How to survive #AprilA2Z: A #SecondThoughts list

We first published this in February ahead of 2020’s April A-Z Challenge. Unfortunately, pressures of our day-jobs mean we’re not going to be able to participate in 2022’s Challenge, but it seemed like a good time to re-blog the list below in case it proves helpful to anyone new to the Challenge. Those of you who’ve been doing this for years need no help from us, but you all have our best of wishes for a successful month. 

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It’s easy to wish time away, but equally, Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.  April is nearly upon us (sort of), which for a sub-set of bloggers means it’s time for #AprilA2Z.  That being the case, we thought that some tips (earned the hard way) on how to survive the month of April might be helpful.

For those unfamiliar with the AprilA2Z, it’s probably worth taking a moment to explain what this blogging challenge is – and if you are a blogger yourself, perhaps I can tempt you into giving it a go.  If you are already familiar with the Challenge, then you might want to skip to the list, but for those who need some context, read on!

The AprilA2Z challenge was created in 2010 by Arlee Bird, who said on his blog:

Can you post every day except Sundays during this month?  And to up the bar, can you blog thematically from A to Z?

He, and a few others, set out to show that you could.  (You usually get Sundays off for good behaviour, but it depends on the calendar, some years April has 5 Sundays, so you have to work one of them.  Them’s the breaks).  The challenge took off, and now there are still people who haven’t learned better, joined by newcomers who think that this looks like a jolly idea… Some people write on the day, prompted only by the letter.  Others spend a lot of time in preparation, and/or following an additional theme, prompted by their interests.  Part of the idea is to go and check out what other people are doing as well, comment, and say hi.

Debs had a go at this in 2015 without a theme and another run at it in 2016 on book genres. This was also the year she  inveigled David into giving it go, which lead to 26 posts on “How to write a thesis”. Having survived the experience (just) he came back again in 2017 with “The Materials Science in Fiction and Mythology“, whilst Debs had a third go with Jazz (and some fiction it inspired her to write).

David then came up with the insane brilliant idea of writing a novella over the course of April 2018, and persuaded Debs that it would be a good writing experience to share the load.  (They’re now putting the finishing touches to a full length novel based on this extended piece of writing, and are starting to flesh out plans for further stories in the same setting).

The following list represents their combined top tips for surviving the A2Z, having fun, building your blog and/or writing practice, and meeting new bloggers.

But before you start, you need to make a decision – what’s your purpose in joining this Challenge? Do you want to get into a regular blogging habit, make new online friends, find interesting new reading material, showcase your business, practice writing short stories, have a place to showcase the research you’ve done for a book you’re writing, write a series of linked posts which you can publish, or, or, or …?

a-z

Decision made? Then dive in …

1. Write what you know: This is one of those pieces of writing advice which some people swear by and others try to burn to the ground, salting the earth where it stood afterwards.  An interpretation of ‘what you know’ is not ‘what you have lived’, though, but rather, ‘what you have knowledge of and understand’.  A lot of science fiction and fantasy would never get written if we waited for writers to get abducted by aliens, but a good grounding in physics can be essential to get your head around time-travel or Faster-Than-Light space craft.  Similarly, a better than passing knowledge of horse-riding or some-such can add a level of verisimilitude to a description of the cavalry of the Third Imperial Lances fighting a desperate rear-guard action on the steppes of Hzrun.  In a non fiction setting, there are some great blogs about crafts, and David’s colleague used the A2Z to write a series of posts on metallurgy that now form extra reading material for one of the degree modules he teaches.

2. Say hello: a fundamental tenet of A2Z is going and saying hello.  The thing is, with over a thousand people, sometimes nearly two thousand, having a go at this blogging thingy, it can be tricky to know what to look at.  It is well worthwhile though – Debs and David have both met great people through the A2Z, people with whom they are both still in contact.  The A2Z organisers try to make it as easy as possible to find out what a blog is about, so that is a helpful way of reducing the number to look at – time is precious and you don’t want to spend time looking at loads of blogs you aren’t ultimately interested in.  There are two approaches that you can take.  One is to pick a handful of blogs that you will look at and comment on everyday.  The other is to work your way through the list and look at a few new ones everyday, and follow up with a few later on.  The only problem with the latter method is the challengers who are running something that has a thread that runs through from the beginning.  (See point four, below).

3. Saying hello purposefully: If you say hello, people will try and check back if they can.  Also, people visiting this third party website will know that you are active, and might want to see what you’ve got to say.  Say hello purposefully, with a meaningful comment, and sign off with a link to your blog.  Not sure how?  Et voila!  The AtoZ people are very keen on electronic signatures that make it easy to find out where you are from, and ideally why.  I’ve found their tutorial very helpful, and I’ve used it several times.  This is mine from something called 23Things, which was a blog challenge I did for work.

[Your name or Twitter handle] from
<a href=”yourblogaddress”>Name of Your Blog</a>
You could add a mention to a specific project/event, with a link. For example, my signature for that event looks like this:
@BreakerOfThings from
<a href=”https://abackoftheenvelopecalculation.wordpress.com/”>A Back of the Envelope Calculation</a>
<a href=”https://abackoftheenvelopecalculation.wordpress.com/”>Calling by from #23ThingsSurrey</a>

4. How long should posts be? How long is a piece of string?  (Twice the length from the middle to the end).  The advice from A2Z HQ is not less than 100 words, to make it worth while for people coming to read what you’ve got to say.  That also works well if you’re going for a daily drabble challenge or some such.  An upper limit is probably about 1000 words, although experience suggests that even that can be a bit much.  There are two factors to consider – what do you have the time to write and what does your ready have the time to read?  Remember what we said about thousands of blogs in the challenge?  No one has the time to read several long form essays everyday.  That said, what is your USP?  What works for you?  What do you want to say?  If you are bashing out some random musings, and aren’t planning on major edits, then you can probably manage something slightly longer.  If you are aiming for something a bit more polished, then you probably want to keep the word count down a bit, if only to keep things manageable for you as a writer.

5. To theme or not to theme?  A theme might be obvious – it might spring fully formed from the reason that you blog in the first place.  Or it might be an opportunity to try out something new.  But you don’t have to blog  to a theme.  The queen of free association is probably Isa-Lee Wolf.  She does this a lot throughout the year anyway, but somehow always manages to up the ante for A2Z, without really doing anything different.  For us though, independently we’ve both found that a theme makes a lot of sense and helps to provide some focus.  It also makes it that much easier to write blog posts in advance, meaning that you have that much more time for checking out other people’s blogs during the challenge.

6. Being found & finding your fellow A2Z participants
6.1 You can sign up to take part on the Blogging from A to Z website, where you can also grab a selection of images to post onto your site, as well as purchasing items of merchandise. In earlier years they’ve provided either a list or a spreadsheet linking to participants; hopefully this practice will continue.
6.2 If you use Facebook, there’s a Blogging from A to Z Challenge page which you can like and follow. A daily post is provided for each letter of the alphabet where participants can post a link to their daily blog and find others participants.
6.3 Finally, there’s a Twitter account which you can follow, and where you can link your daily posts and read other news. But most people use a hashtag with #AtoZChallenge and #A2ZChallenge being two of the most popular.
6.4 One more random option (which is a favourite of Debs) is when visiting other participants to leave your own comment, click on the names of others leaving comments. The bonus in this method is that when you’ve found a site you like, other commentators could well be on the same wavelength as you are.

7. Write your posts each day, or in advance?  Is your time your own? Are you confident in being able to set aside the time every day throughout April to prepare and produce a post? Is part of your purpose for taking part in the Challenge to build a daily blogging or writing habit? Is the idea of a theme an anathema to you and would you prefer to go freestyle, writing on a subject that inspires you each day? If the answer to these questions is Yes – then you’ll have a lot of fun sitting down on April the 1st to pen your first post, and to repeat that each day until April 30th.
But for the time crunched among you, or for those wanting to use the Challenge to produce a series of more structured posts, or posts which could build into a body of work, advance planning and preparation is vital. The truly organized have all their posts written before April begins, many have them set up to auto-post, so their only action is to respond to comments and visit other participants to leave their own comments. But even having a plan and some advance posts in hand can dramatically reduce the requirement for burning the midnight oil.

And that’s all Folks!

Seriously though, remember that while it’s a Challenge, it’s meant to be enjoyable. There can be a fair degree of stress involved in making it through to the end, especially when life gets in the way – they don’t issue those “I Survived …” badges for nothing. Really, this isn’t about winning or losing – it’s about challenging yourself … but only so long as it’s fun.


© Fiction Can Be Fun, 2020 & 2022

#A2Z Challenge: Z for Zulu

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


Coln had spent surprisingly little time amongst the ephemerals, and even less immersed in the cities of London and Westminster.  It was as if she had woken from a dream into a dream as she wandered and learned her way around.  The vibrancy of living was almost palpable.  Amidst the welter of galleries and museums that she had discovered, one of her favourite haunts, as she emerged from her chrysalis beneath the Thames, was the Victoria and Albert.  Here, put into context, she had seen that the clothes that she tended to wear were decidedly old fashioned.  But she’d also come to see that whilst fashions changed, invariably they built on what had come before, and who better than someone like she to take the measure of history and cut its cloth to suit?

With Billy’s assistance, her family had found themselves extremely wealthy: the pick of the items that her father had collected and hoarded over centuries had found their way to collectors.  Even in this world of post-war austerity, there were those who would pay handsomely for unique and noteworthy artefacts.  And if Billy did not know a collector personally, he knew a man who did, or at least someone who could reach out on her behalf.

She’d had time to think, time to plan.  She wished she could have discussed things with Jack, but that was not to be.  She now had wealth and more importantly a sense of purpose, an ambition.  She was going to open a haute couture salon, not only because of her new found love of clothes, but because she had realised that there would be an opportunity to exert influence behind the scenes.

She sat on a bench, a little down from Cleopatra’s needle, and watched the boats chug up and down, and looked across the river at the derelict warehouses and brewery.  Examples of the goods they had once housed had been part of what had been sold recently. This afternoon she would go for second viewing of a house on Jermyn Street that looked like just the thing.  It was owned by a chap who’d made an awful lot of money in South Africa: the dark wood panelling might need some attention, but thankfully he would be taking all the Zulu assegais and shields and things with him – they didn’t fit her plans at all.

She waved as she saw her confidante approaching.  This was the sort of decision that really did need someone you could trust to talk it through with.


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: Y for Yankee

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


“Oh bother!”

Burnham had successfully tracked Michaela down in London – he wondered if she could indulge him in providing an outside ear. When she’d arrived, Michaela had been most put out to discover he wasn’t alone. The other man was also in uniform, but American – it was hard to miss the transatlantic twang – yet Burnham introduced him as “my cousin Ezra”, at pains to make it clear this was neither army nor official business.

Intrigued, Michaela accepted the proffered cup of tea, and sat back to listen. It was to be a long and rather unpleasant story, at the end of which Michaela remained puzzled.

“Mr… erm… Ezra, your story has given rise to many deep emotions, but I’m not at all clear how I… we… can help?”
“My apologies m’am, I ought to have been more clear. I was, in fact, offering my services to you and your team, but wanted you to understand where I’m coming from… what’s driving me you might say. I’ll be leaving the service shortly and decided not to return to the States but to remain here in England. I need a fresh start and my cousin here thought you might have room for someone with my expertise.”
“Indeed, and what would that be exactly?”


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: X for X-ray

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


Blecher had become a regular visitor to the yard, enjoying a chat with Michaela, but especially with the apprentices. He was most encouraging, pointing out those he felt could benefit from a more traditional science education. Of course, he’d lost track of own his family, so Michaela understood that Jack’s place acted as a sort of home from home.

It had become his practice to arrive sometime during Saturday afternoon, and stay for Sunday lunch the following day. He expressed a particular fondness for the hearty stews doled up into cook’s splendid Yorkshires – a regular feature on the menu in the Apprentice’s dining hall.

One Saturday evening, Michaela was mildly amused to overhear him talking to a small group about radiology – of Brailsford’s paper on bone tumours, and about the potential for the recently observed synchrotron Xrays.


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: W for Whiskey

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


“It’s Merlin I feel sorry for, look you.” Tink spoke unguardedly, forgetting that there were guests. 

“Merlin?” Her ladyship prompted, topping up his whiskey and splash.

“Yes, poor blighter really got it in the neck.  One of my lot.  Was trying to make things better for people but over did it slightly.  Word got home and they came for him in the end.  Morgana was one of Queen Mab’s fixers.”

Isaac kept his head down and his ears open, trying to decide if he was the butt of an elaborate joke. Mike wondered whether the top up had been the right thing to do.

“And to add insult to injury, they tell all that nonsense about him.  I’d write a true account, so I would, but I think that might be breaking the terms of my parole, in spirit, if not in the letter.  Speaking of spirits though, top me up with some of that Kilbeggan, if you please, and we’ll drink a toast to my old friend Merlin.”


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: V for Victor

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


Isaac liked being at Jack’s place in Essex – he was a country boy at heart in all truth. But he still went to London for the odd errand and to meet up with a mate.

He met up with Viktor every now and again for a chinwag. Neither were big drinking men, so they usually went somewhere they could get a good feed. Isaac thought he had a big appetite, but that Viktor could really put the food away!

He felt for Viktor whose unit seemed to be stuck in a constant loop of training and exercises. From what he’d said, there was a lot of frustration and despondency. But the last time they’d met, he’d barely been able to hide his excitement. After swearing Isaac to secrecy, he shared that there’d been a number of visits from some government type called Philby. Viktor disclosed he’d been overheard saying how he was “jolly keen” to smooth the way for them to be sent back into Albania.

Isaac had wished him luck and while Viktor took it as a form of “good hunting!” Isaac had actually meant “hope to see you again” – for he enjoyed working with the diminutive but undeniably tough Albanian.


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: U for Uniform

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


Isaac Baker shuffled his feet, uncomfortable with being the focus of attention.  He was stood on a low stool, raising him off the ground just enough, but placing his head perilously close to the ceiling.  Clothed, draped might be a better description, in blue serge, he counted himself lucky that he had not yet been stuck with the copious pins holding the pieces of the police uniform together.  He glanced down at the sergeant’s stripes, at the medal ribbons above the left breast pocket, and stiffened his spine.

“Hold still!” Her Ladyship commanded.  “We need to finish within the hour!”


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: T for Tango

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


Mike hunched into her coat.  It was not the most pleasant of days, and whilst not cold exactly, the wind was whipping the mizzle about.  She really didn’t want to be here, but Tink had been so shocked when she’d said that she’d never seen the point of rugby that he’d insisted they come to a match.  She was beginning to wonder whether this determination was motivated by a desire for better seats though.  It was not as though there were a great deal of women here.

“Oh! I say, that was rather good! Positively balletic!”

“That would be a line-out, bach.” Tink gave her a dirty look.

A little later, a nippy fly-half received the ball and managed to dodge amongst the opposition, making a great deal of headway until he was eventually tackled.

“That was very fluid – almost like he was dancing a tango or something.”

Neither Mike nor Tink was very happy by the end.  Mike felt she’d wasted an afternoon, and Wales drew 3 all.


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: S for Sierra

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


“Well, I never…!”
“M’lady?”
“No, it’s all right Millie, I was just thinking aloud.”

Robert’s parents had telephoned asking if she could make a place for Jenkins. Michaela hadn’t realised he’d been Robert’s man even before the army. Assigned to be Robert’s valet when he was still young, if a little older than Robert himself, he’d signed up at the same time. Quickly appointed as Robert’s batman, he’d remained faithfully at his side thereafter – even to the extent of being injured at the same time. Undoubtedly, Robert’s death would leave a hole, unfathomable to any other than perhaps Michaela herself.

While rather on the pompous side, she knew Robert always felt safe in Jenkins’ care, and he was said to have considerable skills. She decided to talk it over with Tink and Billy. If they both thought he could be useful, maybe they could share the Sierra story with him.


Author’s note: For those new to the world of the November Deadline, Echo is keeping a number of secrets. There are only four people who know everything – Benjamin Franklin might have revised his opinion if he’d met Jack, Mike, Tink, and Billy – and the Sierra story is almost everything.


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey

#A2Z Challenge: R for Romeo

During 2018’s A-Z Challenge, we wrote the first draft of “The November Deadline” and to celebrate that this is now (finally) out with beta readers, we’ll be producing a daily piece of micro-fiction linked to it – some prequel, some containing a detail not included in the story, some snippets from sequels currently being written.


“Calm yerself down…”

“But he grabbed me!”

“Don’t you worry m’lass, I’ll be putting him straight on that. Ain’t no call to try ‘n kill him though.”

“But…”

“Silly lad’s betwaddled with romantic thoughts is all.”

“Yes but…”

“No doubt them other kiddies been geeing him on. I’ll be having a word with them ‘n all. No way to behave is that.”

Isaac seemed to have a way with Juliet. Sometimes she found his slow manner of speech frustrating, but at times like these, it did the trick cooling that hot temperature of hers.

“Now, you get on with stripping that weapon down while I straps up ‘is arm.”


© 2021, David Jesson & Debra Carey