#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!

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

67 thoughts on “#AtoZChallenge : Productivity + Theme Reveal”

  1. 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! 🙂

  2. 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

  3. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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. 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!

    1. 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!

  7. 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. 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!

  8. 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

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

  10. 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. 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. 😉

  11. 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

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