A brief bonus essay on the numbers (and feelings) that surround creative labor.
The behind-the-scenes of full-time writing life tends to be interesting to people, if the numbers don’t lie—how I think about it, how I navigate and wrangle it—and so I thought I’d give some insight into how I am closing out the year of my first book, as 2023 shall henceforth be known. If this type of navel-gazing isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to move along—no hard feelings. I am also here to remind folks that these are the last two weeks to lock in the annual subscription rate of $30—more notes on that below.
To finish my work year, in addition to any lingering work, I did what I’m referring to loosely as “archival” labor. I went through nearly a decade of photos in my iCloud, which include not just photos of this past decade but any old pictures I’d saved, as well as screenshots I’d taken of funny or intense texts. I brought the number from 56,000 to just under 50,000, and I also watched the person I’ve become become through the paging down in my photo app. I also put a lot of old Instagram photos in “archive” mode; switched up my website to de-emphasize my work as a recipe developer; cleared out my desktop and downloads folders… all of these were an experience in confronting who I have been and who I hope to be—and how I want people to see me going forward.
There have been big changes, small changes… In just ten years, there are three radical shifts in my life that I can pinpoint. Three upheavals, one tragic. I can tell so many stories, illuminated with this archive of the mostly banal events of everyday life: Eating a vegan burger in a pair of stuffed reindeer antlers in a Bushwick kitchen… Doing a handstand in the botanical gardens of Virginia Beach… A selfie outside the Museo Moderno in Buenos Aires… The comings and goings of the red lip… A fateful photo of a mustached barman holding a caneca of rum fresh from a barrel in Ponce…
My other project was creating a spreadsheet of everything I’ve published in this newsletter since March 2020, divided up by essays, recipes, interviews, and the new categories of the 2024 relaunch. I published 43 essays, lectures, talks, and reading lists in 2023; I’ve published 167 total since starting this project in earnest. During this same period, I’ve published 64 recipes, 92 interviews, and numerous other post styles that petered out of relevance.
When I looked at the numbers, I didn’t feel some sort of sense of productive pride: I felt tired. I felt a little bit bad that I put myself through all of this work to prove myself, though it was indeed necessary to an extent. Had I not done all of this, there are opportunities I simply wouldn’t have. Had I not done all of this, I wouldn’t have thought and wrote myself into the thinker and writer I now am. That evolution will, I hope, continue; with any luck, in another three years, I won’t be quite the same writer you’re reading today. That’s the project of this newsletter, which is what separates it from editorial work I do elsewhere and book projects: The ongoingness is the point, and it’s an intellectual exercise that sustains and enables the rest.
Because I sold No Meat Required in June 2020, when I was just gaining steam here, I convinced myself that I had to keep the momentum up, keep everyone interested in me, until it came out. I did that, and it certainly paid off in more press and sales than a book out of a small publisher about a niche culinary history would have garnered under other circumstances. Yet I know I cannot keep up the same pace and do work of the caliber I wish to do—both within and outside of this newsletter—thus the relaunch plan.
I’ve come to a point, in that book’s wake, where I no longer feel desperate to prove a damn thing. I feel deeply changed, to be honest: Self-assured, now that that’s been done and I’ve learned from it; through it, I’ve become more capable of asking for what I need in professional scenarios and, for now at least, am not making all of my work decisions out of fear I’ll end up destitute. That’s a luxury I’m not taking for granted—a luxury I’ve earned after 15 years in this industry.
From this point, I feel I can finally start my work. 167 essays (in this newsletter alone) and a book later: It feels like the beginning. Getting that book off my plate (from idea inception to publication) was a years-long endeavor; now, I feel something like freedom to think and write and live outside its parameters. I’m grateful to that book’s grueling learning experience and happy for its existence. Thank u, next.
In my notebook, I wrote that my chief task for the end of the year was to ask myself which metrics really matter. In the digital world, we’re given so many numbers. The host of this newsletter gives quite a few, and I’ve resisted the dashboard that presents them first, opting instead to save a link directly to my post page. I rarely look at my subscriber count, free or paid, except in monthly emailed reports. This is what’s healthy for me. Instagram rarely shows my posts to more than 3,000 people, but I know my follower count there is useful for publishers.
For this newsletter, specifically, I do care about the open rate—the percentage of subscribers who open each email—which can be difficult to maintain as the number climbs, so I’ll be playing with ways of encouraging opens in the New Year. I also want to make sure I’m writing at least one piece per year that registers on my “most popular,” because that means I’m sustaining a touch of novelty that extends beyond my most dedicated readers.
Regarding social media, I’d like to figure out a way to post and engage that doesn’t feel futile or obligatory (or both). It used to come naturally to me, to share my life in visual snippets, and it no longer really does. I’m pondering why: Did I change, or did it? Does the size of the audience give me agita or make me feel disconnected? Am I really just very, very sensitive to strangers’ commentary and tone and it’s made me afraid of showing more than just one aspect of my life? (All of the above!)
I think I have painted myself into a corner, thinking I should only post certain types of things that people seem to like, rather than whatever I have the urge to share; I’ve become afraid of people’s judgement, especially because I write about the intersection of lifestyle and politics. Thus, I feel I’m expected to perform perfection, rather than the constant effort to be conscientious while leaving room for humanity (and fun!). In 2024, perhaps I have to get back to my instincts.
But really, truly, the answer is always my answer to such questions: The metric that matters to me is, “Do I get to keep working?”
I will be officially back with the new and improved From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy on January 1, 2024. In the meantime, these will be the last two weeks to lock in the annual subscription rate of $30. If you’d like to support the work of contributing writers, join the book club, chime in through comments, or simply lurk on what I’m reading, eating, and cooking (as well as have access to the recipe archive and all future recipes), please join in.
This brief missive emerged from the feeling that I should send out one sales email before the price change and then not knowing what to say that wouldn’t make me groan with disgust. And so, I blogged.
Consider this my sales pitch: $30! Limited time only!
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