounters with those sorts of situations.

    Also, I just wanted to say I’m shocked that you’d get any comments on the level of KYS and such – I mean, I’ll never really get why people make those, but I understand it at least a little bit when emotions run high – but your blogs always seem so mellow to me. I mean, you have strong opinions sometimes, but you always couch them in a lot of qualifiers to acknowledge different viewpoints (which is something I very much appreciate) so I’m baffled how people could react quite so negatively to any of your writing.

    Don’t let it get you down too much and stick to writing about the stuff you enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On a tangential note, I watched the Super Eyepatch Wolf video and it was very interesting and enjoyable, so thanks for that! What was funny to me though was that as soon as I started watching, I thought: “I know that voice… this isn’t someone I watch regularly, but I must have watched something by him before…” and on checking, he’s responsible for that nightmare-fuel viral video that’ll never let me look at Garfield the same way again…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. His output is pretty wide on topics covered, haha. He has some excellent wrestling videos, good anime ones, the Space Jam 2 video he references is unironically a work of art, and his analysis of frauds like fake martial arts and psychics are some of my favorite rabbit holes to come back to! I still haven’t watched the whole Garfield video…I suppose I should.

        Like

  3. I give you a great deal of credit for easily, or maybe not so easily, knocking out a few thousand words. I know it’s not a simple task. I had a blog many years ago “When 140 characters is not enough” and I wrote all the time. But then there were a few comments out of no where that made me really question my view, was I really an idiot that had no value trying to discuss a game I really knew nothing about? And being in a bad place thinking on it one day I just shut it all down. Of course being new to blogging I didn’t think about saving a copy so it’s all gone. Along with a few others I started and stopped. I’m sure my opinion on things varies greatly from a lot of people, but I enjoy reading the opinions of others, even when mine are different, and respect those willing to comment back.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. (This is advice that is easier to say from the outside than put into practice as the person in the middle of it.)

    As someone who was dumb enough when he was younger to get involved with a control-freak, all you can do with those types of folks, including the button-pushing trolls, is to just do what you want to do. Their goal is to manipulate you, not argue a point or even win. They want to have controlled/changed/influenced your reactions. The specific direction isn’t as important as the feeling of having you under their thumb pushing your buttons. That’s why doing what you want because you want to do it, not because they caused you to do it drives them so crazy.

    So keep on writing about the things you want, the way you want, for as much or as little as you want. It’s that passion that keeps us reading your posts, not that you’re trying to be a perfect fit to some metrics. As far as comments go, as someone who often ends up in the weeds with my comments because a post sparked a tangent I feel I want to memorialize, there’s no need to push yourself to answer everything. That someone read it and it might have provoked some thought is good enough. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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