What I Learned From My First Year of Blogging
A year ago, in need of a creative outlet, I set myself the task of writing one fully developed ‘Mind Candy’ gaming blog post per week. I wanted to spend less time idly consuming and more time creating what was on the web. On the site of Henry Hyde, the ‘Dean’ of wargaming, I publicly threw down the gauntlet. With the upcoming publication of an article in a major wargame magazine, which will in turn pay for an upgraded website, I feel I can say: Year One Mission Accomplished! Here are a few things I learned this year and the first post on the new website: OnSeansTable.com
Five Guidelines That Worked
Any success I met with this year can be attributed to five guidelines. Staying on point with these also had the beneficial side effect of making posts easier to write so I could meet my self-imposed weekly deadline.
Have a target audience. Writing directly to a target readership has provided focus for my posts. I’m writing for board and miniature gamers who range in experience from novice to expert. I’ve tried to include both an introductory blurb for newbies as well as some Easter Eggs for grizzled veterans.
The potential pitfall here is that a post, in trying to include everyone, serves nobody in particular. In retrospect, I’ve written several of these! They are too technical for a newbie and too watered down to offer any insight to experienced players. This can be a moving target that I hope to hit more often with practice.
Offer a consistent type of post. I’ve tried to offer what Henry Hyde calls ‘Mind Candy’ posts. With a length between 750 to 1500 words and 10 to 15 supporting visuals these are not a full meal by themselves and are decidedly not fast food either. If done correctly they offer one appetizer or main course of quality fare that satisfies a reader’s curiosity. They satisfy the craving for a specific topic with a five-minute investment of time. Variety within this format is needed to keep readers interested but straying too far has resulted in posts that feel like they don’t fit the narrative of the site. Another moving target worth tracking.
Post at regular intervals at strategic times. There’s a lot of theory and talk about the optimum post interval and time. It’s personal. I know I can crank out one solid Mind-Candy post a week. For my personal level of motivation and style of productivity the once-a-week format keeps me focussed on a deadline and excited about blogging without turning it into a chore.
To further define my target audience, they are aspiring or established professionals with enough disposable income and time to have gaming as one of their main hobbies. I’ve timed my posts for Fridays at 9:30 AM (so mornings) in North America, which is about 3:30 PM in Europe. I’m trying to give people with access to computers and devices at work a quick and reliable read during their lunch break, or in the slow hours on a Friday afternoon. I’m also hoping that people who don’t read on a Friday will have some surfing and reading time over the following weekend.
Provide an easy way for readers to access your back catalogue of posts. Once I hit the mid-year mark and 25 posts I realized my site didn’t offer a way to browse posts older than the most recent ten. I think new bloggers eventually (maybe six months in?) realize they’ve started with a blog theme or layout that doesn’t quite fit their content as well as it should. My choice of the WordPress Collective theme was a shot in the dark that, luckily, has proven flexible enough to grow with.
I didn’t have the expertise or patience to port my content over to a new theme and I actually liked most of what my blog theme had to offer. By adding a couple of index and previous content pages with tabs on the main landing page my views spiked dramatically. The stats indicate that as of August people started actively using these ‘index’ pages to check out older content and the stuff I’d written previously was reaching a much wider audience.
Master a fast and consistent way to create eye-catching images and visual themes without a huge time investment. Part of the Mind-Candy approach to content requires punchy visuals. I realized after my first six weeks of blogging that I was actually writing 1000 word thesis essays using punchy text and carefully chosen visuals as supporting evidence. After a decade at university and 16 years of teaching this format is incredibly liberating for me because I get to bend or break most of the rules of academic writing while still using my core set of writing skills.
Creating catchy visuals in a reasonable amount of time is easier said than done! I played around with various iPad editors which were surprisingly powerful but ultimately limited. I used Photoshop Elements for about six months. While powerful Photoshop is a huge time sink and did not automate basic tasks the way I needed it to. I just needed a bulk rename, resize, colour tune up, and the same type of border applied to ten pictures at a time. I didn’t need or want to micromanage every pixel.
Enter PhotoScape X, available for Mac and PC. For me, it’s the perfect balance of power and productivity. It’ll resize and rename, adjust, and give a consistent visual style to batches of photos at a time. It’s also powerful enough to do in-depth editing of important featured images without an inordinate investment of time. I can’t recommend it enough!
Stay organized! I needed a way to keep track of everything from blog deadlines to paint schemes used on models and terrain. With a variety of posts and a need to document editorial plans, colour settings, ideas for posts, and dozens of other things I found I was spending far too much time dealing with minutiae. Wunderlist sorted that out for me. It doesn’t matter what program or system you use – feel free to break out the sticky notes – but I found that having no system at all for the many details of blogging was creating a lot of repetitive work that ate into writing time. Getting these things out of my head and into Wunderlist made everything far more manageable.