I am sending this newsletter against doctor's orders
The haters and losers in Big Medicine will not keep me from sending out TTFA's New Year's resolutions for 2023.
I hope you had a happy New Year. I did not.
I spent my New Year’s Eve on my dad’s couch with a cold pack on my face, trying to drown out the pain coming from the general vicinity of my sinus cavity. The good news is that by 10 p.m. on Jan. 1, I had already hit my medical insurance deductible for 2023.
The other good news is that the people at Lexington Medical Center emergency room were incredibly nice and helpful despite being completely overwhelmed with flu, COVID, and RSV patients. The doctor who saw me even gave me a note, excusing me from “work or school” the next two days — a category that I can only assume includes posting.
Sadly, the note did not excuse me from taking a few shifts in the driver’s seat on the nine-hour drive back to Youngstown today. But now that I’m home, I can finally hit Send on this newsletter about my 2023 New Year’s resolutions for To Thee, Forever Ago.
Doctor’s note be damned.
1) Don’t box yourself in
There have been times in the 1.5-year history of this newsletter when I’ve gotten stuck. Sometimes I feel stuck because I’m really proud of the most recent story I’ve written and topping it seems impossible. How the hell am I supposed to hit send on a B- post on the heels of an A+? But this is just run-of-the-mill perfectionism, and I have developed mechanisms for coping with it.
More unique to this publication, I often feel stuck because I have a preconceived idea of what components should comprise a TTFA post, and the topic I happen to feel passionately about at that particular moment does not adhere to that rubric.
I’ve been looking for a way back into writing about South Carolina athletics in a way that would a) be fun for me and b) offer a unique value proposition compared to the vast quantities of other Gamecock-related content …
After spending some time digging through archives of The State and the Post & Courier, I’ve realized that so many weird and incredible things have happened in South Carolina athletics history that almost no one remembers. For instance, did you know that there was panic in Columbia when Lou Holtz’s original introductory press conference was canceled at the last minute amid concerns that the Notre Dame legend had cold feet? Or that Steve Spurrier spent two years from 2007 to 2009 running a website called spurrierhbc.com, which invited you to pay $29.95/month to have early access to insider information, such as which players were facing suspension? Or that Governor Jim Hodges pushed hard for moving the Aloha Bowl to Williams-Brice Stadium, only to be rebuffed by a board of trustees that cited among their chief concerns “not wanting to make people work on Christmas”?
So once a week at To Thee, Forever Ago, we’re going to go into the archives and tell the story of a weird and/or interesting thing that happened with respect to South Carolina athletics.
Having explicitly laid out the parameters for this newsletter’s subject matter, I felt obliged to stay my hand when topics outside the ambit of TTFA’s raison d'être came to the fore.
I have also noticed people describe the newsletter with words like this …
… and this:
These are not words I would have used to describe what I do! But the fact that two people who find value in this project did use these words to describe what I do was worth my paying attention to and taking some time to absorb.
And after a couple of weeks of reflection, here’s what I’ve landed on: I should think of the historical lens through which I’m commenting on USC athletics as a process, not an end-product. I will spend my time steeped in old books, newspaper articles, and census records — and the newsletter that comes out on the other end is the newsletter that comes out on the other end. If that’s means a re-telling of a long-forgotten chapter of South Carolina athletics, fine. If it means something more contemporary, that’s fine too.
The main thing I wanted to achieve by vowing to go into the wayback machine was making sure I was telling a different kind of story than those you can find at other outlets. And I think I’ve found an authorial voice through which I can do that, whether or not I always adhere to every letter of the TTFA mission statement.
2) Minimum two posts per week, even in football offseason
I’m always thinking of ways I can add value to both premium and free subscriptions in a way that can be consistent and sustainable. Loosening the parameters for what constitutes a TTFA post should allow me to expand on my original publication goal of two posts during the football season and one per week in the offseason. Increasing the publication cadence will be essential to meeting the next few goals.
3) Goal of two and a half new paid subscribers per week
The process by which I landed on this number was not super scientific, but I did look at some averages and try to choose an attainable goal that wouldn’t require me to massively overachieve. It’s not a hugely ambitious target but it would represent a steady increase in revenue that would allow me to justify spending more money requesting documents and making research trips and, in general, dedicating a higher percentage of my time and resources to this project.
4) Goal of 53 new free signups per week
Goals 4 and 3 are, to a large extent, intertwined. It’s pretty rare that someone signs up for a paid subscription without having already been a free subscriber, so it’s important to make sure the free signups keep rolling in. Sometimes free signups feel like they’re less in my control than paid signups, and I think that makes sense: it’s harder to reach brand new audiences than persuade someone who’s already enjoys what you’re doing to upgrade.
But oftentimes I feel like I’m at the mercy of someone deciding to drop a link to one of my stories on a recruiting message board. So really it’s just about doing a high volume of high-quality work and hoping something strikes a chord.
5) Make substantial progress toward writing a book
I have already begun research on a book about a South Carolina athletics topic. The topic isn’t exactly obscure but nor has it received the type of comprehensive examination I think it deserves. I won’t share any more details until things are much further along, but this is a project I’ve become quite excited about. The trick will be not letting my enthusiasm for the book cause me to fall behind on the newsletter; so I’m having to install some mental guard-rails to keep me on task.
One thing I’m mulling over is whether and how to make book excerpts available early to paid newsletter subscribers. But I think I’m still a few months off from having produced anything worth sharing.
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Well, that’s it! I would love to hear any feedback y’all have or things you’d like to see me tackle (or avoid) in 2023. I’ll be back in a couple days with a story that was supposed to run on Jan. 1 but wasn’t ready in time — in hindsight, probably because the writer was suffering from an as-yet-undiagnosed bacterial infection.