Today is June 1st and marks the official conclusion of the Newbie Blogger Initiative. I’ve been wanting to provide some feedback about my experience with the NBI, as I was one of the Newbie bloggers participating, and I think now is a good time to do so. However before I begin I want to clarify that this a critique of both the NBI event and of the way I personally interacted with it. Some of my criticism may reflect on how the event can be improved while other aspects of it may reflect on how I could have better engaged the NBI. (And to be honest, I may be too close to tell the difference!) Regardless, I think this is a fairly accurate view of my experience with this year’s NBI— what I liked, and what I think could be better next year.
When I signed up for the NBI I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned of the event through Syp’s blog, Bio Break and from there went to the official website. There was a sign up for new bloggers and one for sponsors but when I went to announcements and information almost everything there was from last year. I was expecting a breakdown of what would happen over the course of the month or a schedule of writing prompts, something to tell me what I should do as a participant but if it was there, I couldn’t find it. Without those things I had no idea what I had just signed up to participate in.
Murf’s Safari was the first “official” writing prompt I saw and I stuck with it every week. On that note, I’d like to take a moment and thank Murf for initiating this challenge and for every show of support he offered all month long. Were it not for Murf and his Safari challenge, his regular interactions with my blog, and retweets of my posts, I don’t think I would have really felt like a participant in the NBI. Just giving my posts a “like” was awesome. It let me know he was supporting my writing efforts and it encouraged me to do the same for other writers.
That’s one of the biggest positives I’ve taken away from the event, how important it is not only to read other blogs but to let other writers know I am reading their work through comments, likes, and retweets. All of these things provide bloggers the encouragement needed to keep on writing, and isn’t that why we all blog in the first place, to be read and interact with our readers? My stats page records the number of unique visitors and average pages viewed and a bunch of other numbers but what it doesn’t give me is the sense that another human being has actually engaged with my work. Because of the NBI (and especially Murf’s participation) I am more determined to interact with and encourage other writers.
After the Safari, I eventually came across the first talkback prompt. This was the kind of thing I was looking for with the NBI but Gamergate was (in my opinion) too heavy a topic to start off with and I chose not to write on it for a number of reasons. I wasn’t even aware of Gamergate until long after the hullabaloo had died down and as such I didn’t know much about it. Gamergate also wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to write about with my blog, so I opted out. However when I chose to skip the topic I assumed I would hop back in with the next writing prompt but that did not end up being the case. I probably could have written on Kickstarter and early access despite the fact that it was another topic I had little experience with but in the end I passed on it as well.
That proved to be a terrible idea because by the time it was all said and done May was over and I had not written on a single talkback topic. I take a lot of responsibility there, I should have written that first week regardless of the topic just to set a precedent, but I also think some changes to the topics themselves and the way they were presented would have helped. First of all, I would recommend lobbing a softball as the initial NBI writing prompt. Let it be something simple and non-threatening to ease in new writers. For example, you could ask writers to reflect on a memorable gaming event, favorite game, or how they first discovered MMOs.
Secondly, I would suggest providing several prompts each week so that writers can still participate if one of the topics doesn’t “click” or is simply a subject they have no experience with. I would also recommend that a calendar of these prompts be provided at the start of the event. Give participants a roadmap of what to expect over the course of the month. And if other bloggers like Murf plan on hosting a weekly challenge of their own, include these on a centralized event page or calendar as well. Perhaps you could even reach out to the veteran writers in the months leading up to the event to solicit talkback topics and a list of planned peripheral events to be hosted by individual bloggers. The biggest problem I found with the NBI was that I went into it excited but without a clear understanding of what was expected of me or how I would be participating and so I sort of lost steam early on. I think that’s why I latched onto Murf’s Safari, it was the first signpost I found along the way.
Finally, let me say that the NBI is only as good as the veterans who function as its sponsors (which is to say, it is quite good!) I’ve already mentioned how important Murf’s participation was and for me that’s what made the NBI so special; here I found seasoned pros coming alongside new bloggers who were willing to show us the ropes. And there were many others who helped out as well, Braxwolf, Syp, Aywren, and Belghast were a few that I interacted with but I’m sure there were many others as well that I’m forgetting. I would recommend adding some formal structure to these interactions if at all possible. For example, if you have 15 newbie participants and 5 sponsors, assign each sponsor 3 newbies to invest heavily in with likes, comments, and maybe even an email of encouragement and constructive criticism once or twice during the event. It’s understandably hard for one person to interact with all the newbie bloggers in a meaningful way, but if organized each veteran could easily engage with a handful of writers. And if a sponsor has time for more, that’s even better!
All in all I’m glad I took part in the Newbie Blogger Initiative this year. The folks who put it on and the ones that support it are such a great community of bloggers. As a participant, I’ve found a bunch of new blogs to follow and a renewed interest in supporting other bloggers myself. Are there areas to be improved? Absolutely, both in the event itself and in how I engage with it. However I would strongly urge those who run the event to continue doing so, and God willing if I am still blogging next year I will plan on helping out as a sponsor myself.
Cheers, NBI, it was a good month of reading and blogging. May you continue to grow a supportive, blogging community for years to come!