From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
Scent of a Gamer is about to wrap up its fourth year of existence, with over 500 articles written. I wanted to take a pause and think about where I started, where I am now with the blog, and whether any of this might be of use to others.
After some self-examination I have come up with a series of tips, about which I can share my own experiences.
Tip 1: Write what you love
Writing a blog takes effort, and effort takes energy. When you are writing about things that naturally interest you, when you are writing because you want to share something you love, that energy is easier to come by. It’s also easier to keep up over time.
Sharing a hobby
This blog started primarily because I wanted somewhere where I could track my progress painting miniatures. I started painting miniatures over 20 years ago, and still have a pile of unpainted figures! I had kept a project log on another website, but a couple of incidents there made me leery of relying on this method – and just as well, since that site went offline earlier this year taking years of project logs with it.
I’m not a world class painter and you’ll never see my work at the Crystal Brush awards or anything similar. But I enjoy painting my little figures, and I know others do too. I wanted to share that enjoyment as well as recording my own progress.
The most popular post about miniature painting remains the one where I gathered every miniature I could find that I have painted over the years, and gathered them together for one large group shot.
This image actually made me momentarily sad at the thought of all those figures I had painted but then sold over the years. However I still have some models from those early years, and many other hobbyists have similarly eclectic collections.
If you write about what interests you, people will respond to that.
Tip 2: Choose a schedule and stick to it
Choosing a schedule is important, but keeping that schedule is more important. Make sure you choose a realistic update schedule, and that you communicate that to your readers. If a blog goes by for several months without an update, and then reappears with 7 updates in a day, readers aren’t going to stick around.
Set reader expectations and make sure you meet or exceed those expectations. This is about making people want to come back to your blog and see what you have to share next. Of course, a schedule means you have to perform, so make sure it’s realistic for you, and that you have followed the first tip. Otherwise the schedule might become a demon that haunts you rather than a gentle reminder.
For Scent of a Gamer I decided in January 2013 that I would update the website each week-end, and I even wrote this on the front page as a reminder to myself! Once the blog was up and running I decided this meant publishing 2-4 new articles each week-end. Any less and change would be hard to see. Any more and content might get lost in the clutter. Four years on I’m yet to miss an update.
Having this schedule forces my to reconsider step 1: what is it I am sharing here? Turns out when I considered this question what I’m sharing isn’t my hobby of painting miniatures but rather my love of games. Card, board, miniatures, computer, it doesn’t matter. I game, therefore I am. Beyond this is my appreciation for the stories and art that surround games. These are the things I write about.
Tip 3: The web is a visual medium
People talk a lot about blogging and blog writing, but the web works best when things are laid out well visually. A screen filled with small text is visually off-putting, and if you make your words an effort to read, people may choose not to make that effort.
This article is already pushing the limits of an online article. There’s nothing wrong with breaking up longer pieces into multiple parts, and breaking up the pieces you do write with images.
These considerations also come back to the layout you choose. The layout should support the kind of articles you intend to write, as this will save a lot of issues around look and feel as your blog progresses.
Keeping it visual
I chose a layout for Scent of a Gamer that would force me to use images in every article. The front page holds summary of each new article along with an image, in what is often called a magazine format. Post an article without a featured image, and you’re left with an ugly grey box on the front of the blog.
This format forced me to consider the visual representation of what I was writing about. I’m not a visual person, I’m more of a words guy. I like walls of text… sometimes. However these text walls can drive new readers away, so if I want to share what I’m doing the layout needs to encourage people to explore.
The format also forces me to plan more than I might otherwise do. I could have written 10 times as much for this article, but who would want to read that in one go? Breaking up longer pieces across articles is fine, and for the most part people will appreciate that as long as each article is substantive enough in itself.