Blogging A to Z Reflections // What I Learned

I did it! I finished the Blogging A to Z Challenge on time and without cheating or skipping any letters. That isn’t to say I didn’t make mistakes or fall behind here and there but it was much better than last years attempt. I didn’t even make it to Z last year.

This year was a whole different feeling and I really felt excited and hopeful about it. Even when I was exhausted and almost in tears trying to make it work I still felt….good about it. I felt like I was doing something challenging and I was learning something new about myself and about writing. I kept telling myself the whole time that no matter what I was going to make it to the end. I had to.

My plan for the challenge was to post very small pieces of fiction that read more like excerpts rather than stories with a true beginning, middle, and end. I had never written fiction before and I think instead, some of the pieces turned into something in between, some more, some less. You can find them all under my AtoZ2016 tag.

Here is what I learned:

Research is so important.

There were many stories I wanted to write and many stories I wanted to write better but due to a lack of time, couldn’t. The reason came down to research. For example, I wanted to write a story about a man who hates his life but rather than commit suicide he decides to go back in time to prevent his parents from meeting. The thing is in my mind, his parents met in the 70s and I had no idea what things were like in the 70s.

The post titled The Father required me to do a bit of research on deer hunting and if I had chosen to be more detailed I may not have been able to write that post. Instead, I kept things vague and subtle.

The sequel to it, The Killer, required me to research was to dispose of a dead body. It felt weird to be typing that into Google and it made me nervous when I thought about all the court shows where someone’s search history was used against them.

A physically dictionary is better than any app.

When I was searching for ideas I needed to see the words in front of me. Staring at a screen left my brain feeling empty. So I pulled out an old dictionary/thesaurus I had and having all those words plus their definitions in my hands like that really jump started my brain. Looking through it made me feel like a real writer doing real writing.

It also gave me ideas I wouldn’t necessarily have come across on my own and it really helped during the days with the most difficult letters, like X, Y, and Z.

In this day and age, you don’t see dictionaries around as often but I learned that they are invaluable. I plan to pick up an updated version soon and too keep it on my desk rather than the bottom of my bookshelf where, before this challenge, it had collected dust for years.

Taking notes and making lists will get you halfway there.

My primary means of writing these posts were by hand on either index cards I carried in my pockets or a legal pad I kept in my bag. I made lists of words starting with the upcoming letters and next to them I wrote quotes or bits of story associated with each one. After I had chosen a word and story idea I used the index cards to make little outlines or write bits of dialogue.

These were especially useful when I was out and about and an idea struck and I worried about losing it before I could write it.

I plan to use the index cards for other writing projects too. I prefer them to notebooks because you can rearrange and replace them. Sometimes I would fill one up with one idea and then realize I hated it. All I had to do was start a new card and insert it in the proper place.

There are two kinds of ideas.

There are the ideas you work out of your mind. The ones you have to manifest by force. The ones you pull from yourself kicking and sweating. Those ideas are more often than not bad ideas but they are better than nothing. You work and rework them you turn them over and add more words hoping they become something you can be proud of. They are almost what you want to write but not quite and the longer they aren’t perfect the more you hate them.

The other kind are the kind of ideas we are all chasing. They are the “ah-ha!” ideas. The ones that make the story into something special. When I was writing The Yolk it was just a boring old love story, she was going to make her boyfriend breakfast and they were going to live happier ever after. I was almost done with it when I had an ah-ha moment, she was not his girlfriend but his stalker!

I had a few of these throughout the challenge and it was the part I loved the most. It made me feel like I could still surprise myself.

I know nothing about writing fiction, but I want to learn.

I am 100% I did a whole lot of things wrong in every piece I posted this month. From punctuation to structure to who knows what else. I don’t even know what it is I don’t know! I still had fun though and I like to think that I did a pretty good job considering how little I knew.

I started doing a bit of research before the challenge but there was so much out there I got a little overwhelmed. I decided to wing it and look up things as I needed to know them but not even knowing what I needed to know kept me from being a better writer, I am sure. So I think very soon I will be buying a book on the details of writing fiction. If you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments.

***

All in all, I think the month was a success. The only thing I wish I had done differently is to have begun writing the posts much further in advance. I plan to have all of next years posts written before the challenge even begins. I may still  write a few more during the month of April. I enjoy the thrill of a deadline you know?

I hope you all enjoyed my little stories. I greatly appreciated all feedback I received and it was your kind words that have me wanting to dig deeper into flash fiction and make it a regular part of my writing.

If you participated in the challenge I hope you had as much fun as I did and if I missed visiting  your blog leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to meet you :)

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Featured image via Unplash

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Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

13 thoughts on “Blogging A to Z Reflections // What I Learned”

  1. Congratulations on a successful journey through the Alphabet! This was my first year and I am so glad I accepted the challenge. I’m new to blogging so it’s been s great way to learn!

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  2. It looks like you and I share non-fiction writing roots. I agree with your point about two different types of thoughts. I also think many of my best Aha! ideas come from the methodical research process. After all that information has a chance to simmer, often things will blend and merge if I just give them some time to percolate. Also regarding moving from fiction to non-fiction: I just wanted to see what it was like to write freely without worrying about researching and footnoting everything! It’s been great, but I still research and footnote the same amount. I just don’t sweat it so much if the story isn’t 100% based on cold, hard facts :)

    BTW I’ve put together a Listly of articles by challenge participants like yourself who have written a recap. Enjoy and congrats on finishing! http://list.ly/list/17Wd-2016-a-to-z-challenge-wrap-ups

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    1. Yes! I may edit and make that clearer, the Aha comes after the the research and the struggling lol

      I also found that ideas I had considered and reject would bubble up in new ways and merge with other ideas in surprising ways. It’s fascinating that it seems to happen without me being aware :/

      Thanks for the Listly link, I’ll definitely check it out :)

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  3. My husband is starting his first fiction book, and a published author friend of his recommended “Make a Scene” and … something about plot and structure. He LOVES Make a Scene. I’ll come back with the other title later.

    I LOVED your posts, but didn’t make it over here every day. I must amend that, because I seem to have skipped The Yolk. May the Fourth be with you, Lisa!

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    1. I will definitely look into that one, and yes I’d love the title of the other if you can get it. Thank you so much!

      And May the Fourth be with you as well :)

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  4. These are fab reflections, I love the idea of the story about the man going back in time, but it’s a good point that you would have to know enough about the time he goes back to to make it convincing. I love it when I’m writing and the a-ha moment comes :)
    Debbie

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