Have you ever been the recipient of a Christmas card which seems overly padded. On opening, a photocopied letter drops out of the Christmas card, with at least 2 sides of A4 family minutiae from the sender. Violin lessons, orthodontic experiences, exam triumphs and the summer holiday when it didn’t stop raining.
Whilst I do have children and had a dalliance on the subject of revision in one newsletter, this pre-Christmas edition, hopefully bears no resemblance to one of those fortunately, largely forgotten, burgeoning envelope’s of smugness.
In 2020, I subscribed to 2 daily blogs which both recommended that everyone should start writing one.
‘Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.’ Seth Godin.
I was already writing a daily journal and had been for a number of years, so I had some empathy with Godin’s comment. The big leap was the thought of writing something that others would enjoy reading. I couldn’t quite see the pleasure of daily, so I decided to try a once a week publication of about 1,000 words, a 4-minute read, on a Friday.
What to write about?
My biggest success and failure, depending on your perspective, is there is no specialism. Every week is deliberately different although I do have pet subjects which I like to return to. If I was interested in writing for money, which I’m not, the fastest route to goal is to be highly focused. Some of the most successful newsletters with thousands of subscribers, often paying £10/month are on subjects like, The Profile (long-form stories on people in business), The Ankler (the newsletter Hollywood loves to hate), even Dominic Cummings (Systems Politics).
Popular, more generalist newsletters are nearly always written by journalists who have made their name writing for a national newspaper or popular magazine.
My very first blog was posted in April, 2018, Our Dog has a Name. It was short, sweet and explained the retail experience of dog food home delivery. Hardly a riveting subject, although the idea was to recount an on-going series of good and bad experiences. I can’t have been wedded to it because my second post wasn’t until 8th January, 2021. I’ve been weekly ever since.
Politics, religion and money
I started and nearly finished my political commentary in January with back to back letters, Free to not Trade and Missing EU Already. I take the view now that politics and opinion on it, is not hard to find, so I ought to look elsewhere for a good story. I might continue to throw in the odd comment about this government, but that has to suffice.
For longer term followers, I did write The 45th President? in February. But the focus was a short precis of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste. I’d like to share more books in 2022 and already have several on the short list. The other great book I shared was Islands of Abandonment and a not so great film, Nomadism - A Way of Life?, although the behaviour is really interesting.
The process of writing a newsletter
When I write has changed over the year. I used to start my research on a Monday and write the letter on Thursday, publishing Friday. The big change, which I’m still working on, is to plan 4 letters in advance. It doesn’t mean they’re written, but I start to plan them out sooner. The aim in 2022 is to be at least 2 weeks ahead.
Ideas come from a few email subscriptions, plus The Economist and Guardian.
Once researched, I start with a MindMap to organise my thoughts and the points I want to make. The title and first draft tend to happen at the same time. I start with something and usually as I write, a better title pops into my head. I find it too easy to tinker with what I’ve written and often go back to make changes. The most useful habit is to write the first draft and then leave it for a day and tackle all the changes in a second draft. When I need a break I go and find an image. I’ve started to introduce more of them if I think it helps the narrative.
Finally, I schedule the letter on Substack and Medium which are my preferred newsletter platforms. I use a Substack link to also publish on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Hacker News.
What were the most popular reads?
The easiest measure is the number of emails opened in any given week. That comes from my subscriber base which is now 48 (I started with less than 20) and unknown others on social media who opened the posted link.
In third place with 171 email opens was When Andrew Met Donna, a round-up of our wedding. Second, was my final political point in March, Reciprocity and the £18 billion spending spree. First, The Cinderella Sense in April, was my most read letter with 204 opens. This was about our sense of smell being the poor relation to our other senses, but Covid beginning to change that.
Space is not very popular and one of my favourites, The Pale Blue Dot is near the bottom. That said, Smash Up In Space was a top 10 and I published a week before most of the nationals covered the story of satellites deliberately hitting asteroids. The highest open rate, which is a metric of my loyal subscribers was The Old School Reunion. 79% of you wanted to know more about an invitation I received to join a What’s App group after 44 years apart.
Final thoughts after a year
The newsletter is now a significant part of my life. Having an audience - you, is a real privilege and I’m very grateful for the challenge of writing something every week. Recently, there has been a shift in subject towards our climate crisis, partly because of COP26, but also because there is no shortage of great stories about little known scientific and industry developments which could have profound, positive effects for the future.
Some of my letters have changed my own behaviour as a result of what I’ve discovered. I rarely eat meat. It’s a recent epiphany, so too soon for the car sticker on our electric rental (no more fossil fuel) and I’m shopping for British-made shoes and clothes.
Thanks for sticking around and let me know if you have a topic you’d like me to cover or what your favourite is so far. It would be great to hear from you.