TL;DR: Going forward, Thought Shrapnel will be a bit more random.
One of the benefits of a pause in doing something for a while is that you get to reflect on its upsides and downsides. We’ve all had a chance to do this during the pandemic, to re-evaluate what we do and why we do it.
Every year, I take a couple of months off Thought Shrapnel, which allows me to recharge myself a bit and commit myself anew to the project. Usually, I come back raring to go and, indeed, have written some stuff to publish as soon as I’m back.
This time, though, was different. I think that’s for a couple of reasons:
The #100DaysToOffload challenge has got me writing regularly on my personal blog again.
Having supporters puts pressure on me to ‘produce’ something worthwhile, when this was supposed to be a space for stuff ‘going in and out of my brain’.
So, with huge thanks to those people who have supported Thought Shrapnel over the past couple of years, I’ve decided that I’d actually prefer to not have the pressure of patronage. As such I’m deleting my Patreon account.
I’m keeping the weekly newsletter, for the moment at least, which will probably evolve into a slightly different format than it has been. Bear with me as things might look a bit strange around here while I move things around.
If you like my writing, you might want to head over to dougbelshaw.com/feeds which is where you can see the latest posts from the various places I write. I’m still posting updates to Twitter, but am only interacting with people via Mastodon and LinkedIn these days.
Again, thanks to everyone who has supported Thought Shrapnel with their attention and, in some cases, money over the years. It’s still going, it’s just changing along with me…
Thanks François de La Rochefoucauld, but despite the above title coming from you (c.1678) , this post is actually inspired by Warren Ellis. I subscribe to many, many newsletters, and one of my favourites is Ellis’ Orbital Operations, which goes out every Sunday.
Recently, Ellis talked about the development of his newsletter, over the course of a four-part ‘blogchain‘. I’ve been meaning to write up how Thought Shrapnel has evolved recently, so I’m going to use this as a prompt to do so.
First up, Thought Shrapnel is now primarily a website with an email roundup. It’s not any more, strictly speaking, a ‘newsletter’. There’s around 1,500 people who subscribe to the email that I send out every Sunday, and 56 of those support its continued existence via Patreon.
This site uses WordPress with a number of plugins. I host it via a Digital Ocean droplet and pay for Jetpack to get automatic daily backups and better statistics. I schedule posts every weekday which are immediately accessible to supporters, and then available on the open web a week later.
Here’s three plugins that really help with my new workflow:
Add widget after comment — allows me to add automatically after a post anything I’d usually add to a sidebar. I use it to encourage people to become supporters.
MailPoet — I use this to automatically send out each post to supporters and to curate the weekly round-up to both supporters and subscribers.
tao-schedule-update — means I can schedule updates to already published posts, changing categories, visibility, etc.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with Instapaper, social bookmarking sites, Evernote, and all sorts of things for saving things over the years. Right now, I’m using Pocket to rediscover things I come across that I’d like to read later. That means that when I sit down to write, I find something interesting and then look for something else I could link it with. Eventually, I come up with six links that in some way go together and then I write something based on those.
In terms of the title for my articles, I’ve started using quotations. These tend to come from Kindle highlights or dead-tree books I’ve read. Sometimes they just come from Goodreads. Either way, I’ve got a bunch of drafts with just the title and the attribution ready to go.
Images to accompany articles used to come almost exclusively from Unsplash, but I’ve recently added Pixabay into the mix to add a bit of variety. Neither sites require attribution.
It’s interesting to me to see the cadence of visitors to Thought Shrapnel over the course of a week. It’s pretty obvious to see which day is Sunday, as that’s when I send out the round-up email!
What I really like about my current setup is that everything is now controlled by me. I spend about £10/month on Digital Ocean, Jetpack is £33/year, and MailPoet is free up to 2,000 users. The domain name is about £16/year. All in all, for about £15/month I’ve got a secure, fast-loading site of which I’m in complete control.
Some people use the idea of a Commonplace book to describe what they do. Warren Ellis talks of a ‘Republic of Newsletters’ to evoke a modern-day equivalent of the so-called Republic of Letters amongst the 17th and 18th century intellectual community. Me? I’m just happy to create something that I enjoy writing and from which other people seem to gain value!
PS for those wondering, the excellent Thought Shrapnel logo is courtesy of Bryan Mathers and is available as a sticker for $3/month supporters!
Some people are easy to follow online. They have one social media account to which they post regularly, and back that up with a single website where they expand on those points.
Stowe Boyd, whose work I’ve followed (or attempted to follow) for a few years now, is not one of these people. In fact, the number of platforms he tried earlier this year prompted me to get in touch with him to ask just how many platforms now had his subscribers’ email addresses.
Ironically, it was only last week that I decided to support Stowe’s latest venture via Substack. However, in a post yesterday he explains that he’s going ‘back to square one’:
I won’t recapitulate the many transitions that have gone on in my search for the ‘right’ newsletter/subscription technologies over the past year. But I have come to the conclusion that I am more interested in growing the community of Work Futures readers than I am in trying to make cash flow from it.
The thing I’ve learned about posting things to the internet over the last twenty years is that nobody cares. People support things that reflect who they believe themselves to be right now. That changes over time.
So if you’re putting things online, you have to make sure it works for you. Even the most fun jobs imaginable can become… something else if you focus too much on what a fickle audience wants.
As I said, I am motivated to take these steps in part by the desire to simplify my daily activities, and shelve work patterns that suck time. But I am equally motivated by making the discourse around these topics more open, while encouraging people to support Work Futures, but in that order of importance.
Openness always wins. You can support Stowe’s work via donations, and my work via Patreon.