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Challenge Host Interview Series: How Amanda and Sandy; Challenge Make Fridays Friendlier

Always Write Challenge Interview Series #16

Bitmoji coffee cup

Welcome to Always Write. I am your hostess, Marsha Ingrao, and today I welcome Amanda and Sandy as my guest challenge hosts. Together they co-host the challenge, Friendly Friday Challenge. The benefits of joining the challenge are:

  • Showcase your photography, writing and posts.
  • Be inspired to create more diverse posts.
  • Challenge yourself to get creative with the weekly prompts.
  • Make new blogger friends.
  • Build a blogger community.

Please make Amanda and Sandy feel right at home here by leaving them lots of comments and following the links to visit their blogs. Now let’s learn a little about their back stories.

How long has Friendly Friday Challenge run?
Quoting Amanda

The idea for the challenge happened years ago when I
was chatting to with Snow who has been blogging for almost as long as I have. Snow and I had an odd relationship as we are at opposite ends of the world, as far away as you can get, so our opposing perspectives were always going to be interesting, yet we had the common thread of growing up in Australia. Snow was keen to create a photo challenge – a major interest of hers but lacked a little confidence to go it alone and that’s when I got involved.

I had run a weekly Monday Mystery Photo Challenge on my blog for almost five years and was looking for something new and offered to help out. That is how we created the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge in 2018. I wasn’t keen on the name at first, but it has grown into its identity.

Sandy joined as a co-host when Snow retired. We also had the help of a third host, Manja, an avid photographer, who ably stepped in at times, when life got too busy for blogging. Click on the links to see their blogs.

How did you two meet and what prompted you to begin hosting a challenge together?

Sandy and I haven’t met in the person but meeting would be like some of the meetings I have had with pen pals. When you exchange in writing, you know so much about a person, it is like meeting with an old friend. It is always a lovely surprise when it happens. Sandy and I collaborate very well so I think we would sync well in person too!  

Wellington Botanic Gardens, New Zealand https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2021/04/09/friendly-friday-blog-challenge-something-fishy/
Quoting Sandy

I agree, meeting would be a treat! Amanda makes a good point.  Blogging and co-hosting is like having pen-pals.  Except that communication is immediate and stamp-free. Being geographically far apart means that we’re almost guaranteed to have different experiences to blog and talk about.  

I started participating in the challenge almost exactly two years ago on May 17, 2019. The challenge was Chairs and I remember thinking “Finally, a chance to use this photo.”

I’d been walking through an old part of town when two chairs caught my eye. I took more photos but because the place was empty, there was nothing to blog about. Friendly Friday allowed me to start with a picture of the chairs, then peek through the doors into the rest of the place.  

Sandy's Photo Chairs from Singapore
Friendly Friday: Chairs – The Sandy Chronicles

I found other Friendly Friday topics prompted similar memories and I had fun finding and writing the posts.  When Amanda called out for a co-host, I thought “Why not?!”

What is your purpose in hosting the challenge? How does it help photographers and writers?

I like the way Friendly Friday has nurtured a community of interactive bloggers and also how it has evolved to incorporate stories, recipes as well as amateur and semi-professional photography which Sandy my co-host elaborate on. To differentiate the challenge in the blogosphere, we really do try to make each theme novel and unique, adding some suggestions to get the creative ideas flowing for participants.

We can see that participants love the food suggestions. – Marsha

My mouth is watering now! I like seafood and I love (smoked) salmon, especially on a slice of baguette. You must have an amazing memory, remembering all those salmon dishes and the progression of how you became more and more enthralled by it. My best salmon story has to do with watching a black bear catch one on Vancouver Island a few falls ago. 

Liesbet

Photographic tips and links are useful to any of us who use media to embellish our posts. New bloggers can gain exposure and attract new followers by posting links on the current host’s Friendly Friday theme post page.

I want the challenge to trigger stories.  Sandy

Much like my first post on Chairs, I want the challenge to trigger stories. There are many challenges which are focused wholly on pictures as the end point. To me, photos are starting points. Their purpose is to enliven a memory or embellish an interesting fact or event. 

How much time does it take to host the challenge?
Quoting Sandy

It takes me about a day to write up the Friendly Friday post. It takes longer to come up with a topic, although most of the time, it’s simmering in my subconscious.   It’s like a deadline that I know is coming up but I pretend to not think about it. At least, until the Monday before the Friday that it’s due 🙂

I don’t know how long it takes, but as I try to expand the topic, it might be written up over a few days, or on the one day. Depending on what is happening in my own personal life, it is something I might write up a week beforehand and refine over several days. I have a lot of drafts sitting there waiting to be transformed and given life. Sometimes, I get an idea for a theme from the conversations and comments from other bloggers. That is especially nice.

What steps do you take to get your challenge ready to publish?
Quoting Sandy

For me, the challenge is finding a topic which can be both straight-forward or interpreted. I ask myself, can this topic be illustrated by more than a photo? Can I provide examples, which are more than just photos? 

Because of Amanda’s influence, I’m sensitive to geographic differences when I think up challenge topics. Whenever I think of seasonal themes, I always pull back because Australia is two seasons ahead of everyone in North America and Europe.

Once I have a topic and examples, I write it up. Then I’ll find and add the visuals. Photos are easy visuals but I might also add graphics, video inserts and other media grabs.

I think Sandy talked about the steps we take – much the same way any of us prepare a blog post. We sit down to write and put ideas to life via the keyboard and images. It is not so scripted that I decide on the topic then go out and hunt for pictures to suit. Life is way too busy to do that. The theme floats around in the ether before it settles in my head! Haha! 

How do you attract people to participate and then follow up with them?

Ours is a non-competitive, everybody-wins event! This is a laid-back fun activity and I don’t try to promote it too much. I’ll look up all the pingbacks and comment on participant posts.

When we moved to a bi-weekly format, I started posting reminders on the second week which include entries from the first week. This is more to encourage participation. I’ve gotten feedback saying it’s nice having a list in one place for others to click through the entries. As long it remains manageable, I’ll continue to do that.

We have a logo that people can use it if they want. Other than that, I don’t use other social media to promote content.

Participants respond with their own stories, which is one of the Friendly Fridays hosts’ goals. Here is one example. Marsha

Very informative and love the video clip. Removing the shoes before entering a house or temple is regularly followed in Indian culture as a matter of respect. Thank you.

Philosophyvia.photos
Something fishy from Amanda's blog
Something Fishy from Amanda’s blog

Like Sandy, I always visit participant’s posts. If someone has taken the trouble to participate, it is the polite and necessary thing to do as a host. It is often surprising and always a delight to see how individual bloggers choose to interpret a theme.

Hosting a challenge does take time so I don’t feel it is necessary to expand it to other platforms at present. Facebook groups come and go and if there was a strong need, I would consider it.

My feeds are syndicated via Twitter @forestwoodfolk. That is pretty much all. WordPress has a big community to draw from. Even though I had someone ask to join the challenge, who didn’t currently have a blog, it seems much easier if the participant is already using the same platform.

Would you recommend starting a blog challenge to other bloggers?

Always participate in any challenge only if you want to do so. You must be interested in it, or else the lacklustre approach will show in your writing.

As for hosting a challenge, you must be committed and have a reasonable number of followers to start with. It is pretty soul destroying if you launch a challenge and do not get any participants.

Consistency and participating in other challenges are certainly highly recommended. It is also better to have one or more co-hosts, I think. This ensures that you will start off with a few others participating. I do recommend hosting challenges though. You will nurture a wonderful community and find new blogging friends from all over the world!  Maybe you would like to guest host our challenge? Drop us a line.

Another recommendation from me might be to find your own challenge niche. Make your challenge stand out be being individual, different, or unique from others in some way.  This will set you apart from a generic run of challenges existing in the blogosphere and help ensure your success.

As for hosting a challenge, you must be committed and have a reasonable number of followers to start with. It is pretty soul destroying if you launch a challenge and do not get any participants. Amanda

What direction can you imagine that the challenge might take in the future?
Quoting Sandy

Last year, Amanda and I discussed how to evolve Friendly Friday. We wanted it to be more than just pictures. We’ve expanded it to include pure narrative, cookery, videos and anything else that captured the imagination. We also made a subtle change in name from Friendly Friday Photo Challenge to simply Friendly Friday Challenge.

Part of the ‘challenge’ in challenges, is keeping it interesting.  I appreciate bloggers who sometimes mix-it-up with different perspectives or new ideas.  Recently, Veró from My French Chronicles kicked off a vlog collaboration where instead of photos, people contributed videos on a theme.  Given that most of us were travel bloggers who were homebound by the pandemic, her idea was a virtual trip around the world, of views outside our windows.  Veró published the first ‘Bloggers with a View’ video,   Amanda did the next one on ‘Mornings’ and I did a subsequent one on Market Days.  Vlog collaborations take more work to pull together but the videos are fun. Maybe we’ll do more …


Quoting Amanda

Who knows where Friendly Friday Challenge will go in the future? It is a living thing, evolving and growing, changing, and remoulding as we as hosts see fit. It is like predicting numbers on a spinning wheel. Where will it stop; who knows?

Biographies

Amanda

Amanda Mac
Amanda from Something to Ponder About

Amanda lives in Australia. She designs fabrics using Scandinavian Designs and Traditional Norwegian Rosemaling and writes about things that interest, puzzle, or frustrate her. She has traveled extensively and loves providing information that is helpful or important to share with others including recipes.

Pavlova
Smashed Pavlova with Chocolate Dome

There’s a cornucopia of topics on her blog, from travel and lifestyle to photography and cooking. As part of a diverse global community, she values your opinions and comment, and welcomes your comments.

Sandy

Sandy
Sandy from The Sandy Chronicles

Sandy is an amateur photographer, writer, and traveler. She used to work with high-tech computer software until she realized that she was missing out on a low-tech human world. She decided to break from corporate life and rediscover the joys of creative writing and photography. 

Over the last ten+ years Sandy has split her time living in Toronto, Beijing, and Singapore. After retiring and returning to Canada, she and her husband considered relocating outside of the big city. They fell in love with the wild Pacific coast in British Columbia but couldn’t quite give up city life. Now, they split their time between Toronto and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island. 

Thanks to both of you for your time. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you both better.

Featured Blogger Challenge Host Interview Series

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you have questions, comments, or links to share for and with Sandy or Amanda?

If you host or enjoy participating in specific challenges and would like an interview on Always Write, please contact me.

43 replies »

  1. Thank you for this informative interview. I was glad to host Friendly Friday on a few occasions and thank you for linking to me. Unlike Amanda, I loved this name for the challenge from the start and have participated the whole first year regularly. Last year was a low blogging activity year for me but am coming back. I didn’t know about the next vlogging step and all three videos by Bloggers with a View are exceptional! Might give it a try if there will be other instalments. Long live Friendly Friday!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can attest to the lack of enough audience to start a photo challenge. I attempted that with my Cellpic Sunday feature which never went anywhere. Now that I have more followers, at Marsha’s urging I will start promoting others to contribute their cell photos on their own challenge-responses.

    I enjoyed reading your interview, Sandy and Amanda!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I like looking at other people’s photographs, but only participate in one photographic challenge a week and that is Thursday doors. I quite like the fun of sharing about historical places I’ve visited through the Thursday Doors challenge. Running a challenge is quite a time consuming activity. I can see that just from watching what others do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Any challenge, writing or photo challenge, takes a lot of time. The more participants, the longer it takes to visit each one, comment, and in many cases, publish a follow-up blog, or publish their best pictures or stories. I have enjoyed participating in photo challenges. It may be slightly easier to have a partner, but the visitation time is still there, and most bloggers who collaborate, write a post to address the challenge on their off weeks. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Marsha for hosting the interview & pulling it together. As I said to John, I feel honoured to be a member of the group – Those who’ve been blogged by Marsha!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for the kind comments and I am always happy to be a sounding board or help for anyone who wishes to start a challenge. The blogging community is mostly supportive and giving, you just have to reach them and sometimes getting started is the hard part. I love how we can reconnect with people as they come and go in the blog world too. Like Marsha, whom I recently re-connected with. Thanks ever so much to her for posting this interview, Marsha. It was a chance to clarify my thoughts about the whole challenge and see its story!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wow!
    What a wonderful interview!
    Love the way Marsha you have put those intelligent questions and equally the intelligent and very interesting answers from Sandy & Amanda.
    Congratulations all three of you.
    A great & tough job well done.
    Very interesting to know how beautifully the ‘friendly friday challenge’ has evolved.
    Thank you guys.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I loved reading this – the back story behind one of my favourite challenges. It made me realise WHY I enjoy this one so much – it’s the fact that it encourages me not just to share photos but to build a story around them. And the themes are so well thought-out. Sometimes as soon as I read what it is I know exactly what I will post, other times I think ‘that’s tough, I have nothing to offer’ and then suddenly I get an idea!

    What you say about the modern version of pen-pals rings very true. I think of all my Virtual Tourist friends in a similar way. We got to know each other online but many of us have since met in person and have connected immediately as a result of the online relationship 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, Jacquie. Who knows there might be three or four things if we keep writing. And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Thanks for reading and commenting. We need to chat about interviews. If you don’t mind, leave me your email address in my contact me section. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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