Monday, June 6, 2016

Personal Challenges and Light Bulb Moments (#atozchallenge)

       This guest post comes courtesy of writer/blogger Lissa Johnston.   If you would be interested in contributing your guest post to the A to Z Challenge Blog please contact us

Personal Challenges and Light Bulb Moments

2016 is my first year participating in the A to Z Challenge, though not my first blog challenge and definitely not my first writing challenge. I’m familiar with deadline pressure - what writer isn’t? - but the A to Z presented a couple of different types of pressure, for different reasons. As I progressed through the challenge, and even afterward, my opinions on some blog-related issues have been swinging back and forth like a West Texas weather vane, to wit:

To Theme Or Not To Theme
When I started the challenge, I didn’t realize what was going on with the ‘theme’. I thought ‘A to Z’ was the theme. Once I figured it out, I thought, Whew! So glad theme is optional. Themes are stupid. Themes tie me down and restrict my writing. I’ll write whatever the heck I feel like. And of course after the hundredth random theme-less blog I visited, I was so thankful to stumble across blogs that had such narrowly focused themes I marveled in their ability to find 6 topics to write about, much less 26. I became a believer. Themes are the bomb. Themes are like fences. They may seem restrictive and unsightly, but in addition to keeping good things in, they also keep bad things out.

Categories and Comments
After the challenge concluded, we were encouraged to post a recap of our experiences. Of 1300+ bloggers who completed most of the challenge, less than a third shared a recap. Still, that’s over 300 opinions, and I’ve worked my way through nearly half.

Two areas were mentioned repeatedly: requests for tweaks to the blog category codes; and hand-wringing over the low percentage of participants who visited and commented at other blogs. My flip-flop on these two issues is intertwined.

First, to the categories: When we registered for the challenge, we were asked to describe our blogs using a two-letter code. The idea was to give other bloggers some idea of what your blog was about before they clicked. Many participants thought there should be more categories added. Some also suggested they should describe the theme, rather than the blog, since the two could vary wildly. My initial reaction to the category idea was, Categories? I don’t need no stinking categories! I assigned myself one. But I basically ignored other people’s blog categories because I wanted to visit ALL of them, regardless of topic.I will also admit my initial reaction to blogs being categorized is that it had the potential to hurt some blogs that might be at a disadvantage if ghetto-ized into a category with a very small niche.  

Secondly, the comments: Some participants said they didn’t leave comments because they couldn’t think of anything to say. And I’m like, What? Most bloggers are writers, for crying out loud. Surely you can come up with 10 words on the fly, like that old Toastmasters improv exercise. If you can’t come up with a few words for a token comment, blog comments are the least of your worries.

That’s how I felt about categories and comments - until I had my light bulb moment.

I’ve been listening to several writing podcasts recently. One in particular really solved a problem I’ve been having with a current WIP. I couldn’t wait to get to the keyboard and type up a comment. And that’s when I realized: If I’m not that excited about every comment I leave, I shouldn’t be leaving it. I shouldn’t be wasting my time on meaningless ‘hey, just dropping by from the A to Z’ comments in a likely fruitless attempt to increase my page rank.

After my light bulb moment, I now understand why people want the categories to be clear, unambiguous, and definitive of both blog and theme if possible.The bloggers who are asking for this have already had the light bulb moment. They know what they are interested in and where they will have the best chance of finding blogs they will want to comment on organically. Otherwise, they’re wasting their time as well as yours.

I like to think I have an open mind. I’m willing to change my opinion when I’m wrong, especially when learning through personal experience. The 2016 A to Z Challenge was full of those experiences for me. What were some of your light bulb moments this year?

Lissa Johnston is a writer. Her latest book, The Dala Horse, is a middle grade adventure available now at Amazon. She blogs at


  1. While it is nice to have someone drop by during the challenge, I do not feel they need to leave the 'just dropped by' comment. I can check the increased traffic in my blog stats. I do though find new bloggers to read if they leave a comment. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  2. A different and perhaps clearer perception than I had about categories, comments, and themes. Lots to think about. Great post.
    Impromptu Promptlings

  3. I wrote about my light bulb moment in my reflection, an exercise I hope was helpful like your reflection post is. Here is a few lines of that moment. "The 4th year I learned how important it is to pick a theme that works with the nature of #The Challenge. If the point is to encourage new readership, the subject matter better work for a one time visitor. " My reflection post expands this thought. I agree about the expanding the category list someway. Here in the month of June I am back at it writing a series on the summertimes of our youth and how to recapture some of those wonderful moments. The blogging world, what a "trip."

  4. I'd rather have fewer comments and have those comments show they've actually read or scanned my post and have a reaction to it. So I agree with your lightbulb moment.

  5. My light bulb moment was when I figured out I could visit the blogs before the challenge started. So much the better for me to not experience AtoZ fatigue.

  6. First, glad to have you aboard the A to Z family.
    I personally prefer the category system because of the fact, that even though I try to visit blogs with and without the category listed, it helps me prioritize where I am going to spend the majority of my time. My lightbulb moment was discovering a couple of music blogs that blew me away and a story blog that kept me going back day after day.
    Shalom aleichem,

  7. I went theme-less the very first year. Don't recommend it.
    Some people just didn't return comments at all. Their loss.

  8. Nice technique! I've used similar when I was trying to work on my paper writing structure. Very helpful and useful, thank you.

  9. Interesting. I comment all over the place. But the blogs I go back to visit all year, yes, those tend to be ones of topics that are of interest to me. Good post!

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  11. Great insight. I knew right away I wanted a theme, to make it easier for me. I didn't really pay attention to the categories and I would much prefer a comment that meant something rather than just a hi. You didn't say if you will be doing it again next year. Did you have fun?

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