I am really good at starting things. I am also really, really good at quitting things.
So for a few years, I had been toying with the idea of a weekly newsletter. I write a monthly newsletter at work, and I really enjoy that one, so I wanted to do a personal one – just for my friends and folks who like a Hugh-eyed view on the world.
But the problem was one of focus. What would I write about?
I know a lot about homelessness and poverty – but I write about that at work. I have an interesting perspective on faith, being an Engaged Christian Humanist and all – but I don’t like arguing, and all the theo-bloggers I know argue a lot.
I wrote something on Facebook about pursuing beauty as a way to take care of yourself, and it sorta resonated with folks. My friend Tara said, “You should write about that – pursuing beauty.”
So I did.
I intended to start at the beginning of the year – but in addition to being good at quitting, I am also good at procrastinating. So one year ago yesterday (the 20th of February), I sent out my initial email. In it, I said
Here is the deal: I am going to send you an email every Monday during Lent (roughly the next six weeks). I will link to five beautiful things I liked that week – perhaps a picture I liked, perhaps a funny story, perhaps something of profound wisdom. In addition, if I read a book that blew me away, I will mention that, and provide a link to it, too. And if it is a week when something is happening I think you should know about, I will let you know in the email.
And that’s it. No lengthy prose, no huge commitments. Just five things that struck me as beautiful, books I read that were wonderful and things I think you should know.
If this works (meaning I keep my commitment to you) then I might keep it up – or I might not. I get bored easy.
It went out to 35 people, I think. Today we have a bit more than 500 subscribers. That doesn’t seem like a lot, on one hand. But on the other, I would much rather have 500 folks who asked me to send them something than writing something controversial so people who don’t know me will give a damn about something I write. And I hate arguing, and controversy brings argument.
Other than some occasional mentions on twitter and Facebook, I haven’t done any promotion, Every week, we have a few more people sign up – I assume from it being shared with them by friends. We have a Facebook page, but I don’t do much with it. I keep wanting to, just like I want to give it it’s own dedicated site. There is always so much good stuff to do, you know?
Several people have asked about the logistics of it all, so here is some “behind the scenes” stuff.
The list management is done by TinyLetter, Mailchimp’s less powerful (and free!) cousin. It handles subscribes and unsubscribes, makes sure I comply with SPAM laws, gives me a dandy form to put on my website and so on. It doesn’t allow for graphics and such, but I like the clean, pared down look of it – this is a personal letter, not a commercial email.
And speaking of commercial email – I haven’t tried to monetize it at all. There are various models for making money with a newsletter, but they usually involve advertising (and shilling for a product seems weird in a personal email) or asking people to subscribe. I might do something later, but right now, I count the connection with a tribe of folks weekly as a form of capital. And if I ever write that book, hopefully some of them will buy it, so there is that.
People ask if I write it all at once, or through the week. Sorta both – I am always on the lookout for beautiful things, and these days, readers send me things pretty constantly. I collect them throughout the week, and then get up at 5:30 on Monday and pound it out. It takes me about an hour or so.
Last year was really hard for me. We moved our offices at work, we turned over the entire staff and Renee had a heart transplant. Any one of those things would have been brutal – together, they were devastating.
I had a long list of goals I wanted to accomplish last year – and only one of them was done – starting a personal newsletter. The discipline of getting up, writing it and shipping something every week was my one constant in a sea of change. Not to mention the discipline of always being on the lookout for beautiful things to share with my readers.
No doubt about it, The Hughsletter is one of the best things I have ever done. Here is to many more years.
Uhhm, if you haven’t subscribed, you should totally do that. You can do it here.