What's Saving My Life as a Writer: Email. Yes, Really.

16659706488_287aaf102c A long time ago in an Internet that seems far far away, a bunch of us clergywomen types began blogging and following one another's blogs. We would leave long comments for one another, then check back and see the conversation continue. We listed one another on our blogrolls. We formed a network. And of course, we connected with non-clergy readers, and non-religious ones for that matter.

Today, blogging is very different. Certainly more people read this blog today than did back then. And my writing shows up in a lot more places. But while my words are finding a larger audience, it's only a small percentage of people who actually follow the blog week to week. Blog comments are much less frequent than they used to be. And generally, the comments I do get are less personal. (Thank you to all my commenters, regardless of content! Except trolls. Find another bridge please.)

As I continue to transition from pastor/author/speaker to author/speaker/freelance writer, I've realized--I need to reacquaint myself with my readers. What do you wonder about and marvel at? What keeps you up at night? Where does your struggle intersect with mine?

I love the work of Dan Blank, whose company WeGrowMedia helps authors bring book projects to fruition and find readers for them. Dan is a big fan of the email list as a tool for authors to communicate. I resisted this for a long time. I already have a blog to feed, and social networks that I enjoy and participate in. Not to mention, you know, books to write.

And we've all heard the steady drumbeat against email. We get too much. It's crushing our souls. I subscribe from email lists regularly and feel nothing but relief. But there are a handful of email newsletters I keep, because I treasure them.

Plus, as Dan points out, an email list is the one way of reaching readers that the author "owns." Facebook can tweak its algorithms anytime. Twitter can feel like a bunch of noise, and the format is constraining. But an email is a letter from me to a reader who's specifically asked to hear what I have to say. (Humbling.)

After hearing Dan talk and write about this topic for a long time, I finally realized I'd been thinking about the email all wrong. I was seeing it as a tool for book sales. And when I asked people to join, I was very apologetic about it: I won't bug you very often, and you can unsubscribe any time. And then I'd send an email every six months and it felt awkward, because nobody likes being marketed AT, and I didn't like marketing TO!

Instead I want to use it as the beginning of a conversation.

So last month I revived my email list. It's a letter from me to my readers. In it I share what I'm working on, what's inspiring me, what's confounding me, and I ask: what about you?

And people are responding. I can't quite believe it, but they are.

Last week I wrote an email to the newsletter about some foundation repairs we're making on our house. It was a vulnerable message because that process is bringing out all kinds of spiritual struggles. After it went out, I got a handful of unsubscribes, as I always do. But I got three times as many personal responses, from people who shared their own places of pain and "shifting foundations."

It was page after page of holy ground, right there in Gmail.

More and more, I'm hearing from aspiring writers asking me for advice on building a platform. I feel very humbled and vulnerable when they ask because I still consider myself an aspiring writer. I know so little. But I've realized that very few of us know anything. What I do know is this: writing---at least the writing I do---is about coming together around shared questions and mysteries. And these interactions with readers are teaching me which questions resonate with people, which ones merit further exploration in blogs and books and emails. Responses from readers are helping me as a writer. But more important---much more important---they help me realize that I'm not alone in my questions.

So to those of you who receive The Blue Room emails, thank you. If you'd like to join them, I unapologetically invite you to click here.

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photo credit: Connect via photopin (license)