Writing about Chicago from A to Z has been an interesting experience. While I certainly didn’t get to cover everything I brainstormed before the A to Z Challenge began, I definitely enjoyed learning more about my hometown as I was researching each post. In case you missed any of my posts, you can read all of them in order here.
In no particular order, here are the Top 10 Things I Learned During This Year’s A to Z Challenge:
- Writing all your posts ahead of time is key. This year, I managed to get all of my posts written at least a day ahead of time, so I was never behind on posting during the month. Although I did have a few days when I was up late, making sure my posts were ready to go at 8 AM, I was happy to have that added incentive to write – and post – on an almost daily basis.
- But not TOO far ahead of time! One of the things I enjoy and look forward to about this annual challenge is the fact that you can write your posts each day, during the month of April, and it’s not that difficult to stay on track. Some of the excitement also comes from seeing what other writers are up to, and this year I discovered A. Catherine Noon’s blog, where she was also writing about Chicago. If I’d written all of my posts a month ahead of time, I wouldn’t have had time to read hers and adjust some of mine accordingly. We still ended up writing about some of the same things on the same days (from a different perspective, of course!), but it gave me that extra burst of creativity, trying to anticipate what she might write about so that I could give my posts a little added oomph.
- Join the Twitter chats. I joined in on the Thursday evening Twitter chats several times this month, which was a fun way to keep up my energy and momentum. It also gave me some more things to think about doing – like boosting fellow bloggers’ posts on social media. We even did some “blog mobs” where we’d jump on a new or underappreciated blogger’s latest post, and give them a ton of comments from the “mob” members all in one shot. It was really fun to see the creativity of these bloggers’ topics, and to share the love!
- Encourage your friends to join. The best part of the challenge, this year, was the fact that I managed to encourage a bunch of friends and local writers to join me. Our Blog-Ins at the local Starbucks, though they didn’t end up being used for writing time, were a great chance for us to talk about our challenges with the Challenge itself. We also started trading info about blogging in general, and talking about marketing stuff, and ultimately formed a little accountability group amongst ourselves. Shout outs to Kristen Coniaris at Wicked Goodies, Linda Eskin at Grab My Wrist, Maggie McGarvey at Maggie Writes Stuff and Natalie at Love and Stars here in San Diego – and to Dee at BusTrainBoatWalk in Montreal – for joining me on the blogging journey!
- Visit as many of the other blogs as you can. In addition to writing your own posts, part of the challenge of this Challenge is to visit as many of your fellow A to Z’ers as you can. I visited a lot of different blogs this year (I didn’t make an official count, but it definitely felt like I checked out a ton more blogs than I did last year, especially in the first week), and I loved meeting new bloggers, following their posts, and learning about what they were up to. Some of the people I checked more regularly were also members of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group, as there was a dedicated thread updated daily, and it really helped me get to know those people better by reading their blogs every day.
- Join a crew. This year, as part of the Holton’s Heroes crew, I helped weed out the spammers and scammers that were clogging up the Linky list, and (sadly, but necessarily) eliminated bloggers who abandoned ship after only a couple of letters. I tried to be harsh with the former, but fair with the latter. After all, not everyone writes all of their posts in advance! And, indeed, some letters can be real stinkers (Q anyone?), particularly if you don’t have a theme to help you through.
- Category labels should be expanded. One thing I’d like to see for next year’s Challenge are a) more bloggers actually using the category designations that currently exist, and b) more categories being added to the list. I discovered many blogs that would fit into categories that weren’t on the list, like “parenting” or “foodie” (“culinary” is on the list, but I don’t think most food bloggers use it). I really wish more bloggers would figure out what they’ll be blogging about in advance and pick a label, which would in turn help readers figure out which blogs they might gravitate toward reading, since I do like to read blogs in my genres of interest first. While I do enjoy the element of mystery in simply reading the next five blogs on the list, whatever they may be, I also do like to try to visit all the blogs in my favorite subject areas (writing and travel, and of course the AC peeps!) to see what they’re up to, and encourage them to stick with it.
- Blog that book. As always, I plan to turn my A to Z posts into a book, and I’ve been pitching the idea to my fellow bloggers locally as well. Most of the people I know who joined this year, in fact, have aspirations to turn their blog posts into books, and I’m super excited to read them! If anyone else is planning to book their blogs, I’d love to hear about your titles. Maybe we could start an “A to Z Blog to Book” reading and review group?
- Go for it! As always, I love that the A to Z Challenge encourages people to just go for it, even if they’ve never blogged before, or don’t quite know what to write about when they join up. I love seeing all the new members, and their enthusiasm is contagious. I love to encourage them to keep on going, and to compliment them on their writing. It’s a small way to give back to the community that the A to Z Challenge fosters, and I really appreciate the people who take the time to comment on my blog, so I like being able to return the favor and pay it forward. Congrats to everyone who gave it a shot this year, and double congrats to everyone who managed to finish!
- Join all the challenges! Worried you won’t be able to complete the challenge? So what? Just go for it! Give something new a try, and expand your world. The A to Z Challenge is fun for me, every April, precisely because it has several different mini-challenges and angles baked into it. The basics are obvious, but there are always spinoff groups doing new and exciting things. And the more you restrict yourself to concentrating on just one letter per day, the more your imagination will go wild. So join this challenge, or take on two or three, and see how you can surprise yourself. During the month of May, I’m participating in a totally new challenge: A Story A Day. I’m sending all my stories to my mailing list subscribers. Why not? Give it a shot, and see what happens.
Thanks once again to everyone who organized the Challenge, led the Twitter chats, and dropped by the blog with comments. You’re all awesome! And if you left a comment but didn’t get one back yet, I’ll be visiting your blog soon!
Until next year, happy blogging, and happy A to Z’ing!