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Journal

John’s Journal: One Year Later

Screenshot of the John's Journal newsletter archive on Substack, showing the titles of issues 16-18.

A little over a year ago, I started a newsletter. At first, I sent it out the end of every month from August to December in 2021. Then starting this year, I increased the frequency to fortnightly. (Let’s just ignore July and August, though.)

I’m quite proud of how the newsletter has evolved over the past twelve months. In the early days, I emulated Austin Kleon’s weekly list of 10 things to help me get started. But I’ve since moved on and have been experimenting with a format I can call my own. And whilst I suspect the changes have not yet come to an end, I feel closer to finding a structure that works well for me than ever before.

My small community of readers have offered consistent positive feedback, which I’m very grateful for. I’ve quite often been impressed by how well certain issues were received.

As it’s been a little over a year, I thought I’d look back and highlight some of the newsletter’s best moments. I figured it would be a little celebration for first-day readers and a good introduction for new subscribers.

But first, just in case you’re new here or would like a reminder…

What the newsletter is about and why I write it

The newsletter is a curated list of anything and everything I find interesting that I feel is worth sharing. Links typically include books I’ve read, articles related to writing or politics, good tweets, worthwhile videos and more. I also like to include some random fun stuff; for example, I’ve shared the first chapter of a Gen Z rewrite of Harry Potter, a game where you respond to absurd trolley problems and the truly unique Sylvaniandrama TikTok account.

When I actually do some of my own writing, I link to that too.

But why write a newsletter at all? Primarily because I enjoyed reading other people’s newsletters and thought it would be fun to get in on the action. Plus, I quite like sharing stuff I find interesting, and a newsletter gave me the space to put it all in one place.

Another reason is that a mailing list is a good marketing method, but it takes a long time to build a mailing list. I don’t have much of my own stuff to promote right now, but you shouldn’t wait until you have something to sell to start marketing. By the time you have something to offer, you’re several years late in building an audience for it.

I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to make enough money to sustain myself from writing alone. But collecting email addresses is a good place to start. By subscribing you’re helping me move closer to my goal.

Highlights

My most recent issue (#18) is not my most popular according to the analytics, but it is one I feel quite proud of. It’s the first issue where I’ve felt close to finally nailing down a format I like. Plus, I feel like it includes a lot of great quality content, including a couple of things I’ve already mentioned above.

But let’s see what the stats say…

Here are the top three newsletters that received the most opens:

Here are the top five most clicked links that I’ve shared:

  1. 21 things that got me through 2021
  2. 10 things that got me through January (2022)maybe my engagement would be a lot higher if I had kept my commitment to write these lists every month
  3. What do femcels really want?
  4. Twenty-six sentences on turning 26
  5. LinkedIn seems to be on a mission to kill off good writing

And here are some links I wish I had been more popular:

Easter Eggs

Easily missed (and frequently so) are all the easter eggs I’ve hidden in every issue since the start of this year.

With issue #18, I explicitly linked “A little surprise” in the footer, and it’s here where I’ll probably link all easter eggs in future. The easter egg this time was an incredible Twitter video: Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” but with velociraptors.

However, previous easter eggs have been less obvious. Issue #14 included three! My favourite of the three was this cool bug fact but getting to see the inside of a dishwasher during a full cycle is perhaps more interesting. The third? What if Gregor Samsa had a different reaction to turning into a bug?

Looking back, it turns out “Never Gonna Give You Up” has featured twice as an easter egg. In issue #15, I linked to a tweet showing how, once sped up, the song makes for a great anime theme.

Going through the archive, I also discovered I linked one easter egg twice (in issues #09 and #13):

This was not the only one I’ve linked twice, either. Oops!

I tend to aim for comedy with these easter eggs, so keep your eyes peeled for them if you’re interested in discovering something that made me laugh.

Key influences

Of course, this newsletter would not exist if I had not been inspired by some great writers I’m subscribed to. Subscribers previously received a list of 10 Substack newsletters I’d recommend, but here are the newsletters that have had the strongest influence on my own: