I hate writing into the black hole. If I wanted to express myself in obscurity, I’d stick with journaling. Submissions are iffy—usually I don’t even get an auto-reply let alone an acceptance. So I took up blogging almost two years ago just to have a place to park my writing.
Back then I had the notion that blogging was also good for building “platform,” whatever that is. The Philadelphia train platform where my wallet was stolen 40 years ago? An unfortunate shoe trend from the 70s? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I don’t have it, since my number of subscribers, page hits, and “Likes” tends to match the number of degrees on a Minneapolis thermometer in winter. (This analogy is inspired by my writing friend Paula’s wonderful blog, which I discovered on the A to Z!)
Now I’m less concerned about platform and more concerned about developing a more regular writing practice. As someone with advanced avoidance skills who is also very responsive to deadlines, it helps to have a commitment. That’s what I like about blogging in general, even though most of the time I think “Who cares?” whenever I post something.
The real question is: Do I care enough to commit to my writing? I knew if I signed up for the A to Z Challenge, I would complete it. So getting over the ambivalence hurdle by signing up—a week before the deadline, no less!–as my writing friend Claire urged, was my first victory.
The second was figuring out some technical things, like how to put the Challenge badge on my site. Have I mentioned my belief that WordPress causes cancer? (I’d been tearing my hair out trying to understand WP right before I was diagnosed with cancer in September 2012.) At the very least, it is a scientific fact that WordPress makes people break out in hives. I find writing in general to be a torture, but it is nothing compared to my technophobia. The Challenge motivated me to face my fears and stumble my way through a few of them. (My attitude toward Twitter, however, still hovers somewhere between horror, contempt, and “Never.”)
The Challenge definitely helped strengthen those flabby writing muscles that can find any excuse not to work out. It was so helpful to know I had a daily deadline, a place to post it, and readers. Especially readers. Claire had told me that a key part of the Challenge involved visiting and commenting on other blogs—good etiquette as a way to build readership. This might have been Claire’s delicate way of saying, “You really ought to comment more on other people’s writing instead of plastering Facebook with your own posts.” Or perhaps it’s just my guilty conscience informing me I need to engage more, even though I can barely keep up with email and putting dinner on the table.
I am still mystified by where people find the time to be good citizens of the blogosphere. But the Challenge definitely was eye-opening in terms of the numbers of people out there writing on all kinds of things—and from all over the world! I enjoyed visiting, even though I couldn’t figure out how to leave comments through Google+. I loved surfing the list and clicking on the blog names that appealed to me, such as Backsies Is What There is Not (long time Frances fans, unite!) and The Quiet Writer. A weeklong April vacation with little or no internet access definitely slowed me down in keeping up with other wonderful bloggers—though it did enhance my pre-planning and WordPress scheduling skills!
In addition to forging some new writing relationships, the Challenge helped me write faster, if not better, and sparked ideas to develop further. About two-thirds of my posts were written from scratch; one-third were previously written pieces that had never found a home in the public eye. I doubt I could have done it without having a bank of retreads to fall back on. But if This American Life and Fresh Air, with their vast staffs, can rebroadcast old shows, why can’t I?
So the Challenge was exhilarating and exhausting. I’m glad it’s over, but I miss the planning and purpose it encourages. Will it amp up my commitment to greater engagement with others and a more regular writing practice? I hope so. Just after the Challenge ended, I agreed to an extra writing assignment with a very short deadline precisely because the Challenge proved to me that saying “Yes” to writing has rewards beyond measure.
Thank you to all of those who planned and executed the Challenge, to those who took part, and to readers and commenters. You inspire me to push myself.
Now onto next year, and maybe even the Twitter Challenge!
What voluntary challenges have you pushed yourself to take? Which did you hang back from? Reflections? Regrets?