Welcome to Always Write, Irene Waters. I met Irene in June reading one of her marvelous book reviews. We chatted a bit and I found out that she was interested in photo and writing challenges. She agreed to tell you about her favorite challenges and also what it was like for her to host a challenge.
Thank you for for being here.
Irene Waters Interview
by Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist
What prompted you to begin to host a writing/photo challenge?
When the memoir challenge ended it left a hole which I decided to fill by running my own challenge with a twist. @Irene Waters
I enjoy participating in both photo and writing challenges. For photos I love Cee’s challenges as well as Lens-Artists and Paula’s Five word challenges. Although these are predominantly photo challenges I can’t help but weave story, often memoir around the photos I post. I came to writing challenges later. The first was a memoir challenge (no longer happening) and then I found Carrot Ranch’s 99 Word Flash Fiction. When the memoir challenge ended it left a hole which I decided to fill by running my own challenge with a twist.
Was this one of your dreams?
I can’t say it was a dream to run my own challenge although it was a dream to share memoir with others who perhaps hadn’t considered memoir a pursuit of interest.
What was your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers or writers?
I had hoped that the challenge would give us social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location. The prompt could be responded to in any form the participant enjoyed – prose, poetry, flash, photographs, sketches or any other form. I hoped that it would give both writers and photographers a way of writing/ displaying memoir and finding value in reading the differences and the similarities between generations and locations. I love it when a conversation starts and one post prompts memories in a reader/viewer previously forgotten.
How long have you been doing this?
The first challenge was in January 2016 and I stopped in 2019 when my husband and myself were both diagnosed with and undergoing cancer treatments.
How much time does it take?
I made it easy on myself and made the challenge monthly. I knew how much work was involved and I knew I was time poor. Don’t be fooled – people who run challenges put a lot of work into them.
If you stopped hosting the challenge, why was that?
As I have already mentioned I stopped due to health challenges but it was getting difficult to keep going anyway. Although it was only monthly it was difficult coming up with topics that would not cause anybody any angst.
Did you start a different challenge?
What would you do differently?
Do as the Lens’Artists – find a team of memoir enthusiasts and take turns in setting the challenge.
What steps did you take to get your challenge ready?
It was simply a matter of coming up with a topic and writing to the topic myself, posting and inviting people to join in. The challenge had been running only a short time when Charli from Carrot Ranch invited me to write a memoir piece monthly on her site with an invitation to readers to participate in my challenge. This certainly created an audience for Times Past which helped immensely.
How did you follow up with your participants?
I would get participants to leave a link on my site in the comments and then visit each of them leaving a comment on their site. Hopefully other participants also dropped by and read their work as well.
How did you attract people to participate? / How do people usually find out about your challenge? Are you a part of a group on social media that picks up your challenge and promotes it?
I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to social media. I have facebook, twitter and instagram accounts but I rarely visit them. I relied primarily on word of mouth so to speak and having the article on Carrot Ranch linked was a big plus for me.
Do you determine winners? If so, how?
I didn’t determine winners. I think everyone who enters any challenge is a winner – we all have our own stories and none are more worthy than the other. I must admit it is a buzz when you are chosen by Cee or Lens Artists as an example of work that appealed to them – but I don’t know that either of those challenges would consider them winners.
What do you do with the entries?
I have a Times Past page where there is a link to every challenge. It makes it easy for people to find them and follow links if they wish.
Given your experience with both hosting a challenge and participating in challenges do you think they are a valuable tool for writers and photographers?
Absolutely. Firstly for many challenges are a way that a writer or photographer can have their work viewed by others. It is also a way of honing skills and getting the creative juices working. Most importantly it is a way to meet like minded people and have conversations that you can only have with another writer or photographer. It may just be a meeting of minds that sees a friendship begin.
I hoped that it would give both writers and photographers a way of writing/ displaying memoir and finding value in reading the differences and the similarities between generations and locations. @Irene Waters
Irene Waters published her memoir Nightmare in Paradise in 2019. She blogs at Reflections and Nightmares She is interested in memoir having completed a Master of Arts with her research thesis examining the difficulties a sequel memoirist faces. Another passion from childhood is photography. She enjoys combining writing and photography on her website. She lives with her husband and two dogs on the Sunshine Coast of Qld in Australia.
About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist
I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am – 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
I’ve been friends with Yvette for at least five or six years and love chatting with her and admiring her photos. Her sense of humor and intelligent thoughtfulness augments the value of every photo she posts.
Morning Walker #1 (March 2020): The crack in the sidewalk is what grabbed my attention later when I looked at the photo. It is as if the man pressed his foot down and caused the crack. Or have I seen too many Super Hero movies (I don’t even watch any of those type of movies – haha so who knows….). I found this photo to be interesting with the verticals (man’s body, tall building above his head, the other verticals right) and then the white t-shirt, Adidas socks, Nike sneakers, towel in hand – and then the row of open squares middle upper right. Old bridge new structure going up… hmmmmm
See what I mean? Did you notice all that stuff? So I know you’re going to love her guest post.
Hi, my name is Yvette Prior and I have been blogging over at Priorhouse regularly since 2014.
In today’s post, I wanted to share some thoughts about blog challenges.
Marsha is currently running a series about blog challenges and I wanted to share a few thoughts because I have joined in with a lot of challenges over the years.
Blog challenges refer to joining in with other bloggers to post about a theme or topic. There are many types of blog challenges. Challenges can have daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly schedules.
Blog challenges allow us to build connections – a niche social circle.
The challenges that we join allow us to network and build rapport with others. Or they can – depending on how active we are and how others in the group respond to newcomers or to your unique contributions and style. One of my favorite challenges for building the “social circle” is the Lens-Artists’ weekly photo challenge. They have four main hosts, guest hosts, and then the many participants seem to be like-minded folks and it is a lot of fun. I also learn so much and it is nice to meet people from all over the world and with different backgrounds.
Hosting requires effort and consistency. Yvette Prior
Blog challenges motivate ideas and can help with creativity. Sometimes a blog challenge theme gives us a reason to snap that photo or write about a topic. Sometimes I want to post after taking a break from blogging and I lack the motivation or just do not have ideas for the next post. However, then I take a look at some of the challenges and ideas flood in. It then comes down to deciding which ones to contribute to.
One – start with one challenge to get going
If you are new to blogging and you are not sure where to start, I would say explore different challenges and start with one challenge.
Read about what the host expects or prefers. For example, some challenge hosts really want participants to make a separate post to join in with their challenge. Other hosts do not seem to mind if someone combines one post to join in with multiple challenges.
Also, make sure to join the challenge somewhat close to the day it starts. For example, if it is a weekly challenge, sometimes the entries fizzle out on days 5 or 6 as folks are getting ready for the next week. However, some challenges welcome people to join in late, and it can be fun to see some entries trickle in.
Two – Don’t feel like you are obligated to stay doing a challenge.
If you are done, then walk away. I know it can feel like a break up and we do not want to hurt feelings, but if you stay blogging with an obligatory mindset – you will lose freshness. Blogging can have ups and downs and can have times of feeling like a drain, and so you must guard your essence. You do not want to get to the point of being “done” to where you exit and leave for good.
Three – Watch the pull of blog challenges.
The social connecting can be such a thrill here in the blog community. However, it can also pull you into what feels like a black hole. It can feel like a vortex has pulled you in and you need to get out. So draw boundaries. Find times to indulge, but do make sure you monitor your involvement. If I ever feel like I am getting sucked in, I might fast for a week or even thirty days. I actually suggest people do this before they feel the drain starting to occur. Regular breaks allow our threshold to reset and can lead to more enjoyment in the long run. This applies to many areas, not just blogging.
Four – Make time to visit other bloggers that join in the challenge(s) you join in with.
Balance task vs. relationships. Make time to join in and create a post (the task) but then make time visit other bloggers (relationship) that join in the challenge(s) you join in with. Visiting other bloggers is an important part of the blog experience. Don’t force yourself to visit, but it might take effort to make some rounds. And do not feel like you have to visit every single post that someone puts out there. It could be too much of “you” and the spaced out visits could be win-win for all.
Also, it is nice to get and give “likes” – but some bloggers do not pay ever attention to the likes (or the likes don’t show up after you click it) and so leaving a comment always has more weight. Try to leave something specific (rather than general like “nice post” or “cool”) but do not feel like you have to write a book either. Sometimes less can be more, especially if you put a little bit of “you” into it.
Do not be afraid to say something as simple as “I enjoyed your post” because you might not be able to move into commentary mode so quickly. Some people have a natural (or developed) skill for reading a post and then having some thoughtful commentary. Others are still in view mode and do not always have thoughts come so naturally. And in my experience, any blogger that starts to gripe about “shallow comments” or “too general” of a comment might not realize the different modes people are in.
Five – If you reach a point to where you want to host a challenge, go for it.
Hosting a challenge might be your next step. If you reach a point to where you want to host a challenge, go for it. It could be something that becomes part of your small “great works” as you connect and give a little back to the community. Or, it could be a short-term adventure that does not last long – but has allowed you to learn, grow, and meet other bloggers.
Hosting challenges can be a different experience for each host. The amount of work it requires will vary depending on the type of challenge it is but it usually requires a lot of effort. I stopped running a challenge because it added more time to my blogging hours and it was not something I enjoyed. Also, the inconsistencies were annoying. For example, one week there would be a lot of participants and a vibrancy but then the next week it felt lackluster with the sound of crickets.
So rather than hosting challenges, I contribute to the ones that align with my aims and interests. For example, a personal goal of mine is to write more flash fiction. For a while, I was able to join in with three weekly flash fiction challenges and then narrowed it down to one. The challenge helps me hone a skill that I would not otherwise tap into.
Also, rather than hosting, I sometimes start my own themes for a series. For example, I do Wednesday Street Shots, What to Wear Wednesday, and Monday Morning Blooms.
A passive host signals to me that they do not care about engagement – or they do not value each and every entry – and if they do not care – well then why should I? Yvette Prior
Occasionally, I might be tempted to set up those series as challenge invites, but I refrain. Hosting requires effort and consistency. I only have so much time to blog (like most folks) and I also do not want to be locked into any forced schedule. I like some regularity that changes with the seasons, but to me, hosting a challenge feels like unenjoyable work – and so this is why I try to always thank the folks that do host – their labor of love provides a lot for the blogging community.
Most blog hosts will visit each blogger that joins their challenge. I think this is an important part of hosting. They set the challenge parameters and invite others to join. Then, they visit the bloggers that join in. It feels like a common courtesy and the visitation can lead to some fun connecting.
However, some blog hosts do not visit the participants that join their challenge. I stopped contributing to a few challenges because the challenge host did not visit and did not seem to care who joined in. A passive host signals to me that they do not care about engagement – or they do not value each and every entry – and if they do not care – well then why should I?
However, most challenge hosts do visit the participants, even if they keep the comments brief. Some challenge hosts visit and bring sunshine with them, and that can be such a boost.
There are some challenges I stopped joining in with just because the topic no longer interested me or the challenge was not something I wanted to do anymore. The host might have been great and the other folks were awesome in that circle, but it was no longer a part of my desired blogging mode. I used to feel bad for leaving certain blog challenges.
However, I allowed myself embrace the freedom. I needed to discover new blogging modes and my interests had changed so it was not personal. Further, it can be quite draining to oblige or to stay with something because you feel like you have to. If we force ourselves to participate it will backfire because the lack of genuineness will eventually show. We might stay present but withdraw with attitude and energy. Then everyone loses out. So even though I feel bad for not joining in some challenges after being a regular, I hope that the integrity of the choice will outweigh any hurt feelings.
Also, I have found that we can join in with challenges occasionally. For example, there is a weekly challenge that I used to do for a couple of years. I no longer want that challenge in my blog schedule, but this year I was able to join in once. I might try and join again later this fall. There is another challenge that is monthly and I just joined in this month. I am not sure if this is optimal, to only join in once in a while, and so I will monitor how it goes because I do not want to occasionally join in if that does not align with what the host prefers.
Sometimes I join in with challenges because I like the idea or theme. For example, with “Pull Up a Seat” challenge, it seemed like such a fresh idea and so I joined in. Later on I bonded with the hostess, who is this awesome lady from the West Coast.
Other times I might start joining in with a challenge because I like the host. For example, Bush Boy’s monthly photo challenge was a good idea, but I joined in with it to connect with him – and his followers – more than really wanting to join another photo challenge. I also have some challenges on my “to join in with” list – just because I like the host. For example, VJ runs a weekly writing challenge that I have been meaning to join in with.
Sometimes the host matters more than the challenge and I have left challenges because the host was grumpy. Even though I liked the theme of their challenge – I just didn’t feel that as a “hobby blogger” I should have to endure certain mood swings. Of course the blog experience will always have social elements come up, because we are humans and not robots – but there is no reason to suffer through grumpy hosts.
I have also stopped joining in with challenges because of some of the participants. For example, a weekly challenge that I did for years had a domineering participant who left comments that drained me. Subtle things, and nothing egregious, but it went on for months until I finally just decided that the social circle there was not for me. I grieved for a while – for the small loss – because I did make some nice connections, but I also felt freed up and it made room for something else.
Thank you so much for reading this post. I hope that my experience with blog challenges will give you some ideas and thoughts. You might be wanting to start a challenge, might be looking to join in with some, or you might be at a point where you need to pull back. We are all in different spots and the biggest tip is to make sure that you approach blog challenges in ways that keep you fresh. If you lose your essence, do too much, or fail to draw needed boundaries, you could end up drained and gone. Don’t let that happen. The hobby blogging community needs you for what only you can bring. ☺
Thanks for sharing this great post with us, Yvette. I learned a lot and enjoyed the introduction to some new photo challenges.
Thank you, my and Yvette’s friends for joining us today on Always Write. I hope this post is another step in helping you to always be a happy hobby blogger.
I want to remind everyone that those interested in Flash Fiction are invited to join me when I host the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest on October 20th-26th.
K.L is a neuroscientist, educator, geocacher, Unitarian-Universalist, amateur violinist, and parent. She has always been fascinated by how people’s brains learn, and especially why this process is easier and more fun for some brains than others. This led her to get a PhD in Neuroscience, work in biotech, and then become a science educator and writer. She is from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Most people seem to know these houses because they were in a show that I never watched. I found out about them through geocaching. My family and I went into San Francisco for New Year’s Day and one of our first stops was this virtual geocache.
Virtual caches are a special kind of geocache that doesn’t involve finding an actual container. Instead, you go to the coordinates posted on the site and answer some questions about what you find there, and maybe post a picture of yourself at the location.
Virtual caches are often located next to famous landmarks, and can be useful in helping you get to know a new place, or when planning a sightseeing route while traveling.
In this case, the cache site was in Alamo Square Park, across from the houses but affording a good view (Alamo Square Park is also, I learned, the place where the family in the show I never watched had a picnic in the opening credits).
At that location, the doors were not particularly visible, so I had to get closer for this challenge. This meant I had to explain to my family about Thursday Doors. Fortunately, they’re used to weird mom things like that.
Hi, I’m Marsha. In September my travel plans included beautiful, forested Delaware. If you want an easy walk that families can enjoy because ANYONE can do it, come to Winterthur Gardens in DE. Here I am resting on the edge of my seat at the edge of the Enchanted Woods at Winterthur Gardens near Hockessin, DE.
More than one of the du Pont boys who owned DuPont Chemical Company, where my mother’s cousin Hal worked, loved gardens. We were so glad he did as we meandered the broad path around the gardens for about three hours. Yes, we were lost at times. This map did not help. 🙂
“Winterthur’s 1,000 acres encompass rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. Founder Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) developed an appreciation of nature as a boy who served as the basis for his life’s work in the garden.”
Off the edge of the pathway at a middle point in the 1,000 acres of Winterthur was an Enchanted Woods.
Be Brave! Travel On!
We crossed the troll bridge into the Enchanted Woods. First, let me introduce you to Hal. As some of you already know he’s 91. In his day he engineered hard plastics in car engines. Although now he is at the losing edge of blindness, he walked three hours guiding me through the gardens at Winterthur. (The blind leading the blind at times)
As we entered the Woods Hal could not resist the first hands-on activity for us kids.
I felt like a kid here. At one edge was a fairy ring. Hal told me not to get too close. But, Hal is blind. What does he know, right? Who can resist advice like that?
I was clearly standing on the edge. What would you do with a sign like that? You can’t read it either, can you? hahaha
Soon I was covered in a mist that spread through the gardens. Everyone passing by knew I had disobeyed the sign. I hoped these were good fairies.
Here are a few more pictures of the fairy ring. These giant concrete mushrooms trapped several gleeful young children. We could hear laughter and see mist filtering through the trees as we walked around.
Lucky for me I run fast! 🙂 That’s it for now.
Blogging Tip: To Build Community Use Photo Challenges to Share Your Travels Posts