Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, I’m going to talk about the processes at play when I write one of my articles for Know Direction.
So one day, I got a Facebook message from Perram.
“I don’t know how you and Anthony do this,” he said. He had sat down to try and write an article about something and was hitting a bunch of stumbling blocks. I gave him some advice and continued writing more blog articles, not dwelling any more on it.
That is, until a few weeks later when Ryan told me, “You should do a blog article about the work that you put into making your blog articles.” I’m not 100% sure, but I think this happened right around the time when he took over Looking For Group’s mini-blog, but I digress, that’s not the important part.
You see, you can break writing down into two categories: spoken and written. Spoken is like dialogue; its writing in a way that sounds like something that a person would say to you. Written is, well, grammatical. Like reading a textbook or an essay or the parts of a story that are descriptive rather than audible. And to be an effective blogger, you need to be able to fuse both styles of writing together at once. I’ve gotten enough comments from people to know that if I spell ONE word wrong, people are going to be all over my case over ONE word of 2,500+. But at the same time, if I wrote like a textbook, none of you would bother to read anything that I wrote because it would be work rather than leisurely. In that sense, you write an effective blog the way that you would write a speech.
This skill isn’t something that I can teach you, its something you need to learn on your own by simply writing a TON. (Say, three 4+ page articles a week for ten months?) The best way that I’ve come up with to practice this skill, however, is to pretend that I’m going to speak everything that I write outloud, and when I was starting out, I would do that OFTEN. Like, every article I would read aloud to hear how it sounded. That’s the sort of work that you need to put in if you want to be good at blogging.
But in addition to being able to write correctly, you need to have a purpose. Something that you want to say or present to your audience. Today, I’m going to walk you through the steps that I go through when figuring out just what I am going to present to you, my audience, when I put a blog together. I hope it’ll be both exciting and informative for all of you would-be-bloggers out there!
Step 1 — Generate a Topic
Coming up with an idea to write about is both the easiest and the hardest part of being a blogger. Sometimes the ideas just flood into your brain. Other times, the river runs dry. If you’re going to be a good blogger, having a schedule is key, and I can’t decide to just stop writing for a few Mondays until I get an idea.
One of the nice things about having a team that you work with is that you can bounce ideas off of them, which Anthony, Perram, Ryan, and I have done on occasion. That said, none of us has ever forced anyone to write or review a particular topic; like with any type of writing, an article’s only as good as the passion of the people who create it so I have free reign to talk about whatever I want as long as I’m tasteful about it. (I think the only time I’ve ever come close is in the article where I talked about hangling touchy subjects like rape in your roleplaying games.)
More commonly, however, I get my ideas from being an active member in the Pathfinder community. I go on forums, I read posts, I take notes. Last week’s humanocentrism article is an AWESOME example of this; I got the idea for that article just from reading the Inner Sea Races product page. Part of being a good blogger means keeping up with stuff like this, too. I had read every post in the Inner Sea Races thread long before I ever decided to write my humanocentrism article. I also keep tabs on all of the Ask Anything threads, most of the Rules questions threads, and most of the Advice threads for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I also check out the PFS forums rather frequently too, and the Pathfinder RPG Facebook group is another key place where I get my ideas for article topics.
Step 2 — Research
Once I have an idea, I need to back my idea up with evidence. This usually means scouring rulebooks if I’m writing a rules-based article or using my Google-Fu for information if I’m doing something that needs a bit more evidence. For example, my comments about Star Wars in last week’s Humanocentrism article came from me simply Googling the word “humanocentrism” and reading the first 10 hits or so that came up.
In addition, I also use Paizo’s website in order to generate my research as needed. I’ll search for key terms and read the posts that pop up as a result, sometimes entire threads if I’m writing an article about a multi-faceted topic, such as when I wrote my huge Rogue DPR two-parter. Redit is also a surprisingly useful source because the people there hilariously think that Paizo’s not watching them there, so they can say whatever they want. (Not that Paizo cares much; as someone famous once said, bad press is still press, and an irate fanbase is better than a dead fanbase. [Eh, most of the time, anyway.])
Step 3 — Fermentation
Before I go into an article, I try to let all of the research that I’ve gathered simmer a bit. An article is no good if I don’t go into it with an opinion, but at the same time that opinion needs to be sound. I consider all of the information that I have that supports me, then I try to figure out what data that I’ve gathered is against me. If I can, I come up with counter points to “beat” those points. If I can’t, I make a mental note of it and make sure to mention it. Part of being a good blogger is to avoid sounding uneducated, and in my experience knowing that the other side has a good point is better than pretending that they don’t. Personally, I would consider someone to be more of an expert if they admit that they did their homework and have no retort to something then if they stuck their head in the sand and ignored the opposition. An example of this is when I responded to the comment from the Paizo forms last week.
That actually brings me to another point: tact. When you’re a blogger, its incredibly important to avoid attacking people. All it ends up doing is getting people upset at you, and in the Tabletop Industry, we simply don’t have enough growing space for enemies. So be nice to people, be respectful. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everyone, but that does mean that you have to give your opinion without being a jerk about it. This is a philosophy that all four of us at Know Direction share; we have opinions about EVERYTHING (its sort of our civic duty), but we’re never rude about things we don’t like and we’re always jubilant about things that we do like. A good blogger’s job is to be impartial, both in terms of what he likes and what he doesn’t like.
Step 4 — Write
Once I have all my ideas down, I start writing!
Step 5 — Terminate
And then, I delete stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Sometimes whole ARTICLES of stuff. Fancy writing folk call this step, “revision,” but I call it, “self-flagellation.”
The fact of the matter is that no one does their best work on their first try. Not me, not Jason Bulhman, not Doctor Seuss. Just like any writer, a blogger needs to be able to go back, check their work, say, “Hey, this idea doesn’t work,” or “I bet my point would be more effective if I do this instead,” or “Holy heck, this whole article is a hot mess! EXTERMINATE!” I actually did this several times during my humanocentrism article, as I wanted to make sure that I was not only accurate, but also non-confrontational. This sort of self-regulation helps tremendously.
Step 6 — Edit
I go back, reread, check for errors, fix stuff, all that jazz. And despite the time I put into doing this for every article, errors ALWAYS slip through. I write about 3,000 to 4,000 words for Know Direction a week on average, plus record and edit a podcast that’s an hour (or more) long. Mistakes happen, and you learn to get over them fairly quickly as a blogger. Because the fact of the matter is that in this medium, as long as you know what I’m trying to say, the fact that I incorrectly conjugated a verb or two and missed it is NOT a big deal. If your charging money for your words, then yeah, you ought to be error-free, but most bloggers don’t do that and Know Direction doesn’t have a word editor. It can be annoying, but it is what it is. As long as people aren’t jerks about it, I’m usually pretty good about going back and fixing my articles up when I can too. As I said before one of the most important things that you can do to establish your credibility is to be unafraid of admitting to your mistakes and fixing them. And once I’ve edited, I upload my article onto the set, set it up on our schedule, and BOOM! Ready to go!
I hope this article helps shed some light about how I made Guidance happen each week. If you’ve got questions for me about Guidance, feel free to leave them in the section below. Until next time, I’m signing out to go EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.