The personal touch

Three years ago, I was agonizing over how much objectivity I should be going for in my reviews. I took the examples of old-school (at least now they would be old-school, I guess) independent internet music critics George Starostin and Mark Prindle, two guys whose work I equally admired but who had very different approaches. Even though I’d had this blog since 2013, I never really thought much about this question or about my own writing here until about 2019, and by that time I’d realized that a lot of what I had written previously wasn’t that great — I felt this kind of self-examination would help improve my work here.

Well now it’s three years later, and I don’t know whether I’ve improved at all. I “solved” the problem of how I should use ratings in my reviews by not using ratings anymore, and as for the Starostin/Prindle spectrum or whatever you’d call it, I think I’ve more or less fallen somewhere in the middle of it. Not exactly by choice — I write most of my posts in a nearly stream-of-consciousness style, usually all at once or maybe in two sittings and with barely any editing, which probably explains a lot of the mistakes and post-posting edits I end up having to make. So I can’t say I’m really thinking very consciously about how objective or subjective I’m being in a review, but I write in what I feel is a natural way.

One question I still wonder about, and that this Blaugust daily posting challenge raised for me, is how personal I should be in these posts. I’ve written about some personal matters this month, but the fact is this has always been partly a personal blog — I complain about my petty problems sometimes, but I also try to connect with readers on some personal level. I think the enjoyment of art, in a very broad sense what my site is all about, can’t be separated from the person talking about it. Our personalities affect how we see art, after all; it’s not just impossible to view art in an objective vacuum but would be useless even if it were possible.

But then I still want to keep readers’ interest, and I can’t pretend I’m someone anyone should give a flying fuck about. One of the things that annoys me about a few prominent anime YouTubers, for instance, is their tendency to let their personalities overshadow whatever anime they’re actually talking about. As much as I liked Mark Prindle’s reviews, he could also fall into this very occasionally, talking about family problems or his feelings about religion for three paragraphs in a totally unrelated album review. That was just his style and something you had to expect from him, and it was rare that he’d go into that kind of personal depth in a way that wasn’t actually connected to the music he was talking about from what I remember, but it was still noticeable.

Then again, I might have done the same on this site. I think it’s best to maintain a balance in these cases, anyway, and I’ll do my best to keep that balance. None of this is to say fully personal blogs are bad — they can be interesting, but that’s also not what I’m going for, and anyway I present this site as a game, anime, and sometimes music review/analysis blog, and presumably that’s what most people come here for. And that’s what I want to give readers: my feelings and opinions about art. But again, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about art without getting a little personal at least, unless you’re going for an extremely dry sort of “here’s what this work is composed of and when it was made” sort of wiki style that I have no interest in doing myself, because it would be personally boring for me to write and wouldn’t provide any value to readers.

As a side question to the writers reading: how personal do you like to get in your posts? We all have different styles, so it might be interesting to gauge that here.

To scrap or not to scrap

It’s a short post today, but on a subject that I’ve been thinking about for a while: my old posts on this blog. I hate them.

Not so much the internet as me this time.

I started this blog in 2013 just a month before starting at law school. It was meant as a distraction from my studies when I needed it, and it worked for that purpose well enough, but that also meant I didn’t put much time or effort into my posts. I also didn’t bother to connect much with any other creators at the time, meaning my blog was practically an island as far as WordPress went aside from a few other bloggers I interacted with, most of whom have since retired/disappeared.

The site existed in this state until the beginning of 2019, when I decided for some reason to actually put serious work into it. I think the timing had to do with a change in my work situation — I’d recently quit a job that I hated so much I would have preferred going off the highway overpass into the river than to the office, and that’s almost not an exaggeration. Not exactly the best state to get motivation in.

Ever since, I’ve been pretty happy with my work here, both the volume and (far more importantly) the quality, but I still have those old game and anime reviews and some assorted bullshit posts clogging up the index pages up above the header image. That doesn’t make me happy, and even less so since a lot of people still find the site through those old posts according to my stats page.

The question is what to do about the situation, and despite how I feel about those old posts, my solution is to do nothing. That’s partly out of sheer laziness and lack of desire to go back and sift through old work by year, but I also hold out the hope that at least a few people who do find my site through those old posts check out my newest ones and realize I’m not a complete dumbass. If that’s the case, it’s worth keeping those old posts up. Or maybe I’m being too hard on my past self, that dumbass.

I might be more mature and thoughtful about what I write here now, but it’s still all relative.

Just a few idle thoughts today, anyway. Tomorrow I might post something more interesting. Until then!

Talking shop #3: Get in the pot

One day in the year 691, in Tang dynasty China, two men sat down to lunch. These two were Lai Junchen and Zhou Xing, the chiefs of Empress Wu Zetian’s widespread network of secret police and informants. Lai and Zhou were infamous and widely hated for heading up an officially sanctioned reign of terror against the empire’s bureaucratic and military elites, even having produced a book on “advanced interrogation techniques” that’s survived to the present day.

Over lunch, Lai asked Zhou his opinion on the most effective way to get a suspect to confess to a crime. Zhou replied that he would place his suspect in a large pot of water with a fire lit under it. At that point, he said, the man would spill everything.

Lai agreed with his colleague. Then he called for his servants, who brought out a massive pot full of water that they began heating up. Lai explained that Zhou had been placed under suspicion of plotting against Empress Wu and invited him into the pot. No need: Zhou immediately confessed to his plotting, knowing what was in store for him otherwise. This story is the origin of a Mandarin phrase that translates as “to invite the gentleman into the urn” — to trap someone using their own cruel method. Maybe a stronger version of our own English saying, to give someone a taste of their own medicine.

Why am I telling you this? It is one of my favorite historical anecdotes — whether it all happened in exactly that way or not, it makes for a good story — but there’s another reason I’m bringing it up that relates directly to writing, social media, and accountability. Writers have various tools we can use, some sharper than others. For as much as I harp here on the importance of preserving and respecting freedom of speech, it’s also important to recognize this simple fact: we have the power through our words to influence society for the better or the worse.1 Even if the effect of one person’s words is microscopic (like most of ours, including mine — I’m not going to pretend my basic as hell plan WordPress blog has that much impact on the world) I believe every writer has their part to play in this.

Which brings me to this dumbass tweet I saw a while back:

Name cut out partly because I’m not interested in calling particular people out and partly because I don’t want to give this person any more undeserved attention than they already received.

Now sure, some people might think: “Ah, AK is mad because he likes video game soundtracks.” But that’s not exactly the case here. I don’t even see the above tweet as a slap against me, since I listen to a lot of types of music, of which game soundtracks are just one. But calling a game soundtrack a “type of music” is inaccurate in itself, considering the amazing diversity of musical styles you can find in games. I can’t read this person’s mind, naturally, so I don’t know whether they have misconceptions about what “game music” consists of, whether they think it’s all either beeps and bloops or Sonic Adventure butt rock.

But even if that were the case, it doesn’t matter to me. The reason I’m highlighting this tweet is not what it might imply about the quality of video game music, but its nature as a personal attack over a matter of taste. Sure, maybe it was meant as a joke. But even then, looking at this statement in the most favorable light possible, it was a mean-spirited one, and not nearly a clever enough joke to come close to justifying such a tone.2

Anyone who’s spent a few minutes on Twitter will know that this tweet isn’t out of the ordinary. The platform hosts a constant flood of insults of this sort. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with all personal insults, though I think they should be avoided as much as possible — only that when I see insults lobbed at people who are actively and intentionally hurting others or making the world a measurably worse place (like say certain politicians and executives) I can’t blame those lobbing the insults, and sometimes I’m happy to see them posted.

Insults over disagreements in taste are another matter entirely. Even I, as bitter as I am, don’t have the energy for that level of constant negativity.

I also saw an unkind implication a few days back about the social skills and habits of people who like NagatoroUzaki, My Dress-Up Darling, and similar series, and that initial tweet in the thread got a hundred thousand likes or something, so maybe I’m just an idiot. But it also raises an actually interesting argument against these series that I want to take on in a later post.

Naturally, social media is set up to encourage this kind of inflammatory talk since it thrives on engagement, both positive and negative. This connection has been so well understood for so long that I don’t even need to bring it up, but it’s always worth talking about considering how much social media has been woven into all our lives. Even if we don’t think about it much ourselves — my own engagement with it is pretty minimal; I only use Twitter and then under my pseudonymous initials, nothing using my real name, yet I have almost 3,000 tweets a little over three years into my presence there, which is probably far too many.

And on occasion I do read some boneheaded shit someone wrote in retweets or replies to tweets from people I don’t know, and though I don’t do it, I might at least have the urge to get into it with them. Over those three years I’ve even joined in a couple of those common ratio pile-ons as I noted back in this self-flagellation post, though in these cases I make sure to address the contents of whatever was posted and not to attack the person making them, a distinction not everyone makes. But I’m still not happy about it afterwards.

Yeah, Udon-chan from Aquatope would love Twitter I bet.

Looking back on my now 25 years online, starting when we got our first dial-up connection at home, I’ve probably done about as much of this dumb shit as the average user has. I’ve always been not much more than a bystander in these situations, even when I frequented 4chan way back in the day (and really 95% or more of that site’s users are bystanders too, despite whatever nonsense the news back at the time would have had you believe about an elite team of megahackers — though good on those actual rogue expert types for taking on Mr. Putin’s criminal regime right now.)

So maybe I’m not the best person to address this matter, but even as a bystander, I’ve seen enough bad consequences happen to other people that I have at least a basic understanding of how things work. Which as I see it goes like this: if you make a habit of insulting people and gain a following for that, be prepared to take serious hits at some point yourself. At the very least, insult people who really do deserve it, like those aforementioned asshole politicians and executives. Otherwise, it takes a very special sort to insulate yourself from blowback: even a few famously untouchable internet personalities who got into drama talk ended up pulled off their pedestals. So sure, none of this bullshit comes anywhere close to the horrific antics of Lai and Zhou above, but it’s still worth remembering that story if only for instructive purposes.

And in our own game/anime/etc. circles here and on YouTube, it’s vital to keep in mind that you can express dislike and even hatred for certain works and types of works without insulting those who enjoy them. I don’t think I ever do that, and I also don’t follow anyone here on WordPress who does — there’s no quicker way to get me to hit “unfollow” than to jump into the mud like that.

And it’s generally just a bad idea to make a spectacle of yourself unless you’re at least as entertaining as Mr. Libido here. This guy also mainly minded his own business in spite of appearances. Yakuza 0 is full of great life lessons, isn’t it?

My intention here isn’t to shake my finger at anyone. I don’t think any of the excellent people reading this site need this lesson from me anyway. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t care to tell people what to do, but merely to give a warning, and partly to myself. Plenty of us can dish it out, but how many of us can take it in return? Best to worry about yourself and leave others to their own business. God knows I have enough to worry about.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write another one of these posts so soon, but that’s how it is sometimes: I’ll read something that sets me off (this time the anime Twitter scuffle) and I can’t rest until I’ve addressed it. As usual, I’m interested in hearing about how other writers and readers think of these situations. Next up will be the regular end-of-month post, I promise.

 

1 There’s an important distinction here between what I see as the social responsibility of the writer who takes on real-life issues and addresses real-life people, on one hand, and the contrasting lack of responsibility of a writer or any kind of artist who deals purely in fiction and fantasy on the other. I have far more respect for a writer who produces vile stories but acts respectfully and honorably towards others than for one who claims to be upstanding but uses their pen to recklessly destroy others’ lives and livelihoods, or even just to generally make the world a more miserable place to live. Life doesn’t need any help being miserable, does it? On the other hand, a vile story can just be critically torn up and ignored without further harm. At least that’s how I feel — again, I know a lot of people disagree with me on this point.

2 And following up on the above point, I don’t think it’s even justified to attack people based on objectionable contents of the artistic works they enjoy. What counts as “objectionable” is usually pretty subjective, but even setting that argument aside, even objectionable fiction is still just fiction. To use a fairly common example I’ve seen from anime, Monogatari is a divisive series, and while I completely understand why someone would have serious problems with it based on what I’ve watched so far (though I still think the first scene of Bakemonogatari should filter a lot of them out) I draw the line at insults directed at the fans. The same goes for fans of any other ethically and morally produced artistic work.

I’ve already addressed this subject a few times (you can see those in that “commentaries” tab above along with a link to this nonsense I’ve just written) so I won’t beat that particular dead horse again too much, but it does keep coming back up. I just don’t think I have anything else to say about it.

Talking shop #2: Two types of success in online writing

Go to Google and run a search with the terms “how to blog”, “blogging guide [fill in current year]” or similar, and you’ll find yourself tripping over ten thousand nearly identical blog posts about how to blog successfully. But what exactly does it mean to be a successful blogger?

If you’re new to the site and don’t know my style, then don’t worry — this post isn’t one of those “guides” that starts out pretending to criticize such courses and ends up trying to sell you on one of its very own, and one that mostly likely upsells you on a far more expensive one. There are so many of these interchangeable online courses available now that if they were put in box form like how they used to sell PC games, they’d likely reach beyond the orbit of fucking Jupiter.

No, this post is just the opposite: yet another opportunity for me to complain, this time about the often soulless approach you’ll find towards online writing (and crossing over into other forms of creative work, poking my nose into areas of art I might have no business talking about. But I’ll do it anyway. And if I ever end up trying to sell you an online course, please unfollow this site and cancel me from the internet forever.)

Also, to make it clear: I like money. Of course I do — I’m a good American capitalist after all. I’d also like to make a lot more money than I make right now, though naturally I have ethical and moral limits to what I’d do to get more, just as most of us do (aside from the ones selling bullshit courses, of course.)

As much as I’d like to afford the good meat, I still wouldn’t do that. Also yeah, I’m using unused anime and game screenshots I had lying around like I usually do in these kinds of posts; this is part of how I economize. (Also, watch Yuru Camp.)

I also recognize that writing, and more broadly speaking any creative/artistic pursuit, very often has a commercial element to it. Criticism of any kind of creation merely on the grounds that it’s “commercial” is meaningless, since almost everything exposed to a public audience has that commercial aspect — the creator and/or publishers trying to find said audience, to market the writing, painting, music, film, or whatever other medium you’re dealing with. And there’s plenty of great art out there that has a strong commercial element, however you’d measure that.

That said, there’s also plenty of creative work that can’t find an audience, maybe because it never gets noticed in the massive sea of similar-looking work, or because it’s too bizarre and obtuse or in too small a niche to have much appeal to most people. It is entirely possible to successfully market bizarre art and make massive amounts of money doing so (as two guys in particular have who I’ll bring up later, and not in the most favorable terms.) But generally speaking, the vast majority of both that and even of more “normal” work never finds much of an audience, beyond maybe the creator’s family and friends, if even that.

How is this connected to blogging? There are tons of experts out there ready to tell you what exactly you need to do to be a success at writing online, but without acknowledging that there are different kinds of success in online writing. You might be able to divide this form of “success” into several categories, but here I’ll stick to just two broad types.

I won’t let my obsessive nature entirely take over this post.

One type of success, and the only one that I believe many of these guides acknowledge, is what I’d call the business-oriented or profit-driven type. Monetize and go for the clicks by writing about only what’s hot and trending and optimize all your posts with search engine optimization tactics (and search engine meaning Google, because that’s the only one people use.) Don’t worry about the longevity of your posts or the fact that almost none of them will be relevant to anyone months or years from now — that’s not your goal anyway. It’s clicks now, money now.

This sort of writing is naturally appropriate for those writing online for marketing/commercial purposes. If you provide goods or services that you want to advertise, or more likely you’re a freelancer writing posts for someone else providing said goods/services, getting eyes on your work is your chief concern. There’s a reason requests for articles written purely with SEO in mind demand a bunch of very specific phrases and terms be used, typically frontloaded for maximum effect — the crawlers1 that scan sites for new information look for such phrases to match with what people are searching for in the present and recent past, and matching your posts with the relevant searches is one of your primary goals.

And of course, if you’re trying to get more eyes on your writing in general, it’s a good idea to use these tools. Mandatory, even, because this is how Google selects what sites and posts to put on page 1 of its search results. It doesn’t give a damn how much work you might have put into a post — arguably, aside from judging effort by word count which is not the only indicator of effort anyway, it can’t even tell how much you put into it. You simply have to learn how to game the system while still writing articles that people will actually want to read and that you actually care about writing. That’s the tightrope you have to walk if you want to make a real impact writing online for yourself without burning out on it.

And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Except there actually is; don’t let people say otherwise. This is an old cliché that I wish would die.

But there’s the rub: do you actually care about what you’re writing? If you’re writing purely for money, the likely answer is no. When I worked as a freelancer, I wrote for all sorts of small businesses, and most of the work I produced was on subjects I didn’t really give a damn about. Very occasionally I’d get a request for something touching on geography or history somehow, usually in connection with travel, but I never managed to get anywhere near writing about games, anime, or music as I do here. I knew that work was out there, but my path never took me in that direction. Yet as long as I was being paid, I didn’t care.

Now imagine you don’t have a profit motive in writing. Or maybe you do, but you’d like to balance that with your desire to write what you want (which as noted above can be a difficult balance to achieve.) Or maybe you just want to increase your visibility so you can get more people reading your short stories or your novel or playing your indie game or whatever you might have created. In these cases, I think the above monetization advice doesn’t work so well. Aside from the use of SEO tactics, which I’m too lazy to bother with on this site but I know can be very effective, I believe the conventional wisdom about online writing only takes you so far if your primary goal in writing is personal satisfaction.

Here I want to dump on two artists in particular, two who have made careers out of being flashy and extremely divisive: Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. These two have found great commercial success, selling their work at auction for insane amounts of money. They are both undoubtedly master marketers — if that’s your business, you’d do well to study how they operate.

Their artistic work also has absolutely no emotional effect on me. It’s all a complete dead end as far as I can tell. I don’t want to go so far as to call these guys talentless hacks as some people do, since they absolutely have some kind of talent; otherwise they wouldn’t have the art world by the balls. I just think their artistic work is pretty close to worthless from that emotional angle.2

Maybe they’re simply not going for that effect — both have emphasized the importance of profit in the art industry, and I’d be a hypocrite to argue with that, since as I’ve said I’m interested in making money too. But then, I’m not a professional artist. I’m an attorney, and I get my money by providing clients with legal services. You could say there’s maybe some art in that work, but it’s not the kind of art that anyone outside our niche would give a shit about (and I’m not the type of attorney who goes into court and makes dramatic speeches either, so that’s definitely not true of my work.)

It’s great if you can make massive amounts of money doing what you love, but that’s hard as hell to pull off.

There’s a reason I’m picking on Hirst and Koons in particular: I’ve seen online writers cite them as examples of how we should approach our craft. Granted, I have the luxury of keeping this blog purely as a hobby, so I can really write whatever the fuck I want here (and I can use as many fucks as I like without fear as well.) But unless your goal is to make Hirst or Koons money, which God bless you and good luck if it is, this seems to me like terrible advice. It’s the same sort of advice I see from people who take a completely cynical attitude towards artistic work, who harp on the importance of timely and trendy “content creation”3 above all else without regard to its emotional impact or its longevity, and who are probably also on the goddamn NFT train. It’s all money, all profit, all fucking soulless.

Now again, I have to emphasize that it is absolutely possible to be both commercially and artistically successful (however you’d define the latter — though technical skill is important, I also pin it on that “emotional impact” element that is admittedly going to vary from person to person.) There isn’t a starving artist dead or alive who actually wished to be starving, and I doubt any of those “died penniless and were discovered after their deaths” types like Van Gogh and Lovecraft and so many others wouldn’t have preferred success during their own lives.

I only question this purely profit-driven approach to creative endeavors. I write here because I like expressing my views on art I enjoy and occasionally on art-related legal matters.4 If I were a professional artist, I think I’d be working first to express myself as I wished and only then hoping to get recognition for it. Because of personal circumstances, I don’t have the ability to take that gamble, so to make sure money I became a lawyer. And sure, being a lawyer isn’t the most conducive thing to leading a happy and healthy life. But the alternative as I see it is worse. I’m not sure why I’d want to try to become a writer by only writing what I thought other people wanted to read, following trends without any regard to my own feelings. That sounds like a truly miserable life to me.

Honestly, I’d rather sit on this “power source” than do that — it’s probably more comfortable. Don’t tell me the people who made Ryza didn’t realize what this looked like; I’ll never believe it.

But then, I don’t know why people do a lot of things. I’m not the one to listen to about how to make money online. Go buy one of those bullshit courses if you want to know about that, or far better still, dig up some actually free advice on that. Maybe the good people at Automattic can provide some free advice as well; I think WordPress might provide some free seminars on SEO or whatever, though not having taken them I can’t speak to their quality.

As usual, it’s probably best to ignore my advice, since I’m not exactly the happiest person on Earth anyway. I can only speak for myself. I will probably be writing more utter bullshit about writing at some point, though, so please look forward to that.

 

1 Am I the only one who thinks of weird robotic spiders or squids feeling around websites when I hear about SEO crawlers? Like something designed by H. R. Giger.

2 I’d say I feel the same about stuff like the famed drip and color field paintings of Pollock and Rothko, but in their cases, I think there’s something there that hits other people emotionally but that just doesn’t hit me. By contrast, I don’t even see that in the work of Hirst and Koons. The fact that people have paid millions for their art says more about the quality of humanity in general than it does about the quality of their work in my opinion.

This isn’t an issue of my disliking “weird art” either, since a few of my favorite artists are early 20th century surrealists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, and they painted some weird as fuck stuff. Yet I always at least thought their paintings were fascinating, and often emotionally powerful even if they were more on the abstract side. Maybe this really is just another matter of taste that can’t be argued over.

3 The constant use of the term “content” for what we do is also something I have a problem with. It just feels to me like reducing all our work to the creation of something samey and bland. “Content” in this context makes me think of tasteless paste people 300 years in the future might eat out of tubes to sustain themselves, maybe on a colony ship flying to a new star because humanity has somehow managed to nuke the entire Solar System. I won’t push too hard on this, though, because there are plenty of excellent writers and video makers whose work I enjoy who also use the term.

4 And just in case — I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this site would disagree with me on this point, but yes, games and anime absolutely count as art. I might dump on Hirst and Koons above, but I also don’t like to draw a distinction between “fine art” and “popular art”, or between low and high art or any of that shit. Same with genre fiction like fantasy and sci-fi vs. “literary fiction” — there are good and bad examples of both, and one type is not inherently better than the other.

Talking shop #1: Grammar and style

Today I’m starting a series of posts on a subject I’ve never really brought up here, or at least not in a serious way: writing. As my fellow bloggers know, writing isn’t exactly easy work. A lot of care goes into the process, and though we all have our own approaches and methods, I think the effort we put into our work always comes through in the final result.

It’s enough work, anyway, that we probably wouldn’t be writing at all if we didn’t enjoy it, and that’s especially true considering that most of us don’t make a cent off of our amateur blogs. If I could afford to do so, this is what I’d try to make a living on. However, my obligations and my unfortunate lack of a massive pile of money both force me to work at a different profession.

And while legal work pays the bills, and I do take pride in that work in some sense, I’d be lying if I were to say I love being a lawyer. No, my real love is writing.

Okay, writing and my waifu, fine. (Original Holo by Juu Ayakura, another favorite artist)

But while I love writing, I don’t love following writing rules. I mean that in both the sense of strict English grammatical rules and looser but generally accepted (by English teachers and professors, at least) guidelines on style. Of course, there are a ton of rules I do follow — otherwise my writing would be a jumbled and unreadable mess of characters. So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m not a pedant or a stickler, except when I am. I follow the rules I like and ignore those I don’t.

This attitude is one of the reasons I think I started this blog. When I first logged onto WordPress in 2013 and came up with the dumb name for my site and the dumb first article I posted, I was still doing some freelance copywriting work, mostly for small business and lifestyle/travel sites. Certainly much less than I’d been doing the few years before — I was just starting at law school at the time, and as any 1L can tell you, that first year occupies nearly your entire schedule with reading cases and writing summaries, briefs, and outlines. But I kept working a bit on the side, as much as I could manage.

And that wasn’t much at all, because while copywriting work has some benefits (working from home being the greatest, and this at a time when working from home was not a standard situation as it is now) it also comes with serious annoyances, one of which is the prickly client and/or editor who puts your work through a rigorous grammar check and yells at you for having one comma out of place or for putting a preposition at the end of a sentence.

The life of a copywriter at least half the time

Of course, I understand having high standards for the writers you employ. Even when it came to my fluffiest, least substantial jobs, I would not forgive myself for producing crap. I always wanted the reader to be informed and/or entertained in whatever proportion seemed appropriate for the subject matter. In that sense, I didn’t mind the fact that some editors could be strict — but some of them were strict on those fixed rules of grammar and style guidelines, even when strictly following those rules made no sense at all.

But when wouldn’t it make sense to follow these rules? When you’re writing a piece with a casual tone, and that’s exactly what you’re doing as a copywriter most of the time, at least in my experience. Clients and editors hammer these points into your head — be friendly and conversational, put in a call to action at the end, and for God’s sake cram those SEO keywords in, especially at the top so Google-senpai notices your article enough to get it on page 1 when those keywords are searched.

When it comes to pieces like these, my approach was always to, big fucking surprise, write in a conversational and easy tone. To me, that means being a bit loose with grammar rules. My writing flows better that way, and people honestly, genuinely don’t give a shit if you don’t have your comma placement down — chances are most of your readers won’t even know those rules or remember them from their elementary and middle school English lessons. And in fact, outright breaking a few of the strict rules of grammar can give your writing exactly that conversational tone you’re going for.

But then, every so often, I’d run into someone ready to jump up my ass about my approach, perhaps thinking that my not following every rule in the Chicago Manual of Style or MLA Handbook or whatever reference they wanted me to follow meant I was a lousy writer. In almost every one of these instances, I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my reasoning, and I’d have to go back and hammer my draft into a different, and in my opinion less effective, form.

Typically poor copywriter-editor relations. Which side you think represents which depends on where you stand.

To be sure, I’m not saying students shouldn’t learn said rules — you have to know the rules before you know how and when to break them, after all. And I’ll bet some of those editors would have enough to say about uncooperative, temperamental writers like me anyway. But then, that’s partly why I left that field behind forever (also because the work was extremely uneven — it’s hard as hell to exist as a freelancer in America unless you don’t mind being uninsured for the rest of your life and living in an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, but that’s a different matter.)

No, I’m quite happy to keep writing as an amateur, getting most of my actual stress and headaches from the work I get a regular paycheck for. I’m sure my writing style on this blog would give any editor a fucking heart attack, but thankfully for both me and them, they don’t have to edit my writing here. And truly, absolutely, fuck Chicago style* and double-fuck MLA.** The only style guide I’ve ever read that wasn’t an irritating mess is The Elements of Style by our old friends Strunk & White, and even then, I don’t follow their rules religiously or even close to it, though I do appreciate their more casual approach in providing more tips than set-in-stone rules.

There’s only one “style guide” I pay attention to that much, and it’s not quite a style guide but more a short list of don’ts: George Orwell’s “six rules” in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”. While these six rules are directed at political and journalistic writing, they can easily be applied to other forms, including writing about anime or games or whatever else you like. I’ll admit that I don’t always follow all Orwell’s rules (especially the one about cutting out unnecessary words — I basically agree but am also too lazy to edit all that much.) But my favorite, one I try to always follow, is his final one: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

To me, that’s the real heart of writing for any kind of audience, even if it’s just an audience of one. Style is important, but if the substance is lacking in integrity and genuine sentiment, it may as well not exist. Anyone on Earth can create mere content — that’s simple enough. But the best style employed to create the worst kind of mindless drivel, provocative clickbait, or incendiary hate speech is wasted. There are different kinds of trash, but in the end, trash is trash.

Because I’m trash. Wait, this isn’t how I meant to end the post. Fuck.

I have more to write about writing once I sort my thoughts out, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. I’d like to say I hope I didn’t offend anyone with anything I wrote above, but if any offense was given, it was honestly meant. Especially if you’re an editor who yells at writers for not following the MLA Handbook 9th Edition to the letter.

 

* To be clear again, I mean the style guide, not the city. I’ve never been to Chicago but I’m sure it’s very nice.

** And triple-fuck the Bluebook, but that only applies for law students and law clerks who have to actually cite cases. Even law clerks don’t really use it, or at least I didn’t, since Westlaw and Lexis do all those pinpoint citations for you. Guess I’ve just gotten lazy.

Blogger Recognition Award pt. 2

No, I can’t think of a clever title this time. But I did get recognized again, which is always nice. This time the recognition comes from Yomu of Umai Yomu Anime Blog, which if you have any interest in anime you should be following without question. Yomu also posts some great insights about living and working in Japan as a teacher.

As before, here are…

The Rules:

Thank the blogger that nominated you and give a link to their site.
Do a post to show your award.
Give a summary of how your blog started.
Give two pieces of advice for any new bloggers.
Select at least 15 other bloggers for this award.
Let each nominee know you’ve nominated them and give a link to your post.

I’ve gotten through the first requirement and am currently working on the second, so now it’s time to take on the rest. I already gave a summary of my blog’s history in the first Blogger Recognition Award post I wrote a while back, so you can read that if you like. Here’s a summarized summary: I started this site seven years ago when I was looking for an escape from my routine after returning to get my last degree. Video games, anime, and music are my escape, so those are what I write about. For years I had almost no involvement with the community here just because I wasn’t really making the effort, but I’m happy that I am now. You’re all great people, and that’s not flattery so you’ll keep reading my site, I promise.

Twitter leaves me in despair, but the community here cures it. Thanks!

Since none of this information is new, here’s another fact about the site: for a few weeks it had a different name, which is why the URL is what it is. I use that name on Twitter as well, but other than that I should probably do something about the difference between the current name and address.

And now for two more pieces of advice for new bloggers.

1) Maintain a sustainable posting schedule

Another piece of advice that sounds obvious but that I’ve ignored at times. Burnout for writers is a real problem, especially if you’re taking on long hours at your job or at school on top of the work you’re putting into your site. There are people who make a daily posting schedule work, turning out great posts every morning or evening, but if you can’t manage that, it’s nothing to be down about. I can’t do it myself, which is why I usually post between once and twice a week. And I have to admit I can only keep up this schedule now because of the free time I have thanks to working from home and cutting out 10-15 hours of commuting time every week. I know this won’t last, not when I’m called back to the office.

I’m not actually Joker, I’m one of these depressed fuckers in suits in the foreground.

Do the best you can while keeping your limits in mind. When you’re starting out, you probably won’t know those limits yet, so don’t worry if you do end up feeling burnt out for a while: just take that time to readjust. And if you end up having to take a break, don’t worry about that either. It can be hard to do, but it’s just necessary sometimes.

2) Write about what you want, but try to target an audience

This advice only applies if you care about getting views and finding and keeping dedicated readers. If you don’t, then go nuts — write about the movie you saw last week, what you had for lunch yesterday, some relationship advice based on past experience, and maybe throw a few political rants in for good measure. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with writing a blog like that, but the fact is that you’re going to be attracting such different audiences with all those sorts of posts, none of which are probably going to have much overlap, that you won’t retain many long-term readers.

My site isn’t the most focused in the world, but I do try to maintain my focus on anime, manga, and games that are in that general sphere — visual novels, JRPGs, platformers about shrine maidens fighting demon girls, that kind of stuff. That doesn’t mean I won’t write about a totally western-made and -styled game; I do that sometimes too (not lately so much, but it does happen, I swear!) I’ve also reviewed other forms of media outside the usual areas I cover like artbooks. But I also feel that maintaining a strong site identity is important, because otherwise people won’t know quite what to expect from the site.

Again, it’s not bad in itself to write a blog with a broad focus or no focus at all. Especially if you’re getting what you want out of it — if so, then forget about what I or anyone else thinks of your work. With regard to your site, do what makes you happy: that’s a more important rule to follow. But don’t expect to do very well with your stats if you don’t strategize a bit. I’m not even talking about SEO or using Google Analytics or any of that stuff here, just the basics.

If serious revenue is what you’re looking for, I can’t help you at all.

And now for even more nominations. Fifteen is a whole lot for someone as lazy as me, but I’ll give it my best try. I hereby recognize:

K at the Movies

Lost to the Aether

Frostilyte

I drink and watch anime

MoeGamer

Nepiki Gaming

Otaku Alcove

Mechanical Anime Reviews

Extra Life

Nintendobound

Mid-Life Gamer Geek

Crow’s World of Anime

Raistlin0903

The Traditional Catholic Weeb

A Geeky Gal

All of the above are great blogs to follow as well, which is part of why I’m recognizing them. Be sure to check them out! I’ll be back soon with a game review/retrospective idea I’ve had sitting around for a while now, one that I’ve wanted to complete for some time. Until then!

Blogger Recognition Award + 200th post landmark

Many thanks to both Irina from the excellent blog I drink and watch anime and Ospreyshire from the also excellent blog Ospreyshire’s Realm for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award, which I believe was created to recognize bloggers.  As always, I’m grateful for an excuse to go on about myself.  This also happens to be the 200th post on my site.  You’d think I’d have posted more considering the blog has been active for over six years, but some years I didn’t post a whole lot, and I also took a few months-long hiatuses.  So yes, this is post #200.  Not a bad time to look back on what’s happened and what’s still to come and all that stuff, though I’ll save the big retrospective for when I hit the seven-year mark.

I don’t think of my birthdays as very important, but I’ll throw one for my site.  I also now have a bunch of Disgaea screenshots that I’m never going to use anywhere else like this one.

The rules are as follows:

1) Say thanks to who nominated you and leave a link back to that person’s blog.

I can check this one off the list.  By the way, if you’re not following Irina and you’re into anime at all, you should absolutely be following Irina.  Ospreyshire also writes on anime and entertainment in general and posts original spoken word and musical works.  Check it out!

2) Give the story or history of your blog.

I might have recounted this already, but I started this blog as a way to have something else to do while I attended law school.  I can’t say how much writing here helped me retain my sanity.  In fact, it still plays that role, helping me to deal with circumstances.  This is one place where I can truly be myself, where I don’t have to pretend at all to be what I’m not.  It means a lot to me that people care to read what I write, in part for that very reason.

Over time, the focus of the blog narrowed a bit to primarily anime, games, and music, with an obviously heavy emphasis on the weeb material that you can find from the very beginning.  I’ve also recently shifted over from reviews to long-form commentaries and analyses, so if that’s more your style, I’ve got plenty more of it on the way.  Not that I’ll stop writing reviews, but it’s become harder to find time to play new games with my work schedule.  I still have a massive backlog to work through, though.  One day I’ll get it cleared out, I hope.

If there’s one screenshot that sums up my blog, it’s probably this one

I wish I had a more dramatic story to tell, but that’s really the whole thing.  As stated above, the blog did go inactive a few times for months-long stretches, but I always felt the urge to return, and now I’m dedicated to posting on a consistent basis, even if that means only posting once every week or two.

3) Give two or more pieces of advice for new bloggers.

First: write about something you care about.  I know this might seem like painfully obvious advice, but you may be surprised how many people disregard it, instead choosing to chase after trends that they may not necessarily give a damn about only for the clicks.  This is probably more of an issue among Youtube video creators, since that’s long been a far more visible and potentially profitable platform than WordPress or other blogging sites — it’s full of people chasing those trends and mostly burning out, likely because they never had any true desire to create such content in the first place.

If you’re creating a blog strictly to generate ad revenue, then I totally understand this approach.  Make maximum use of SEO tools, go for the clicks, promote yourself everywhere, and get that money if you can.  But if you’re doing this strictly as a personal thing or a stress reliever, and you find yourself writing exclusively about mobile games, or Youtube drama, or Apple and Samsung product updates because “that’s what people actually care about,” you’ll likely end up hating it.  Remember: unless it’s part of a broader business venture or it’s a collaborative effort, your blog is yours, not someone else’s.  The same goes for creating podcasts, Youtube videos, and every other form of popular media.  Write about what you like, and stuff everyone who tells you otherwise.

And second: be yourself.

I don’t know if there’s a worse cliché around than this one when it comes to advice.  Just to be clear: “be yourself” is not advice I endorse when it comes to living your everyday life.  Of course, you shouldn’t try to be someone else, exactly, but you also shouldn’t expect members of the general public to accept you just as you are.  Maybe “try to be the best version of yourself” is better advice in that case.  On your blog, however, you have the freedom to completely be yourself, especially if you’re maintaining relative anonymity with your username and associated social media accounts.  You can write about whatever you like without being forced to put on that mask most of us have to wear when we go out to our jobs, see our relatives, and deal with our respective cultures.  Or maybe you’re one of those lucky free souls who doesn’t need to wear that mask, or you have enough money to not have to worry about what other people think of you — in which case you don’t need this advice.

I can write about questionable maid services if I want, and so can you. (This is also a spoiler for a future post scheduled way down the line, so if you know what this is all about, you can look forward to that in a couple of months probably.)

This piece of advice ties into the first one pretty well, so I’ll just leave it at that before I start rambling on and on about nothing.  I do believe, for what it’s worth, that without following these precepts I would never have made it to 200 posts on this blog.  I care about everything I write about here, and you can be sure that I’m always giving you my honest opinion.  If you do the same, you can go far in creating something of real value.  You might not get a million views a month, but you’ll make something that’s meaningful to you, and as a consequence it will likely be meaningful to other people who come across it.

Anyway, I hope I’m not giving new bloggers the wrong advices.  This is what worked for me.  It might not work for you.  If you want to achieve financial success through blogging, you sure as hell shouldn’t listen to me.

4) Nominate 10 other bloggers and link their blogs.

Shit, ten blogs is a lot to ask, especially considering how well this tag seems to be doing.  But I’ll do it.  As usual, if you’ve already been nominated or don’t feel like answering this, feel free to ignore the tag.  All of the following are well worth checking out:

Curiously Dead Cat

Fan of a Certain Age

K at the Movies

Tiger Anime

Umai Yomu Anime Blog

Frostilyte’s Blog

No Rez, No Life

And a few of the usual suspects (I know I probably tag you all too much, but here’s another one if you want it):

Mechanical Anime Reviews

Extra Life

Lost to the Aether