#012 How I Cope with Slow (or Nonexistent) Newsletter Growth
Why I’m a boiling caldron of frustration, but only some of the time
If trying too hard were a place, then that’s where you’d find me. I try so hard that I often find myself in a trying-hard snowball plunging down a mountain, helpless to my own momentum, and this is exactly how I’ve been with this newsletter.
I had high expectations when I started. Newsletters are the new blogs, even though it wasn’t very long ago that blogs were the new newsletters. The point is that newsletters are experiencing a resurgence (or at least that’s what I’ve heard). I thought this meant my newsletter would quickly grow an audience.
I don’t know what I should’ve expected, but after about eight weeks, I was so panicky and frustrated that I knew I’d never be able to keep writing a new entry every week without a major attitude shift.
I thought about pulling back and not working as hard as I do on each entry. The time I put into each one varies, but they all represent hours of work. If I started calling it in every week, it’d just be a manifestation of my fear in the same way that perfectionism is a manifestation of fear.
If we half-ass something and fail, then we can always say, “Well, I half-assed that, so it’s not surprising, and I didn’t put too much time into it, so it’s not a big loss.” If we put our whole ass into something and fail, then what does that say about us? Are we the losers of destiny? Are we not as smart as we thought we were? Did we waste our time?
I’m a bit of a fear aficionado. I’m too well-versed in things like perfectionism or shielding myself from my loser destiny to fool myself by refusing to try, so that wasn’t an option.
However, both my sanity and my newsletter were on the line. I needed to figure out how could make this a long-term thing without all the crying, not sleeping, and plaintive wails of, “People aren’t subscribing!”
Obviously, that cycle starts with my high expectations, but I’ve never been successful at adopting “aim low” and “be apathetic” as personal mottos. I know some people have found a lot of contentment that way, but that’s just not me.
However, it’s also out of character for me to be so obsessed with a goal. I usually enjoy doing things for the sake of doing them, but with this, I was acting like a dog waiting for a treat, and even after I saw that I was behaving this way, I couldn’t make myself stop.
One morning, after another night of sitting up worrying about my newsletter, I saw my desired subscriber count for what it was: a substitute for what I really need.
I’ve done a horrible job at staying socially connected during the pandemic. Due to injury, I had to stop going to a regular dance class that I enjoyed. I’m sad. I’m lonely. I wanted subscribers because I thought they would somehow satisfy my need for social interaction.
Right now, most of my subscribers are friends, but writing a weekly newsletter isn’t the same as hanging out with people, and the size of my subscriber list won’t determine the number of people willing to actually spend time with me.
So often, I think the solution to my problem is somewhere in the material world, when the actual solution is to be honest with myself about my true needs. Ironically, that’s why I started this newsletter. I don’t think I’m the only one who keeps getting wrapped up on in distractions that have nothing to do with what truly makes me happy.
A few weeks ago, I read The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck, and I got the most value out of a part where she talked about the research of Steven Hayes. She wrote:
His research shows that focusing on values has an almost magical ability to accomplish the very things we think we’ll get by attacking our enemies. Simply shifting our attention from attacking our enemies to defining our values can “reduce physiological stress responses, buffer the impact from negative judgments of others, reduce our defensiveness, and help us be more receptive to information that may be hard to accept.”
Beck goes on to provide an exercise to help us shift our attention to our core values. She tells us to come up with a verb/adverb combination to describe how we want to live our lives. Some of her examples were, “teaching compassionately,” “loving courageously,” or “serving honorably.”
Mine: Create Lovingly. I want the process of creation to feel like an act of love. I can’t do that and hold my breath for a reward at the same time.
After I recognized my true unmet needs and shifted my focus onto my core values, my attitude started to shift, but I think we all know that if a person wants a real attitude shift, she needs gratitude. There’s so much research on the benefits of gratitude that I’m not going to bother citing any of it.
I know that I’m lucky in a thousand different ways, but I don’t often feel that way. I try to keep a gratitude list in my journal, but I fall off the wagon a lot.
This time, I imagined my life without any subscribers, at all, and that looked pretty grim. Then, I remembered the people who have interacted with my newsletter so far, and my sense of gratitude skyrocketed.
I feel better now. I still want more subscribers, but the lack of subscriptions is not tearing me apart, anymore. Writing this is now sustainable. It’s even an act of love.
Much love and appreciation to all of you.
Also, if you haven’t subscribed. Please subscribe.
This week, I’ve most enjoyed Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders, and if you’re a writer and you haven’t subscribed to the George Saunders Substack, you’re missing out.