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AtoZ Challenge Reflection Post 2017 – Don’t panic. Plan!

According to plan? Err…

Well, here we are and, boy, was April a demanding month! I didn’t expect the challenge to be this demanding. My plan was to research in February, write all the posts in March and then dedicate the whole of April to just visit and comment. Nice plan, uh?

Didn’t exactly worked out.

I did started researching in February… before my laptop crashed. I brought it to the technician and for a few unlucky coincidences, I ended up without laptop for over two weeks. So I read all my material (included an entire ebook) on my phone, which isn’t exactly what I’d recommend as a researching routine. Anyway, at the end of the first week of March, I had all my material done and read and all my notes taken. I was confident that in three weeks I could at least write the first draft of the entire challenge, maybe even start revising.

That’s when the flu struck, and it was horrible. It was quite a serious flu, but I didn’t realise it at first, so stupid me kept working. Didn’t take one day off work, and that had sure been a mistake. I ended up feeling miserable for two weeks, the first of which barely allowed me to drag myself to work and sleep once home.

So if you’ve done your maths, yes, that left me with just one week to write, which means I was always constantly running after, with scant time to read and comment other blogs. So much for my nice plan.

Don’t panic and you’ll learn a lot from the challenge

1940s Film Noir - The Femme Fatale and the Damage Hero fight on the ring of postwar AmericaWhen I started writing my posts I nearly panicked. I wondered, was it a wise choice to pick film noir? I had never studied it before. Well, I did a bit of research for a guest post months ago (that’s why I chose the theme, I enjoyed that post), but I felt completely unprepared. As I wrote the first posts, I felt like a fraud. I had pages and pages of notes and even if I had an idea where I wanted to go with the challenge, I felt overwhelmed.

But it was too late to rethink, so I had to do my best with the theme I had chosen.

Turned out to be great fun. Yes, I did like researching, but it was when I wrote down my own posts and I started seeing a theory taking form that I really got into the subject and learned from it.
I’m very very happy I stuck with this theme because I enjoyed it a lot. It was very insightful for me, I learned a lot of things I didn’t know, both about film noir, American and German cinema and also about storytelling. I won’t hesitate to say it was inspiring.

And there was what I love the most about the challenge: connecting. This is the very best of it. Meeting new people, discovering new blogs, reading, comment, share. This is the reason why I always try to plan in advance, because it leaves more time to network, to get in touch.

I’ll give this to the challenge, I’ve always learned something from it, especially about blogging. This years it was:

  1. Never despair. There is always time enough if you want to do something, because you’ll make time and make it work. If that means reading researching material on my phone, I’ll do it. If that means revising and building a post ‘till 1am, I’ll do it. If that means sitting down to write even when you really don’t fill like it, because tomorrow you’ll have a crappy first draft which is always better than nothing, I’ll do it… especially if the post is due up the day after tomorrow. Deadlines have always been a great spur for me.
  2. Prioritise. When you’re short on time, you need to decide your priorities and go with those. In the past two years, I went mad trying to keep up with both answering comment on my blog, commenting on other people’s blogs and finalising my posts. Because this year I had very little time, I decided I’d dedicate one day to one thing: one day to write, one day to comment on other blogs, one day to answer comments on my blog. I have to say this worked a lot better than running around trying to do everything. Yes, I fell behind on many occasions, but I finally caught up with everything, which is the thing. Makes me think that I should do something similar to my normal scheduling too.
  3. Plan. Kind of the mantra of the challenge, isn’t it? But it’s definitely a tipping point.
    Finalising one post will take more time than you think, remember that. Time will vary from blogger to blogger, but for me just building the post once I had everything ready (the text, the graphics, any links, pics and videos) took me over one hour. And I already knew that, but believe me, when you have 26 posts to schedule, you will underestimate what that means in terms of time.
    Here again the best thing is taking the time you need, don’t panic. In many an occasion, I thought the text was ok, then I thought I’d read it once again. Then I thought I’d read it again. Then I though one more time won’t hurt. If you feel you should, just do it, doesn’t matter if it takes some more time. If you feel you should check it out again, it’s because it need checking out. I guarantee you.
  4. Do share. This is something that the challenge taught me the first time I took part: share the hell out of it. Share your posts, share the posts you enjoyed, share what people you follow share, reciprocate people who shared your posts. It takes just a few seconds to share a post you liked… and why you shouldn’t? When I discover something I like, I want everybody to know it. When I started to blog, I thought this was cumbering, I didn’t really know what – or even how – to share, but the challenge taught me you can read and comment and share and still have plenty of time to do other things. Seriously: share it!

Basically, what I learned from this challenge is that quality is king and we should strive to achieve it. The way we do so, the time we take to reach that goal is totally up to us. But if we really want to go there, we’ll find the way, whether that means managing time better, renouncing to something, sleep a lot less than you think you need.

I didn’t regret doing it. Despondent as I had started, I ended up loving my theme.


2017 AtoZ experimentation, how it went for me

This year the challenge was managed in a very different way than the previous years, so let me reflect on this as the organizers asked us for.

There had always been a linky list that gathered the participant blogs, but as the challenge grew, the list became duped. Many blogs signed up but then didn’t take part, and there was a number of blogs that signed up merely because they knew a lot of people was going to check every single entry in the list.
Keeping the list clean had become a chore for the organizers (and I understand that), so this year they decided to do it a different way: no linky list, and instead post every day on the official blog where all participants would comment, living a link to their post for the day.
Before the challenge started there was quite some argument about it. Many people thought that having the additional chore to post every day on the official blog would be bothersome and many pointed out that having no official list was going to be wonky.
Personally, I didn’t mind the new method. I had taken part to the challenge only twice before, so I couldn’t say I was ‘accustoned’ to one way of doing it. I was perfectly fine with the new method too.
After trying it, this is what I think:

  1. I’m not sure the posting method is even. Because posting is affected by our time zone, the same people always got to post in the upper part of the comment section, and the same people always ended up in the lower part of the comment section. Last year we had a very long list of blogs to check, but the linky list was still quite manageable on one page, and we could decide to start checking anywhere on the list (it was suggested to start from the blog below us) so that all blogs had a chance to be seen.
    The comment section is very different. With nearly 600 comments on the first letter, I wonder how many got to check to the end of the page. This means that our time zone affected our possibility to be seen and read
  1. Because the comment section were always overwhelming, I soon stopped checking. I did look up the entire Theme Reveal comment section, but on the first letter I gave up. Too much to do managing my own blog and visiting other blogs. I felt it took too long to scroll down that comment list.
    It also took some trials before I figure out how to open a link in a new tab, so that I didn’t have to scroll down the comment section again. That was a bit awkward.
    At the end of the day, I ended up not bothering about the comment section of the official blog other than to post my link… just in case.
  1. Most of my discovering was done through the actual blogs: people who commented on my blog (I always reciprocate), tweets on other blogger’s feed, people commenting on other blogs I liked. Basically, the mere mechanics of blogging and sharing.

In the end, I did kind of miss the linky list, but then, April is always so busy that I’m not sure I’d have done my challenge differently even with the list.

If I should give a suggestion, since I understand the linky list is not going to come back, it would be to maybe give more time and space to the Theme Reveal, so that we’ll have more time to discover blogs before the challenge starts.
I also missed the AtoZChat, which was another way to get in touch with people and blogs before the challenge started.

I’d be curious  to see some stats about this year’s challenge. It’s probably just me, but I had the impression less people took part and that there was less diversity of offering. For example, I thought there was an overwhelming number of blogs doing fiction (not that I complain about that!) and less unique themes.

So, this is it for this year, folks. Let’s start planning for next year!

A QUICK GUIDE AT WINNING BLOGGING CHALLENGES When it comes to blogging challenges - especially a though one like the April's AtoZ Challenge - it's easy to get all panicked. But there's something more useful (and effective!) you can do: plan! Plan as if there were no tomorrow.
DON'T PANIC. PLAN! When it comes to blogging challenges - especially a though one like the April's AtoZ Challenge - it's easy to get all panicked. But there's something more useful (and effective!) you can do: plan! Plan as if there were no tomorrow.
AtoZ Challange Reflections Post 2017 - Although the AtoZ is truely a challenge, ther are a few things you can do to make winning it more likely: pla, schedule, priotise, and never dispair, not even when everythign seems lost

Pinterest pin. The text reads, "AtoZ Challenge - Reflection Post 2017. The picture shows two white balls, possibly billiard balls, sitting next to each other on a black background.


  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 10:35

    Never despair. Prioritise. Plan. Do share. – those are great things to keep in mind while doing the A-Z. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sarah :-)

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:10

      Thanks for dropping by, ronel and for sticking with my challenge ;-)

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 10:47

    Hi Sarah – I did love your theme and will definitely be back to look through your suggestions of film noir- certainly drew my attention to lots of things. Great to meet you too .. cheers and see you around – Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:16

      thanks for stopping by so often, Hilary. I’ll definitely see you around ;-)

  • Sylvia van Bruggen
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:03

    I love the tips you gave. I definitely made A to Z my priority last month, even though it was hard at times :)

    Your theme was truly awesome, have bookmarked your blog for a bit of a read back :)

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:40

      Thanks for stopping by Sylvia :-)
      The AtoZ has been my priority in April for the past three years. It’s such an exciting time. I’m laready thinking about what I’ll do next year ;-)

  • Debs
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 12:29

    Crickey Sarah, you had even more challenges to handle than I did. Kudos to you for managing to come through it so beautifully. I’ve signed up, so look forward to reading more from you throuughout the year.

    A-Z Challenge 2017: Reflection

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:45

      No, thanks to you Debs, such a faithfull reader.
      Every year, I swear I’ll start very soon, I’ll be done writing before the challenge stars, will have all the graphics ready… then something happens.
      But well, life, isn’t it? ;-)

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 15:13

    I enjoyed your theme a lot, and learned tons from it about film noir. I did not realize you only started researching it recently, you sounded like a total expert :D Also, thank you for the feedback on the no-list system! Cheers!

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF – Weird Things in Folktales

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:58

      Yeah, I am pretty new to film noir, but I have to say that the 1940s had a lot in common witht he 1920s, so I kind of felt at home ;-)

  • CD Gallant-King
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 16:45

    Loved your theme and I got a lot out of it. You obviously put a lot into it, too, which is always noticeable and appreciated.

    I have similar thoughts about the list and the comments. It became much like trying to find posts on Twitter – it’s just a mess of posts and it’s impossible to go through all of it. You’re either going to check the stuff at the top or the bottom, and because the bottom stuff is posted later in the day it will inevitably get the least love.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:11

      Yes, that’s my feeling too. Unfortunally, I dont’ have a solution, but I hope that from many reflection posts out there, a few good idea will come. There are people far more techy than me who may be far more helpful.

  • Raesquiggles
    Posted May 8, 2017 at 22:29

    I loved your film – very original and well researched.
    Planning let me down too! I think many of us underestimate how much time this challenge takes.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:12

      But then, isn’t that always the case with any blog post? ;-)

  • Kristin
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 00:36

    I enjoyed your posts. They were well researched and always interesting. I am happy to see that you are using the “reflections” badge that I designed after finding none at the official site!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:47

      I’m happy to hear you don’t mind I ‘stole’ your badge. I looked everywhere for an official one and when I didn’t find it – but I found yours – I just had to use it ;-)
      Thanks so much for creating it.

  • lissa
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 00:56

    the comments at the a-z blog is a bit overwhelming and blogs do get lost in it but I did find a lot of good posts browsing through. I think I’m the few that actually read all the comments though I’m sure I missed a lot of blogs.

    I’m so impressed that you did research for your posts. I did some research but they were minor. if I have a theme like you, I might had an easier time. going themeless seems like I’m not even trying but I do try.

    congrats on finishing. & have a lovely day.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:49

      The researching part is one of my favourite apsects of the AtoZ. I always learn a lot from this process too. I’ve only partecipated for three years so far, but I’ve always done themes requiring research.

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 01:25

    I don’t know why you ever worried about doing noir, because you were definitely rocked it! The people who follow noir loved you, too! First time I shared one tweet about your series, five noir people liked and followed me!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:59

      LOL! That’s nice to know, Barbara. I’ve noticed a few ‘noir’ people RT my links. Now I know who I have to thank for that ;-)

  • Birgit
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 06:06

    Well I love film so I loved what you wrote…it was eloquent, well researched and intelligent. I. Glad I found your blog and look forward to future posts

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:33

      Happy we stumbled on one another, Birgit. That’s the beaurty of the AtoZ :-)

  • J Lenni Dorner
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 07:01

    1- I LOVE love love your reflection image header. The chess piece in the mirror, “zmog”!

    Broken laptop plus the flu? YIKES!

    Your #1 point of Never Dispair, that’s so accurate. I want to frame it.

    Writing has been the #1 category for the last two years (’15 & ’16), according to those who used codes on the Linky. I’m inclined to wager that writers are used to promotion and thus more willing to paste links on all the platforms.

    I am VERY curious and eager to hear from the group you mentioned– the blog link leavers who were way down on the list. Who, if I understand how FB works now (and that’s a big if), would also have been at the top of the link pile over there. I don’t know.

    Thanks for your feedback. And for your cool theme! I liked your posts.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:40

      I suppose this year the reflections posts will be particularly useful to the co-hosts. I don’t mind the chalelnge chaning format. Changing is a natural state of things ;-)

      Let’s see what next chalelnge will bring.

  • Nilanjana Bose
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 08:41

    Your tips apply to life itself, not just to the A-Z. I loved your theme and what you did with it, totally rocked! You put a lot of planning and hard work into it despite your setbacks, and it showed. Thank you for a illuminating reflections post too!

    I am one of those not too comfortable with the SM platforms, so my links were pasted in mostly on the A-Z blog, and sometimes on the FB page. This does limit exposure. Good pointer re sharing posts liked! so easy to do, yet I almost always forget – something to work on for next year…I totally agree with you on the position of the blog affecting the exposure too, not just in the comments lists but also in the linky list, the last sign ups never got much.

    Best wishes always,

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:43

      Blogging is an ever learning blace, don’t you think? The AtoZ has taught me soemthing every year, that’s one of the reasons why I partecipate. It rocks for meeting people, that’s the absolutly first reason, but learling is a close second.

      I’m already thinking to next year ;-)

  • Lisa @ NatureImmerse
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 09:49

    This is my third year doing A to Z.

    Normally I’m a Romance writer who blogs, but this year I chose a completely different theme; I went with hardcore Astronomy. Glad I did. I had fun, and my commenters did as well.

    My reflection was a bit on the long side as I shared what worked for me, what didn’t work for me, and as I highlighted some of the more memorable blogs I read.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:48

      That’s funny, this was my third year too and I chose a theme that’s a bit out of my normal zone of blogging (the 1920s). But I find that my readers enjoyed it, even if the readership of the AtoZ doesn’t necessarily match my usual readership.
      But it’s an intersting experiment ;-)

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 10:02

    Wow, I’m amazed and impressed that even with all your setbacks, you still managed to do the challenge. And you did brilliantly well. Your posts were great. I started researching and writing my posts in Jan, and was halfway done when the challenge started. So now I’m thinking maybe I need to start preparing in, say, October haha. I like your suggestions for future Challenges. We’ll see what happens. Great job, Sarah, and congrats on finishing! (With style, no less, because film noir is all about style. ;) )

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:54

      Lol! I also think I should start preapring the challenge in October. Though to be honest, I started sorting out the letters in Jan too and started researching in Feb.
      Of course, the earlier, the better, because we can research more accurately and we have time to write the first draft with more ease. That’s particularly important to me becasue I always try to give the challenge some kind of wholeness, of completness, even following the alphabet.

      I’m already thinking to next year challenge. don’t know whether I’ll be able to do what I’d like, loats and lots of research involved. Let’s see :-)

  • Eva
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 12:39

    I liked this post too. I wasn’t really concerned by how the lists/comments section worked. Like you, I discovered most of the blogs through comments on mine an other’s blogs (as usual, yes). There is something extremely random in it… but I guess Internet always is. It is impossible to visit all that seems interesting, isn’t it? I mean, in general, not only the AtoZChallenge.

    I also thought, in the beginning, that there would be a bigger variety of themes. Finally, I managed to make a sort of list (constantly updated) that fit in my interests and time available. I’m glad I’ve discovered some interesting blogs here and there.

    And concerning your posts, they seemed superelaborate and prepared… You got us! ;)

    EvaMail Adventures

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 07:57

      In the end, I think the master list is only a guideline. I have never been able to go through the entire list, not even when there was a linky list. So many people taking part.
      Yes, responding to comments and exploring other people commenting is random, but as you say, that’s indeed how bloggin normally works ;-)

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 21:11

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry you had so many setbacks, but I found your approach to the challenge fascinating. I learned a lot from your posts, too. And I couldn’t agree more: planning, being flexible, and prioritizing are essential. So is being kind to yourself when things don’t go according to plan.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 08:01

      If there’s something I’ve learnt abotu blogging, is that you need a LOT of flexibility ;-)

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 01:27

    I really enjoyed your theme! You did a great job in spite of your obstacles.

    It seemed as though less people took part this year, perhaps because of the lack of a master list. It was more work to scroll through the comments section than it was to scroll through the old list, since each comment took up so much extra space. A lot also depended upon what time of day someone posted the link.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 08:02

      I think this was probably an experimentation year, moving from the ‘old’ format to a new one. I understand this is necessary and though I can’t see where we’re going with the challenge, I have faith a solution will present itself in the end.

  • Nick Wilford
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 08:10

    Well, you gave a great impression of being highly organised! I’m amazed you only just started learning a lot about the subject – you sounded like an authority. You clearly have great research skills, even when restricted to a phone. I agree with a lot of your other thoughts – the linky list tilted things in favour of those who could get there first, but on some days I started reading it from the bottom, or halfway through, to try and find some different blogs. The theme reveal is definitely a valuable feature, as it allows you to follow a blog from the start to the end, which is great.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2017 at 08:05

      Well, let’s say that, because I really liked the subject, I was absorbing everything I read ;-)

      For me, the Theme Reveal Day is the focus of the challenge. That’s were I find the higher number of blogs to follow, and i do like to follow a blogger’s challenge from the beginning.
      Let’s see what will happen next year.

  • Cait
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 19:51

    Well done for completing the challenge against all those hurdles. I like your approach of spending each day focusing on a different thing. I’m still getting caught up on my comments!

    Cait @ Click’s Clan

  • Arlee Bird
    Posted May 16, 2017 at 17:34

    You certainly started out with adversity, but that’s part of the Challenge isn’t it? I liked your theme and you did a great job with it.

    Excellent observations made here. I could see right off the problem with the link list in the A to Z Blog comments. I never used this for posting my own link and very rarely to find new posts. I won’t say the Link List will never be back–to me it is still preferable, but just not in the awkward original form. We’ll be discussing this in our post-Challenge Team assessment.

    Thanks for the excellent Reflections. You had some great observations and suggestions. And most of all thank you for participating in the 2017 Challenge.

    Arlee Bird

    • Post Author
      Posted May 17, 2017 at 08:11

      It was a fantastic experience as always, Arlee. I should thenk you for putting this together and running.
      I’m sure time will counsel and a solution will be found. I appreciate that chenges are needed, since the challenge has grown a lot.

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