A One-Year Experiment Is Over
Year 2 Starts Now
One year ago, I started this newsletter experiment, committing to myself to publish it every week for a year to see how it might go. I made it! Now, a year under my belt, it is time to reflect and look ahead (and to ask a few questions). Read on!
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First off, let me thank all those who read Taking Bearings. When I started, a few family members and close friends signed up. Now, hundreds of people – most of whom I don’t know – get an email from me every Wednesday. Knowing that strangers find value in something I write keeps me writing. Every time someone signs up or presses the Like button or leaves a comment or replies with an email, my motivation renews. Writing can be a lonely activity, but the community here makes it a little less so.
Those of you who have paid for subscriptions have earned another special layer of gratitude.
Before launching Taking Bearings I’d written thousands and thousands of words, including old-school blogs and social media posts. But a newsletter seemed different. I didn’t know what I was in for when I set everything up last summer. I’ve learned some things.
One reason I wanted to write a newsletter is because I believed writing consistently would be good practice for me – a very selfish motive! Establishing the discipline to brainstorm an idea and write a lesson or go on a field trip or read something I might not otherwise read proved to be a good way to focus my mind. And writing the 1000 or so words every week has gotten easier. So, lesson 1: writing makes writing easier.
Besides the regularity and its benefits, I’ve learned that platforms matter. I started this newsletter on Revue, a now-defunct platform owned by Twitter (er, X?). I thought a newsletter that integrated well with that social media site would help me. When I moved over to Substack, my subscriber list grew much faster – more than 300% and still going strong. The basic aesthetics and functionality of the newsletter platforms were similar, but the way Substack helps writers and readers connect has helped. I’m especially grateful to all of you have recommended and shared Taking Bearings; it has really helped locate a good audience. So, lesson 2: a platform designed for sharing and connecting works.
I have learned I am a useless prognosticator. I can’t guess which post will earn more likes or comments or be read or shared. I look at the statistics, so I know which ones “perform” well or are read the most. But it seems entirely random. Some of my favorites are not big hits; some of readers’ favorites seem inexplicable to me. So, lesson 3: how newsletters are received and engaged with is a mystery to me (so I don’t bother myself too much with it)!
I have tried to be consistent. I publish about the same number words on the same day every week. (And only once has the email not gone out on time due to an inexplicable glitch that delayed it by about half an hour.) My subscriber list has grown mostly steadily with occasional booms and slight lulls. Besides switching platforms, the only significant shift happened when I opened up the paid subscription option in January. I always intended my weekly posts to be open to anyone, but I welcomed the easy way Substack allowed writers to add a paid option. But I will confess, too, that asking people to pay has been awkward. (So, lesson 4: entrepreneurship is not my forte!)
Looking Ahead (with Feedback)
I launched a year ago with hope and trepidation. I hoped I could write week after week. But honestly, I wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace. I have, miraculously, managed to write posts without fail. Altogether, they add up to somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 words this year. That’s a short book length! Now that I’ve proved I can, it’s time to think what else I might do.
I’ve relied on my topic cycle and think they work. The Classroom teaches some basic history lesson. The Field Trip gets me out on the local landscape. The Library explores some writing, usually older. The Wild Card is a catch all that allows me to fit in occasional random ideas. I assume I’ll keep doing this, all with the thematic emphases on Place, History, and Writing.
But I don’t know if others have preferences about the variety, so let me know in the poll what your favorites are (and if you have suggestions for additional categories, leave a comment below.
Like any writer, I aim to improve my prose. I think these newsletters are fairly informative, but I’d like them to become more of a pleasure to read. So that’s a goal.
Also, perhaps, I can get them a little shorter. What do you think about that?
I hope the subscriber list keeps growing, and I’d like to see the paid subscriber list grow, too. To that end, I aim to add bonus features more regularly. Currently, I’m investigating the possibility of adding short interviews (transcribed, not audio, at least to start) with others who share my interest in Place, History, and Writing. Since I started this a year ago, I’ve discovered many interesting people who share these interests, and this may be a way to introduce my readers to fascinating people worth learning about. (I did something like this once before, and it was fun and well-received.)
Also, for the next month, I’m offering a special rate for paid subscriptions.
Once more, I appreciate all of you who have read one newsletter or all of them. It keeps me going.
As always, you can find my books, and books where some of my work is included, at my Bookshop affiliate page (where, if you order, I get a small benefit).
Taking Bearings Next Week
I circle back to The Classroom. I’ve been focused on some other writing projects and have not thought ahead too far, so I’m not sure what I’ll be learning about next week. Stay tuned!