Friday, April 15, 2011

W is for Why Blog?

Why blog about roleplaying games? Seriously, why bother?

You certainly aren't going to make much--if any--money off it, the next Great American Novel (or Great American Mega-Dungeon) isn't likely to arise from it, and ego gratification is just plain silly considering the subject and audience.

So why do it?

Every other week these questions float through my head when I sit down in the two-hour period I have allotted in my life to this here blog. Before in life just about every publication I touched whether it was a punk rawk zine, college newspaper, online news service, or monthly magazine had some rather obvious over-arching reason for me doing it: up end the cultural/political apple cart; start a career; turn a buck; etc.

I have noticed that my own motivations for running a gaming blog have shifted in rapid zig zags over time in a way that I never have experienced before.

The Hill Cantons blog for most of it's life has been a sporadic, modest affair. I launched it way back in March of 2009 as a convenient tool for the 13 players in my West Marches-like drop-in/drop-out campaign (note that all of my posts from that time are house rules and session reports). Over time the blog evolved into the public face of my house rules tinkering, I would post here and there when an idea hit me sometimes with lapses months on end.

The motivations were rather simple and obvious: using a practical tool that added a little color and fun to my post-game session wrap-up. Gradually it also began to be a space was something like a public sounding board for my house rules. Then house rules bled over into tinkering with whole sub-systems like all those iterations of variant classes, character backstory and random equipment generators.

But then I guess something switched in my head last September.

Writing is not at all like riding a bike, at least for me—and it's mostly not about listening to a muse (though every once in a while she whispers sweet-nothings in my ear). It's a discipline, it's getting up and doing it over and over again until when you do it, it becomes second nature.

Unfortunately, when you stop doing it, it atrophies—sadly quicker than the process of building it up. Which is where I was at in my life after switching gears from the madhouse of the newsroom to the life of a professional political “plumber”. Last Fall, the blog became a means to regain that discipline.

Overall it was a helluva success, at least in terms of that goal. Not only did the daily posts start up, but they gained a momentum—and they kept opening up doors. One thread lead to another and the exploration has become obsessive—and dare I say fun.

It's the quest for granularity broadly speaking, a vector for more and more immersion with each layer. It's something that both drives me nuts for little apparent, material gain, yet is also immensely gratifying. And best of all as I have built it, you the readers have showed up day after day too, added your own thoughts, struggled with this and that idea, and made for some great gaming.

So here's to another six months of riding the tiger with all of you.

I get bored hearing my own voice and I find myself as curious as always about why you out there blog. I don't just wonder about why I do it, but I wonder why all of you do it. What's the demon that puts you in front of that computer everyday? What do you draw from this? Why keep on keeping on?


  1. You put something into words there that I think I knew, but didn't have the precise phrases to express. Writers are people who write. Period. You do it whether you want to or not, regardless of inspiration, and the only way to stay sharp is to keep at it. Excellent post.

  2. Both the immense gratification and the desire to exercise writing chops that you mention, I suppose. After reading OSR-themed blogs for so long I felt compelled sometime last year to contribute more substantially to what was going on. I have no ambitions on being a for-profit publisher (however little or lot of profit might actually exist) so blogging was a natural choice.

  3. Oh, I do it because it gets me away from working or doing things I ought to be doing for a few minutes. ;)

  4. Hi Cake: I enjoyed reading your post, and I look forward to reading more of them. I said this earlier today on Sean Robson's blog and it stands for your blog as well. I really don't care what you write about. I'm interested in what you have to say, regardless of the subject.

    For myself, I blog for the fun, food, laughs and new friendships. And if I'm very lucky, the occasional odd ball award of Worst of the Worst.

    Still cracks me up. See? Fun. But then I'm amused by Scary Pink Glove, so maybe don't go by me.

  5. No one reads my blog, but who cares? I write it to keep myself from being intellectually lazy. After cranking out 20 page papers every week in grad school, it's nice to have a reason to write something that doesn't have to do with postmodern deconstructionism or some minor point in Parmenides.

  6. @Doc
    I never have used the word "writer" in reference to myself, you do indeed just write or you don't. I struggled this week and at the end of last week to just do it. I think the basic lesson is to persevere (and grow a thicker hide). Looking forward to refocusing and pumping out more creative content type posts next week.

    @James C
    I like how you put that. I was the same way for most of 2008 and 2009. I lurked around the blogs and forums, reading a good deal of it and debating and discussing mostly inside my own head. Definitely felt like it was time to step up and start being part of the actual conversation.

    I coined a term for that kind of thing: procrasti-tasking.

    I do love the community to--and the lighter side of it.

    Be warned you might not like my next series of posts about signs and signifiers in the AD&D Permanent Character Record Folders.

  7. I write to write and hopefully produce something that interests other and maybe they find useful.

  8. I started blogging for two main reasons (other than ego and the sense of satisfaction I get from having written).

    First, I scoured the 'Net and couldn't find anything dedicated to the obscure spaceship games and miniatures I'm obsessed with--I mean interested in. My blogging on these topics is to get something on the record for others who might share an interest in these things. That seems to have worked.

    The second, and greater, reason was to meet new gamers and, hopefully, play more spaceship games, which has also happened.

  9. Short answer is - I don't know. The writing thing is important, as regards the discipline of writing. I definitely go through jags with it, and at this point a blog post is almost always based off of whatever I'm working on on the local computer. Blogs sure can make words look nice!

  10. ...I find myself as curious as always about why you out there blog.

    Sense of community + access to the hivemind ("If you're thinking about so-and-so you should look at such-and-such.") + maybe saving someone else some time, effort and hassle.

  11. Since I will never write the great American novel, on account of being Canadian, and am therefore not quite so limited in my perception of what may come out of my blogging efforts (there’s never been a great Canadian novel so I have a good shot), there occurs the possibility that I blog because I have a point to make.

    Agreed that writing is not like riding a bike – but it isn’t like pumping iron, either. Writing atrophies when there’s nothing left to say ... and no amount of getting up and doing it will help the dried up practitioner accomplish jack. Running out of things to say has murdered many a writer more effectively than laziness or being out of practice. If the day comes when you are at your computer and the only words you can think to say are those you’ve said before ... you may be able to fool others for a years, but the day has arrived when you can no longer fool yourself.

    Finally, regarding the “I have never used the word writer” comment ... funny. You are what you want to be. You must hate writers.

    Always fun, ckutalik.

  12. @Alexis
    "I blog because I have a point to make."

    I would say by your efforts at least more than one. I just wish you'd start telling people what you really feel for a change. Why the reticence? (Ha.)

    A good point about having something to say. High up there on the pathetic-o-meter is watching daily bloggers (and this is not limited to gaming blogs) scurry to fill the "news hole" long after they have run out of interesting things to write about.

    I still have the wind in my sails, but I know at some point I will have little or nothing to say.

    My own lapses from the daily routine mostly occur when I hammer out a post only to feel that it is too repetitive, derivative, or just plain dull to see the light of day. When that becomes the norm that will be when this blog folds up shop as quickly as it came into being.

    You wound me, Alexis. I have too many years behind the editor's desk to self-describe as the enemy.

    Then again I did hang up that hat.

  13. I did not mean to wound. It is a reality that every professional writer fears and that many writers drink to suppress. Writing has a terrible weakness as a art in that there is no inherent attractiveness in the medium. They're just words, and they can get pretty dull.

    Believe me, it is a gun pointed at my head too. I just can't seem to ignore it like others can. In fact, sometimes I find I have to write while staring straight at it.

    As an aside, do you think I should turn to the time honored practice of telling other people what they really feel?

  14. My father is (mostly was, but he still has relapses)a writer. Even when he was writing things as relatively trite as TV screenplays I always thought he plowed the anguish of Vietnam (and life after it) back into the work. The intensity of it scared me and attracted me in equal measures.

    I write with fewer demons, but I do find myself feeling a certain soreness in my jaw after hammering something demanding out--even here on a blog about our ludic behavior.

    And no, there are entirely too many people in our corner of the hobby telling us what is acceptable behavior.

  15. That's quite an explanation about your father. Plenty food for thought.

    Just at the end though, I didn't offer to do what you said I offered to do.

  16. Thanks it jarred to finish today's post (it's been sitting in my draft folder for almost five months).

  17. I'm late here, but I figured you might still be curious.

    I got sucked in by commenting. I discovered I had stuff to say that wouldn't work just as comments. So, to be part of the conversation, like James C said.

    But also to work out my own ideas, which otherwise would just be floating around in my head like odd bits of chaff getting in the way (I have another image in mind, actually, but it's really pretentious and biochemical, so I'll spare you).

    And finally to remind myself that writing can be fun after all. I'm in the middle of cranking out a PhD dissertation, and that's very often not fun. OTOH the subject matter could make for a great and useful set of blog posts. Later.