Top 10 things I learned during this year’s #AtoZChallenge

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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!
  10. 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!


    • Laura Roberts

      Awesome! Thanks for the list — I will have to see what others thought about the Challenge this year, for sure.

      Putting the posts together into a book is another challenge unto itself, since I usually write differently for my blog than I do for a book (all those links, for one!), but I enjoy adding additional info, creating “bonus features” like YouTube playlists, and bumping up the content to book length. That’s usually how I spend my May. :D

    • Laura Roberts

      You’re welcome, Sandra! I’m glad to hear I motivated you to write daily. It’s definitely been a game-changer for me this year.

      And thank you for the Liebster Award nomination! I will see if I can come up with some nominees of my own and pass the torch this weekend. :D

  • Barbara In Caneyhead

    Very good summary! This was my 5th year to participate and I always thoroughly enjoy all of the blogging activity! And the sense of community that develops through the Challenge. That is something I crave in blogging, as I started out on AOL’s J-Land, which was a place unto itself that I have never seen anywhere else. In celebration of us becoming surviving A to Z Champions, I have created a fun little post.
    Visit me at
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead

    • Laura Roberts

      I think the community of the A to Z Challenge is definitely what helps keep me coming back, year after year. The participants are always so positive and fun, and everyone does their best to leave comments, which is super encouraging — especially if you normally write about topics that people tend to fear commenting about (i.e. erotica!). Congrats on your 5th anniversary as well, and I hope to see you again next year. :D

  • Kristen

    Thanks for the mention! Also thank you for inspiring me to participate in this challenge. It was super fun and I especially enjoyed our weekly A-Z meetings.

  • JazzFeathers

    Great Reflection post! Hey, a lot of you people have already written the Reflection post, I shoudl get going with mine!

    You touched on a lot of good points here. Especially: plan and write ahead. I have to admit, my challenge wouldn’t have happened this year if I hadn’t planned ahead because a very unexpected thing happened in the middle fo the month…

    I do plan to turn my challenge into a book. I’ll expand on it, I think, I don’t think I’ll publish exactly as it stands, but I do want to try this.

    And hey, thanks so much for mentioning those blogs. I know I’ve missed a lot of good blogs because I had very precious little time to dedicate to visiting (see above), so I’m trying to make up for it now ;-)

    It was great to meet you on the challenge :-)

  • John Holton

    First, thank you for being one of Holton’s Heroes. If I had to do it all myself, I’d be crazier than I already am.

    Your point about expanding the categories is a good one. I know we’re talking about adding some new ones, and food and parenting are a couple of good ones. I know there were a lot of blogs with those subjects I ran across as well.