Woo hoo! It’s been five years since I started this blog. I’m still amazed that something which started as a somewhat random and impulsive decision has become such a major part of my life for so long 🙂
So, in accordance with the ancient traditions of this blog (like I’ve done here, here, here, here and here), I thought that I’d share a few lessons that I’ve learnt during my years of blogging experience, in case they are useful to you.
1) Screenshots: One of the major changes here during the past year is that I’ve started adding screenshots to things like film/TV reviews (such as this one), critic-style articles (where I make general comparisons, look at creative works in depth to see what techniques they use etc..) etc..
Whilst I’ve been adding gameplay screenshots to game reviews since late 2013, I only really learnt how to take screenshots of other things within the past year or two (mostly since just using the “Print Screen” button for screenshots doesn’t work for DVDs etc…).
The simplest way to do this with DVDs and PVR/DVR TV footage is to do some research into the media player/DVD player program that you use when watching these things on your computer. Many programs designed for this will include a “take screenshot” option of some kind or another, although it isn’t always immediately obvious where this option is.
However, from what I’ve read, the use of some open-source media player programs (such as VLC Media Player) is potentially unlawful if you live in the United States due to American laws such as software patents, the US Digital Milennium Copyright Act etc…
Likewise, when including screenshots in your reviews and/or blog articles, it is important to be mindful of copyright law. Although I’m not a lawyer (and this is not legal advice), some basic research will show you that most copyright laws across the world explicitly allow for the use of screenshots, quotations, short clips etc… in reviews. So, if you’re writing a review, you don’t usually have to worry about copyright.
Many copyright laws across the world contain “fair dealing” or “fair use” provisions which allow small excerpts from copyrighted works (eg: a few screenshots from a film etc..) to be used for purposes like education, criticism, reviews, comparisons, commentary and/or parody without the need to seek permission or pay royalties. But, the laws vary somewhat from country to country, so do your research.
So, if you’re going to include screenshots in your articles, make sure that there’s a good reason to do so. Still, adding screenshots can be a good way to illustrate the points you’re making (about, say, similarities between works in the same genre, techniques used in various creative works etc..) or to make reviews more informative.
2) Be on the lookout: I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it is always good to be on the lookout for techniques and tricks that you can use in your own blog.
For example, the use of list-based articles (like this one) is a common thing on the internet these days (mostly inspired by a website called “Cracked”). This style of article is very readable and the titles of list-based articles are instantly intriguing too. So, it’s an easy way to make your articles more interesting.
But, one of the latest techniques that I’ve learnt (from this “making of” page by Winston Rowntree, the creator of my favourite webcomic) is the idea of adding colour to ink drawings using digital image editing programs (instead of paints, pencils etc..). Although I don’t use this technique that often during my daily art posts, it is incredibly useful for making good looking title graphics for these articles much more quickly and efficiently than I used to.
So, if you’re starting a blog, take a look at what other people on the internet are doing and see if you can use any of the basic techniques that they use in order to make your blog more interesting and/or quicker to make.
3) Be selective about topical content: If you’re making a blog that is updated regularly, then you’re probably going to have to prepare your articles as far in advance as possible (eg: the first draft of this article was prepared in July 2017!). However, there are some things that cannot be prepared in advance.
But, try to be selective about “topical” stuff on your blog. Since you’ll be preparing this in addition to your “ordinary” content, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed by it.
For example, whenever a new series of “Doctor Who” has appeared on TV during the past 3-4 years, I’ve been eager to write weekly reviews of each episode. At first, this is always really fun to do. But, as the series progresses, it always becomes more and more of a stress (eg: during the later episodes of series 10, I fell behind on my buffer of pre-prepared articles slightly due to writing long weekly episode reviews).
This is why, for example, I didn’t review episodes of other TV shows when “Doctor Who” was running and why I added a caveat to the beginning of each review which stated that I may or may not review the entire series (just in case it got too much and I had to scale back).
It is also why I’m unlikely to review this year’s series of the show – since, in addition to being slightly busier than I was last year, one of the regular features (eg: a novel review every 2-4 days or so) that will appear here late this year/early next year, is a bit time-intensive too.
Likewise, time-based reasons are also one reason why I’m taking an extended break from writing the daily short stories (which were written about 1-6 days before being posted here) that appeared here in February and March this year.
Plus, during some of the worse parts of 2017, I stopped writing topical “editorial” articles about shocking events in the news (after writing about 2-3 of them within the space of as many months). Not only did I start to worry that these articles weren’t in keeping with the general theme/tone of this blog, but I also realised that writing editorials about even a fraction of the terrible things in the news would quickly become overwhelming in both practical and emotional terms.
So, be careful about topical content on your blog. Moderation is key. Your sanity comes first.
4) I still haven’t run out of ideas: When I started this daily blog in 2013, I worried that I’d eventually run out of things to write about. Surprisingly, several years later, this still hasn’t happened. Yes, I occasionally have uninspired days and sometimes end up repeating myself. But, I can still come up with new and interesting ideas for blog articles regularly.
One thing that has helped is making subtle changes to the topics that I write about. Whilst this blog is primarily about how to make art, how to make webcomics and/or how to write fiction, I’ve found that I’ve also started to include more “critic”-style articles where I’ll discuss a general trend in the media, or dissect a creative work in order to see what it can teach us about creating things.
These articles allow me to find article ideas by looking at (and thinking about) other things. Yet, they aren’t too far away from the general subject matter of this blog (eg: creativity and creative works) either. By widening the definition of what I include on this blog from “instructional articles” to “articles about creativity”, I’ve been able to keep writing articles 🙂
Likewise, when I first started adding reviews to this site, it was as an “easier” way to write articles. After all, I just had to give my opinion about a pre-existing thing, rather than think of a new article idea.
Yet, as this blog has progressed, I’ve found that my occasional reviews are actually a central part of this blog – since they show the things that have inspired me, since thinking about the things I watch/play/read can give me ideas for other articles etc.. Not only that, reviews still fit into the general rubric of “articles about creativity” too.
So, if you’re worried about running out of ideas, then try to look for other subjects that are at least tangentially related to the main topic of your blog.
5) Index Pages: If your blog has been running for a while, then you need ways for new readers to find your best content quickly and easily. So, within the past year or two, I’ve been creating pages like the comics index and the short stories index and linking to them whenever it seems appropriate to do so.
Likewise, one of the long-running features on this blog is the “Top Ten Articles”/”Best Of The Blog” posts at the end of each month. Although this was originally a way for me to add an extra filler post every month, it has become an important part of the blog. By linking to the ten best articles I’d written each month, it makes it easier for new readers to find interesting content. Not only that, I’m also able to add these links to a much larger index page (albeit a non-alphabetised one) which helps new readers to find interesting articles.
So, yes, if you’ve been blogging for a while, don’t assume that your readers know their way around your blog as well as you do. Although it might take a bit of time to add and/or maintain index pages, they can be useful to new readers.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Here’s to the next five years 🙂