For a few years, I had been toying with the idea of a weekly newsletter. 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 faith 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.
The 20th of February, 2015, 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.
Three years later, we are much larger than that, and we grow every week.
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 Mailerlite. 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. I like the clean, pared-down look of it – this is a personal letter, after all, 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.
The first year I published The Hughsletter was really hard for me. We moved our offices at work, we turned over the entire staff and my wife 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.
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