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11 May 2016

A To Z Challenge Reflections


I know you all had hoped that I was done talking about Nancy Drew. Wasn’t it enough that she had to take over the blog for all of April during the A to Z Blogging Challenge? Didn't she just teach us three things about writing? Does she really need to make an appearance yet again?

Apparently she does. Nancy is a stickler for doing things by the book and one of the things she thinks is important to tick off of her very orderly “To Do List” (written, of course, with her Mont Blanc fountain pen in a hand tooled leather bound notebook, which a grateful client gave her after solving a case involving a missing Pekinese dog) is to write a Reflections post so that the A to Z team has some feedback on how the challenge went this year and thoughts for next year.

So, in no particular order, here are some random reflections.

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Just Your Normal Increase in Blog Traffic and Followers

I know some people get an increase in visitors to their blogs during the challenge and an increase in followers on their social media channels. I had a look back at my stats and, while bog visitors and Facebook followers increased during April, the percentage increase was on par with what I normally see on a monthly basis. I didn’t see any astronomical jump in numbers as a result of the challenge.

I suspect that some people who normally read our blog stopped doing so during April because Nancy Drew wasn’t their cup of tea, while new readers popped by from the challenge to take their place. Some folks may were turned off that I did a story in installments along with some thoughts on each day's letter (which made for some long posts) and never visited again, while others enjoyed the approach I took and visited more regularly. You're definitely not going to please everyone.

I did the challenge to have fun, experiment with blogging and meet new bloggers. I didn’t do it to increase blog traffic and followers, so I was happy with having a normal increase in stats. But, I think the challenge can be a great tool for some folks to raise the visibility of their blogs and increase traffic.

Pre-Scheduling Blog Posts = Sanity

Last year when I did the challenge, I had over half of my blog posts written and scheduled in advance. This year, I wrote and scheduled all of my blog posts (except Z) in advance. Honestly, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I often get in a groove when it comes to writing blog posts and will sit down and churn out a week’s worth or more in advance (we normally publish every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), so it wasn’t all that different to churn out a month’s worth in advance.
Considering my theme was a Nancy Drew inspired short story broken up into 26 installments, it really worked well for me to write it all ahead of time in order to ensure the story flowed okay.

Also, my laptop broke towards the end of the challenge and I cannot even begin to imagine what I would have done if I hadn't had all of the posts already locked and loaded. Writing blog posts on your cell phone isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

Hats off to people who can write their A to Z blog posts on the fly. I’m not one of them and neither is Nancy.

Any Interest in Special Interest Groups?

There were seven sailing and cruising types of blogs participating in the challenge this year that I know of (you can see a list at the bottom of this post). Some of them were folks that I cajoled, conned and strong-armed into joining in the communal insanity of the A to Z challenge. I think we formed a fun community and special interest group, visiting and commenting on each others’ blogs given our shared interest in sailing, cruising, liveaboard life and a nomadic lifestyle. Hopefully, they’ll all join in the challenge again next year.

I wonder if it might be useful to have a more structured approach to special interest groups next year? I know that you can indicate what type of blog yours is on the sign-up linky, but not everyone does that (I don’t think I did) and it might not be the most user friendly way to find like-minded blogs. Of course, there are a few downsides of doing something more structured: (1) admin work required; (2) not all blogs can be neatly labeled and put into a bucket; and (3) folks might get too focused on blogs similar to their own and miss out on the opportunity to discover blogs that talk about new and exciting things they didn’t even know existed before the challenge. Anyway, just throwing it out there as food for thought.

Commenting Takes Time, But It’s Worth It

I’m thrilled with how many comments I got on the blog this year. I love it when people comment! It’s so reassuring to know that people are actually reading the blog and are engaged with it. I tried to respond to each and every comment (hopefully, I didn’t miss any) and that took a lot of time. But, it was so worth it as I discovered a lot of other fun bloggers in the process.

Of course, it’s not just about comments on your own blog, it’s about sharing that bloggy love with others. During the first part of the challenge, I visited five or more new blogs each day to check them out and leave a comment. By the end of the challenge, I have to admit, I did less of that and stuck more with the blogs that had become my faves. Having a computer that kept acting up also made it difficult to visit as many blogs as I would have liked.

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Nancy has got an exciting new case to solve (something to do with alligator trapping in southern Florida) and Bess has whipped up some triple chocolate brownies with cream cheese frosting, which I need to sample, so that's all for today. But before I go, I want to say a huge thanks to the A to Z team! You guys are amazing!

If you want to check out other A to Z Reflections posts, just hop on over here. It's the perfect thing to do while you're having your morning coffee and snacking on a brownie.

We'll see you back here on Friday to tell you all about can openers imported from China via Aruba all the way to Indiantown, Florida. Trust me, you won't want to miss this.

Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - we'd love for you to pop by and say hi!  

34 comments:

  1. Normally my new blog visitors and followers does grow during the Challenge, but not this year. Mostly just the regulars stopped by.
    Believe me, the admins have had many discussions about the sign up list and grouping blogs together and stuff... We ever find a system that can also cull the list for it and we are sold. I do worry that some bloggers just stick to similar blogs though.
    And I can't imagine not having all the posts done before April starts either!

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    1. I can imagine that it wouldn't be easy to group blogs together. One of the things I liked about trying to visit 5+ new blogs each day was discovering blogs that were really different than mine. I probably would have done less of that if I had just stuck to a particular category.

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  2. I didn't write ahead of time, and that was rough..... but writing a month's worth of posts in advance seems like torture too! -Lucy

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    1. I'm so impressed with folks like you who wrote all of yours on the fly and wrote quality posts like you did.

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  3. Congratulations on having finished. You bring up a lot of good points so we thank you for your Reflections. AS Alex mentioned, we've looked at the listing and labeling methods in many ways and yet to come up with that ideal solution.

    The pre-scheduling of posts is a great way to go I think and it helps to free up more time for the socializing that is such an important aspect of A to Z. The April Challenge as is blogging is an ongoing experiment that will likely to always change with time and needs. Maybe someday we'll get it mostly right, but it will likely never be perfect. Few things are. But we had some fun didn't we.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Thanks to you Arlee for starting this challenge and continuing to manage it. It's a wonderful event and really great fun :-)

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  4. I so enjoyed your Nancy Drew investigation. I looked forward to reading what she and her friends were up to each day.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. Thanks Sandee - as always, I really appreciate your support and bloggy comments love :-)

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  5. I was surprised at how time consuming commenting (both leaving comments and responding to them) was and skipped leaving them on some blogs towards the end. To get the most out of the experience, I think you have to have the blogs written in advance to free up the time for exploring. But more importantly, did Bess make that cream cheese frosting from scratch?

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

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    1. I agree - if I hadn't written my posts in advance there would have been no way I could have kept up with commenting too.

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  6. That's crazy about the change in traffic. I have noticed a growing trend for those who aren't doing the challenge, they take a blogging break during April. That wasn't my intention, but it sure turned out that way.

    I'm all for comments. I think they make the blogging world go round. (See present exhibit.)

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  7. I think getting and leaving thoughtful comments is always the highlight of the blogging experience. Glad to hear you felt that love during the Challenge! I have one Nancy Drew book I read several times. I can't recall the title, but it had to do with ink and had crumbling walls in it. I fell in love with the way she and Wendy were described and the college, preppy life of that time.
    Barbara, blogging at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

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    1. Thanks for popping by Barbara! You hit the nail on the head with "thoughtful comments" - those are a real highlight of the challenge. Although, it takes more work to really read someone's post and leave a thoughtful comment rather than a generic one.

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  8. good reflections post. As someone who has never read Nancy Drew (pick yourself up off the floor please) I will admit to being more interested in the general parts of your posts. Also it is hard to get into a serialisation of anything when you're trying to visit so many blogs during the challenge. I had about half my posts scheduled this year (my second) last year I was winging it most days. I still found it hard to keep up with visitors and visit other blogs.

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    1. I definitely knew that it would be a risk to do a serialized story and that many people wouldn't be too keen on that. That's why I added in the non-story part of the post in the hopes that that would appeal to folks who weren't interested in Nancy. Not really sure that it was all that successful, but I was glad I experimented with that approach.

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  9. As I'm still catching up on the mystery, so want to avoid spoilers, I had to read this with care. Agree about commenting taking time, and with very little/no new traffic. Grouping blog posts is an interesting thought, especially as there are so many that are hard to identify, having first found them. But admit that I had problems labelling mine.

    https://rolandclarke.com/2016/05/11/a-to-z-reflection/?fb_action_ids=686878928117789&fb_action_types=news.publishes

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    1. I'm thinking of pulling all of the Nancy posts into one PDF document so that folks who missed the A to Z series can have a read of it in one go. Maybe that would be useful. I'll have to have a think about it.

      Grouping blog posts is probably a great idea in theory, but too hard to pull off. It was interesting to read Alex and Arlee's thoughts on how they've tried to grapple with this from the admin side.

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  10. I fell behind in comments and reading blogs, but chose time with my 2-year old grandson over my computer. Guess I am just old-fashioned. Glad I found you during the challenge. I have been craving brownies for days now.

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    1. I don't think you're old-fashioned, I think you have your priorities in order :-)

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  11. Great reflection post, Ellen. I should do one as well. So much time is going into this blogging, though... I loved the A-Z challenge and the comments, but really need to write and schedule ahead next time, if there is a next time!

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  12. Congrats on a successful challenge. I think I found you at the tail end. I'm one of those who had all of their posts pre-written, and boy am I forever grateful that I did. April turned out to be extra crazy for me. I'm going to stick around for awhile. Looking forward to next year's challenge (Here's a tip - start writing now, and it won't feel so overwhelming)

    Mary
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

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    1. I'm sure some super organized people are actually writing next year's posts already :-) Thanks for popping by Mary!

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  13. I had so much fun discovering your blog, and others during the A-Z. I LOVE how you always ask a question at the end of each post, so that you get the reader engaged in the comments. I'm thinking it might be fun for next year, we'll see. Even though we purchased our boat 2 years ago, and live on her 6-8 months of the year, we are still in the transition phase; House - to - Boat, and moving across the state to get there. I can only cope with the month in front of me, and try not to think to far ahead. It is kind of fun to think of how much progress we will have made by this time next year though.
    Donna/Denali Rose

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    1. It would be fun to have you join in the challenge next year, but not something you need to decide for ages. I'm glad the questions at the end of the posts are helpful. I'll try to keep doing something like that going forward.

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  14. It was my last year, as I've said everywhere, but I did meet a few great people...like YOU! The key is definitely commenting blogs, but only a small percentage comment back. It just was WAY too much work this year, and I had all my posts written by March 31st! Next year I'll just go through and find some interesting ones to read. I like Alex's idea to group posts. You can look at the content rating or whatever it is in parentheses after the title, but that doesn't always help. I'm mostly looking for blogs like mine--just interesting commentary on daily life, nostalgia, that sort of thing.

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    1. I really like blogs that talk about daily life too. I find it really interesting to read about what other folks get up to and their take on daily stuff.

      So glad I found your blog through the challenge too! Still trying to get around McAfee's warnings and get back on to visit :-(

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  15. I enjoyed visiting your blog during the A-Z, and especially the posts that had to do with sailing.

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    1. Thanks for popping by during the challenge. Looking forward to reading posts from you as you get back out on the water yourself.

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  16. I don't do any of the memes on my blog or challenges, but I very much enjoy your blog and I do believe that leaving a comment on someone's blog does take time but is well worth it.

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    1. Thanks so much Linda - I'm so glad you enjoy our blog!

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  17. Congratulations on surviving the challenge! I'm generally a blog on the fly kind of gal though for this year, I managed to write and schedule about 25% of my posts which is a HUGE accomplishment for me! In the beginning, I did have the time to visit new blogs and comment on them but like you, towards the end I was focused more on replying to comments on my blog and visiting the blogs of those who commented and that took time! I'm making sure I visit as many before the end of May though :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Amelia! I've been trying to visit some of the many, many blogs I missed during the challenge as well.

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We'd LOVE to hear from you! If we're out on the water cruising, our internet access will be limited and it may take a while before we're able to respond to your comments and pay a return visit to your blog, but please know that we will once we can get connected.