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The Challenge: To Do or Not To Do
I have just finished the April 2016 AtoZ Challenge with about 1346 other bloggers. I had two blogs in the challenge, Barb’s Garden Observations and Paso Robles in Photos. The challenge was to write a new post every day in April except Sundays. You could choose your own theme for each blog. I chose Plants for the gardening blog and Things You Might See or Experience in Paso Robles for the other. I have now come to the end of that long road and have experienced both the positives and negatives of the challenge. If you are presented with the opportunity, should you commit to an A-Z Challenge?
Are You Ready for a Challenge?
Before you accept the challenge and start to climb that mountain to complete it, evaluate how it might affect your life. Different personalities might be affected differently. This is especially true if you are not able to complete it. Life happens. Will you feel like a failure if you don’t finish something you start, even if there’s a very good reason for it? If so, maybe you aren’t the person who should take the challenge. I see that many of those who started it did not complete it. It’s easy to fall behind. If you’ve got a lot on your plate already, maybe this isn’t the right time.
Are you the sort of person that will complete it or die trying? That’s the sort of I am. I almost did die trying. There are a couple of times I maybe should have gone to the emergency room for heart symptoms, but that would have thrown me off schedule and since they weren’t really bad, I opted just to take it easier. Trying to complete the challenge on both blogs often kept me up when I should have gone to bed. I didn’t allow time to fix proper meals on some days.
Count the cost before accepting the challenge. Know your limitations. Know what the challenge requires. I did much more than was required in most posts because I did not want to compromise the usual quality of my posts. Had I just done the minimum, I would not have been as stressed. If you tend to be a perfectionist in your blogging who wants to feel a post is the best work you can do, maybe a challenge isn’t for you. You might be better off posting on your regular schedule on topics you think are important and writing them to meet your own goals instead of trying to do a post a day of lesser quality just to meet the challenge.
Pros of Accepting an A-Z Challenge
I learned a lot doing these challenges. It wasn’t a waste of time.
- I learned to be more disciplined about my writing schedule.
- I got some new followers who were also doing the challenge, since we were encouraged to visit others on the linky for the challenge.
- I started getting more traffic on one of the blogs I had not posted much to this year, because posting was more consistent and there was more content for Google to search.
- I improved my vocabulary as I read the dictionary trying to find subjects for those odd letters like “X.”
- I met other bloggers I wanted to follow.
Cons of Doing the A-Z Challenge
- I put too much pressure on myself and added unnecessary stress to my life.
- I sometimes found myself posting just to post on subjects out of my comfort zone in order to conform to the alphabet. This often affected the quality of my blog, which I felt didn’t meet my usual standards when the alternative would be cutting back on more sleep than I could afford. This might cost me followers, but so far it hasn’t.
- I was neglecting other online work that ultimately was more important than getting the challenge finished, but my personality is such that I didn’t want to quit until I completed the challenge.
Would I Do Do the A-Z Challenge Again?
I think I’ll probably pass on it next year. I did it this year because some of my friends were going to do it. I didn’t think it through or count the cost. I tend to be impulsive that way. When the unexpected health situations hit both me and my husband, I still wanted to finish. When Google made a change in policy that made it important to redo links in many blogs, I delayed making the changes because of the demands on my time with the challenge. And besides all that, I’ve used all the “X” and “Z” words that apply to my blog topics.
When all is said and done, I’m not sorry I did the challenge. I feel good about having reached the top of the climb. It was a long journey, and sometimes I did feel like quitting before I reached my goal when the going got tough. I have a sense of accomplishment instead of the failure I might have felt had I given up. If I ever say I want to do it again, though, please give me a little kick.
Have you ever taken this official Blogging from A to Z Challenge that happens in April each year? What was your experience with it?
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Some people blog to keep a record of their thoughts and activities for their own use or to share with friends and family. Technically, that’s where the word blog came from – weblog — shortened to blog. Originally blogs were online diaries or journals of daily activities. Some blogs still are. Unless you are a celebrity, though, that kind of blog is not likely to make money today.
People who want to make money for the writing they do on their blogs have to attract people who want to read what they say. There are currently over 150 million blogs on the internet. That’s a lot of competition for eyeballs. How will you get those eyeballs to your blog?
After reading dozens of blogs on this subject, most agree a blogger who wants to earn money must present a solution to a problem a reader has. That reader will probably go to Google looking for answers to his or her problem. Goggle will present links that people have paid to have appear at the top, and underneath will be links to the pages Google thinks will best help people find solutions to the problems they are trying to solve.
If your blog post helps people solve a common problem better than other blog posts, or if your post solves a problem not too many other bloggers have dealt with, you are likely to get traffic from people who will actually spend money to solve their problems.
To make money, you first have to know which problems people are trying to solve and then write something that will help them solve those problems. Review products that will help solve the problems. A desperate person whose kitchen counter is full of ants just may click your affiliate link to buy a product you suggested. A person who can barely function because he can’t sleep at night just might click on a link to buy one or more of the product solutions you proposed. Of course, people have to find your blog first, or they will read someone else’s and buy the products from them.
I have been reading many blogs written by people who make money from them. Some review one product and do it very well. Others have websites aimed at those looking for gift suggestions with tabs for different categories. Both sorts of blogs are focused on solving people’s shopping problems
Other bloggers who make big bucks make their own digital products like courses and eBooks to help solve people’s problems. Then they sell them to people. They offer free samples in exchange for joining an email list, and then that list is used to directly market more products.
You can, however, be doing one or more of these things and not be making any money yet. Usually this is because
1. No one is finding your blog.
2. You aren’t giving people the solutions they believe will solve their problems.
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Blogs Should Be Written in Standard English
I belong to a lot of blogging groups and networks where people share links to their blogs with the hopes that other members of the groups will read and comment on the blogs and share them on social media. I do a lot of that. There are many people I really like and would like to help by sharing their work, but I can’t. Most people on my Twitter networks are professional people – teachers, authors, professional bloggers, and others with college degrees.
No matter how clever or interesting I find a blog to be, it would not be appropriate to share something that is full of grammatical errors with that audience. If I were to share that sort of blog, I would lose followers. People will make allowances for the kinds of errors made by those who are writing English as a second language if their native tongues have a much different structure than English. Many foreign students who have graduated from American universities still have not mastered the parts of our language that have nothing comparable in their own.
Example: My husband was born in Serbia and grew up speaking Serbian. After graduating from UCLA and speaking English here for over fifty years, he still cannot always use a, an, and the properly because his native language doesn’t have any comparable words before nouns. Americans just naturally say “The house,” “an apple,” etc., because they grew up hearing it. My husband would say “I bought loaf of bread” or “I ate apple.” That sounds strange to American ears, but it has the same effect on an American native listener as hearing someone speak with an accent.
What doesn’t go over well with those who speak and write standard English is reading blogs and articles that any high school English teacher, and I was one, would have marked with a lot of red ink. There are certain mistakes that high school graduates should not be making, and many bloggers I read from groups I belong to make those errors.
Common Mistakes I See that You Can Fix
Use Irregular Verbs Correctly
One error I see frequently is misusing verb tenses. One of the most common is writing or saying “I seen” instead of “I saw.” “To see” is an irregular verb. Regular verbs form the past tense by adding an ed or a d to the end of the verb. Example: I remember becomes I remembered, I cook becomes I cooked. Some verbs, though, form their past tenses differently, and you just have to memorize the correct forms.
Here is a list of the most frequently used irregular verbs. This resource also explains the forms and how to use them. I suggest you check it out if you make any of these mistakes.
To use to go properly in all three tenses, one would say I go (present tense) or I went (past tense) or I have gone (past participle). It is a mistake to say “I gone to the store.” That is using the past participle form as the past tense. It is the same mistake people make when they say “I seen it” instead of “I saw it” or “I done it” instead of “I did it.”
Most American-born English speakers who make these mistakes make them because they hear verbs used this way at home and among friends and this usage seems normal to them. It is not what they were taught in school, unless their teachers also grew up hearing non-standard English. To be taken seriously as a writer or blogger in English, though, you need to write standard English.
I’m not suggesting that you try to memorize the names of the parts of speech. I am suggesting you look at the chart and practice using the tenses properly. Every day, practice reciting the proper forms out loud several times until they seem normal to you. Here’s a list to practice:
I was. They were.
I came. He came with me. They came later.
I did it. She did it, too. They did it all the time.
I drank a glass of water. She drank milk. They all drank lemonade.
I went to the store. She went alone. They went crazy. We went to the movies.
I rang the bell. He rang the bell. They rang the bell.
I ran away. He ran after me, We ran for twenty minutes. They ran a mile.
I saw the show. She saw the dog run down the street. They saw a bank robbery. We saw the new baby.
My sweater shrank. The clothes shrank.
I swam across the river. She swam behind me. We all swam in the new pool.
If you learn these and use them correctly, you will be taken more seriously when you speak and write than if you use them incorrectly. If the sentences above sound strange to you, you need to practice them until they don’t.
Don’t Make Sentence Errors
Sentence errors definitely will keep people from taking you seriously as a blogger. They indicate you haven’t mastered basic writing skills, since the most basic element in writing is the sentence. Some bloggers who have great content make it unsharable by writing in sentence fragments, comma splices, and run-on sentences. Their writing looks something like this.
I love my dog he is so loyal. His giant appetite makes it impossible. To give him enough food to keep him satisfied. He’s always wanting to go for a walk. By the lake next to the park. When it rains and it’s muddy out. He tracks mud back into the house. Yesterday we went for a long walk, we got very muddy.
I think you get the idea. That paragraph contained all three kinds of sentence errors. Did you spot them? Learn more about sentence errors and how to fix them from this video. If you haven’t the patience to watch the video, the content is written out below it. If you want a simpler video, try this one, which is a bit more fun.
If you still have questions or need more information, this is more complete.
It’s Worth the Effort to Clean Up These Mistakes
If you want people to share your blog posts with their social networks, you need to make sure you have mastered writing standard English. Proofread your work carefully to make sure your sentences are complete and are not run-on sentences or comma splices. Get yourself a good reference book on writing and English usage and grammar. I personally use Writers Inc, an English Handbook that is very user friendly. It tells you everything you need to know about how to write in standard English.
Only you can decide to improve your skills. You can continue to be read only by your blogging friends who are more interested in what you say than in how you say it, or you can polish your skills and expand your audience. The choice is yours.
Not long ago I heard by way of the social media that Grammarly was a great little program for checking grammar and spelling online. How many of us don’t make typos or accidentally use the wrong word? I seem to have trouble with my shift key when typing a capital I, for example. It’s a pain to go back and correct it, and sometimes I even have trouble seeing the mistake when I proofread. I expected that Grammarly would solve my problems. So I installed it to Chrome as a browser extension.
Now I’ve been using it for about two weeks. I’ve had a chance to see it in action. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. Like most applications of this sort, it cannot read my mind. I have a graduate degree in English and taught high school English. I have also been paid to proofread and edit the application essays of international students to graduate business schools in the United States. I know the language.
Either some of what my professors taught is now obsolete, or Grammarly isn’t as accurate as I am. It makes what I consider to be grammatical errors when it urges me to add or get rid of commas, change verb tenses, and make other changes that would hurt, not help, my writing. I also often catch my mistakes before Grammarly does, and just as I’m about to correct them, Grammarly pops up with a screen to “help” me that gets in the way of my correcting the mistake on my own by covering up the text I am trying to correct.
I would probably be better off editing the document on their website. It’s not such a problem there. When you edit the document on their site, the mistakes are just underlined in red for spelling errors and green for grammar and usage errors. Then you just click the word and Grammarly points out the suggested corrections. If you want to use them, you click their corrected version. If you think they are wrong, you click to ignore them. You don’t have those annoying pop-ups. Here’s a snipped example of what Grammarly did when I uploaded this document to them. This is the first paragraph before I corrected it. To accept their suggestions, I would click on the green. For an explanation, I would click the down arrow. To ignore, I would click the x at the end.
Grammarly is most useful to me when I make mistakes in typing or when programs auto-correct me incorrectly and put the wrong words in. It makes it really easy to change my frequent mistakes in typing, especially in the use of the shift key. It also catches me when I accidentally use the wrong homonym. For example, if I type What do you hear Jamie? Grammarly might pop up with a note that asks “Did you mean to say Here?” I then click to ignore. Grammarly missed telling me that I left out a comma. The sentence should really read What do you hear, Jamie? But if I type Are trees are dying. Grammarly might ask me if I had really meant to say Our instead of Are so I can be aware of my mistake, which a normal spell checker would miss, and correct it with a click. Eight Ate is a humorous way to learn your homonyms.
Although Grammarly might be thought of as a blessing to those learning English, it might be a curse, instead. Grammarly does often make mistakes. I am using the free version and I don’t know if the premium version is better or not. In the free version you are often told you are making a grammatical error by, for example, using the wrong tense of the verb to be. Usually this is in a phrase where I’m using a participle as a noun or an adjective. Here’s an example: The man mowing the lawn is my friend. Grammarly might prompt me to correct mowing‘s verb tense, but I’m using it as an adjective to modify man, not as a verb. When Grammarly makes these kinds of suggestions, it usually does not give you a solution you can click. Instead it mentions the problem, and you have to know the language to know how to correct that mistake yourself.
Here’s another snip from some nonsense I uploaded to Grammarly for correction. I deliberately made mistakes to see what Grammarly would tell me. Grammarly’s suggestions are on the left.
I give Grammarly a “C” on its suggestions here. It missed correcting the first sentence which ought to read James hates sleeping. It did catch me using Our instead of Are. It did catch the error in gets and suggested a proper correction. I think it missed the first error by thinking that James was a plural noun instead of a name ending in s. This shows that no automated program will catch everything. A program like this is only useful for those whose English skills are sufficient to know which corrections are valid and which suggestions to follow. It is a good cross-check to use after you’ve done your human proofreading.
If you are not yet proficient enough in English to discern which suggestions are valid, you need to have an accurate English handbook on hand for reference. Here is one I use myself, Writers Inc. I first found it when I was teaching my children at home and I thought it was the best English writing reference I had seen for the secondary level. It is user-friendly and it’s easy to find what you need. It has a complete proofreader’s guide that answers any questions you have about punctuation, grammar, usage, and mechanics. In addition to that it tells you how to do any kind of writing project you may encounter as a student with model writing examples. It is not only useful for students, but also for writers who need a quick reference. For example, it has several pages of homonyms and easily confused words explained so that it will be easy to tell if you were using the correct word or whether you should take Grammarly’s suggestion to change it to another word. It also explains how to fix the most common sentence errors. I love having this book on hand.
The way you write a sentence makes all the difference in what it means. Be sure you say what you mean. Proofread what you write. Use aids such as a writing handbook or a program like Grammarly. Making one mistake with a comma could cost a life.