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How to complete the AtoZ Challenge even when life doesn’t collaborate (Reflection Post)

My second AtoZ Challange is over and let me tell you it didn’t go as I was expecting at all!

My plan was to get the best out of the challenge this year. When I entered last year, I thought I knew what I was getting into (insert polite giggle of commiseration here). The truth is, if only know what the challenge is but you’ve never tried it, you have no idea.
But I was a veteran, this year. This year I was in the know. I was going to blast the challenge.

As soon as my challenge last year was done, I knew what my theme was going to be this year. It was going to be a sort of continuation form last year Roaring Twenties theme. And I was equipped with what I had learned last year (a lot!). So really I was geared up for success.

Plan the hack out of it

I know many says that you can write your posts on the day you post them, and hey, that’s exactly what I did on many occasions last year. Would I advice it? Hell, no! At least not when you’re going with a theme, and certainly not if you go with a theme that requires any kind of research.

And then there’s networking. I learned most of what I know about networking during last year challenge, so I thought I was a lot better-prepared than last year.

In short, I had a plan and this is what it sounded:

1. Brainstorm letters. Right now!

I started brainstorming last summer and only very yearly this year I had all the letters in place. Yes, it does take that long.
I know that many bloggers prefer not to have a theme, because they think it stiffens your creativity. I actually think a theme helps coming up with ideas and it makes the challenge cohesive, which is good for the reader and makes for a better experience for the reader – in my opinion.
Still, some letters will kill you and you have to be very creative with them.

2. It’s never too early to start researching

Of course, this goes with theme that require research. But if they do, by all means start as soon as you can.
I was lucky because I based my challenge on Ogren’s The Jazz Revolution, where I found almost all the ideas I needed a most of the information. But I had to reread the book and take notes, then I had to research more on the internet both for what I already had and for what I didn’t have. Yes, it is as time-consuming as it sounds. In fact, I started researching as soon as NaNoWriMo ended last year.

3. Write as your life depends on it

Jazz Age Jazz - Theme RevealLast year I thought starting to research and write a couple of month ahead would be more than enough time to be ready (insert polite giggle of commiseration here). This year I took taking notes and writing as two different activities and it was much better.
I set apart the entire month of March to write and edit my posts and I think it shows. Last year I wrote and edited posts as I went, just a couple days in advance when I was lucky. Having my time to write and edit as I need made my challenge of better quality – if I say so myself.

4. Take part in #AZChat

Last year I didn’t even know these chats where happening. I discovered them early in March and I decided to take part. Couldn’t have taken a better decision. I met new people on these chats, I learned about themes in advanced, I decided to follow a few blogs based on the chats. It was such a great fun.

5. Take part in the Theme Reveal

The Theme Reveal is a great head start to the challenge. You learn of a lot of blogs you want to follow and it allows for a lot of people to find you in advance.
For me, the Theme Reveal Day is one of the highlight of the challenge.

6. Beautify your posts

Here’s the thing: what your post looks like is as much important as what you write in it, and because this is a multimedia word, you should offer multimedia sources.
Simple as that.
So I ditched the simple structure of last year and went for a more varied, hopefully more alluring structure. I wanted a title image (Canva, I love you!), a tweetable sentence, link to all major sources I used, at least one pic from the era, one video with a song. And if you think this is going to be a piece-o-cake, think twice. Sure, you may got lucky and fine exactly the right pic and video with your first search. More realistically, you’ll search for tens of minutes before you find what you need. All think considered, my posts (which were already written and edited) took me an average of 40 minutes to put together, with Sensuality breking the record to nearly two hours (I couldn’t find a good title pic to go with it. I created and discarded two before settling with the one with Josephine Baker).
But it’s worth it. I think these little things that are such a pain in the back for us, are actually very much appreciated by reader. Right? Right?

7. You learn from it and that’s a pay-off in itself

This is a bonus. I assure you that, if you have a theme, by the time you’ve done researching and writing, you’ll be very knowledgeable about it. Maybe not an expert, but I assure you that 26 posts about a subject will have you know a lot about it whether you want it or not.

So, as April started, I felt I was in the best position to get the most out of this challenge as I had planned. I was ready!
How to complete the #AtoZChallenge even when life doesn’t collaborate (Reflection Post) Click To Tweet

Life will always happen

The first week was exactly how I expected it. My posts were all scheduled in advance, I replied to all the comments on my blog, I visited and left comments to all commenters, I read and commented on all the blogs I had on my blogroll. By Sunday, I was all caught up with comments and I even had the time to go exploring a few more blogs.
It was beautiful!

Then, on the second week of April, life happened. And hard.
My father had a mild heart attack. I spent two entire days with him at the hospital. He was getting on well, we hoped he would get home soon, instead the doctor told us the episode was mild and didn’t make any damage, but it was a spy of something more serious that had to be sorted out.
They went from thinking to place a stent to having my father have a full fledge open heart surgery to place two bypasses, all in the matter of a week. My brother, sister and me ran around the entire province as my father was moved to four different hospitals specialised in different things, and we worked our time with him around our day jobs and oThe AtoZChallenge Survivor badgeur possibility to move. By the end of the third week, as my father started leaving the bed, the three of us were pretty much cooked up.

My father is well now and getting better by the day. He’s still in rehab at a hospital on Lake Garda (not a bad place at all), and we’re waiting for him to come home in a week or two. This is what matters the most and everything else goes beneath this.

But with regard to my AtoZ Challenge… you’ll imagine what this April did to it. It wasn’t at all the challenge I planned. I could barely keep up with scheduling my posts. I could barely keep up with commenting. Some days I didn’t even open my feedly account to check on the new posts. I didn’t explore the blog list at all.
But what I did plan helped me enjoy the challenge nonetheless. If I hadn’t planned in advance, there would have probably been no challenge for me.


In spite of everything, the challenge was wonderful. It was wonderful reading and interacting with you all and your enthusiasm and support was so important for me… on so many levels.
So I’d like to share with you some of the blogs I enjoyed the most. I want to thank everyone who commented on my blog and especially those who stuck with me the entire month. You are absolutely awesome, every one of your!

Your Roots Are Showing, Dearie – Nostalgia’s Mystery
This is a full fledged mystery story, even a bit too complicated in places for me – hey, there are code breaking and riddle solving involved, I’ll say no more. But it was so much fun. As it’s often the case for me, character are what make or break a story, and the characters here were just too fun and endearing. The tone was always amusing. It was a great fun to read.

Sophie’s Thoughts and Fumbles – Murder Most Foul!
Another mystery, though written in a very different manner. Sophie outlined the mystery more that actually writing it, and I found it so charming. Not only I enjoyed the story, but I also liked seeing how she organised and plotted it. There are dialogue outlines here, characters’ notes, as well as the skeleton of the plot.
I’m sure there will go a lot more in the actual book, but here you see the heart of the story.

Megan Morgan – Pandora Tacklebox
Or the worse romance ever written in 26 days. Absolutely fantastic read!
Yes, this is a terribly written story, Megan did such a good job. She packed in here all the worse things a write could do, and wrote her story in the worse possible way, then accompanied every chapter with advice on how to actually write a story.
It was interesting and fun.

Athertone Magic Vapour – Who Murdered Lord Cadblister?
Ok ok, I had a thing for stories this year. The point of this challenge was to showcase fictional books (as in, books existing only in a fictional world) but most of these books told a story.
This was a very peculiar challenge, gothic books, beautifully designed, that actually told stories. What can one ask for more?

The Multicoloured Diary – Representation and Diversity in Storytelling
We tend to think that stories in the past didn’t concern themselves with diversity all that much. Zalka, who’s a professional storyteller, showed us that’s not always the case. She showcased a variety of stories where the most diverse people make the coolest things.
A different way to look at folktales.

Write on Sister – Masterplot Theatre
There are many plots in storytelling and most show up time and again. They have a similar structure and similar goal. Robin and Heather explored these masterplots revealing their characteristics and offering examples.

The Art of Not Getting Published – Discover the XVI Century
I can hardly resist a good history blog when I stumble upon one, so I was very happy to discover this. It tells about the XVI century worlds as if it were today, sometimes expanding on different eras too. I don’t think I’m far from truth if I say that the most popular post was about bathrooms thorough the ages.

Knotholes and Textures – Classic Hollywood
Another good history challenge, this one about Hollywood of the Golden Age, from the 1920s to the 1950s. I enjoyed reading this blog because it often crossed subjects with mine. And learning about Hollywood events, gossips, actors, films and the like was just too interesting.

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

Honestly, I could go on for quite a bit longer.
But you know what? I’ll leave it to you. Which is the blog/blogs that you enjoyed the more last month? Leave the link in the comment. Hey, I might just catch up on what I missed during the month!


  • leprechaunrabbit
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 02:20

    Prima menzione? Grazie, Bella, sei troppo gentile!

  • leprechaunrabbit
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 02:27

    I have to stop commenting with my phone, it sends before I finish.
    I hope your father and family, as well as yourself, are better now.
    Stay well, Dearie!
    I look forward to your assistance, next year

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:08

      And your comments go in the spam, I don’t understand why, since this is not the first time you comment on my blog. I found them by sheer luck 🙁

      Thanks, my father is doing well. It’s conforting seeing that he is getting better by the day.

      I’ll be super happy to help you next year. Will you ‘visiting’ Verona? 😉

      • leprechaunrabbit
        Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:21

        Gia has been hinting of some goings on in Europe. I really hope she doesn’t get arrested again. I have enough jail cell pictures of her.
        Looking forward to ‘visiting’ your Jazz club though!

        • Post Author
          Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:24

          Arrested? Naaaaa!
          I’ll have to do some thinking on that jazz club. You know, prepare a good welcoming 😉

  • Mary Burris
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 11:04

    I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s health. I’m glad that he was able to get the necessary treatment. Seems like life threw quite a few people curveballs this month. I’m really happy that you had your posts pre-written, so you didn’t miss any days, but I know exactly how you felt when it came to visiting other blogs and catching up on comments.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:10

      I heard other people having a tough April. I hope everyone faired well in the end.

      AtoZ-wise, I’m really sorry that I didnt’ have the chance to visit as much as I had liked, but I’ll try to catch up on the Road Trip. I’ve already found a couple of blogs that I’m really sorry I missed. Time to read some more 🙂

  • Anabel
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 12:16

    Oh no, so sorry to hear all that was going in with your father! But glad to hear he is on the mend now.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:19

      He is indeed. He complains that he is fine and there’s no reason for him to be still in a hospital. Of course, doctors know better 😉

  • Sara L.
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 12:50

    You made a good point in that planning ahead (maybe even way in advance) can help bloggers survive the A To Z Challenge. But blogging will always take a backseat to family and life when things come up that need our immediate attention. I’m glad to hear your father is doing better, and I hope he’s able to come home soon. *hugs*

    • Post Author
      Posted May 9, 2016 at 13:22

      He should be coming home next week. He can’t wait 😉

      You know, I shared this because I think that true, there are things that just come before anything. But it’s also true that life will always happens, that’s how it’s supposed to be, and we should be able and willing to cope with that. There’s will never be an ideal life where you will be able to do whatever you want (read: writing and blogging) with no distructions and no worries. We should take this into account.

      • Sara L.
        Posted May 9, 2016 at 15:32

        Exactly. I don’t think that came across my comment, but that’s my feeling when it comes to our priorities. Offline life will always be more important than our online life, and we need to be remember this and adapt when offline life throws us a curveball or two. 😉

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 14:25

    Thanks for the shout out 🙂

    So sorry to hear about your father, but glad to hear he’s on the mend.

    I learned a lot about Jazz last month from you, and especially your passion for it 🙂

    All the best,


    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 04:54

      Thanks Sophie. I really enjoyed your mystery. I also enjoyed see how you went about building it 🙂

  • Megan Morgan
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 19:33

    Thanks so much for the shout-out! And I’m really glad your father is doing better, that’s a scary thing!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 04:56

      He’s not home yet, but he is doing better 🙂

      I have to tell you, your romance was really terrible… I mean terrific… good job 🙂

  • BarbCT
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 21:33

    I’m glad to hear your father’s on the mend. I know that was a scary situation.

    I’m honored that you included my blog as one of your favorites. I feel the same about yours.

    I hadn’t thought about a reflection post, but I think I do need to see if life, and my computer, will cooperate (not collaborate) to get it posted. Of course, that also depends on whether my brain will work, too. I’m having a rough time right now with brain fog due to my fibromyalgia.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 04:57

      Well, I’m happy to see that you did managed to post the Reflection about your challenge. I think it’s a nice closing to the experience.

  • Debbie D
    Posted May 10, 2016 at 13:32

    It’s difficult enough to keep up under the best of circumstances; almost impossible when life interferes! I’m glad to know your father is recovering well and in such a nice location. 🙂

    I enjoyed your theme a lot but didn’t get a chance to visit as much as I would have liked, as I was writing on the fly for most of the month. So much better to have all the posts done before the start!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 04:59

      Writing on the fly… that’s a hard way to do the AtoZ Challenge, so I have to congratulate you for faring so well posting all your entries. You did a great job 🙂

  • Patricia Lynne
    Posted May 11, 2016 at 03:38

    I’m happy your dad’s on the mend. Mine had a heart attack a few month ago and boy was that scary! He kept having complications too. The only bumps in my A to Z Challenge was the day job. Even with my posts scheduled, it was tiring to get around to blogs after a long day at work.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 05:01

      I hope your father is better now. It’s always so scary when people we love aren’t well.

      It always feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day, is it?

  • Roland Clarke
    Posted May 11, 2016 at 15:25

    I’m pleased to hear your dad is doing better, and what a perfect place Lake Garda is to recuperate on. Your thoughts on preparing for A to Z are excellent. Need to devise tweetable phrases, somehow.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 05:02

      I use a plugin for the twittable phrases, but I think plugins only work on self-hosted WordPress blogs.

      • Roland Clarke
        Posted May 12, 2016 at 10:11

        Might work on my blog as that is a self-hosted WordPress site. Like offering the Tweet facility s well as button at the end.

  • Sabina
    Posted May 11, 2016 at 15:43

    I just have no TIME these days–I’ve been awful about reading others’ blogs in general, then multiply that by A-Z and it was frankly atrocious. I also had big plans–I was going to do the majority of the writing/post creation work during Spring Break, and do the #AZChat which I loved last year, and comment on EVERYTHING–and then my boyfriend invited me to go visit his family over spring break and school and work piled up and here we are. I frankly did the challenge better last year (despite it being my first time) because I could put in the hours to make it awesome.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 05:07

      You know, I think the best think we can do is trying to work our blog around our life, and plan as much as we can as soon as we can… because you never know what life will decide about you 😉
      The AtoZ is a big test, because it’s a month long and anything may happen in a month. But that’s what I like about it too. I always learn a lot about blogging from the challenge.

      In some circumstances, succeeding in posting every day is already the best achievement.

  • Random Musings
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 00:50

    I’m so sorry about what happened to you father, I’m glad to hear he’s making a good recovery. I had all my posts scheduled ahead of time and I still didn’t manage to visit every blog on the list! I loved Megan Morgan’s terrible romance story theme 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted May 12, 2016 at 05:10

      That list is so long that I wonder whether anybody can make it through it during the challenge. But then there is the Road Trip and that’s good. I’m still discovering blogs that are well worth reading.

  • Cynthia
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 07:38

    Hello Sara, I only started planning my posts around February. I’m impressed that you stuck to the planning for a year. I enjoyed reading your posts and feel I’ve learned more about the history of music while doing so.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 17, 2016 at 17:31

      Hi Cynthia and thanks for stopping by.
      Well, the first thing I learned from last year challenge (my first) is that writing posts is the most tume consuming activity in the challenge, so the earlier you start, the better. And I know that researching would ask for still more time. It’s good to have an entire year for planning 😉

  • Lissa Johnston (@Lissa_Johnston)
    Posted May 12, 2016 at 13:02

    Impressed you were able to hang in there when your dad started having his health problems. My dad just had his one year anniversary surviving a mini-stroke. He is the proud owner of three new stents (one in neck; two in heart). It def rocks your world when a loved one falls seriously ill. Sounds like both our dads are on the mend – hurray!

    Thanks for the tips on the other blogs you discovered. With so many participants, it really helps to be pointed in a direction – especially by someone who shares my reading tastes (history nerd!!).

    • Post Author
      Posted May 17, 2016 at 17:34

      Ah! So happy to hear your dad is doing well too 🙂
      The first two weeks were the hardest, but having the challenge to care about was actually kind of help, becasue it helped me keep focuse on something different than my worries (and I’m the kind of person that worries too much about everything). So it was hard, but it was good too.

      I like sharing what I like. Hey, history nerd? I’m going over to your blog!

  • Sharon Himsl
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 21:14

    That’s tough about your father. I’m impressed you were able to keep up at all. Glad he is doing better. Excellent planning having your posts ready in advance in lieu of all that happened! I had none scheduled at all. The worst possible a-z for me, time wise, but I learned a lot and now that’s it’s over, I’m happy with the collection. All the best!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 17, 2016 at 17:36

      I’ve read your Reflection post and really I don’t know how you did it. I don’t think I’d be able to. Last year, I had most of the challenge still to write when it started, but I still had a few posts scheduled… and it was hell, especially in the middle of the month. You were very brave.

      And yes, the collection of posts is a great reward when the challenge is done, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Lori
    Posted May 18, 2016 at 17:13

    Still catching up with A to Z and looking forward to reading your posts. I am so sorry to hear about your father’s problems, but happy he is on the mend. Life has a way of muscling in on our writing.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 06:36

      Dad came home two days ago. Now I’m a lot better 🙂

      Tell me about it! I’m sooooo behind with my AtoZ catchup. And what’s worst (or best 😉 ?) is that I’m still finding new blogs to follow.

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