Last year, I attempted to do the April challenge when a personal struggle hit my life and I wasn't able to finish. I think I may have stopped around the letter L. This year I planned on doing the challenge and only hoped that the stress levels would be lower for me this time around so that I could actually complete it.
I am happy to say that I DID survive the challenge and I am very proud of myself.
Here's a few things that I think were successful about the challenge:
1) My blog got it's life back.
Prior to starting this challenge, this blog had undergone a major transition. I stopped doing the product reviews I (unsuccessfully) introduced to this blog over year ago and even transitioned out of doing the weekly writing prompt. I had lost a LOT of my once faithful readers over the past year and a half, so I needed something to build upon.
Taking on the "Halloween in April" theme, I feel like my blog got it's pulse back. I plan on continuing with the theme, most of all because the subject of paranormal, horror, unexplainable mysteries are what I write about in my fiction. Writing about this the whole month inspired me and gave me new ideas. In fact, I have an entire list (and even a potential novel) going and although I won't credit it entirely to this challenge, I know it had a HUGE hand in this inspiration.
2) I gained some new followers (and built up my traffic).
The last time I dared look at Google Analytics for this blog, I realized I had dropped to about 100 - 200 pageviews per month. Can everyone say OUCH with me? OUCH.
Because of this challenge I have built up to about 1300 - 1500 pageviews and I even GAINED a few new followers and a several new faithful commenters because of the challenge. I appreciated every single comment I received and felt the support of the blog community this month. And I am especially grateful to the faithful commenters who made it a point to return to my blog many times this month (I was about to list names of people who definitely made efforts to comment, but I don't want anyone to feel left out!).
3) I found some great new blogs to follow!
Because of this challenge, I found some awesome new blogs to follow and continue to look forward to reading their posts. I feel like this challenge gave me the boost I needed to feel connected to this blog - and the blog community again - and got me out of my rut.
Now, not everything was successful in this challenge, and so here are a few things that I learned:
1) Posting nearly everyday is HARD. Scheduling would probably be better.
Before the challenge started, I noticed a lot of people planning ahead and scheduling their posts. I didn't do that and had to think of a new post idea everyday on the spot. And you know? That was HARD to do and towards the last stretch of the challenge I had stopped commenting back to people and stopped seeking new blogs to comment on each day.
What I learned through this challenge is to start scheduling posts for this blog. They don't have to be a big deal but doing spontaneous posts each week without a schedule or a plan isn't a good idea. I plan on (hopefully) doing better about that in the future.
2) Commenting is very important to building an audience.
Although there were still many people who commented on my blog even when I didn't follow up on theirs, I noticed a major boost in comments when I made it a point to comment on other blogs.
The key to a successful blogging experience is to comment comment COMMENT. You must support others through their blogs in order to get the support back. It's something I have been lazy about and I need to do for this blog. Even if it's just once a week. I plan on setting a personal goal of commenting on at least one post a day or three blog posts a week. This I can do and must do if I want this blog to grow.
3) Don't post to just post something.
I'll be honest, some of my blog posts were just not good and were obviously written to complete the challenge. This reminded me that writing a blog post only because I want content up on my blog isn't a good idea. And blog posts don't have to be prolific or life altering or some big huge to do guide or do it yourself project that revolutionizes peoples lives...but you at least want people to be entertained (or for people to learn something new) and I know a few posts didn't do that.
Now, I'm sorry for making this post a novel, but a few more points to address on this reflection that the A to Z Challenge hosts want us to mention -
Will I do this challenge next year?
DEFINITELY. This challenge is sort of like preparing for a marathon. I think it's important for your blog health to gain the new attention to your blog and I think it's a great challenge to force yourself to be inventive with your content. You never know where this blog will be next year, and much like this year, I may need the boost. So, I do plan on returning.
How did the A to Z Team Do?
I think they did great. I may not have seen them on every post for this blog but they did drop by and give me words of encouragement or advice that boosted my spirits throughout the challenge. If I was to say anything they could have done differently is maybe highlight a few posts from other bloggers for each letter on the A to Z Challenge blog.
Ideally I'd love to see a daily link up for each letter on their blog posts throughout the challenge. This way I can link my own post for the day and seek out others who have posted for that letter too. The huge link up list didn't always include active participants, so something like this will save me from hunting and pecking through the huge list to find blogs to comment on.
What did you think of the challenge? Are you going to continue next year? If you didn't participate this year, why not?