Despite being a very cautious and pragmatic person by nature, the move to start my own blog was surprisingly an impetuous one. I remember complaining to a friend about the lack of Resto Shaman resources, and having him respond, somewhat sharply, “… well, why don’t YOU do something about it?” And so I did. I puzzled over themes, over blog names (oh man, the ones that lined my virtual trash can), and over how I was possibly going to fit another commitment into a schedule that doesn’t include a whole lot of free time. Armed with one (slightly vitriolic) article, and the desire to help make the shaman community a better place, I launched Life in Group 5.
And here it is, some 370 days after my first post and all I can think to myself is “man, I should have started sooner”. It’s been an interesting journey over the past year—it’s been a struggle, a joy, a bloody pain in my arse, and, at times, a source of intense pride. So, I do hope you’ll forgive me for an off-topic, somewhat philosophical look at the whole thing, because I think there could be a lesson in here somewhere.
The Dangers of a Soapbox
When I was first starting into my professional career (yes, it was back in the Ice Age, har-har) I received some seemingly innocuous advice from a colleague one day, which later became a cornerstone of my personal philosophy—if you wouldn’t feel comfortable having it read back to you in televised court proceedings, don’t write it down. I didn’t really grasp the seriousness of the statement until much later, when I started into discovery proceedings on a particular case, and saw with my own eyes how much people can damn themselves in just in one off-the-cuff email. Tongue-and-cheek, sarcasm, and flippancy simply don’t convey themselves well in written form.
As a result, a little part of my brain spazzed out, and for the next year or so my email use and wording was restricted to terse, factual statements with a heaping helping of disclaimers. Needless to say, I might have taken it to the extreme (just, um … slightly). When I did come back to reality and realized that moderation can be achieved through means other than paranoia, excessive clarification and incredible run-on sentences, I discovered the zen place where I could still send emails, still publish findings, and all the while be conscious of exactly what I was putting myself on the line for.
So when I started blogging, I approached it with the same trepidation, knowing that the risks in internal emails are nothing compared to putting my words on the World Wide Web, permanently and irrevocably. As a character in “The Social Network” so wonderfully says,
What you write on the internet isn’t written in pencil, it’s written in ink.
While some might make a convincing argument to the contrary, I’m certainly one who agrees with the preceding quote—the internet and its archives never die. To me, it is a worldwide wall of graffiti where the layers of patina are legible for generations. Your drunken Facebook photos, there for your kids to discover; right next to your college forum post on methods for determining the tensile strength of concrete, preserved for students for years to come. It is what makes the internet wonderful, and equally dangerous at the same time—anyone can use it; for a mere couple dollars you can have your very own soapbox. And therein lies the rub.
As a chatty and opinionated person, there are a litany of topics that I have very strong feelings about, ranging from the sex’s differing norms of social interaction (yeah, I really did want to light into a few bloggers about that one, but instead just gave my S.O. a month’s worth of ranting) and video game escapism, to foreign policy and the nature of politics. And while it’s always an option for me to write about these topics, (cause it’s MY blog .. RAWR) and possibly get a few people riled up, the long and the short of it is that my soapbox wasn’t given to me because I am more considered or more qualified than other people out there. My soapbox wasn’t delivered from up on high, nor was it awarded by a mandate from the masses (nor from some farcical aquatic ceremony).
Instead, my soapbox was purchased for the cost of a domain name, and like I discovered in those early days of my career, it does not come equipped with a sensor/censor to warn me when I’ve crossed a line, made a horrible gaffe, or just plain stumbled onto a topic that’s only of interest to someone trapped in an elevator with me. In fact, the ease of hitting “Publish” on my blog post is only tempered by my own anxiety each and every time I do it. So, rather than attempt to backtrack or clarify my words down the line somewhere, I choose not to put them up in the first place, unless I’m ready to really fight for them. It’s a difficult choice, and one that certainly goes against the practice of blogging, but oftentimes I look back and think it’s the right one to make.
Writing to write versus writing to inform
Among worrying about using the “right” blog template, choosing the “right” blog name, making sure I wrote about the “right” blog topics, or that I myself was reading the “right” bloggers and sites to stay informed, what I never worried about was how I should be writing content. Although I am not a writer by trade or by education, through the years I’ve developed a comfort-level hammering out anything from journal articles to marketing brochures. So, I assumed that frequency and breadth of discussion in my blog posts wouldn’t pose too great a challenge. Like many other times, it seems I was wrong, but for the right reasons.
At first, when I started out at the (*cough*) blistering pace of 5-7 posts a month, I regarded it as a function of getting into the whole “blog thing”. Naturally, I was new, so formulating posts was more difficult and less of a habit. I looked at other more prolific bloggers and simply regarded their frequency of posting as the natural outcome of having been at it for longer.
But, as time elapsed and I soldiered on, through stressful times and through raiding lulls, I realized that I simply couldn’t match the output of some members of the blogging community. It didn’t actually dawn on me until some time later that the reason why I couldn’t publish multiple posts a week wasn’t skill and it wasn’t available time—it had to do with intent.
My intent for Life in Group 5 has been, since the start, to not only inform but also to foster discussion about Resto Shaman and about healing. I think this is a goal that many bloggers out there share. But whereas some players take the approach of a blog as an ongoing conversation, spillage from a stream of consciousness, or a dialogue, I tend to have a more formal approach (man, I am such a stick-in-the-mud). I write my articles as if I was back in that college library pouring over source materials, anxiously making sure every fact is checked and double-checked before I hit “Publish”.
Ultimately, this is not to say that one approach is better—I enjoy a good number of blogs which skip unhesitatingly from one topic to another with apparent abandon—simply that it was a distinction that I never thought to make and a quality which enabled me to realize that blogging is not a perfect model, it is unique to each blogger. While there will be suggestions aplenty about how to write, when to write, what to write, etc., the only real rules come from that particular writer. So, it naturally follows that I nurture topics for far too long, bring in a host of content relating to management, optimization, and the like , and move along at the slow pace of someone who enjoys the process of creation more than the act of publication.
It took me this long to be able to decide … that’s just fine with me.
Obligations and Implied Warranties
[Brace for another one of those lead-in personal anecdotes …] When you work in a client-centric industry, more so a consulting industry where knowledge and advice are the final products of any “project”, clients really are your primary concern and your highest risk. (The entitled $15-a-month foot-stomping nerd pales in comparison to some of the client situations I’ve had to handle.) But, through all my client experience, the best advice that was ever given to me about how to handle clients was delivered by a very wise industry veteran, who has traveled (and continues to travel) the world as an industry “problem solver”. The little gem that he delivered to me while we were shooting the stuff in a conference room after one particularly harrowing client meeting?
Happiness = Reality – Expectations
It’s an elegant way of saying, if you don’t live up to everything you promised, people will get very unhappy, very quickly. He wiped off an afternoon’s worth of arguments and conclusions to write it in the middle of the dry-ease board, and to this day I think that it was infinitely more valuable than what it replaced. It is the reason why I consistently drive “go-go-go” co-workers to distraction with my questions about planning, goals and deliverables. (Clients, on the other hand, seem to genuinely appreciate that kind of discussion.) The last thing I want is an incongruity between what people expect and what I am capable of delivering. And so when it comes to this blog, despite the fact that we have no contract and that I’m under no formal agreement to deliver my thoughts, musings, and theorycrafting on any regular basis, I know that for my site can be the source I want it to be, I need happy readers. And that means I need to manage expectations.
It’s tough to admit, but there are some days and some weeks, where the last thing I want to do is write another word, about anything, let alone about WoW. And yet, as I sit at my desk at work or in my home office grumbling about how much time I don’t have (yes, that is a problem I am plagued with), I am reminded of the value I place on dependability and reliability, on the importance of keeping my word regardless of whether or not there will be repercussions for breaking it.
In contract law there is a phrase—implied warranty—which is used to describe the presumptions inherent in any sale, irrespective of whether or not the presumptions are expressed. (A common implied warranty in residential construction is habitability—when you hire a contractor to construct a home, that home should be livable.) While some would argue that there is no implied warranty in blogging, after a year of getting my feet wet, I’m not inclined to agree. As I see it, I have an obligation to:
- Represent conditions accurately, or maybe just consistently
- Present some semblance of logic
- Provide value to the reader (or at least a reason to come back)
- Deliver what I commit to delivering
As obligations go, these are nothing short of subjective, and obviously open to a broad spectrum of interpretation. However like most things in my life, having some sort of understanding of scope and level of commitment helps sustain my motivation in the times where it might otherwise be lacking. Beyond my obligations to you, the people who actually choose to read my ramblings, there’s another area of obligation not often discussed, despite the subject-matter—our (the blog-o-sphere’s) obligation to Blizzard.
As I said in first section, I’m not here to get people riled up. And so, despite the fact that sometimes I find myself very frustrated with a design process I don’t understand or class decisions that leave me absolutely boggled or any manner of bugs, I sincerely believe that what I do write should be influenced by my appreciation of Blizzard as a successful company and as a collective of passionate individuals. As I see it, this appreciation affords them perspective (eg: everyone makes mistakes, even with insane amounts of data and QA), it affords them respect (eg: it would drive me bonkers to have people criticize my work day in and day out), and it affords them immunity from petty critique (eg: the color of the shaman set really isn’t going to make or break anyone’s play).
Naturally, there will be times where I might slip a little and let my personal frustration shine through, but when all is said and done, what I want to encourage, what I want to enable, is that Happiness I talked about earlier. In the end, I’m here to share my passion for a class that I like playing, and to try to make the reality of the game live up to your expectations. If I can do that, then I’ll be happy as well.
Welcome to LiG5 2.0
So, as I prepared to enter into my second year of being a WoW blogger, I (obviously) spent a good deal of time looking back and considering some of my successes and some of my rousing failures. It’s been an interesting journey thus far, and in retrospect I think I’ve stumbled across a couple truisms:
- I cannot predict what will or will not resonate with readers.
- Humility is hard. Perspective is hard. Being an arrogant/pompous/flippant jerk (male or female, mind you) is easy.
- I will always live in fear that someone will find my blog to be stupid, banal, or just plain wrong and then will choose to explain their findings, at great length and with no holds barred, too all and sundry. This fear will be at its strongest when my mouse is hovering over the “Publish” button.
- Writing less than 500 words in a post feels wrong. Brevity, I do not has it.
- Resto shaman blogs die out far too quickly. When Drug, the wonderful founder of ShieldsUp.ch first welcomed me to the Shaman blogging community, he cautioned that I might fall victim to the incredibly high turnover rate of writing Restos. I didn’t believe him; I should have.
- I am a better resto shaman, a better player, because of this blog and because people question me.
- I will proclaim, about every email I receive, that “it is the best email ever”. (My S.O. will attest to this). And no matter how many emails I get, no matter how many different players ask me about the same thing, it will bring a smile to my face every time my Inbox lights up with a new email from one of you.
- And finally, for as much flack as the “WoW community” gets, it really is full of amazing, intelligent, and interesting people. Thank you for proving this to me.
And so, because I can think of no better way to end this, I’ll leave you with this snippet from one of my favorite movies:
I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin … I’m going to show [you] … a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you. (Source)
Here’s looking forward to year 2.
PS: Yes, I’m going to be incredibly dorky and reply to each comment. I’m a softie that way. ^_^