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#AtoZChallenge : Productivity + Theme Reveal

The April Blogging From A to Z Challenge is upon us, and for the third consecutive year, the Write On Sisters are doing it! Check out the tab above for a list of all our A-Z posts. In 2014 we didn’t have a theme; it was kind of a free-for-all about writing between four bloggers. In 2015 Robin and I focused our efforts on writing craft with the 3, 2, 1 BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing theme in which each post had 3 quick tips on an aspect of writing, 2 examples of good technique, and 1 resource for more in-depth help. And our 2016 theme is…


Actually, hold the curtains! I’ll reveal this year’s theme by the end of this post (promise), but first we need to talk a bit about writer productivity.

The A-Z Challenge is, well, a challenge. Blogging every day except Sunday is tough! For our regular schedule, Robin and I each used to write one blog post per week, but in 2016 we’re alternating weeks so we only have to write two blog posts a month instead of four. That leaves us with more time to concentrate on our novel writing.

But in April we’re both writing THREE posts a WEEK! Eek! How are we going to do it?

I don’t know about Robin, but I have a bit of an attention-deficit problem. Getting started and staying on task are daily struggles. Consequently, I am always trying new things to make me more productive. Here is a short list of my attempts:

How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money

Writer <3 Internet Relationship Woes

7 Tricks To Stay Off The Internet

4 Tips To Beat Mental Procrastination (aka Daydreaming)

Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?

All of these approaches have worked with varying degrees of success, but sometimes I still stare at the wall instead of writing. So this week, in preparation for the A-Z Challenge, I downloaded this to my phone:


It’s an interval timer app. Most people use these to plan and time workouts, which is why the first round of my “Morning Write” routine is called “Warm Up” – but I’ve interpreted that as eating breakfast and warming up water for my tea. 😉 There are tons of interval timer apps available, but I’ll save you some trouble and recommend Round Timer. Others I downloaded were either too simple (i.e. the only sound available is an obnoxious buzz) or too complicated (I don’t need to select music playlists for each interval) or didn’t work (one app wouldn’t let me schedule anything longer than an hour).


So how do I use this app to stay on task? First, I schedule my time. I give myself 30 minutes to “warm up”, then I start writing in 19 minute intervals with a 1 minute break that I use to stretch or start a new pot of tea or go to the bathroom. Then I set the rounds to repeat 6 times, and end it all with a half hour “Cool Down” which for me means “eat lunch.” I don’t bother setting a warning time signal.

Sometimes I set specific writing goals for each interval, but often the intervals simply act as an audible cue to snap me back to work if my head wandered into the clouds. I chose the “Clock” sound for the start of an interval, and the “Bird Tweet” sound for the breaks.

RoundTimer-SetSoundAnd RoundTimer is working for me! I’m staying on task better and getting more writing done, which is great because I need to write a whole bunch of A-Z posts pronto! And now, as promised, here is this year’s theme…

Masterplots Theater(2)

Ta-da! Masterplots Theater will study core plot structures — one for each letter of the alphabet (such as Adventure, Buddy Love, Chosen One, etc) — and shed some light on what makes these stories so compelling. We’ll also provide some example books/films to study. And by the end of April, we’ll all be masters of plot!

There are lots of interesting bloggers taking part in the challenge, so head over to the linky list for other A to Z theme reveals. And if you’re participating, let us know in the comments!

See you in April!

About the author

Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/atozchallenge-productivity-theme-reveal/


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  1. SpookyMrsGreen

    Hello, just stopping by to introduce myself for the #AtoZChallenge. I’m SpookyMrsGreen at no 121. This sounds like an interesting (and very useful) blog challenge theme… looking forward to it! 🙂

    1. Heather Jackson

      Nice to meet you! I’m looking forward to your blog too – you live such a different life than I do and I can’t wait to hear all about it!

  2. Morgan Dragonwillow

    I have used a timer for writing and either cleaning or dancing between writing sessions. I believe incorporating movement between writing sessions is so important as stuck on the page you are usually stuck in the body. Plus as writers we need to move more.

    I look forward to reading your posts.

    Morgan Dragonwillow
    Dragonwillow Journeys
    Story Dam

    1. Heather Jackson

      Love the idea of dancing between writing sessions! I’ve done the cleaning thing, and I’ve stretched too, but dancing sounds like way more fun. 😉

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Fantastic theme! Look forward to it.

    Also, thank for the app recommendation. I usually write when I am hit with inspiration so I’m curious to see if this works for me.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Sarah! Oh man, I could never wait for inspiration to strike. I’d simply never get around to writing! I’m definitely deadline driven and always put my clients first, so getting to my own stuff wouldn’t happen if I didn’t create a timed schedule and stick to it. Of course, that’s easier said than done and my personal writing projects often get bumped, but when I finally do get to my writing hours, I have found this app to be helpful keeping me on track — or at least making sure I don’t fall asleep! 😉

      1. Sarah Brentyn

        Of course I meant “thanks for the app”. Stupid autocorrect. I know what you mean. Deadlines are easier. Because. Deadline. Right? But for creative stuff I usually get hit with inspiration and jot it down. The difference here is that you actually have a book written. ? Inspiration is fantastic but it doesn’t complete projects. That is my problem.

  4. Betty

    Seems like a great theme; intricate in having more than one author writing them; but it seems like you guys all have it handled 🙂 Enjoy the challenge!


    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Betty! And yes, Robin and I have been blogging together for a couple years now and made it through two A-Z, so we have a good system going. 🙂

      Looking forward to your A-Z challenge and seeing your photos of Arizon.

  5. Robin

    What a great idea. Something James Scott Bell talks about quite a bit, analyzing plots in different books. Looking forward to all your posts.

    A to Z drop in
    Robin of http://www.mytwoblessings.com

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Robin! Yes, James Scott Bell talks a lot about masterplots, and so does Blake Snyder in his writing craft book SAVE THE CAT. Robin also dug up another book 20 MASTERPLOTS by Ronald Tobias, so we’ll be drawing information from many different sources and distilling it down into less than 500 words for you all! See you in April!

      1. Robin

        I hadn’t heard of those two authors and added them to my wishlist. Exceeded my writing book budget for the next month already. Hubby would give me the stink eye. LOL! I went to a workshop put on by Alexandra Sokoloff a few years back – screenwriting tips for authors. It didn’t stick with me unfortunately. Excited y’all are doing this. Thanks for stopping by my blog. TTFN.

        1. Heather Jackson

          Oh yes, the writing book budget. If you have to get just one, though, SAVE THE CAT is the best for story and plotting.

  6. Nilanjana Bose

    Wow on the theme and also the theme reveal, great tip on the app! Keeping up the pace and motivation is key. Here from the A-Z reveal and intend to be back in April. Have an awesome April and A-Z.

    Ninja Minion, A-Z 2016

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Nilanjana! Hope you find the app helpful. And thanks for your tip (from your blog) on a comment signature. Just made mine now. 🙂

  7. Dahlia

    Thanks for the app tip – going to try it out! Be back in April to check out your interesting theme 🙂

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Dahlia! Hope you find the app helpful!

  8. Heather C Wright

    Interesting theme. Good luck! I’ll be sure to check back in April. I’ll be doing the challenge to at my blog is you care to stop by: https://heathercwright.wordpress.com/

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Heather! And I look forward to reading about all your strange things!

  9. Prof Narayana Rao

    Productivity of Writers is a topic of my interest. I am an industrial engineer.
    Good to visit your site as a part of my A to Z visits.
    Welcome to A to Z April Blogging Challenge 2016 – Co-Participant – Nrao
    NRao Blogs – 2016 A to Z Challenge Blog Posts
    Management Theory Review

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Narayana! Happy Blogging A-Z!

  10. Tracy Sockriter

    Wow, I love your theme. I can’t wait to read.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Tracy! And I’ve never heard of adrenal fatigue. Guess I will learn a lot from your blog this April!

      1. Tracy Sockriter

        Thanks Heather. We’ll be learning together.

  11. Sabina

    This is an AWESOME theme!! Plot is so interesting, especially how we return to the same tropes so often. Looking forward to it!

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Sabina! Looking forward to reading your A-Z posts too!

  12. NV Rivera

    So this is my first time visiting your blog and I already love it! I look forward to your theme, but I also need to reread THIS post again and take notes! This mommy writer has been struggling with productivity and this strategy sounds promising.
    Thanks ladies!

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks so much! And welcome to the A-Z Challenge. I can’t wait to see how your a-z short story turns out.

  13. stephie5741

    Great idea! I’m doing six a week and it’s tiring. But I write them ahead of time as I have free time in March. That does make it easier. If I were collaborating as you are, though, I don’t know that I’d have that luxury.


    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Stephanie! Looking forward to your Unsolved Mysteries posts.

  14. Megan Morgan

    Oooh, this sounds very interesting indeed! That looks like a great use for that app, too. Maybe I should try that out…

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks! Let me know how the app works for you. And I can’t wait to read you A-Z challenge of the worst romance novel ever written in 26 days. Such a great theme!

  15. Ula

    Well, I’ll be here to read it all. It can only help make me better.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Ula! Glad to have you back for this year’s A-Z challenge. I too had doubts about participating (it’s rewarding but oh so time consuming), but well here we are! Onwards!

  16. eclecticalli

    What fun! I look forward to this one 🙂
    Looking forward to taking everyone on a grand adventure on the Eclectic Express myself 🙂

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks! Plus one ticket to the Eclectic Express, please! 😉

  17. Faith Colburn

    Heather, I applaud you, but I can’t imagine doing this myself this year. Too darned much on my plate. Hope I’ll see your reminder next year.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Well I wouldn’t be doing this without Robin! Writing Craft posts take too much brain power. If I was doing this on my own I would probably write flash fiction or short stories or… oh wow, I just came up with a great idea for next year… Thanks, Faith!

  18. Sharon Himsl

    Wow, busy schedule indeed. Interesting theme! Good luck with the challenge.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Yep! And good luck to you too. I love reading about women and history, so I’ll be checking out your Pioneer Women in Aviation posts.

  19. Gulara

    I joined A to Z challenge last year after reading your post about it. It was the best decision of my blogging life 🙂 And I learnt loads from your last year’s posts. They were always on my must read list. So double thank you! Look forward to learning more about plots.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Wow, that’s awesome! I didn’t know that. I’m glad you enjoyed the challenge and our posts, and are back for another year!

      1. Gulara

        Thanks, Heather. You and Robin have been my guiding stars of writing 🙂 Thank you for all the wisdom and inspiration.

        1. Robin Rivera

          Gulara, You make me feel all warm and squishy inside when you thank us. : ) You’re such an amazing blogger, it’s an honor to be part of your journey. Hugs!

          1. Gulara

            I’m all smiley now 🙂 Thank you both.

  20. ros77uk

    I found that the only way to be able to survive the Challenge with sanity intact and new friendships made was to write-and-schedule ALL my posts before April started. That way, I didn’t feel under pressure to write x number of posts, and could do much more visiting. Have a great A-Z Challenge!

    Ros, visiting from GenWestUK

    1. Heather Jackson

      Yes, that is a good plan indeed. Sigh. Maybe next year I will be that organized!

  21. Christine B.

    Well, guess I’ll be following you through April then, lol. That theme is intriguing! I’ll have to try that timer method; I too have gone through the cycle of attention-keeping tricks and I am always looking for new ones! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Heather Jackson

      You’re welcome, Christine. I hope you find the timer helpful! Especially since you’re doing the A-Z Challenge AND Camp NaNo. Robin is attempting that too. You are both crazy (in a good way). 😉

      1. Christine B.

        Much luck to her! 🙂

        1. Robin Rivera

          Thank you! I’ve never done the Camp before, and so far I love it! Good luck to you on your Camp NaNo project.

  22. Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes)

    Great theme. Your A to Z posts are always informative and I look forward to this year’s.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks! You picked a fun theme – I’m looking forward to discovering 28 different phobias! 🙂

  23. saraletourneau

    That’s a great idea for an A To Z Challenge theme! Can’t wait to see what you and Robin share with us. 🙂

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Sara! Me too. I mean I should get writing…

  24. Sue Coletta

    It sounds like a great theme for the A to Z Challenge. I’ve never used timer apps, but they sound like a fantastic way to stay focused. I’ve fallen into the SM time suck too many times.

    1. Heather Jackson

      SM is a vortex of distraction! Today I had an off day. I needed to set the timer ever 10 minutes and have it blare a fog horn at me. 😉

  25. Keith Hillman

    Sound interesting!

    My A-Z theme 2016

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Keith! And I look forward to your theme boosting my vocabulary. 😉

  26. ghostmmnc

    Looking forward to reading your posts! This A-Z will be my 3rd year, also!

    1. Heather Jackson

      Happy 3rd A-Z anniversary!

  27. Lata Sunil

    Wow. love the theme..

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks! Though I can’t take credit for the idea – that was all Robin. She wrote me an excited email about it six months ago! She is definitely the more prepared of the two of us. 😉

  28. Elizabeth Hein

    Great theme, ladies! I look forward to the posts. I’ve used timers to varying success, but I’ve never tried an interval timer. I’ll give it a try.

    1. Heather Jackson

      Thanks, Elizabeth! Let me know how the interval timer app works out for you.

  29. jazzfeathers

    Count me in. Love this theme! 🙂
    I have already written nearly all the entries, this year. I made a point of be ready when the challenge starts, so I can concentrate on networking. I’m also planning to do graphics for each post, but… eh… will see. I hope so.

    Have a fantastic challenge!

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. Heather Jackson

      Good on you for being so prepared! I’m looking forward to reading all your posts about Jazz Age Jazz. I’m always intrigued by how art/music/culture influences society.

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