Behind the Blogging Scenes Interview: Rohan

It’s been quite a long time since I last featured a blogger from the community. My fault though as I’ve been wrapped up in so many projects and works. But I do plan on getting back to these when I can especially now that my schedule has cleared up a bit. The blogger we’re looking at today is Rohan of Blessing of Kings

 So who exactly are you and what do you do?

My name is Rohan, and I’m a software developer in Vancouver, Canada. I work on financial software, usually in Java. It’s pretty dry and boring, really. Rounding numbers is the bane of my existence.

MMO-wise, I’m a PvE raider, currently playing a Holy Paladin in WoW, and an Imperial Agent Sniper in The Old Republic.

What do you feel are your strongest post types as a blogger?

Probably the posts that try to examine “why” we do what we do in games. This is the part of MMOs that most interests me, how human behavior reacts to the rules of the game. And then how the rules of game get modified in reaction to that behavior.

Where can we find your work?

My writing is on my site, Blessing of Kings.

Productivity

 How much time do you spend on a weekly basis just reading and researching for blog posts?

I write mainly opinion pieces, so there’s not a whole lot of research involved, other than just reading what all the internet news is and what other people are writing. And also thinking through posts in my head. Probably an average of an hour a day or so.

 How do you prepare yourself before blogging?

I mainly just sit down and start writing. I’ll have the general idea of a post in my head, usually because it has been percolating for a few days.

I do try to maintain a list of ideas for posts, but inevitably I find reasons to ignore the remaining ideas on the list.

How would you advise a blogger to beat procrastination?

Heh, this is something I’m not very good at. I’m a terrible procrastinator. The key I’ve found is just to start writing, and try to get into a routine. I tend to write steadily for a stretch, then “fall off the wagon” for a week or two.

Also, don’t try to perfect the idea in your head. The moment you start writing the idea changes. The thoughts in your head always change when they hit the paper.

When is the best time of day for you to blog?

I generally write posts at about 9pm or so. That’s really just when I have the block of free time available. Plus it’s nice and quiet, and you get the post up in time for the next day when everyone comes into work and checks the internet.

The downside of this is that the post never gets edited properly. I always notice tons of mistakes when I go to check it the next morning.

How many hours a week do you spend actually blogging? How many days a week?

Ideally, I would write a post each day. In reality, I probably average 3 posts a week. Each post takes about half an hour, so 1.5 hours a week. I would like to get it up to 3.5 hours or so.

Who are your favorite inspirations and authors?

Blogging-wise, I am a fan of Megan McArdle. She writes about a wide variety of subjects in a fairly dispassionate way that is unusual for writers who touch on politics. In particular, I find she is one of the few mainstream writers who is willing to outline the trade-offs inherent in every question.

That “dispassion” and attention to trade-offs is something that I aspire to in my writing.

As for authors, my favorite is probably Lois McMaster Bujold. I adore her books, and she has a knack for writing pithy quotes that just seem to sum up and contain a great amount of wisdom.

What quote best defines you?

Lately, I have been strongly influenced by the following quote from G. K. Chesterton’s The Thing:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

John F. Kennedy summarized it as:

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.”

What type of music do you like to listen to when you write (or none at all)?

I don’t listen to music while writing. I’m not very good at multi-tasking. I find that when I’m focused on writing I end up tuning out any music that is playing. So I don’t really bother with music.

Are there any areas you’re looking to expand into as a blogger?

I am thinking about starting a blog about real-life topics. But I don’t really like to make really controversial posts about topics that matter (as opposed to videogames), so I don’t think anything is going to happen with that.

I would like to be able to make graphs and simple illustrations more easily. Walls of text are all very well, but a good illustration is very useful. Unfortunately, my attempts at illustrations seem to take an inordinate amount of time. I am very envious of those people who can dash up quick sketches.

How do you crush writer’s block (if you believe in it)?

Just sit down and write something trivial. You never know where an idea is going to take you once you start writing it down. Also, don’t underestimate “trivial” posts. They’re often the posts that the audience relates to the most.

Where do you go when you’re drawing a blank on ideas?

My favorite technique is to go down my blogroll and read the latest posts. When I find a post that I’d like to comment on, instead of commenting on that site, I write up the comment as a post on my site, linking to the original post.

Not only does this provide an easy post, but the other blogger will like it, as getting linked by someone else is always nice. In some ways, it helps build the community.

Are you a risk taker or do you play it safe when it comes to broaching potentially controversial topics?

I’m a total coward when it comes to real-life controversial topics. (In-game controversies are another matter.)

On blogging

How would you define a truly great blogger?

Someone who writes fairly often, and writes posts which are interesting to read. I read primarily for new ideas, so I like people who introduce new ideas or new ways of looking at things.

What platform do you blog on?

I use Blogger, which is Google’s free platform. It’s simple and easy to use. It doesn’t allow you as much control as some of the other options. However, I feel that you get the best results from writing more, rather than tinkering with your site.

Which blogs do you try to keep up with the most and why?

Kurn and Liore, definitely. I do try to keep up with pretty much everyone on my blogroll.

But I’d like to specifically call out Gevlon at Greedy Goblin. He gets a lot of flak in the blogosphere, but there are three reasons I enjoy reading his posts:

  1. I really admire how fearless he is about writing about controversial topics. As I’ve noted above, I shy away from controversial topics. I rather wish I could be more like Gevlon and not care about the prevailing orthodoxies.

  2. He has genuinely new ideas and ways of looking at things. I don’t always agree with his perspective, but it is a unique perspective on things, at least among the bloggers.

  3. I find that I usually agree with Gevlon at the start of a post, but by the end of the post I  disagree with him. I am never quite sure if this is because Gevlon took a wrong turn somewhere, or because I am unwilling to follow the argument to the logical conclusion.

Is there a specific program you use for blogging?

No, I just use the editor with Blogger. I am technically inclined, so I have no issues with dropping down into HTML, which does make some things a little easier.

Other than using a focus macro, how do you stay focused on your task?

I don’t multi-task well, so I tend to tune out any distractions until my task is finished. My problem is procrastination, and not starting the task at all.

What challenges or problems have you run into when blogging?

The biggest problem I have is that I will get “stuck” on a post. I’ll have an idea for a post, but it isn’t fully fledged, or is more controversial than I am comfortable with posting. So I’ll try and write about something else, but my mind stays stuck on that post, and it’s all I can think about.

Have any strategies on staying organized?

Not really. Try to keep things simple. Juggling many things is a lot harder than only needing to worry about a couple things. Making lists is always useful.

How do you unwind after your day is over?

I play video games, specifically Massively Multiplayer Online games. I also read a fair bit, mostly science fiction, fantasy, and older regency novels.

For fun

What is your biggest annoyance right now (blogging or otherwise)?

Twitter. I hate trying to trace Twitter “t.co/HASH” links to my site back to the original tweet.

Actually, I’m growing somewhat disenchanted with the way the web is closing off as a whole into walled gardens. I can see people linking to my site from Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, but it’s really hard to see the specific reaction. In contrast, I can follow a link back to a normal site, see their discussion of my ideas, and respond. It’s all about feedback. I can use the feedback from the “normal” web to refine my ideas, but Facebook, et al, are just black boxes.

Do you have a slogan that you adhere to?

No.

What has been your proudest achievement?

I don’t really know.

Choose a celebrity (alive or dead) that you would like to have dinner with.

I’m always thrown for loop by these types of questions. I can’t help but think about the celebrity’s reaction to having dinner with me.

Albert Einstein: I developed the theory of Special and General Relavity, and won a Nobel Prize.

Me: I write blog posts about elves.

Seems very unequal, and probably an awkward dinner for the both of us.

My attitude towards celebrities is the same as my attitude towards bears. I will leave the bears alone, and the bears will leave me alone.

What do you wish to do more of (or get started doing) this year?

I’d like to get out more, maybe leave my city more often. I’d also like to program a bit more, do some simple side projects in some of the newer languages like Erlang or Go.

You travel back in time to meet your younger self when you started blogging. What piece of advice would you offer?

Get fixed in the habit of writing one post every day. Buy Apple stock. Don’t take the job with the mobile gaming company or the real estate company.

Also, pay more attention to the high end raiders, and don’t try to fight against theorycraft results. You won’t truly learn to raid effectively until you’ve raided with the high end, and so you should aim to join them as soon as possible, because you’ll really enjoy efficient, competent raiding.

Where can readers find you online?

Mostly at my blog, Blessing of Kings.

What else would you like readers to know?

I’m really not very good with these wide-open questions. My mind simply blanks out.

Thanks to Rohan for taking the time out of his day to help offer a behind the scenes look at his blogging process and methods! Don’t forget to visit his blog at Blessing of Kings!

Behind the Blogging Scenes Interview: Liore

Behind the Blogging Scenes Interview: Liore

Today we talk to MMO veteran Liore. She’s been around the block when it comes to MMOs (WoW, SWTOR, Guild Wars 2, Rift, you name it). Her blog has been around for a long time and she’s still going strong (Since at least 2009?). She has since started contributing to Rift Junkies and WildStar Junkies.

So who exactly are you and what do you do?

I’m Liore! By day I write user manuals and banner ads, and by night I make stuff for the internet about video games.

What do you feel are your strongest post types as a blogger?

I mostly write opinion pieces. I have a lot of opinions.

Where can we find your work?

The blog and podcast are at my site, Herding Cats. I’m also a Staff Writer for RIFT Junkies and WildStar Junkies.

Art of Productivity

How much time do you spend on a weekly basis just reading and researching for blog posts?

I don’t do a lot of research specifically for posts although I do read a lot. I listen to podcasts on my work commute, and watch Let’s Plays instead of television. My Twitter feed is full of game stuff, and I hang out on IRC all day with smart people who are also gamers. I guess you could say it’s kind of an organic research process.

How do you prepare yourself before blogging?

My mantra is basically, “Why am I writing this?” and if I can’t answer that in a sentence then I know the post needs to roll around in my head more.

How would you advise a blogger to beat procrastination?

Routine! Try to set a realistic routine, and accept that writing X times a week is just what you do now.

When is the best time of day for you to blog?

I do the actual writing at the office during lunch. It’s a good time for me — I’ve had coffee, I’m sitting in front of a computer, and I’ve warmed up my brain with work stuff.

How many hours a week do you spend actually blogging?

I don’t spend that much time actually writing. Maybe 20 minutes per post, with 20 minutes of editing. I spend way more time editing than writing.

How many days a week?

Ideally 3 times a week, or twice plus a podcast.

Who are your favorite inspirations and authors?

It feels silly to say my “inspirations” because, like, I write nonsense about video games, but the works of Hunter S. Thompson, Molly Ivins, and David Sedaris have strongly influenced my writing style.

What quote best defines you?

“And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – The Beatles

What type of music do you like to listen to when you write (or none at all)?

For the most part I can’t listen to music when I write. I find the lyrics distracting. If I’m listening to anything it’s probably Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack because there are only a few words and it’s a hell of an album.

Are there any areas you’re looking to expand into as a blogger?

I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Video. Seriously, I love the written word like crazy but I think in 10 years time we’ll all be watching videos instead of reading blogs.. which sucks because one of the best parts of blogging is that you can do it in your underwear while wearing a ridiculous hat.

How do you crush writer’s block (if you believe in it)?

Remember that not every post has to be a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s perfectly okay to just write 25 words and post a great video you found.

Follow up: Where do you go when you’re drawing a blank on ideas?

I only recommend this if you are in the direst of straits, but if I’m totally out of ideas I’ll go start reading some big MMO’s official forum. It usually doesn’t take long before I see something that irritates me so much I want to write a post about it.

Are you a risk taker or do you play it safe when it comes to broaching potentially controversial topics?

Ooooh. You know, I try to not shy away from topics because it feels intellectually dishonest to me to not talk about something that I strongly believe, and I like to think that adding my voice to controversial topics contributes in some small fashion. That being said I try to write about them in an approachable way because that’s kind of why I blog — to participate in conversations about stuff.

Art of Blogging

How would you define a truly great blogger?

Consistent, opinionated, interested, and great with a turn of phrase.

What platform do you blog on?

Self-hosted WordPress.

Which blogs do you try to keep up with the most and why?

Kurn mentioned Blessing of Kings in her interview, and I think Rohan has been hugely influential in the MMO blogging community. The Ancient Gaming Noob (tagn.wordpress.com/) is not only an interesting read but also Wilhelm posts more frequently than the rest of us put together. Right now the blog I’m most excited to see update is In An Age (inanage.com). Azuriel plays totally different games than I do for the most part, but he always has interesting things to say and I like his style.

Is there a specific program you use for blogging?

Not really. I write into Notepad++ or EditPlus and then copy it into WordPress.

Other than using a focus macro, how do you stay focused on your task?

Honestly, I don’t. Hell, I’m watching a movie and playing Candy Crush while I answer this question! I just really enjoy writing and podcasting, so somehow it gets done.

What challenges or problems have you run into when blogging?

I’m too Canadian! Seriously, I have a hard time being forceful when I want to. It feels like I’m writing, “I think it’s really stupid when games do X” and then I read it later and it’s more like, “I’m sorry, I kind of don’t like X but it’s okay if you do because games are fun yay!”

Have any strategies on staying organized?

Inbox Zero. Love it. Live it.

How do you unwind after your day is over?

Foreign reality shows on YouTube! MasterChef Australia, Project Catwalk — everyone is always so nice and I like watching talented people do their thing.

Art of fun

What is your biggest annoyance right now (blogging or otherwise)?

Under otherwise: the lack of empathy in “internet culture”.

What has been your proudest achievement?

This is more “most recent” than “proudest”, but I just got confirmed for a Media Pass at PAX Prime. Putting aside for a moment the many complaints that people have about Penny Arcade (and I wouldn’t disagree with them), getting in a position to apply for the pass took good effort and I’m proud of it. They’re letting me interview developers! How crazy is that?!

Choose a celebrity (alive or dead) that you would like to have dinner with.

Geoffrey Chaucer and Francis Bean Cobain.

What do you wish to do more of (or get started doing) this year?

I love doing the podcast, so I want to play with that some more. Also video! I have plans to do my first full-on Let’s Play in August with a partner (Saint’s Row IV, aw yiss) which should be a lot of fun.

You travel back in time to meet your younger self when you started blogging. What piece of advice would you offer?

I started my first blog in 2000, but I’d tell myself to start blogging about games sooner. I came in at the tail end of WotLK, and I’m perpetually sorry that I missed the glory days of monolithic WoW blogs.

Where can readers find you online?

Blog: http://www.lioreblog.com
Podcast: http://www.lioreblog.com/catcontextpodcast
RIFT Junkies: http://rift.junkiesnation.com/
WildStar Junkies: http://wildstar.junkiesnation.com/

What else would you like readers to know?

I once killed 24 of my guild’s finest raiders by starting the Magtheridon fight early and locking them in. And I regret nothing.

Thanks for sharing your battlestation with us, Liore!

lioredesk

 

Behind the Blogging Scenes Interview: Kurn

Behind the Blogging Scenes Interview: Kurn

One of the first regular series I ran on WoM nearly 5 years ago involved interviewing WoW bloggers. It was a way to peer into their personality both in real life and in the virtual. Unrelated, I remember the Newbie Blogger Initiative that took place year. I offered my own advice for new and veteran bloggers both. This time around though, I’ll be conducting interviews with other established bloggers specifically about blogging itself. Everyone has their own style, voice, and habits.

Kurn continues to be a powerful authority in the realm of guild leadership. She has blogged about the different facets of running a guild dating back to as early as 2008. She is a prolific holy paladin and blogger who has hung up her mace and shield in favour of retirement.

In this interview, we’re going to look at her blogging side and how she breaks through the typically challenges that tend to stonewall bloggers.

So who exactly are you and what do you do?

My name is Kurn and I have a sociology background. I’m an expert in online communities and a halfway decent writer. I am a former WoW guild master, raid leader, healing lead and raider.

What do you feel are your strongest post types as a blogger? That’s a tough question. I guess my guide-type posts were always something I both really enjoyed as well as dreaded. On the one hand, I always enjoyed writing about how to play on a somewhat basic level and then graduating to more advanced techniques, but on the other hand, it’s difficult to just give out basic information without overloading people with more advanced stuff all at once.

Where can we find your work?

My blog is found here! (Or in Matt’s sidebar).

Art of Productivity

How much time do you spend on a weekly basis just reading and researching for blog posts?

That really depends on what the topic is. If I’m really familiar with it, not a lot of time at all. For the aforementioned guide posts, I could count on a solid four hours or so of researching and even more time testing certain things to ensure I know exactly what I’m talking about. Other types of posts are really just me retelling things or giving advice, so those tend to be less based on research and prior reading. In those cases, I tend to just let my thoughts spill out on to the page.

How do you prepare yourself before blogging?

I like to sit down during a time when I am not likely to be interrupted, preferably with a cup of tea, and just dive right in. Sometimes, I’ll write an outline, especially if the posts are comprehensive and long, but usually I’ll just start writing. The tea is helpful because I can sip at it while pondering how best to phrase something. (You can replace “tea” with any beverage of your choice.)

How would you advise a blogger to beat procrastination?

There’s no reason NOT to write what you’re thinking. Editing is part of the process, but worry about editing when you’re done writing. Sit down, just get the words down, then go back and see if it makes sense!

When is the best time of day for you to blog?

2 o’clock in the morning is my magic hour. I love blogging late at night. I used to be really productive in the early afternoon, but circumstances have changed such that I’m pretty busy during the afternoons these days. Late-night writing (including blogging) is great. No phone calls, no distractions.

How many hours a week do you spend actually blogging?

I blog a lot less frequently than I used to, but I probably spend about two or three hours a week dealing with my blog. By that, I mean thinking about writing blogs, responding to comments, tweeting about blogs and the like. I probably spend one or two hours a week writing specifically for my blog, unless it’s been a really busy week and I feel as though I should post more. More posts mean, of course, more hours spent writing.

How many days a week?

When it comes to writing for the blog, it’s really just one or two days a week at this point.

Who are your favorite inspirations and authors?

My inspirations generally aren’t people, but rather emotions. If something pisses me off, I’m going to write about it. If something makes me really happy, I’m going to write about it. If something happens to make me really think about things, I’m going to write about it. As to favourite authors, there are too many to name, but notable writers of late have been Chris Guillebeau, Chip & Dan Heath and Janet Evanovich (whose Stephanie Plum series of books is hilarious and great brain candy). I also really, really enjoyed Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series, even though it’s not great literature or anything. I think Rosenberg’s writing influenced me on a basic level because that series was the first fantasy series I’d ever read.

What quote best defines you?

That’s a tough one. I have a favourite quote, but it doesn’t really *define* me. So I’ll share this one by Mark Twain, instead:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

It resonates with me because I like to look out for the underdog. I always want to make sure people are being treated fairly. In my experience, once you’re in with the “majority”, that same majority will easily forget the problems of the minorities, even if they were part of the minority recently. When you’re in with the majority, that’s when you really have to examine everything from another perspective, I think.

What type of music do you like to listen to when you write (or none at all)?

My favourite type of music to listen to at all times is 90s alternative rock. Go ahead. Judge me. I dare you.

Are there any areas you’re looking to expand into as a blogger?

I’ve spent most of the last several years blogging about intimate details about the World of Warcraft. Now that I no longer play (and haven’t, for over seven months!), I find I still have things to say about the game, but I have a much more distant view. None of the things happening in the game now affect me directly, so I have a different perspective. Due to that perspective, I find I can take a wider view of the game and gaming in general.

How do you crush writer’s block (if you believe in it)?

I definitely believe in it. Sometimes you just have to walk away from the writing and let it settle and percolate, as I’m fond of saying. I help rid myself of writer’s block by going for a run, playing silly casual iPad games or even taking a shower. Sometimes sleeping helps, too. Sometimes, just starting fresh helps. Don’t let yourself get blocked by what you’ve already written! You can *always* start fresh.

Follow up: Where do you go when you’re drawing a blank on ideas?

When I was blogging frequently, pretty much almost every day, I tried to look at everything I was doing as a story that I could then recount on my blog.

Bad LFG in heroic Halls of Reflection? Time to blog about it.

Hilarious search terms in my Google Analytics? Time to blog about it.

I’d also spend a lot of time thinking about what I would want to read about. One other thing I did was to think about what others might be curious about and then pre-emptively answering those questions as best I could.

Are you a risk taker or do you play it safe when it comes to broaching potentially controversial topics?

I’m loud. I’m controversial. I’m opinionated. Frankly, I can’t be any other way. I am passionate about a lot of things and World of Warcraft is still one of them, even if I don’t play any longer. (That’s weird. I know.) I’m happy to call attention to things I disagree with and I’m happy to bring attention to things I think are great and all of that is regardless of what everyone else thinks.

Art of blogging

How would you define a truly great blogger?

A truly great blogger needs to have new content on a consistent basis. Not every day, but something consistent, probably about two or maybe three times a week. They need to write something that, most of the time, will make me think. They need to write something that inspires me one way or the other, that may spur me into action or may just rattle around my brain for a couple of weeks. A really great blogger should also be timely when it comes to news, although there should be plenty of posts that have very little to do with the news as well.

What platform do you blog on?

WordPress, self-hosted.

Which blogs do you try to keep up with the most and why?

There are quite a few blogs I read, but the one I *always* read as soon as I can is Rohan’s Blessing of Kings. Rohan has a ton of great ideas and information and, most importantly, different perspectives on things. I don’t always agree, but I’m always left thinking more on the subject.

Is there a specific program you use for blogging?

Nope, just log in to my WordPress install in Firefox, Chrome or through the iPad app.

Other than using a focus macro, how do you stay focused on your task? I just try to minimize the distractions. I also discovered, while doing my university degree, that I work best in small chunks of 45 minutes. So I’ll set a timer for 45 minutes and will force myself to take a short break after the time’s up. Focusing for 45 minutes is easy compared to “an hour” or more, at least for me!

What challenges or problems have you run into when blogging?

Several.

Lots of people are jerks.

Lots of people are sexist misogynists.

The first thing I did to help myself out was write a comments policy.

You can disagree with me all you want on my blog, but you do it with respect, or I throw out your comment and ban you from commenting. I also dealt with feeling as though I had to censor myself, or at least write differently, when I restarted my guild at the start of Cataclysm. While my blog had previously commented on “idiot guildies” (from other guilds I’d been in during Wrath of the Lich King), I had to restrain myself from venting any frustrations about my guild on my blog and my Twitter, for fear of giving the wrong impression of myself and my guildmates. Most of these frustrations were very temporary in nature (oh God, why can’t this person hit Heroic Will properly?!?!) so it wasn’t too hard to restrain myself, but it was very different from how I’d previously written.

Have any strategies on staying organized?

I plead the Canadian equivalent of the Fifth Amendment. (Section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in case you’re curious.)

How do you unwind after your day is over?

Generally, I like to watch a bit of television or Netflix or write until my eyes can’t stay open any longer.

Art of fun

What is your biggest annoyance right now (blogging or otherwise)?

People who don’t take the time to learn more about whatever it is they’re doing. There are resources out there for just about anything you could ever want to do. Go out there and LEARN MORE. Please. Pretty please.

Do you have a slogan that you adhere to?

Practice random acts of kindness. I’ve even got that printed on my cheques. (Not that I use them that often, but still.)

What has been your proudest achievement?

In Warcraft, probably getting server first Heroic Hagara, Hand of A’dal or my Rhok’delar. In real life, definitely getting my university degree. In terms of writing, succeeding at National Novel Writing Month twice. Choose a celebrity (alive or dead) that you would like to have dinner with. THEEEEEEEE Matticus! ;) Okay, seriously, probably Anita Sarkeesian. I would LOVE to pick her brain about feminism, cyberspace, meatspace and various other things. If she’s not famous enough, let’s go with Felicia Day because I’d love to pick HER brain about writing, The Guild, WoW and how she used her WoW experience as a starting point for all the amazing things she’s had a hand in creating. Alternatively, I would love to sit across from the Stanley Cup during dinner…

What do you wish to do more of (or get started doing) this year?

Canoeing, kayaking and skiing. I love canoeing and skiing and have been doing those since I was a kid, but both of those (and kayaking, actually) tend to require my going to my parents’ cottage. So I’d like to do more of those activities, but I’m unsure if I can manage to get around the parents’ cottage requirement. Also, more writing. ALWAYS more writing.

You travel back in time to meet your younger self when you started blogging. What piece of advice would you offer?

Keep everything (addons, software, etc) up to date lest PHP injections hit your site and it takes six months for Google to remove the “This site may be compromised” tag from your listing. (Seriously.)

Where can readers find you online?

In addition to my blog, I’m also on Twitter.

Finally, a new site is in the works and you’ll be able to find some of my current projects at Kurn’s Guides.

What else would you like readers to know?

Three friends and I had to do the old Jailbreak! quest twice in a row for our friend, Majik, who died on the first attempt and thus failed the quest. Seriously. Jailbreak. Twice. IN A ROW. At something like two in the morning. Also, Wil Wheaton (and Stand By Me) is indirectly responsible for several of the most meaningful friendships in my life. Strangely, he is also aware of this fact. (Two very long stories.)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper behind the scenes without an actual look at their battlestation where they work. Thanks for sharing it with us, Kurn!

 

kurn-desk

Montgomery Manifesto: Blogging Interview

Montgomery Manifesto: Blogging Interview

I was dropped in for a podcast interview with Mick Montgomery (Known for his work with the Warcraft-related Starting Zone podcast). Our main focus on WoW though. For a nice change of pace, we sat down for a solid hour just talking about blogging and online content creation. Most of you won’t really care, but if you’re interested in the blogging side of things, you’ll learn a little more about me from a different angle. Though we did end up talking a little more about Mists of Pandaria at the end.

Listen here

Obviously, when you do a website that focuses on written articles, you have a great deal of writing to do. Has doing the site forced you to change your writing style in any way?

I’ve learned to compress my writing. I try to be more succinct. I want to get straight to the point. Forget the foreplay. It’s a busy world out there. People have stuff to do. Every time I finish a post, I scan it and I ask myself if I really need that word there. Every word, every sentence must have a purpose. If there’s no reason for it to be there, it’s gone. It’s not as ramble-y as it used to be.

What do you think about the recent reductions over the last two years in subscribers and how does it impact your site or any wow oriented content creators site?

I think we’re going to see a spike in subscriptions again with the expansion. You can’t look at WoW as having a constant or growing number of subscribers all the time. Content is produced in waves and subscriptions counts are going to fluctuate to reflect that. In terms of impact, I think we’ve seen a decrease in the number of viewers and content consumers across the board. People lose interest, they’re not going to read those blogs for that kind of information. At the same time, it also affects bloggers themselves. If they get bored with the game, they’re not going to maintain their blog.

Making Connections

Making Connections

You’ve figured out why you should blog.

You worked hard on naming conventions for your blog.

You learned the nuances when writing for the internet.

You’ve mastered Writer’s block.

And you learned to… just get off your ass and write.

But despite applying all the technical and promotional techniques that you learned, you’re still not quite getting the comments you’re looking for. The traffic isn’t reflecting the effort and work you’re putting in. No facebook likes, Google +1’s, and no retweets. In fact, you’re gradually contemplating throwing in the towel.

What gives?

It’s because you’re missing a crucial element. A few weeks ago, I signed up for a Webinar from John Morrow, associated editor from Copyblogger.com. It was a free, 2 hour session discussing elements of traffic and community building. I figured I’d share the notes I took.

What we’re taught

Content: Write awesome content. The logic is if you keep writing amazing and helpful stuff, you’ll get noticed and your viewership will start skyrocketing.
Promotion: At the same time, you need to promote your posts. Ask for links, retweets, shares, etc. If people don’t know you exist, they’re not going to read your or share your stuff. So you have to do what you can to get known.

You get jillions of readers if you can combine them effectively.

The equation

Content + Promotion = Readers

But, this equation is missing something.

It’s off slightly. Content and promotion are both important, but there’s a missing component of the formula. You can still write smashing hits and you can still get those mentions, but it might only work for the short term and it doesn’t help your overall strategy of your blog.

It’s about the Connections

This is what the actual equation is.

Content + Promotion + Connections = Readers in the bajillions

Jon used best selling authors as an example.

The easiest way to write a best seller is to already be a best selling author. Guys like Seth Godin and Stephen King don’t need to ask for agents, or be booked to TV shows. People just already know who they are. The reasons why new authors struggle is no one knows who you are. You have to fight to get an agent, a publisher, an interview and so forth. This works the same way for bloggers.

“If you deleted my blog and all my subscribers (I’d be sad for one), but it’s not the end of the world. Because over the past few years, I’ve built relationships with all the popular bloggers in the world. I could still do in a flash.”
-John

The real key to blogging isn’t who you know. The key to blogging is who knows you. No matter how good your content, or how awesome it is or how hard you work, it’s not going to matter.

If you don’t have any influential connections, it’s not going to matter.

Popular bloggers ignore you because they don’t know you. If you email a blogger asking for a link to your site, you’ll most likely be ignored.

If you think about it, we do the same thing.

You scan through your emails and look for the senders you recognize. Anyone you don’t know, you end up ignoring or skipping over. Popular bloggers get on average 100+ emails (some go to 500+) per day. The reality is, most bloggers don’t often respond via email (at least, not right away). We respond to people we know. You have to get lucky with them opening your email to help you out. That’s not a situation you really want to be in which is why why link building won’t work.

If they don’t know who you are, it’s impossible. They have to know you first in order to get you links.

Let’s talk about twitter

What’s supposed to happen is you share your link with your friends. They share it with their friends and then it goes viral and snowballs it.

Wrong. That’s not actually how it works.

The posts don’t start with people with few friends. It’s not actually consistent. It’s like winning the lottery online. The way viral posts usually happen is they go top down. They get other people with big followings on twitter to share it with their followers and to their friends on twitter. And then their followers. It starts with the top people and works down.

The 3 C’s

Your goal must be done in these 3 steps in this order.

Step 1 — Connections with list owners

Connections means that those bloggers know your name. They’ve read your work. They’ve had a conversation with you. They think you’re smart and they like you.

No, this doesn’t mean a connection on LinkedIn.

Now list owners means people who have a huge twitter following, high RSS counts, a large emailing list, etc. They’re all different types of lists. You need to get THOSE people to like you because they can help spread your content to their followers and readers.

Step 2 — Content creation

Create awesome content targeted specifically at their audience, point out how it’s relevant to their audience, and ask them to promote it. You can’t just write great content and “hope” someone stumbles upon it. You need to have a connection in mind.

Step 3 —  Convert visitors

Ideally, you’d be able to offer your readers something of value. Blogs in other niches hook up readers with like an EBook, a report, or something but unless you’re really intense about it, I wouldn’t stress about that.

When it comes to subscriptions, Jon advises that email is way better than RSS. The engagement level and retention of email over RSS is about 20 times more valuable.

But, you should offer both types anyway. Make sure they’re full feeds.

This is the wrong order

  1. Content
  2. Connections
  3. Convert

Instead, the actual order should be:

  1. Connections
  2. Content
  3. Convert

The problem is you start as nobody. How do you become a somebody?

The answer to this is guest blogging!

Jon discovered that this is the only strategy that consistently works for every topic, every blogger, every niche. Some strategies work for certain topics and bloggers, but guest blogging is good for everything. If you guest on a big blog, and you write a mindblowingly amazing post, readers are going to say that post is awesome and they want to read more.

Here’s another analogy he used.

Think of it like an opening act for a major concert.

You’re performing on stage for someone like The Rolling Stones and you’re the first act.

The act of writing a guest post for a popular blog, those bloggers will love you. These posts get you introduced to other popular bloggers and influencers as well. This does NOT mean commenting. This means an actual article to give away to big popular blogs. We’re talking like 1500+ words. You write a popular post for one of these blogs and they edit it for you and give you feedback.

As an aside, if you ever get a chance, take your original version and put it side by side by the edited version. Ask yourself what changed and why.
The smartest thing you can do is link directly to your page (If possible, link directly to a page that offers something cool, like a webinar, or a report, etc).

Make connections

I want to re-emphasize one more thing.

Network the hell out of everything.

Make friends.

Get contacts.

Know people.

Connect.

It is the universal skill of all universal skills. So many opportunities will be available to you. This is one of the lessons my dad instilled in me when I was younger (actually, this was second after knowing my 12 x 12 multiplication tables). While you’re never going to be best friends with everyone you meet, it doesn’t hurt to be on relatively good terms with everyone.

This isn’t even about blogging. Things like academic openings or even job postings? Amazes me how much of that stuff is behind closed doors. Who you know can make a way bigger impact on your life than what you know. You never know when a blogger’s brother’s wife is looking to hire someone for a specific position that happens to coincide with your goals.

You never know what doors will open from that one blogger who takes you under their wing, or from that one guy who retweets your post.

On the other hand, if there’s nothing wrong with burning bridges as long as it’s done for the right reasons. Alas, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

“More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject.”
- Peter Drucker
8 Step Checklist: Finishing Your Blog Setup

8 Step Checklist: Finishing Your Blog Setup

This is another series for the New Blogger Initiative. Find more posts by following the mmonbi hashtag or visiting the forums.

Now that you’ve come up with a name for your blog and what it’s going to be about, the next steps to getting started can be a little daunting. You’ve got your hosting plans all figured out, you have your domain name, and you’re ready to go, right? Your blog is just sitting there and waiting.

Hold on there, skipper!

Before you go pounding out posts to your heart’s content, there’s several things you’ll want to check off first before going live.

RSS Feed and email subscription

Not everyone is going to visit your blog. Maybe they’re behind firewalls at work or school. RSS allows people to subscribe using their feed reader of choice and the alternative is to get posts emailed.

  • Get Feedburner and set it up: Gives you additional flexibility and control over how your feed is displayed plus it enables email subscription to your content.
  • Show full text instead of a summary: You can configure your feed to show partial content or full content of your posts. Showing full text is strongly recommended. Let your readers absorb your content however they want. Don’t force them to navigate to your site to do so. You can change this in the Reading section under Settings in the backend.

Edit your Permalinks

By default, links to your posts will look something like this: blogname.com/?p=123

Change that to something which includes your post name. Whether or not you wish to include the date and post name is up to you. I recommend keeping it to just the post name. I have noticed that when I stumble across blog posts that are dated years ago, I unconsciously skip over them because I feel as if though the information is dated when it may still very well be relevant.

Don’t wait too long to do this. Once search engines finish doing their thing with your site and you change the structure later, it takes time to get the authority and links back the way they were before. I changed my link structure recently and had to go through 4+ years worth of posts and establish redirects.

permalinks

Comments

In your Discussion section of the settings, you get to control how strict or relaxed your comments get to be. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Uncheck user registration: Most people aren’t going to bother with the time to register just to leave you some feedback.
  • Allow link notifications from other blogs: Trackbacks are great because you can see who links to you.
  • Uncheck administrators must always approve the comment: Most of you aren’t going to get trolls within the first few months of your blog. When you inevitably do get your first troll, pat yourself on the back for reaching a milestone. This is more of a quality of life thing since I’m sure you have better things to do then checking “Approve” over and over (Things like writing posts)! However, this is a personal preference.

Important pages

Make it easy for your readers to find stuff when they hit up your blog. There are standard pages that allow them to quickly get to what they’re looking for.

About page: Your readers will want to know a little more about you and what your blog is about. For starters, include your name and what your blog is about. There’s other questions you can consider answering on your about page.

Archive page: There’s a number of archive plugins you can use to display the work that you have created. These tend to sort by date, by category, or both.

Contact page: Your readers may have questions or comments they want to send your way that are too lengthy for commenting purposes. On the contact page, consider including some web forms along with other ways they can get in touch (Twitter, instant messaging, G+, etc).

Establish backups

Hands down, backing up your information is the most important item, period. Your provider may experience that 0.01% chance where their systems get wiped or suffer from a viral attack. Maybe you decide you want to change servers and hosting providers. Whatever the reason, you’ll want that peace of mind knowing your thoughts, opinions, and experiences remain backed up somewhere.

  • WP-DB Backup: The WordPress backup plugin only saves your database. You can configure it to save the file to your web server. You can download it. You can email it directly to yourself. Most importantly, you can schedule backup processes regularly. Most people starting out can get by with monthly backups, but depending on how often you write, consider upping the frequency to weekly (or even daily).

backup

Visual Looks

While the default WordPress themes are okay, chances are you’re going to want to customize your look to something that’s tailored to you. Most themes allow you to change the header. There’s some great places to look up free WordPress themes from.

I know about decision paralysis, so I helped you out by picking out my four favourites.

Delicate (Demo | Download) – Minimalist theme

delicate

Spectacular (Demo | Download) – Advanced, comes with a featured post, lets you layout your posts on a front page

spectacular

Nublu (Demo | Download) – Comes with a slider, ad blocks on the side, and a clean looking front page. Magazine style blog.

nublu

Sight (Demo | Download) – For the power blogger. Nice, giant slider. Condensed entries which expand to full length posts. Social media panels on the right side.

sight

Analytics

You use DPS meters and logs to track the progression of your own performance. Google Analytics is the same idea. Use it to track the progression of your blog to keep an eye on your visitors and how they’re getting to you. Set up your Google Analytics account first. After that, you’ll be given a code to add to your site. If you don’t feel like adding it to your themes manually, there’s a few plugins that can do it for you.

Start writing

The first thing I do when starting a new blog is pre-writing anywhere between 5-10 posts. Why? First, it’s a personal commitment to myself that I will get started and have content up there ready for day one. Second, new readers can look around and see posts other than an introduction post and they’ll be more likely to stick around or subscribe. Third, it’s a test for yourself to determine the viability of your blog. If you can’t come up with 10 post ideas right off the bat, then maybe that blog topic isn’t suitable for you.

Need some post ideas?

  • Introduction post about your blog and yourself
  • 10 Tips for the new ________
  • How to ________
  • Favourite ________ experience of all time
  • Reasons why you should play ________

I can do this all day. If you’re ever stuck on an idea or are afraid that it’s already been done and no one’s going to read yours, come see me and let me help.

One more thing.

I know how daunting it can be to start your own blog. There are thousands of questions, problems, fears, and so on that must be racing through your mind. To that end, I will answer whatever questions you may have and help allay any fears that you possess. We can do it over Skype, Mumble, Vent, or something (if not, there’s always email).

Now if you’ve just started blogging, go ahead and leave me a comment or a tweet with your URL. I’m always on the hunt for new blogs.

WordPress Plugins for your World of Warcraft blog

WordPress Plugins for your World of Warcraft blog

If you’re running a WordPress installation of a World of Warcraft blog (which you should, since WordPress is a beast), you might be looking for different ways to customize it. The WordPress repository has thousands of plugins and it’ll take a long time to sort through and figure out what you would benefit from. With that in mind, I wanted to recommend my own list of plugins for any aspiring bloggers looking to make life easy for themselves.

Security Plugins

Take it from a blogger who has been hacked. Never skimp on security.

Akismet: Best anti-spam protection you can get for your blog. You might think to yourself that your blog will never get spam, but as your audience grows and your popularity increases, so will your spam.

Login Lockdown: This plugin limits the amount of failed logins from any range of IPs. If someone can’t login after say… 5 attempts, it automatically prevents any further attempts. You better make sure you get your login right the first time!

WP Bans: Tired of trolls? You can whip out bans based on IP, range, host name, user agent, and referring URLs.

SEO Plugins

All in One SEO Pack: Whenever you write a post, it’ll optimize your titles for search engines and create META tags automatically. You can use it right after it’s installed without having to configure anything. But, you do have the option to override certain aspects. People keep asking me how do I get people to find my blog? This is one solution.

WordPress SEO by Yoast: Another excellent SEO alternative.

Advertising Plugins

AdRotate: Should you feel the need to run advertisements on your blog to help support your expenses, I highly recommend using AdRotate. It’s extremely convenient and easy to use.

Mobile Plugins

WPtouch: Formats your site with a mobile theme for visitors using touch-based smartphones.

Mobilepress: If you really want to make sure your site works on all mobile platforms, look into Mobilepress.

Utility Plugins

Jetpack: Adds various additional features to your blog. If nothing else, get it for the After the Deadline aspect which checks your style, grammar and spelling before you hit the publish button and prevents it from going live until you’re happy with it.

Broken Link Checker: As you add more and more links to your blog (you are linking to other posts and blogs right?), you’ll notice that sooner or later, blogs will die out or their URLs change. This plugin helps you by constantly scanning your blog for broken links. I wish I had this earlier. I have over 2000 broken links throughout my entire site somewhere.

Livefyre Realtime Comments: Completely overrides your comment system and uses theirs instead. If anyone tweets about your post or mentions it on Facebook or something, those conversations will show up here. Even does it in real time. Tr

Smart YouTube Pro: Allows you to embed videos and galleries from YouTube, Vimeo, and others more conveniently.

W3 Total Cache: Big time performance increasing plugin. The more you write, the more readers you get. Eventually your blog’s going to slow down a little. There were days were my site was sluggish before I switched to W3 Total Cache.

WP Maintenance mode: Throws up an emergency splash page in the event your blog needs to get taken down temporarily. Very handy for any upgrades or theme changes.

WP Polls: If you ever need to poll the audience, you can use this to help.

WordPress Popular Posts: Your blog posts are often timeless. Sure you’ll be writing patch specific or instance specific content. But every once in a while, you’ll write content that’s relevant no matter what expansion it is. Don’t bury it. Have a sidebar widget rotate through previously popular posts.

WordPress Editorial Calendar: Great scheduling and planning plugin for any serious power blogger. Use it to track and schedule posts throughout the week.

Are you a WordPress user yourself? What plugins would you recommend for newer bloggers?

Syd’s Guide to Blogging Part 2: Getting Started

Syd’s Guide to Blogging Part 2: Getting Started

As I tell my students, Dame Inspiration is a fickle mistress. One of the hardest challenges any writer faces is knowing what to write about and then having the gumption to go through with it. Let me tell you, I face my own struggle with writer’s block every day. Sure, it doesn’t hurt me much in the blogging department, but in my professional life? My own anxiety about the quality of my writing keeps me from publishing as many articles as I’d like. As such, I’m writing this blog entry to coax both my readers and myself into happy, healthy writing habits.

My theory on creativity is that almost all writers or would be writers have a mountain of content locked somewhere in the furthest corner of their brain, just waiting to be set free. I know I’ve spent countless hours over the last year explaining to people (and myself) the entire plot of a vampire series I intend to write. . . someday. I’ve developed it enough in my mind to have first and last names for all the characters, an opening paragraph that I’ve now memorized, a good number of chapter titles, and a plan for every major scene in books one and two. I even dream about the heroine on a surprising number of occasions. Did I mention that the actual writing on this project comes to a sum of two pages? Why is that, do you think? I have absolutely nothing to lose by writing my thoughts down, right? Well, that’s not entirely true.

The Lure of the Possible

Four years ago, at the beginning of writing my dissertation, I took a seminar on how to begin. Yes, I’m the type of person who takes a class every time I need to know how to do something–I can’t help it, I suffer from academophilia. In that particular class, I learned something startling. Most cases of writer’s block are not caused by a lack of material or a lack of interest on the part of the writer. They are the result of fear and anxiety. One would think that a writer would feel better the moment that words finally hit the page–but it’s just the opposite. You see, any time I’ve actually written something down, I have to deal with my actual, real blog entry or short story, not the ideal one that I might have written under the most favorable of conditions. The truth is that the ideal is always better–it is a dream, a thing of cobwebs and shadow, to which the real cannot possibly compare. The major insight of this seminar was that writers actually feel more unhappy, not less, once their work has been started. How does one overcome the anxiety? I’ll tell you what I tell myself, and what I tell my students. It must have worked to some degree, because I actually did finish my dissertation on schedule. Recognize that first drafts are always bad. That is their purpose in life–to be utter, total crap that you can then toy with, rearrange, dismember and, if necessary, discard as you revise. I am sure there are some writers who publish their first drafts, but it takes a great deal of experience and expertise (and probably a mountain of past failed drafts) to get to that point.

For those writers who would like to get from the possible to the actual, the following strategies can help you come to see writing as a process, mostly mechanical, that has a lot more to do with hard work than inspiration.

Control Your Environment

The second thing that prevents many writers from producing as much as they like has to do with the environment they work in–and by this, I mean both mental and the physical space. Ideally, we’d all like to write in a perfectly beautiful, solitary space, carried on to verbosity on a wave of euphoric inspiration. That doesn’t happen. Writers who seek that out every time end up as hermits or drug addicts–or worse, both. Some of us can, like writer Annie Dillard, build a writing studio in the back yard to escape the world. I’m sure this is quite effective, but writers starting out won’t generally have the capability to set themselves up as modern-day Thoreaus (or worse, modern-day Van Goghs, permanently high on absinthe and turpentine). Instead of lamenting your lack of a rustic, solitary cabin with an excellent internet connection, work on the environmental factors that you can change. Believe me when I tell you that college students with their myriad distractions can write brilliant papers–but most of them can’t do so in a dorm room while their drunk roommate plays Xbox. I suggest the following steps to improve your writing environment. Physical space, after all, helps create mental space.

1. Find out what level of noise and companionship you like. As an experiment, take your notebook or laptop to a fairly busy cafe. There should be noise all around you–the hum of conversation, the clink of spoons against glass, the high pitched squeal of the espresso machine–but none of it is directed at you specifically. Now, set yourself a very simple writing challenge. Write a long, involved email or letter to a friend explaining everything you’ve been doing for the last two weeks. As you know, every one of us is behind on our correspondence, so this will be a useful exercise. Note the time when you start and when you finish, and after you sign off, write down a few words about the difficulty of the exercise. Did you write a good letter? Were you often distracted? And if you were, did those distractions help you think, or did they chase the thoughts out of your head?

When you’ve completed your public writing exercise, it’s time to indulge in some private writing. Set an alarm for an hour early–preferably at a time when no one will be awake. Write in a room empty of clutter, noises, interest of any kind. If you’re a student, I suggest a study room at the library on Saturday morning. If you’re at home, write barefoot and in your pajamas–with or without a coffee cup. Now, write a letter or email of the same length and detail as the public one, and time yourself. When you finish, reflect on the experience and note whether it seemed easier or harder, more or less pleasant, than your exercise in public writing.

The results of this little experiment should give you a baseline reading on how you best like to write. I chose personal correspondence as the assignment because it’s a type of writing that causes little anxiety for anyone. After all, our friends love to hear from us, and they couldn’t care less if we use metaphors or not. The only factors causing possible anxiety should have been environmental. What did I learn from doing this exercise myself? That both types of locales have their advantages. For me, I’m faster at home, but I’m more likely to work on what I’m supposed to be doing in public. Experience tells me that while I’ll abandon my writing for lolcats after five minutes if I’m sitting barefoot at my breakfast table, I won’t do the same at Starbucks. I choose my different environments based on my goals for the day and how motivated I feel. If I’m less motivated and I need to write anyway, it’s off to the coffee shop. I find that I don’t hear the distractions after a while–it’s white noise to me, below the threshold of notice. But the mere fact of being in a public place keeps my butt in the seat and my hands on the keys more consistently. However, I’ve got to confess that I mostly blog at home in my pajamas. Why? Blogging, for some reason, doesn’t hit my anxiety buttons like literary criticism or novel writing do. I think it’s the informal, personal nature of the medium.

Have a Writing Ritual

The horrible affliction of writer’s block has a great deal in common with insomnia. In both cases, the mind and body are out of sync, and we just can’t manage to do the thing that we most need or want to do. Thus, it makes sense that the advise that helped me overcome my own insomnia also worked on my poor writing habits. Once you find something that works, keep certain elements the same every time. Here’s what you might do.
1. Write at the same time every day. The more writing becomes a part of your routine, the easier it will be to make yourself do it. It’s not a terrible bother to brush your teeth every morning, is it?
2. Go to your regular writing spot(s). It’s time to put the knowledge you gained from our earlier exercise into practice. If you have an office or a rustic cabin, this is quite easy. If you’re a laptop user like me with no actual desk, you’ll have to get creative. I have three spaces that I work in: my office at work (suitable for research and reading), the leftmost cushion on the couch (suitable for heavy writing), and the Barnes and Noble cafe (suitable for reading and taking notes). I have a feeling though, that if I really wanted to write that vampire novel, I’d take the laptop to Barnes and Noble. For writing with secondary sources, I’m stuck with the couch, because no one wants to drag an enormous bag of books to the bookstore (from, of course, is another story entirely.
3. Have the same drinks and snacks every time. For me, it’s coffee or diet coke. I don’t eat while I write on the computer, as my last laptop got irremediably sticky. If you do get the munchies, I suggest popcorn, edamame, apples, or carrots. Cheetos are a really, really bad idea. Granola bars are also surprisingly crumbly. It’s not that you need a drink or snacks, of course. It’s just that, as it becomes part of your routine, your favorite coffee cup will help you write. I, for example, love plain white cafe-style mugs. All my mugs from home look like they could have come from a cafe (and now it really irks me when cafes use oversize or glass mugs). Even seeing a white coffee mug makes me think of reading and writing–which is a very helpful association if you’re trying to get some words down. Caveat–as I write with a coffee mug on my lap desk next to my laptop, or in the best case scenario, precariously balanced beside me on the couch, I’m sure I’m headed for tragedy and nasty laptop death one day. Perhaps at some point I’ll buy a couch with a built-in cup holder.

Practice Pre-Writing and Post-Writing

I would not expect even the best novelist to produce her best sentence in the first fifteen seconds of a writing session. You have to work yourself into it. For pre-writing, I suggest that you keep a separate notebook or document purely for your feelings and anxiety about the writing process. I used this technique for my dissertation, and I can tell you, my pre-writing scrapbook is full of every curse word I know and dire proclamations written in all caps. Somehow, a few minutes of writing anything will reconcile me to doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Post-writing is equally important. The idea is to leave yourself a plan for the next day’s work. Human beings write better in coherent chunks. If you can, it’s always ideal to write a whole blog entry or a whole chapter at one setting, but with lengthier projects, this just isn’t possible. For post-writing, I use my primary document. I append post-writing comments directly to the day’s work, and for me, it’s usually a one-to ten-step plan of what I need to accomplish in the next session. I know from experience that my maximum production in one sitting is somewhere around 4 pages double-spaced. This isn’t very much compared to the overall length of a dissertation (300 pages double-spaced) or a fantasy novel (up to 700 pages double-spaced). Like Hansel and Gretel, you have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind you. Now, sometimes I don’t follow the path I’ve laid for myself. Writing is a process of continual discovery, and when it takes a left turn, I like to follow it to its logical end. However, it’s comforting to have a to-do list. If I don’t accomplish a step in the plan, I save it until I do. At the end of chapter three of my dissertation I had five pages of excellent plans that just never came to fruition. I only deleted them when I was certain that I was done adding new material to the chapter.

Time to Write, Right Now

The techniques I’ve described have helped me tremendously. Even though I’m a “professional writer,” (it still feels odd to call myself that, though it’s in my job description) I still need them. I still wrestle with the angel every time I sit down to write–especially if my job is on the line. I urge all aspiring or current writers to see inspiration, and writing itself, as a mechanical process that obeys certain rules. If you put work in, you get results out. That work does not have to be brilliant–it just has to be present. A great second draft, after all, can be written from any sort of first draft, even the worst one possible. However, a great second draft cannot be produced with no first draft at all to support it. So, open up your word processor–today–and see what happens.
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