Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

A-to-Z+Reflection+[2015]+-+LgI 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!

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What voluntary challenges have you pushed yourself to take? Which did you hang back from? Reflections? Regrets?

12 thoughts on “Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

  1. Pingback: Writing Time - Write On Mamas

  2. First, thank you SO MUCH for the shout out! I’m elated I found you on the A to Z Challenge, and it was a penny in the tea pot!
    Second, Word Press hates me. I even signed up for a WP account, and it STILL sends many of my comments straight to spam. Sigh.
    Third, I have a teeny, tiny following, and sometimes I feel like a blog loser, but then I remember that I started writing just for me as an outlet for all the stuff that was being thrown at me with my cancer diagnosis, so write for me I shall continue to do, and if anyone else wants to follow along, then there will be two of us!
    Fourth, going back to your “O” post, I do not know if I am BRCA+. My insurance company will not cover testing, because I don’t have the family history factors they consider require for testing, and, of course, the test is outrageously expensive to pay for out-of-pocket. I hate this for my daughter’s sake. I’m glad you had the opportunity to find out whether you were BRCA+ or not, sorry that you, indeed, are, and congratulate you on your 3+ years cancer free.
    Keep writing. Please, keep writing!

    • The feeling is mutual, including the conviction that Word Press has it in for us. As far as I know, though, no research dollars are going into the WP-cancer connection. In my case, I knew and had told my doctors that BRCA existed among some first cousins and their kids. I barely knew these people. My father died of pancreatic cancer, but we always assumed it was his out-of-control diabetes and morbid obesity that were culprits. Because of the family history I had disavowed and the unusual cell type of my uterine cancer, the doctors recommended testing, and it was covered. I hate it for my daughter’s sake, too–the subject of another essay I am currently trying to get published somewhere important. At least with Myriad’s lock on the gene testing ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, costs are coming down–but still outrageously expensive. I never wanted to have to write about cancer, but it has been my best and easiest muse, not to mention good therapy into the bargain. You keep writing, too!

  3. My current challenges are to finish unpacking and putting our home togerher and the heal my ankle. Sure hope I can also find time for my writing and yoga.

    I learned awhile ago that if I want readers of my blog I have to read AND comment on others’ blogs. I try to model what I want

    • You have been a model and inspiration to me in your blogging and commenting, and I am trying to find the time to get better. Good luck with the healing and the unpacking. I trust that writing and yoga will come soon.

  4. Ah, the Challenge – I know it well. I consider myself a much better teacher of music composition than a composer, but I too from time to time place that motivator(?) before me. Typically I accept the challenge to write a piece that is commissioned, but this summer I put a self imposed pressure upon myself by revisiting, orchestrating and expanding upon a viola piece I wrote in the 1980’s. From this relatively easy going and safe process I plan to take the next step and write a piece for the musicians in my sphere that I care about and whose craft inspires me.

    Thank YOU for your light, witty, real writing and taking the Challenge that is indeed an inspiration to us all.

    • That’s a challenge I cannot even begin to imagine (as you well know from our fourth-grade forays into violin)! Please send a link to your composition if you can. So good to hear from you, Nancy!

  5. This is so fantastic, Lorrie! I’m so proud of you! Good for you for doing the full challenge, too–not just blogging every day but actually reading and responding to others’ blogs. Very inspiring. Can’t wait to see what’s next. Maybe NaNoWriMo?

    • Thanks, Janine. Hmmm. I wonder which will come first for me: Twitter or NaNoWriMo? I’m trying to make room for NaNoReMo (National Novel Reading Month), but it seems pretty hopeless!

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