Tag: Content Creation

Daily Blogging Pro Tips!

(disclaimer – quality of blogging may vary)

This is my 354th post on this blog, in the 430 days since I started it (and average of 0.82 posts per day, for those of you keeping score) so I think I’m fairly proficient in not only writing every day by this point, but by writing every day for a prolonged period of time, not just powerblogging through individual weeks at a time. So for those of you looking to write more regularly, here are some tips from a bloke with no real expertise on the subject, but an overexaggerated idea of the significance of his 250-odd followers.

1) Have a reason

You need a reason to do anything, big or small, but being generically ‘creative’ every day is bloody hard work – there’s a reason we only get an essay every other week here at UCL – so you need a defined, important reason to stick at it when you’re 84 days into a streak and your last five posts have all been on the surprisingly (and depressingly) intricate details of the socks you decided to put on that morning.

For me, it’s purely artistic, the idea that if I write in a particular style (cynical and comedic) for a particular audience (literally anyone) I’ll be able to write in those ways without too much thought behind it, so I can focus on the content of individual pieces, rather than faffing about with word choices and paragraph structure, because that stuff’s already in the back of my mind. For you it might be monetary, that your blog is a key source of income, and more posts mean more cash, which is in no way a superficial thing if you’re still enjoying the writing; for others it may be competitive, that you just want to rack up more posts than me in a year, in which case I will gladly accept your challenge of pumping out 365 URLs of drivel in as many days. And I will win.

2) Don’t ‘make time’

A piece of advice for anything creative that I see floated around on the vast, well-meaning but ultimately bullshit-filled oceans of the Internet, is that you simply need to set aside 30 minutes a day to be creative, and your ideas will flow. Yeah, no.

That model suggests that ‘being creative’ is in some way intrinsically different to the rest of your life, that you can go through 99% of your day without being a writer, then snap into it for half an hour at a time, a model that is divisive in its ideas and problematic in its realisation – if you’re not motivated during that specific half-hour, looks like you’re back to being an illiterate shit again today. My egocentric blog theme – I write about me basically all the time – isn’t an ego trip, therefore, but helps unite my blogging life with the rest of it; I write about events I go to, people I meet, and most of the opinionated pieces stem from real-life events that I make a note of on my phone as they’re happening, for me to go home and type up into prose later. So don’t set time aside to make art, live life as if it’d all make a great painting or poem or whatever.

3) Tell everyone

In the last year alone, I’ve told my teachers, friends, family members, potential employers, local newspapers, arch enemies and Cambridge University about this blog, through a combination of word of mouth, gratitude for reading my blog of their own accord, extra-curricular activities chucked onto CVs, and indignant closing statements in debates I lose that ‘I’ll be blogging about this later!’

Again, this isn’t an ego thing, nor is it an attempt to get more views (okay the posting every piece to Facebook on a daily basis might just be for views, but that’s a big part of my audience for which I’m very grateful for!), but I’ve found that telling people you do a thing is a great motivator for doing that thing; it’s hard to put ‘I write 700 words on a blog every day’ on a Cambridge admissions piece and then not write the best streak of 700-word posts you’ve ever written in the following week.

4) You’ll suck, but that’s the point

This point is an extension of the ‘quality versus quantity’ argument that every less-than-overly-supportive friend lobs at me when I tell them the ridiculousness of the whole daily blogging thing: essentially, your daily creations, be they a series of blog posts, paintings, short films if you’re really on the ball, are not and will never be your best work. I don’t intend to publish all 350-whatever of these posts in an anthology one day and wait for book agents and/or whores to throw their bodies at me and demand I give them more until they’re totally full of what I have to offer; when I’m writing for a purpose, like an essay, or an article to be published, I spend whole days on the damn pieces – I’ve put over a week into all bar one of my essays this term and my latest submission to Savage, UCL’s arts magazine, has involved two rewrites. Two!

If you want to be bullshitty about it, imagine your creative life like a watch; your daily-updating side project is the nuts and bolts behind the face whose existence helps the face operate smoothly and elegantly, while the face itself is the polished cover you put on the rambling mass of gears beneath it, one with a defined purpose, a specific agenda to get across, a target audience to attract or whatever. And the more gears you have, the greater variety of faces you can easily slot on top of them to vary those goals and audiences I mentioned, which is precisely why I started posting poetry on this blog. So don’t worry that the gears are unpolished or a bit misshapen, that’s not their point.

5) Make friends doing it!

This last one applies to anything creative, but especially the daily creative scene. I’ve met people I consider to be friends here on WordPress; they live in Canada, Australia, Colombia (for some reason) and the south coast of England among other places, so we’ll probably never meet unless I make a crap-ton of money to pay for travel or decide to paddle to different continents in a canoe, but I enjoy talking to them at length, both about specific posts and other things in our lives, to the point where the comments section resembles a Facebook chat more than anything else.

And it’s a big motivation for me to write for their sake; I know they don’t read all my posts, and by no means do I expect them to, but I find that ‘being creative’ is often a cold and distant business, where you can feel like you’re pumping novels and drawings out into the ether of the Internet, never to be appreciated by anyone, and rendering the whole exercise pointless. But I have a gaggle of people on this site who have humanised the whole experience for me, making any failures on my part seem more real, as actual people are involved – so if I claim to write daily, I feel like I’ve lied to or let down actual friends when I don’t, and making yourself work while on the brink of social depression like that is a great way to be creative every day.

If it weren’t for the rigidity of this format I like so much, I’d make the social depression idea into its own point.

I Just Wrote A Poem!

(man it felt weird to not include this bold-faced, bracketed subheading just now)

Art! Culture! Words! Poetry! Buzz-words like this have been banded around the hangouts of pretentious bastards, self-important whiners and fans of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock since the dawn of time, and now I’ve absent-mindedly lobbed my hat into this great ring of attempted artistry, by not only writing a poem, but publishing it on the Internet for any Tom, Dick or Harry to gaze over with their intellectually-charged, or otherwise, eyeballs.

It can be read here, if you missed the boat, presumably like the pairs of dragons, unicorns and minotaurs did when Noah saved all the animals on Earth from the Flood that one time, apart from the mythical ones that were caught in traffic on the M40, just outside Burtley Wood, and so quite literally missed the boat.

And while I don’t feel art intrinsically needs justification for its existence, when it’s coming from James Patrick ‘I’m doing an English degree but have no real interest in literary culture’ Casey, I’d like to talk about this rather uncharacteristic admission to doing something remotely intelligent or artistic.

Basically, I wrote the first things that came into my head (after I’d checked that, lo and behold, I’d already written a post about how much I like the rain), and considering my mood was one of serenity, distance and random unrelated thoughts, I didn’t want to force myself into writing a piece of prose, involving the numerous clauses, ridiculously forced similes and constant backtracking to explain my actions and ideas that are kinda the hallmarks of my writing style – I wanted to write something sincere for once, and felt that a ‘poem’ (i.e. a collection of individual, broken-up lines) was the best way to do this, as it discourages a writer from constantly going back to reevaluate (or in my case undermine) things they’ve already written.

This is reflected in the content of the poem itself; far be it for me to tell you the ‘right’ conclusions to draw from it, but I was trying to weigh up the distinction between voluntary isolation, which can lead to great relaxation and clarity, and involuntary isolation, a product of social exclusion that leads to loneliness and feelings of low self-worth. I don’t tread the fine line between the two on a daily basis – people make me shortbread and pancakes, and ask if I’m feeling okay for god’s sake – but the fact that a lot of ‘work’ on an English degree consists of sitting alone in my room reading made me question these types of isolation and their causes, and effects on people.

So that was me trying to be artistic and stuff, hope you enjoyed / weren’t repulsed by it. Oh, and the idea for that single-line structure comes from this clever person.

My Peace And My Quiet

There is a contradiction here, that today is my busiest day

In terms of classes at university. But I felt strangely peaceful

Trudging from one obscurely

-located lecture theatre to another. I seriously

have more classes at the University of Birkbeck than at University –

giving out free books,
and offering so many opportunities

– College London. The rain helped. I love rain. I

Think it’s one of my top five things, not just my favourite

Type of weather. I

‘d probably prefer being rained on to watching Doctor

Who or something, and I do quite like Peter Capaldi. Maybe I

Was tired, so it was easier to relax while

Walking; maybe I was content, knowing that with the end of last

Week, ‘Try Fortnight’ is over, and there’s a chance to sign up for societies for the year

With older, more serious students. I

‘ve seen people –

friends, Londoners, and countrymen,
lending no-one their ears

– go places listening to music, or conversing with each other, which I

enjoy, but not all the time. You

Miss out on hearing life, I’d imagine, as opposed to just watching

It, as you would do on a screen.

And I’m too focused on screens right now –

you’re reading this on one now,
and you’re writing on one now, you bastard

– so abstinence was necessary, as I walked from

Place to place, with my legs, I thought of no-one, cared

Of nothing, and I loved it.

lonely fucker

Where The Hell Is My Inspiration?

(its probably hiding in those Where’s Wally books I had as a child but never finished; curse you, Martin Handford!)

I like to think that I blog about things that happen to me in my life – the occasional tangent discussing books and music albums aside – which has led to a problem during this Summer Holiday, the first time I’ve ever had two months off from school, or any of my regular activities: my life isn’t that interesting.

I am doing things this summer – I try to run almost every day, read a hundred pages of a book a day, and watch about half a season of Game of Thrones instead of sleeping – but none of these things make for particularly good blogging topics, apart from episode reviews, which would be horribly out-dated and require more effort to make sophisticated than I’m bothered to put in, or analysis of my running times, which would, by definition, be so niche that my whole ‘write about anything’ aim would be ignored.

And so I’m presented with a common problem among content creators, whose creations are closely related to their real lives: does the art define the life, or does the life define the art? If I were to go bungee jumping, or ice skating, or even swimming, because these things are unusual for me, just so I could write a blog post about them, does that not prioritise the content of a blog few people read on the Internet over the free will and desire of my own life? Shouldn’t I do stuff because I want to, and draw those events together each afternoon to inspire a blog post? Probably, but there just aren’t many thing happening in my life to be drawn together into posts.

One solution would be to cut down on the number of posts, so if I have one good idea a week, I should post once, not wade through six days of turgid nonsense before writing that idea up. But this creates an amusing paradox, that instead of improving my blog in summer, where I have more time to devote to it, I would be undermining it, because I have too much time on my hands; I love idiocy, but that’s too much even for me.

And I’m not willing to narrow my opportunities to do stuff this summer just to entertain you slightly more effectively (sorry babe, its not you its me) – if I want to do a particularly dull, individual thing that no-one else would enjoy, I’m going to do it, dammit!

Alternatively, one could see this lack of inspiration as an incentive to lead a more interesting life, or at least a life more relatable for other people; if I have a choice between going to a theme park, or getting a haircut, I am more likely to be tempted by the former, considering that I want to write about my day that evening, and currently have no ideas to write about. But that has failed spectacularly, as I’ve only left the house this summer to run, apart from a single afternoon spent watching the Tour De France, and another spent watching some friends put on a gig; I suppose I’m too stupid for such subtleties to work on me.

But I’m happy with the life I’m living, even if I think it won’t make good blog material; I’ve always found the difficulty of blogging daily to come from the need for constant inspiration, not a lack of time or eagerness, and this blog has been through some pretty dull patches in the past, but you’ve still Liked and Commented on posts, especially the ones that I thought were crap.

I started this blog for myself, but that motivation isn’t as important as it used to be; people find my posts entertaining, whether it’s one person, or even five, and whether they read six months of posts, or they follow me after reading one piece, and I never hear from them again. I think I need to stop writing just for myself; ideas that I think suck will often be funny for other people – like this post, that I thought was a filler, but quite a few people enjoyed – and this is why daily blogging is awesome: it’s like cooking a meal to people consisting of every ingredient known to man, even some that I dislike myself, but there’ll always be someone who likes a bit of it.

And you know you’ve been watching a lot of MasterChef when your go-to metaphors involve pizza.

YouTube Is A Pretentious Bastard

(the illegitimate child of Napster and Newgrounds?)

Notice that title refers to ‘YouTube’ itself, not the people who run it, or the YouTubers who upload to it (those guys will probably get their own, much longer and much more offensive, posts later); this are the ways I’ve noticed the site being a bit of a bastard, and they’re pretty annoying.

Firstly, the video player itself has been turned into a prick; if you hover your mouse over the icons to change the video player from a small size, to a large one, you are greeted with ‘default’ mode for the smaller option, and the barbaric ‘theatre’ mode for the larger one. Although content on YouTube is now so high quality that the video files have more Ps than an industrial-sized greenhouse with a particularly large quantity of pod-based spherical vegetables, this doesn’t make it a ‘theatre’; theatres often have screens that are 9m by 21m, and so calling a video player that can fit on a laptop screen by the same name seems a bit out of place.

Also, how the Hell is the small player the ‘default’ one? I don’t know about you, but I never watch YouTube videos in default mode, as the quality of video is pretty good, and I want to see it on a larger scale; my mac is five years old for God’s sake, so imagine how many people now have computers with screens large enough to render ‘default’ mode minuscule and insect-like in its size, compared to the great expanses of white background flanking the video.

And remember when Our Lord And Master Google replaced the ‘videos’ search tab with a ‘YouTube’ search tab? That suggests YouTube is the only place on the Internet to see videos which, despite the wishes of Our Lord And Master Google, that’s certainly not true, what with sites like Livestream and Twitch still carrying the torch for people that don’t like YouTube.

It could also be argued that the simplified rating system – of a thumbs up or a thumbs down – is demeaning for an audience, as that means we plebs can have one of two responses to online video – ‘I generically ‘like’ this’, or ‘THAT WAS FAKE AND GAY HURR DURR’ – as opposed to the more complex, but still easy-to-use star rating system of the good ol’ days of 2009.

This makes it harder for the YouTubers themselves, as you end up with every frakking vlogger having a 99% ‘like’ percentage on all their videos, regardless of content, forcing them to use inaccurate and non-representative of quality view counts as indicators of quality, or to trawl through countless pages of weight loss, online employment and troll comments to find even the smallest morsel of constructive criticism or justified appreciation; but who cares about that, YouTubers are all shallow, pretty boys with fringes and tag videos who make a shed-load of money off wasting teenagers’ free time for Our Lord And Master Google, right?

And the worst part of all? I can’t even tell this to YouTube directly because I can’t leave comments as I refuse to have a Google+ account because I possess what is know to philosophers as ‘free will’; I’d only be drowned out by struggling let’s players and musicians plugging their inexplicalby popular collaborative ukelele playthrough of Slender, so who really cares?

Who Are ‘You’?

(no way is this another passive-aggressive post to get you to leave comments on my posts. Honest)

Charlie McDonnell recently talked about imagining your audience complexly as a creator of content on the Internet and, while far fewer people know of my existence than of his, I think his idea can be applicable for someone with as ‘selective’ a readership as me; he argued that if viewers are to see creators as more than just faces on a screen or words on a page, and as real people, it’s only fair that those who create stuff accept that their fanbase consists of more types of people than those who link leave comments reading ‘omg lol’.

I feel that there are three levels to imagining one’s audience, that are not mutually exclusive: the first is as a series of numbers, so my audience consisted of 25 viewers yesterday. And as I produce content on the Internet for people to see, not just consume it, I’ve accepted that this mentality is not inherently superficial or impersonal – I write things, so it’s only fair that I want people to read them.

However, sticking exclusively to this mentality can be very dangerous, as one becomes distanced and separate from one’s audience. Historically, this may not have been a problem, as ‘audience feedback’ used to consist of either lobbing rotten fruit at a performer or not, a system both painfully simple (as performances are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’) and near irrelevant, as such responses are (literally) easy to brush off.

But as consumers of content have a greater say in the content they are presented with – YouTube comments, tweets at a show’s director after a character dies, etc. – this impersonal and distant approach means the creators are the only ones not participating in the great discussions surrounding their products. This is both dickish, because no-one likes an aloof arsehole, and counter-productive, as constructive criticism is then missed out on.

So the next level, to imagine one’s audience as a series of individuals, is an improvement in this way, as the creators become increasingly aware of the valid differences of opinion among their audience. Frankly, I didn’t really hit this level until the let-us-never-speak-of-it-again Cup Capitalism post, in which I was shot down in the comments with painfully reasonable points and appropriately abrasive language; until then, I had just imagined all of you loved all of my posts, thought I was the funniest person alive, and would happily pay thirty quid for a hardback collection of all my blog posts, with a foreword by Ben Cook (check your nearest Waterstones – I hear they ship internationally).

But this doesn’t really work for me either; there is one example of a difference of opinion on this blog, and so perhaps one cannot imagine one’s audience as having multiple opinions to consider if there aren’t that many opinions in the first place – for all those 25 viewers I mentioned in one day earlier, just four people have left over five comments across 211 posts. This suggests that those people who do read my stuff aren’t suitably interested or moved by what they read to form opinions towards said stuff.

And so, like Mass Effect 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and Kronos’ annual ‘Favourite Son’ awards, there is a third choice: to imagine your audience as your friends; not in a soppy ‘Isn’t it all peachy over here on the James Patrick Casey blog’ sort of way, but in the sense that people engage with my ideas, largely agree with them, and are prepared to tell mw when I’m talking out of my arse, like real friends do. This blog doesn’t have the thousands of viewers needed to generate a legitimate audience of wildly different individuals, nor does it have the millions of fans that force creators to dismiss their followers as numbers on a screen as opposed to real people.

I suppose this is why I’m always talking about myself then; if we’re all friends here, I’m that one guy who never stops banging on about their own achievements, interests, and hobbies. But it’s my blog, so I can do that, and we’re friends, so you’re happy to put up with that.

Link:

Charlie McDonnell – Respecting Your Audience

Titles Versus Content

(and yes, I know that ‘content’ is the most generic of terms for referring to the bits of a piece of work that aren’t its title)

Titles are hard, man. They’re relatively easy to come up with for these posts, because there is generally one idea per post, and so writing an eloquent title that sums up that single idea is do-able.

However, longer forms of content, or even different forms altogether, are much harder to summarise in a single phrase: I tried to come up with titles for a song a friend of mine wrote the other day, and I was so lost for ideas as to how to capture the meaning of that song in few enough characters to fit across an iPod’s screen without it doing that annoying scrolling thing, that I gave up trying to engage the song on a directly intellectual level, and fell back on obscure language analysis to derive a coherent meaning. This promptly confused the Hell out of the original song-writer.

A part of this is that it’s hard to express the meaning contained in abstract sounds – music – in words, another means of communication altogether, but the problem persists for means of content that consist entirely of words; I’m writing* a novel, and know the plot and am 6,000 words in, yet have no idea what to call it beyond ‘that novel I’m working on’.

Hell, if I start putting more time into these posts, and presenting multiple ideas within the same one, coming up with relatively attractive titles will only get harder as I write more, not easier, as one might expect given the expected improvement in my writing abilities.

And this need for attractive titles is important to me, as I’ve been considering the importance of them against the actual content they claim to represent; I got an almost-record 23 views yesterday, from four different countries, but I wonder how much of that was down to the intelligence of the content of my posts, or the flashiness of their titles.

Consider that my most popular post recently is the old Geographical Pickup Lines one – it’s even the first bloody result on Google if you search for such things – I accept that the majority of those lines aren’t funny, almost all of them are too specific to my course as opposed to Geography as a discipline to be understood by anyone other than my own teachers, and none of them would actually help you get into someone’s pants. Yet, it seems that the very concept of Geography pickup lines, a concept succinctly presented by the descriptive title, is enough to attract literally hundreds of viewers.

Furthermore, you clicked on that search result with no knowledge of what those jokes would be – as my bracketed subtitle covers up the entirety of the little ‘preview’ bit you always get on Google results – perhaps it’s reasonable to assume that views are in no way representative of the quality of a post’s content, only how appealing its title is.

Perhaps strangely, my bluntly-titled ‘Wordsdays Have Buggered Off’ post didn’t receive noticeably more traffic than my other posts; if we accept that swearing and general harshness attracts viewers, as they are indicative of strong emotions and exciting content, this suggests that it is not the flashiness of a title that attracts people but, rather confusingly, the content of that title; people don’t read the Geography post because the title is attractive, but because the idea behind the content is attractive.

Just to confuse you even more, I’m now going to suggest that this originality or creativity of a post bears no relation to its overall content; you can have a great idea and ruin it through poor presentation, just as you can elevate a mediocre idea to great heights by expressing it effectively; therefore, the idea to seduce people through Geography is a cool one, but my attempts to do so were awful. This can be seen in that the post has received a crap-ton of views, but no comments, suggesting people were interested in the idea of Geography pickup lines, but didn’t engage with my attempts to present Geography pickup lines.

So my conclusion to all of this is that my titles aren’t necessarily attractive, and that it is the amusing-ness of my post’s content that encourages people to read them; their originality, however, is not enough to encourage people to engage with those ideas. And this is why I started blogging in the first place: I can come up with interesting ideas, and do it for about 150 consecutive days, but I struggle with expressing those ideas to people that aren’t me; this last problem I struggle with the most, as I write these posts in a style that I enjoy reading, and that I find funny, and any amusement on your part is probably more coincidence than anything else.

And, of course, I’d argue that this was one of my more thoughtful and insightful posts, that probably no-one will read because my attempts to reflect the functionality of this post in a purely informative title will inevitably lead to this being dismissed as one of my ‘boring’ posts. Oh well, you can just go read some Geographical pickup lines, I hear the underlying idea’s great.

* I’m doing this about as regularly as Littlekuriboh uploads a new episode of YuGiOh Abridged.