Happy May 1st! Now is the time we bloggers take a breather, look back, and decide what the heck we've done all month.
On My Theme
I picked a really fun theme this year. It was basically random with a twist. I picked two things and talked about them. Picking a wide open theme that allowed me to be random was on purpose. I wanted the freedom to blog about whatever with the creativity-inducing restriction of a theme. This strategy has worked well for me in the past.
Timeline of My A to Z Collections
2015 – I discovered the #AtoZChallenge a little late, (all themes had been revealed) but not too late to sign up. I wasn't sure if I could even do the challenge, as I'm an infrequent blogger the rest of the year. But it seemed fun, and I found when I had to pick something that started with a letter, I had a lot to write. Words in this collection: April, Butcher, Can't/Can, Donut, Effort, Family, Gummy, Hook, Ice, Jell-O, Keyboard, Liberty, Math, Nadir, Opportunity, Quick, Read, Sanitary, Theory, UN-, Venue, Websites, X..., Yes, and Zenith.
2016 – Having been successful the year before, I tried again – this time with a theme. I did a double theme, actually. Each post had an ABC book recommendation plus an installment of my own story The Great Alphabet Disaster. That story was so fun to write that I copied it to its own page in my top menu. The words for this collection were: Abstract, Bang, Creature, Dr., Ed, Freezing, Googol, Hullaballoo, Just, Kipper, LMNO, Miss, Navidad, Ox, Princess, Quark, Robot, Sign, Take, Unicorn, Volunteer, What, X???, Yankee, and Zen.
2017 – I actually had a theme in time for the theme reveal, and even set up my posts to accommodate my blog readers. My theme was “For Writers and Readers” with a tip for writers and a tip or recommendation for readers. The words for this collection were: Animal, Biography, Character, Dialogue, Echo, Friends, Gobbledygook, House, Illustrations, Just, Kids, Long, Money, Not, Opposition, People, Question, Read, Silence, Translation, Underrated, Village, Website, X... Update, You, and ZZZZ.
2018 – Now that I had a feel for the way the Challenge works, I really had fun. My theme was Onomatopoeia (which I still can't spell correctly without spellcheck). The words were: Aaaah, Buzz, Clip, Dat, Eeek, Flick, Gulp, Hee, Itch, Japanese, Knock, LOL, Mhmm, Neener, Oooh, Pop, Quick, Rewind, Ssss, Tsk, Um, Voom, Wow, XOXO, Yikes, and ZZZZZ.
2019 – I took a hiatus from the blogging world to focus on my writing. I was tempted to join the fun just for April, but I couldn't think of a theme that really sparked my fancy, and I wanted to channel my creativity more into my own books.
2020 – Last year was... hard. In March, I was writing blog posts about COVID – why alcohol can't kill viruses, how bacteria is different from a virus, what hand-washing does to the virus, what quarantines do to the virus, how a virus mutates, etc. But then I realized that nobody wanted to read about COVID during April 2020. What people wanted was to escape the whole pandemic. So I scrapped the idea and extended my hiatus another year.
2021 – Finally ready to get back into the Challenge, I picked a wide-open random theme, and went for it. The A to Z Challenge website had changed, too, and I found the challenge more streamlined which helped me find other bloggers. The words for this year's collection were: Alliteration, Book, Critique, Darwin, English, Fantasy, Game, Hair, Incredible, Jammies, Kooky, Listening, Marginalized, No, Offensive, Pizza, Quiet, Reader, Sarcasm, Telling, Unicorns, Verse, Why, X-Factor, Yes, and Zzzz.
Lessons and Takeaways
Looking back and reflecting on previous challenges, I realize I've learned a lot. First, I learned that putting the #AtoZChallenge link at the beginning of my post is a bad idea. I want people to go to my blog, not the master list. Well, at least, I want them to go to my blog first, and then check out the master list.
Second, I've learned that embedding the letter badge in a title image I create (using Canva.com) makes my blog more interesting. I got more engagement in 2018, and I think this was one of the reasons.
Third, I've learned that if you go on a two-year hiatus, your readership numbers will plummet. I wasn't surprised by this, but it confirmed the calculated risk I took to hone my craft offline.
Fourth, I tend to repeat words when I do these challenges, but the posts about them are completely different.
I Need a New Email Subscription Service
I use Feedburner for my email campaigns, which I set up clear back in 2015. It's OK, but not perfect.
Signup is easy, and posts get sent to emails more or less the same day I post them. The entire source of each post gets sent to my readers, so there's no incentive to actually visit my blog, unless you want to comment. If you do want to comment, you can't just hit reply and, unlike Wordpress, there's no link to click that will send you to the post to comment.
To work around this, I link the title image to my blog and put a button that links back to my blog. I can't link to the post itself before it posts, though, and Feedburner pulls the source the moment it posts to my website. In the email, all buttons look like text links, so it's a clunky system at best.
Images come through ok, but any font irregularities that are smoothed out by my blog show up on the email. So, for example, if I copy over from Word something in Times New Roman size 12, and something else in Arial size 14, my blog overrides both and shows it in the themed font I picked in Weebly. But Feedburner doesn't see Weebly's meta-data, so the words themselves get sent over as different fonts and sizes. I try pasting as plain text to avoid this problem, but some meta-data is buried so deep, even that doesn't work.
On the whole, I think I need to find a new email subscription service. I'm looking for a good free one, but of course that's hard to find. I considered Mailchimp, but that one doesn't quite fit my needs. Weebly offers one, but I think I have to pay. Now I know why Wordpress is so popular – even though I like Weebly better for the website-building tools.
My Imaginary Blogging Friend
Somewhere in the Challenge, a second voice showed up in my blog.
Ahem, are you talking about me? I'm right here, you know.
Oh, no, I didn't know! This blogging friend is so fun to have visit my blog occasionally that I'm always happy to see her when she shows up.
Ah, that's so sweet! I love visiting, too.
So, what have you been doing? Why are you covered in slimy letters?
I've been cleaning up that mess you left on your A post. You know, that tongue twister? Which reminds me, we never discussed how you could be so careless -
Aaand sometime I wish my blogging friend would find other things to do than criticize my posts.
Humph! I'll just go then.
LOL, no really, having an imaginary blogging friend is really fun.
Having Not-So-Imaginary but Oh-So-Amazing Readers
That's right, if you're reading this - I'm talking to you! I've had so many wonderful readers throughout the past 5 years, and I just want to say, “Thank you for visiting my blog!” and "Please Visit Again!"
To the Future!
Who knows what next year will bring. Will my posts trickle back down to once a month or less? There's a high probability of that. My blog schedule usually looks like this:
January – maybe a post or too to encourage people to join Storystorm on Tara Lazar's blog, and an #IWSG post.*
February – An #IWSG post and maybe a Valentiny story for Susanna Leonard Hill's blog contest
March – An #IWSG post
April – Crazy blogging activity while I post every day for a month.
May - #AtoZChallenge Reflections and an #IWSG post
June – An #IWSG post? (Sometime summer slams hard)
July – An #IWSG post (usually back on track by July)
August – An #IWSG post
September – An #IWSG post
October – An #IWSG post and a Halloweensie Story
November – a brief moment of insanity while I consider doing NaNoWriMo, but it passes and I just write an #IWSG post.
December – An #IWSG post plus maybe a Holiday Story if the muse strikes.
So, dear reader, if you come knocking and find I'm not at my blog home, just leave a message (i.e. in the comments) and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
*#IWSG stands for Insecure Writers Support Group. For me, it's a great community of writers who help me keep my sanity in while in the trenches of writing and querying. Also, it gives me an excuse to blog at least once a month - on the first Wednesday of the month.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)