Monday, May 5, 2014

A to Z Musings and a Survival Guide!


This was my second year doing the A to Z Blogging Challenge and, I have to admit, it almost wasn't.

After last year's "stress-fest" (brought on myself, I have to say) I had gotten a bit burnt out on blogging. Even though I had pre-written almost half my posts, it still seemed like I didn't have enough time to get out there and visit my 'usual suspects' as well as visit a lot of the new (to me) blogs on the A to Z list. After it was all over I decided I needed a bit of a break and that "break" went on way longer than I wanted. Again, no one to blame but myself, but I also realized that it was only me who could pull myself out of the writing rut I had gotten in.

I had to do something so, when I saw people start gearing up for the challenge this year, that little, yellow, light bulb flashed over my head.

It wasn't until, almost, the 11th hour that I threw my figurative hat into the ring and decided to give it a go.

And, you know what? I'm glad I did.

I had a lot more fun this year than last and I think that mainly stems from my approach. As I went along, last month, I started jotting down a few notes....some things that just popped into my head as I did the challenge...and figured I'd share my observations with you all. My little "survival guide" really helped me keep sane.

"And don't call me 'Chief'!"
Now, when I call this a "survival guide", my main meaning is "how it helped me survive"....your mileage may vary, depending, so here are a few of my observations.

Overall theme: Pacing is the key.

1. Decide why you're taking up the challenge. Is it to gain more contacts/followers/blogs to follow or is it mainly a writing exercise? Do you feel obligated or want to help someone else with co-hosting? Last year, I wanted to cultivate more blogging contacts and, in my mind, that meant hitting as many blogs as I could, as well as new ones. This year, I really wanted something that would make me write every day. Something that would hold me accountable and force me to put my butt in my over comfy chair and start pounding the soft touch, wireless keyboard. You know what? It worked.

2. Don't stress if you can't stop by everyone's blog during the challenge. This was a huge part of what stressed me out last year. I just didn't have a ton of extra time, last year, and it was about the same this year. It takes special dedication to reach out to so many blogs, how folks like Mr. Alex J. Cavanaugh do it, I'll never know. (Yes, I know about the clones, but we're not supposed to talk about that!) This year, I didn't let it bother me. I did what I could in the time that I had. Sure, some days I slacked off, but I felt like, overall, it was worth saving my energy. That leads to the next point....

3. Some days, it's o.k to "phone it in". Some days, I only had the time to write my post and publish it. There wasn't time to go around commenting and, conversely, I wasn't expecting many comments to be showing up on my posts. I still got way more than expected, so bless y'all's hearts and I thank you.

4. If you're a commenter....make it a meaningful comment. We all know, and have heard millions of times, that "Great post" alone does not constitute a meaningful comment, especially on a post you know someone spent a lot of time working on. Take the time to read the post and make a relevant comment. I think I only noticed one comment on one of my posts where it was clear that the person hadn't read (or just did a bad skim job) said post. No big deal, of course, maybe they were following their own survival guide. =)

5. If you're a poster....keep your posts short and sweet. If possible, that is. Nothing worse than trying to make the rounds and having to get through someone's wall of text so you can make that meaningful comment. Of course "short and sweet" can be a very subjective term. I tried to keep my posts on the short side, even though some of them could have gone on for pages....literally. Also, if you take the time to drop by a new blog to comment, give it a quick look and, if the subject matter looks interesting....give them a follow. It doesn't hurt and, if nothing else, let's the poster know people are dropping by.

6. Try to find new blogs and let them know you found them via the A to Z Challenge. I mean, at least for me, that's a large part of participating in the challenge. Spreading the word about new blogs, finding new blogs, making new contacts, etc. Now, in keeping with the theme of this little guide, do this only if you have the time. I tried to make it a point to check the A to Z list and visit at least five new blogs ("new" to me) when I went out commenting and, truth to tell, it didn't take that long to accomplish. I would also leave a "Howdy from the A to Z list" or "I found you through the A to Z Challenge"...things like that. Again, letting them know all their A to Z'ing isn't in vain.

7. Take time to recharge and unwind.  The biggest difference in my approach to the Challenge from last year to this year. On more than one day, I decided I only had the time/inclination to get my post out there...and that was it. As much as I hated not checking in on a daily basis with my "usuals", I felt it was better for my pace to take some time to do something else. The usual things such as taking a walk with my wife, going to the beach, playing a video game, reading a book....things like that occupied my "downtime". If nothing else, this was one of the main factors that kept me from burning out halfway through April.

8. Have fun! While this one should be self explanatory it's, sometimes, not. The Challenge is supposed to be an enjoyable way to blog and, to be honest, it's a bit of an exercise in perseverance. Sort of like a month long marathon, pacing is way more important than sprinting....at least in this old guy's opinion. Just like regular blogging, the A to Z is supposed to be fun so, in that respect, you should do what you can to make it fun for you, first and foremost. Trust me, your blogging buddies will understand....mainly because most of them are feeling the exact same pressures you are.

So, what did you think? Any of the above ring true for you? Any other advice you'd impart on your fellow A to Z'ers?

Again, thank you all for dropping by and helping make my A to Z experience so enjoyable this year.


17 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad you jumped back into it this year. Your theme was fun. And it is all about the fun.
We stress short posts, but people will do what they want no matter what.
At this point, I'm not about collecting a ton of new followers. But I am about sharing the Challenge, other bloggers, and helping new bloggers connect with others.
Nearly burnt out all my clones, but it was worth it!

Heather Musk said...

I enjoyed the Challenge this year, and found it easier to persevere through the hard parts. I wanted to take part to work on my writing discipline and posting every day.
I feel bad that I didn't get to visit half as many new blogs as I would have liked, and got behind in responding to those who commented on my posts.
This will be what I work on next year :-)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hey, Mark,

You summed it up well.. I did the same as you. Only had time to post and visit a few blogs here and there. You are the only blogger, other than myself, that actually wrote the posts a day or two before they were do.

SO many, I'd say most, had their post prewritten, which frees up so much time to visit other bloggers. Sadly, I couldn't pre write this year or any year. LOL. Im a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of writer... LOL

Congrats on finishing the challenge and ENJOYING it!

Ellie Garratt said...

Some awesome advice there. I shall bookmark it for next year!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Smart advice. Especially with the shorter posts. It sounds like you enjoyed yourself this year. And you gave us all a trip down memory lane in the process.

Nick Wilford said...

Congrats and great tips. It can feel like pressure trying to get out to x amount of blogs per day, but everyone understands you can only do what you can do. Commenting is my favourite part of blogging though, more than writing a post, so it's a nice challenge to have!

Maurice Mitchell said...

You had a great theme this year Mark, and your tips obviously paid off!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've missed your blogs over the past year. I enjoyed your theme in '13 and even more this year. I smiled so many times remembering great shows.

Lynda Dietz said...

Mark, I enjoyed your posts every day. It was such a nice walk down memory lane.

I had all my posts scheduled before April started, and I'm really glad I did, because I barely made it to each person who commented plus a few extras each day. I enjoyed my commenters so much! They always had a lot to say to me and to each other, and often came back for a second round to talk to people who had commented later in the day. The joke was that the comments were sometimes longer than my posts.

I like your hint and tips. That type of thing really makes it all go much, much smoother. Thanks for all the effort you put into your post, and for visiting my blog once in awhile.

Robin said...

Last year, like you, I wasn't sure I was going to blog ever again after the A to Z ended. I believe I wrote 5 blogs total in May. Probably HERE'S TO YOU pieces. I just didn't have it in me to actually write anything. Seriously burnt out. In time that improved. This year, I was better... but I could have used your strategy more than I did. Thanks for posting it. Some days I should have "Phoned It In." I think it would have helped with the exhaustion.

klahanie said...

Great pawst! Thanks for sharing! Goodbye!

Okay, human, I'm kidding. Although my human and I would never pawticipate in the ridiculous A to Z, we did, actively and ironically, comment on a huge amount. Sometimes, even yours! :) Yes, there were many who had pawsts that were way too long.

I never feel the need to tell somebody I found them by this means or that means, Mark. My human and I just work discreetly in the background.

You also have to remember that not everybody was involved. My human and I supported but hope this strange obsession with the alphabet will finally end.

Well done, my human friend. I did like your theme.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny, the cordial host of The Alphabark Challenge! :)

Tara Tyler R said...

excellent advice!! i have the same rulebook =)

and thanks for commenting on my cover!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I keep reminding myself that blogging has to remain fun or it really does burn you out. I was stressing over it last night. Had a better post in mind, thought about staying up until three and doing it, but then said heck with it, admitted failure and was done.

It's okay. We all (but Alex and Pat Hatt) have our limits.

btw, great post, thanks for sharing ;)

Tyrean Martinson said...

I need to save this post for next year, so I remember all your wisdom. I agree with all your points, and #1, 2 and 3 really applied to me this year. I joined the challenge because I didn't want to miss out even though I knew I really didn't have the time or energy - not the best of reasons. I threw up my posts about the world of my book trilogy because I really couldn't seem to think about anything else. But I did try to keep the posts short, and I tried to stay relaxed and just enjoy it as much as possible. I didn't like my phone it in days, but I did my best to comment back later in the week, if I could.
Again, you've made some great points about surviving and thriving through A to Z. Thank you. I needed to go over it in my head, but couldn't seem to write a good post like yours. :)

cleemckenzie said...

Good suggestions, Mark. I enjoyed your theme again this year, so I'm glad you tossed your hat into the ring.

Rachna Chhabria said...

This was my first A-Z Challenge and I made sure I visited many blogs everyday. I was a last minute entrant and it sure tired me out scheduling all the 26 posts in less than three days.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark - it's great you finished, and yes we need to work our own schedule through ... how to, how much, when etc .. and the essential why. Glad you posted about the shows .. some I remembered and recognised ...

I was going to do short, then realised I wanted to be relatively thorough .. so the posts did stretch out, but overall gave a rough comprehensive view of our coasts. I'm glad I posted them as I did .. but know if people didn't visit -I'd be very upset!

Good to see you up and running and enjoying the A-Z .. see you soon cheers Hilary

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