Just when I thought I was done answering questions! If you aren’t familiar with The Well-Red Mage, you should be – he’s a great blogger whose excellent reviews are thorough and cover games both new and retro. He has begun a community event all about asking big questions to his fellow bloggers, aptly called “Asking Big Questions.” Check out his original post here and be sure to read some of his other articles too! I plan to answer each question that I reasonably can – I’ll certainly never say no to free content ideas! – and today’s question is certainly a good one that I honestly haven’t touched on here on Adventure Rules before.
“What have you learned since you first started blogging?”
Well, apparently I took an art class (hint: I didn’t draw one of these two pictures).
Blogging has been a learning experience for me in many ways. It has expanded my knowledge of games, the industry, and the people who play them. I’ve learned about the video game community and the blogging community. Gained a deeper understanding of myself and other people as well. I’ve loved the experience of being a game blogger – particularly lately – but it hasn’t always been that way.
When I first started this blog, I had a strong concept and plenty of ideas to run with. “Gaming’s Solutions for Real-Life Problems” was my first tagline. The whole purpose of the title “Adventure Rules” was to play on the idea of an in-game tutorial – my blog would be a tutorial for life, using games as inspiration. My first post matched this theme directly – I wanted to give some advice about politics inspired by the world of Super Mario. I’m not all-that politically minded, but I do love a political satire and I wanted to jokingly address concerns about just how divided the American two-party system really is. Here’s an excerpt to demonstrate:
“2016 is an election year, so the tension between Democrats and Republicans is about to reach a boiling point. So how can Super Mario help us avoid a catastrophe? How can Bowser and Peach teach us to have Trump and Clinton playing tennis together at a mansion somewhere?”
When I first started blogging, the goal behind it was to write more often and to improve as a writer. I chose gaming because I felt this was a topic I could write on frequently, a topic where I wouldn’t run out of ideas. I created a good number of posts about how games influence real life and quickly began introducing different segments. Tabletop Tuesday, Final Friday, Quiz Time, Moral of the Story – I was posting anywhere from 5-7 days a week depending on my work schedule and what was going on in my personal life.
I started Adventure Rules on the last day of August 2015. So I blogged for basically four months – September, October, November, and December – before my first big revamping of the site. In that time I had determined I wanted to take Adventure Rules in a new direction, one that I felt offered more ideas and, by extension, more success. That’s when I changed to my current tagline: The Essential Companion of Heroic Adventurers. The site became a more traditional game news blog, and I wanted to specifically focus on doing more “journalistic” articles like reviews. At the beginning of 2016 I was VERY success-focused. I set specific follower goals, created special projects to try and finish by the end of the year, and wanted to do events that promoted my content to new viewers.
At first, my new success-first drive seemed like a great plan. I hit my follower goal relatively early in the year, which was cool. But there were hitches, too. I had just unveiled myself on various social media sites and I could not for the life of me figure out how to promote my content effectively. I kept missing goals and so would remove them from the goals page or ended up having to consider them failures. My views were increasing, but primarily from search engines – I got very little interaction on my content, which was particularly disappointing on the posts where I was basically BEGGING someone to talk to me.
As I felt my success “dropping,” I felt myself less motivated to write. It certainly didn’t help that I was going through a lot of other things too. Specifically, in May I found out that I would be hired at what is now my current job. I had til July 1st to relocate myself and my family from the tiny town we were living in to the big city. Then once I started the new job, I was working hours that were both very different from what I was accustomed to and much more consistent. I felt like I never had time to write, and that on top of adjusting to the new lifestyle and my perceived lack of success on the blog led me to effectively stop posting.
When 2017 rolled around, I started giving some thought to the blog again – specifically, what kind of goals I really wanted to have. A success-first, follower focused system had caused me to experience burn out. I didn’t want to define success or failure by something that I felt was outside of my control – the reactions of other people. I kind of got the idea from my work.
I’ve lightly touched on this once or twice, but I work with kids in the justice system. Specifically, my job is to serve as a buffer between juveniles and the traditional court system, addressing their charges and meeting their needs before a judge ever has to get involved. Part of that process is signing an agreement with the kid where I monitor various aspects of their life: school attendance, counseling participation, attendance to helpful seminars, etc. But one thing that we absolutely do NOT monitor is the kid’s grades. Parents ask about that sometimes – “why does my kid not have to have good grades to succeed in your program?” Well the reason for that is because kids don’t control their grades – teachers do. A child can do her very best on her assignments, and if the teacher doesn’t like her or has particularly high standards, she’s still not gonna get an A. Or maybe her very best is a B or C. There’s nothing criminal about that, and it isn’t fair to punish her because of something that she cannot legitimately control.
That philosophy really resonated with me, and at home I found myself applying it to my blog. Follower goals, like goals, there’s nothing objectively wrong with those things. But at the end of the day, they are a standard of management that I have no control over. I can’t make a single person follow me or enjoy my content. Under that specific definition of success, I could be creating the most hilarious and insightful posts in the entire blogging world and if no one is clicking “like” or “follow” I’m still unsuccessful. I knew from personal experience that this didn’t work for me. Just blindly accumulating views and followers wasn’t mattering to me. So I needed to redefine what success meant here on Adventure Rules.
At the beginning of 2017 I made two specific concepts into my goals: consistency and community. Posting on a regular basis, and being more interactive with other bloggers. I wanted to read what other people had to say. I wanted to get an idea of what makes me unique amongst other bloggers. I needed a set schedule that helped me to deliver content on a reliable and regular basis. I decided to define success not by how others measured me, but by self-improvement.
If you’ve been an adventurer pretty much any time in 2017, you know how that’s going. I’ve gone from one post a week up to two and now three. I’ve met other bloggers I really enjoy and started regularly reading and commenting on their content, and sharing it with you, adventurers. I’m meeting the goals I set for myself, but you know what else is happening? Four consecutive months of positive growth in views per day, a 50% increase in monthly viewership in March, a 25% follower increase in the month of April – when I chose to define success as making myself a better blogger, I started to succeed in the more traditional sense as well.
So here it is at last, the moral of the story. I’ve learned two big lessons as part of my blogging journey that I want to share today.
Lesson One: no blogger exists in a vacuum. In the early days, I thought I could just spit out posts and expect results. Any medium where you promote yourself in this way – blogging, YouTube, Twitch, podcasts, whatever – does NOT work like that. You can’t just wax poetic into the empty aether and have people start flocking to you. Self-promotion is an active effort, and there’s a very specific and effective way to do it: promote others. I always hated that I never got comments on my articles, but at the same time I was not commenting on the articles of other people. I was the blogging equivalent of the creepy kid in the classroom sitting in the corner watching the other kids play, not putting myself out there yet blaming those kids for the fact that I wasn’t having fun. That’s not how making friends works.
If you’re reading this and just starting out on your blogging journey, I encourage you to be actively engaged with other bloggers. Read their posts and comment on them in a meaningful way. Share their content on Facebook and Twitter and MusicallLEE and GarfLazer and whatever the heck other social media sites the kids are using nowadays. Bloggers are a community, and rising to the top of them by yourself isn’t something that happens. They will elevate you to where you want to be if you prove yourself to them by becoming a strong part of their community. Imagine success as a sheer cliff face that’s a bit too tall for you to climb by yourself. Allow your fellow bloggers to stand upon your shoulders and climb up, and they will reach back down and pull you up with them. Then instead of running to the next cliff, stay behind and help some more people climb. It’s a team effort out there. The more people you befriend and help, the more help you’ll have at the next ledge you wish to scale.
Lesson two: success is a term you define for yourself. I’ve already spoken about my own blogging journey. About how I felt when my definition of success matched the general perception versus when my definition was my own. Here’s the thing: even when my blog was succeeding in the ‘traditional’ sense, I still didn’t feel good about it because I wasn’t successful in my own sense. The months of November and December 2016 are most representative of that. In November I got a huge spike in viewership that coincided with the release of Pokemon Sun and Moon. I had written some articles of a predictive nature before the game came out and once it actually released they blew up. My monthly viewership from October to November literally doubled. But I didn’t care about the numbers – I still didn’t feel like I was doing well as a blogger.
I think that’s because even though I was “succeeding” in the traditional sense, I wasn’t succeeding in my own sense. I didn’t realize that yet. But even when I didn’t fully understand my own definition of success, I still defined success by that standard. I realize that this statement is a bit abstract, but I truly hope that it is clear. Even though I didn’t have a conscious awareness of why I felt bad about my blog, I still felt it. I needed to do some introspection to understand that feeling and to do something about it. The crazy thing is, I really should have known all along.
Part of the rules set forth by The Well-Red Mage’s event is that I need to discuss why I started my blog in the first place, why I posted my first post. And I mentioned the reason earlier: to grow as a writer. Somewhere along the line, that stopped being my goal; or rather, that stopped being what motivated me to write posts. When that happened is when I stopped caring about blogging. I knew the right answer all along – the right answer is what got me started in the first place! I had just lost sight of it. I needed to go back to Super Mario and partisan politics – maybe not the quality of the post, but the ideology that pushed me to write it. I needed to get back in touch with why I started blogging in order to appreciate it again.
If you, adventurers, are bloggers and you feel this way, it might be time to examine your definition of success. Discover what success means to you and start pursuing that goal in a focused, specific way. As long as your blog is successful according to your personal definition of the word, you’ll feel good about it. And if my personal experience can be used as a measuring rod, you’ll succeed more in the traditional sense when you feel successful according to your personal definition.
So there you have it, adventurers, the lessons I have learned since I started blogging. If you too are a blogger, both The Well-Red Mage and I encourage you to think about your own answer to this question and participate in the event! You can find his answer to the question along with the rules of participation right here. Thanks for reading, and I hope the lessons I have learned are helpful to you in your own blogging journey!