2017 - the year without the sign-up list - I'll say more on that subject later. But let's start with the good stuff - for there was plenty (as always). The massive positive of the A-Z Challenge is the great blogs that you find, that you follow, that are inspirational.
This year I've singled out eleven to add to my 'Great Blogs' list, but there were many, many more I could've selected. As this was my first time at writing bits of fiction, I was heavily drawn to those doing likewise. Some, like myself, wrote random bits of fiction, unlinked except by their theme. Others - and these were the ones I felt were hugely successful - wrote a complete story in daily segments. The other blogging section I was drawn to were those who fall into what I call the resource category. They produced detailed daily essays about all manner of things including history, geography, architecture and science. I could see a number of these being, at the very least, valuable internet-based resource material for future writers - or better yet - becoming the basis for future publication.
In personal terms, I'd long planned to do a heavy-weight series of posts on my professional blog and so decided to keep this blog lightweight. When life and it's challenges meant I wasn't able to complete the former, I decided to write a short bit of fiction to accompany my selected music clips, rather than the background posts I'd originally prepared. And what did I learn from this decision? First - and most vital - how it's even tougher to show and not tell when writing such short pieces. More (much more) practice needed. Second - not to try and shoehorn a new idea into an old one. Another time I'd do it properly, choosing a wider range of inspirational clips rather than personal favourites. I'd probably also avoid too much focus on the word 'jazz'. I love it, but it's one of those marmite things - people tend to love or hate it. My comment numbers were down on the last two years, which was a disappointment. I missed the support of my online writing group who didn't host a daily link facility this year.
And speaking of daily sign-ups, it's time I turned back to that subject. Despite being someone who'd written and scheduled all my posts before 1st April, needing daily laptop & internet access to ensure full participation was a PITA, especially as I suffered - unexpectedly - from problems in both areas during April. And there really wasn't anyone I could ask to step-in at short notice. Further, my blog isn't hosted by either Blogger or WordPress, so discovering how to auto-post links wasn't something I could achieve within the notice given.
In terms of the locations hosting the links, the Facebook page worked fine but, from the numbers of posts on there during the Challenge, there are many bloggers who don't use Facebook. The A-Z site was clunky and slow - I had to re-input my posts at least once most days which was tiresome, and I suspect the Blogger platform wasn't up to handling the traffic. The need to use bits of html to make my daily link clickable just added one more step to an already faffy process.
I'm not sure whether the daily links put a vast number of people off participating this year, or whether large numbers decided to simply use Twitter. I did a quick tally of linked posts:
Highest daily posts (A) 271
Lowest daily posts (Z) 137
Highest daily posts (A) 574
Lowest daily posts (Z) 270
This would indicate that only somewhere between 400 and 800 blogs participated this year. This didn't feel right to me, so I looked to my site stats. They indicate that I received a broadly equal number of visits via the A-Z Facebook page and the A-Z site, with a slightly higher number of visits via Google (I posted daily links to Google+). Yet the traffic received via Twitter was more than double any of these three, and that which came via other sites was surprisingly significant.
This split was reflected in my sourcing of new sites to read. Again, Twitter was the most successful source by a considerable amount. I also found a surprising number by clicking on comments left on other people's sites. Having spent the first two weeks of the Challenge working my way - on a daily basis - up and down the lists of links without finding these blogs, I gave up and simply used Twitter for the latter two weeks.
So, if managing the sign-up list is such a huge task, then more of us - a lot more probably - need to volunteer our time to help manage it. Or - one excellent practical suggestion I've heard - we could always put our hands into our pockets to crowdfund some software to do it. Personally, I'm willing to do either, or both.
To those of you who subscribed, visited, commented, liked or re-tweeted my blog, my sincere thanks. I hope to see more of you during the year and definitely look forward to seeing you all again in April 2018!
I've held up my hand as a volunteer for next year's Challenge, how about you? If plenty of us do so, maintaining a sign-up list need not be hugely onerous. Or are there any alternative suggestions to offer?