Monday, January 16, 2012

A to Z The Writercize Way: Helpful Tips from Alana Garrigues

My PhotoA to Z The Writercize Way

Hello all you A to Z Challengers in the blogosphere.  April 1st and the 2012 challenge will be here in the blink of an eye, so I wanted to help you out with a couple of tips, tricks and observations I noticed from my participation last year.  My name is Alana, freelance writer, mom to twin preschoolers, daydreamer and author of the Writercize blog.

First off, thank you to Lee for allowing me to guest on this page. And second, let me just say that I had an incredible time participating in the 2011 Challenge, and had the opportunity to "meet" some of my favorite writers and virtual friends during the challenge last April. It is not an easy challenge, but with a little preparation, it could be the most worthwhile blog network you will do this year. If it's not already on your list of things to do in the New Year, add A to Z Challenge to your New Year's List of Resolutions!

On to the meat of the message:

  • Stay true to your voice and your blog throughout all your posts. The challenge is a great way to expose your voice to many potential new contacts and followers. Be honest and true to yourself and your readers, and you will gain much from the challenge. If your blog is about cooking, don't blog A through Z about movies or music (unless they are related to cooking) and expect to connect or click with the "right" kind of reader. If you don't already have an "about this blog" page set up, do it now, before the challenge starts, and make sure it jives with the content you put out there.

  • If your voice and blog are loosey-goosey random, it may help challenge readers for you to pick a theme for the challenge and stick with it.  Last year, two writer bloggers arranged a list of 26 emotions that were used as the basis for daily short stories and poems.  Readers could jump between the two blogs and leave a guess as to the emotion in the comment form.  It allowed them to take a break from writing about writing and exercise their writing muscles, and showed their voice through their quick writing samples.  Plus, they could blog about other things during the month outside of the theme, and readers immediately recognized it as an "extra" post.

  • Comment thoughtfully.  It is ok to visit fellow challenger blogs and write something along the lines of "fellow A to Z Challenger" with your name and URL in the comment, but be sure to let the blogger know you actually read something in their post in that comment too.  There is nothing more annoying than spam when you are churning your heart and soul out daily.  Maybe you like their voice, or a photo or a word in the post.  If you don't like anything about it, you might be better off just moving on to the next blog rather than leaving a spam trail in your wake.

  • Forgive yourself.  It is highly unlikely that you will be able to visit all of the blogs in the challenge.  I know of 2 or 3 participants last year who did, and I honestly have no idea how they did it.  Aim high, but be realistic.  Visit as many as you can; use the "next blog" button that will surely be created in time for the challenge or refer to the list and work through it, but don't be too hard on yourself if you aren't able to visit 50+ blogs a day.  It's a challenge, and I commend you if you are one of those speed readers with magical time management skills, but I also forgive you if you're just an average Jane like me.

  • Make a plan.  Write down the letters A through Z in a notebook.  (Or computer program if you like to be modern.)  Fill in an idea for a word or image for each letter.  Give yourself flexibility for inspiration to strike on the day of the post, but be confident in knowing that you have something to fall back on just in case.  If thinking of words for the letters A to Z makes you freeze up, think up a theme that you can work into your blog.  Last year I saw photos, recipes, ideas for party themes, posts inspired by names A to Z (biblical, historical, fictional), movie reviews, book reviews, flash fiction from words submitted by readers, and more. The sky truly is the limit. If you're a geography buff, tackle cities or countries A to Z. If you love comic strips, share your thoughts or best lines from characters A to Z. If you're an illustrator, find a different way to draw the letters.

  • Post ahead.  Right around mid-alphabet, you may lose some steam and be happy if you have scheduled your post in advance.  It will probably happen again around those pesky letters like Q, X and Z.  Don't let yourself stress about it.  Schedule those posts and take a break from blogging on those days as they come along, or spend the time you would be posting visiting extra challenge blogs.

  • Tell your friends about the challenge. They'll thank you for it at least 75% of the time.  And the rest, you can be miserable together as you compare finger blisters and dilated irises from late nights typing away!

I write an educational blog called Writercize, and I post writing exercises several times a week on a wide variety of topics and formats from fiction to nonfiction to poetry to real world applications. I started the blog last year about a month before the challenge and decided to dive right in when a writing friend told me about it.

In the spirit of writercize and the A to Z challenge, I would like to challenge you to the following writercize from the tips listed above. It will get the writing juices flowing and help you prepare for April all at the same time! I'd love you to share some of your results as a comment. Here you are:

writercize:  Write down the letters A through Z in a notebook.  Fill in an idea for a word or image for each letter.

Now, discuss. And best of luck in the challenge. I'll be reading!

Alana Garrigues
Freelance Writer

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Sarah Tokeley said...

Some excellent tips. I particularly like the one about remaining true to your voice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Yes, your posts must reflect your blog.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Great tips!


Jean Katherine Baldridge said...

This was interesting and so is the wintercize blog. Thanks,

Tina said...

So nice to meet you, Alana! EXCELLENT post! I am one of those random all the time bloggers, because the purpose of my blog is to practice writing, and to share my life with my readers. I've never done an "about me" tab at Life is Good, but you've inspired me to do so! Your blog sounds like a perfect place for me to hang out!
Thanks so much for sharing your post with us!
Tina @ Life is Good
Co-Host of the April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Anonymous said...

Hey, Alana! Great tips, but as a regular reader of your blog, I'm not even a little bit surprised that you have wisdom to share.

Last year, jotting down topic ideas on an A-Z list helped me a great deal. I ended up blogging my way back from Z-A in May, too, so planning was essential. I also wrote ahead and scheduled my posts--but only a day. I tried to stay one day ahead so if I found myself swamped with work or simply not feeling bloggy one day, I'd have a built-in cushion.

As far as reading ALL of the other entries? Holy crapanoly! I can't imagine. I read a lot and met some really great bloggers, but I didn't make it nearly through the list.

Ghadeer said...

These are really good tips and I especially like your advice of staying true to the blog and being natural

J.L. Campbell said...

Sounds like a plan. I tried to plan and write ahead, but somehow time is always in short supply.

Nicole said...

Alana, I agree with you and Alex on the importance of writing A to Z posts that reflect the blog. It can be awkward and sometimes confusing to read a blog that appears to be focused on literary material in the young adult fantasy market and all of a sudden, the blog author is posting practical jokes or citing verses from the Bible.

It sets readers up for an unnecessary challenge of trying to not only figure out what a blog and it's blogger is all about but also trying to decide on whether the blog is one that they want to visit again and continue reading after the A to Z challenge is completed.

Finding new blogs to read is one of the greatest features of the A to Z challenge, so if I read a post on someone's blog that is about historical architecture in Spain, but their archives, layout and overall blog feel are all about customizing motorcycle parts, then something isn't matching up...making me wonder "should I come back to this place or not?"..."Is this blog about motor sports or is it about architecture, OR is it about traveling?"

I considered scheduling posts in advance for the A to Z challenge, but as a procrastinator who sometimes thrives on deadlines and can whip up something nice writings when under pressure, I decided to just wait and write most, if not all of my posts during the actual challenge.

I didn't even put a dent in the amount of participating blogs that I visited during last year's A to Z challenge...sorta because of the spammer and non-active blogs that were in the list but also for the most part, because there were just so many blogs on the list and only so much time in my day to devote to blogging activities. Writing a blog post every single day and then keeping on top of the comments on your own blog while also reading and commenting on other blogs is a LOT to do....especially when you have writing jobs to complete...the kind of writing jobs that have to be done or else no food will be on the dinner table, lol.

Thanks to the Writercize blog, finding inspiration for blog posts has never been easier so this year, I think that no blogger who plans to participate in the 2012 A to Z challenge has any valid excuses for not writing or lacking creativity, with regards to blogging topics. All anyone has to do it visit your blog and the writer's block disappears so at the very least, I urge anyone and everyone who is blogging from A to Z and has trouble with any letter or is experiencing some moments of lost motivation to bookmark Writercize. In fact, it should be required reading for those trying to survive the challenges of writing and blogging on a daily basis.

The Madlab Post

Sylvia Ney said...

Wonderful tips - thanks for sharing!


Alana said...

Oh my gosh, Nicole, thank you for the MASSIVE compliment!

Alana said...

Thanks so much Tina. Can't wait to see what you come up with for your about me page! I found it really helps remind me to stay true to my voice. Thanks for co-hosting this massive event!! Your support is very much appreciated!

Alana said...

Beth, thanks for the compliment! I can't believe you had enough juices to work your way back Z through A in May. You are a wonder woman!

Alana said...

Sarah, Alex, Journaling Woman, Jean, Jnana, J.L., Sylvia, thanks for your comments and confirmation about the importance of voice. I look forward to seeing you around in the challenge!

Arlee Bird said...

Thank you, Alana, for this wonderful post. You've generated some blog thought.

Nicole, that was not only a great comment, but a post in itself. Are you ready to do another guest spot?

Thanks to all for visiting today.


Empty Nest Insider said...

Thanks for the great tips Alana! Look forward to seeing lots of you during the challenge, and I'm glad you've been eating your spinach! Julie

Alana said...

Thank you again for having me Lee! It was a pleasure.

Julie - haha! That is what I used to call dual toddler lifting - the best bicep workout in the world. ;) Look forward to seeing you during the challenge as well!

MISH said...

Thanks for sharing these gems with us, Alana!
It's definitely helped me decide how to approach the challenge for 2012!

Beth Stilborn said...

I only learned about the A to Z challenge a few weeks ago, and have been looking forward to it ever since (mainly with excitement, laced with a little healthy trepidation). Your tips were very helpful, Alana. Planning ahead will definitely have to take place -- I'm learning how much it helps in regular blogging to actually have a plan. (Duh...) Thanks, Alana!

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Great tips! I especially love the first one about staying true to your blog. I followed many blogs based on what the A to Z posts were on, which I liked, only to find out that they weren't anything like what the person usually blogged about.

Alana said...

Mish - I am so glad!

Beth - excitement and trepidation is just about the right combination to go in with realistic expectations. ;) You'll be great, I'm sure!! The great thing about blogs is that we always get to mold them into what we want according to inspiration and experience. I look forward to your posts in A to Z!!

Dawn - I so hear you! Presentation counts. :)

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Sounds like a great outline to go by! Thanks for sharing, Lee. :)


Jenni Steel said...

I have enjoyed reading your A-Z tips.
I have found them very interesting and I wish I had read them at the start.

There is so much to learn and remember. Then put it into practice!
I still feel I'm searching for my niche, I hope I find it soon.

Loved your post!

Rebeccah Giltrow said...

Brilliant post, thanks for that. I'm new to this whole A-Z thing so all this advice is really helpful. I've planned most of my posts because I'm not good at writing on the hop. I just have to deal with Z!