Fellow toilers of words,
The time travel experiment of Afterwords Japan (AWJ) is complete! And...I daresay it was a success? A sincere thanks to all of you who hopped onboard this ephemeral pop-up newsletter with me.
In case you missed it, I will be keeping the complete archive public until July 31st here - do check it out!
There were tens of readers, and yet from their fingertips flowed hundreds of responses - so in actuality they were talkers too. 26 daily newsletters were sent out, with more than 18 thousand words written and 84 images published.
It was a lot of work and oh-so-good for the creative soul. Also, exhausting; life didn't stop throughout the month, and it was a challenge to conjure up the fortitude and time to get each day's work done.
But it got done. And as my therapist likes to say, it's important to take a moment to recognize accomplishment before moving on to the next task. As someone who is historically his own worst critic, this is a challenge (I'm working on it).
So, success: despite being only two syllables, it is a big word. I mean, what the heck is it really? Is it defined by one's own measures? Or rather, is it a validation bestowed by someone else (audience, critics, award-ceremony-of-the-month)? And how does one claim it without falling into the pits of it's-never-perfect and participation-trophies-for-everyone?
My solution: establish quantifiable goals.
Behind the scenes, I set some initial publishing targets for the AWJ project. Here they are, with some reflections on how they went:
Other rules that formed as I went along:
This structure helped focus the work so I could translate percolating thoughts onto paper, with no room for excuses. The goals served as impetus for getting started and aiming at minimums, though mostly shooting past them once momentum entered the equation.
The result was a sandbox that allowed me to play with stories and their parts. Each day I sat with the raw materials; getting my hands dirty as I shifted, built, and honed each piece into something new that revealed itself at my fingertips. Sometimes this felt like alchemy, and other times more like flinging mud. Yet when the muse / time / energy proved scarce, knowing that this too will end helped muster motivation. Amidst much of the digital infinitude of things these days, this hard ending (both daily and at the end of the pop-up) was incredibly liberating and helped avoid any serious tantrums at the park.
Another important aspect was accountability. Knowing that I was writing for others and not just myself meant that any sort of wiggle room dissolved in the face of deadlines.
So, was it a success? By all of these measures, I would heartily say yes. Compartmentalizing the work, worked!
It is a strange thing to now pause and reflect on the AWJ project as a whole. For its entirety, my mind was laser-focused on the particular day at hand: wake up, get the ideas flowing, kill some darlings in the editing process, hit send, sleep. Annnnnd rinse and repeat.
Somehow I managed it without letting life's regular important stuff (you know - the little things like earning a living, tending relationships, and watching the sun set) slip through the cracks. [insert sigh of relief here]
Pulling my nose away from the individual page I now find a tome in my hands. Simply tallying the numbers of words and images is surprising and a testament to how daily efforts can add up. When I pause and read snippets, they seem of a quality beyond me.
But it wasn't all born into the world like this.
Scattered in a document dubbed "the cutting room floor.txt" are a plethora of written stories that were snipped; discarded somewhere in the gauntlet of rewrites so as not to distract from the wider arcs that emerged across days / weeks / lives. Remembrance of the many edits that each day's draft underwent is already fading, but this document serves as a reminder.
I daresay I am proud of the distilled result. No, I am proud of it - the quality of the published narrative surprises me in the best way possible.
As a recovering perfectionist, I'm learning how to get out of my own way when wrestling in the pit of creativity. While this never-ending pursuit of betterment pushes me onwards, it is structure that forces me towards completion. These two things find harmony in tandem; an ideal held, but with a light grasp to avoid falling into the trap of infinite reworkings.
I've been reflecting on some of the boons of the creative side of this process, but I think it's also important to note the merits on the audience side.
Here are some anonymous quotes from the readers of AWJ (admittedly massaged a bit to filter out compliments that make me blush):
...Another wonderful walk today. I was following and enjoyed the views.
...It's beautiful. It's poignant and relatable. The photos are gorgeous too. Can't wait for the next issue.
...I somehow feel your newsletters are a chapter in a book you are writing and you are giving us a sneak peak as you do. I devour them as they arrive and look forward to the next (but don't ever feel pressure to produce). Something like this has to come from the heart and your thoughtful words and beautiful photos clearly do. We will wait patiently for the next.
...Your Afterwords Japan newsletter is an oasis.
...Loving how it transports me across space and time to something that feels strangely nostalgic to me.
...You've outdone yourself. I liked the idea of a pop-up newsletter when you first mentioned it and it turned out to be so much more amazing! You are an incredibly talented writer and I can't wait to read more.
Hrm - even after running those through the anti-compliment filter, I am still blushing. Usually I dodge compliments like Neo evading shots fired in the Matrix, but this time I'm taking the hits.
I share these responses because they are important. In themselves they are incredibly encouraging, but beyond that they remind me of the impact that my words can have. It is a privilege for which I am incredibly grateful.
In designing the container for AWJ, I considered what it could provide from the reader's perspective - as I have been that reader before too.
When I think back to the first pop-up newsletter that I followed, it was an enlightening experience for my digitally addled brain. The daily anticipation of the next letter from a "friend" was a breath of fresh air; a bright, tasty morsel amidst the familiar humdrum flavour of life. And there was a satisfaction in carving out time each day to connect, void of algorithmic curveballs and unexpected distractions. Contrasted with the infinite scroll of randomness on [insert social media company name here], the pop-up newsletter just felt good.
I dared to hope that AWJ could be that for others, and your responses leave me once again with a strange buzz in my gut that I can only label as success.
The concept of a "pop-up newsletter" continues to enchant me and is something I intend to explore more. It is a way of thinking / being / communicating; a method of integrating and enhancing real life experiences through careful sharing with others. Each manifestation is a shifting chimera of words and media, a lens carefully focused on one thing or another. There is a magic in its open-ended design.
Some folks have been asking if I will be publishing this as a book. Short answer no. Longer answer: kind of.
Books actually are a personal goal of mine in the coming years, but they are something I also have a healthy respect for. To warrant the cost (energy / time / space on people's bookshelves) I am wary to release one prematurely. While AWJ has amounted to a body of work that is substantial, right now I am thinking of it as fodder for something more realized (such as a book).
So: stay tuned.
I intend to run more piecemeal experiments as I continue to point myself in "the book" direction. Together, we’ll see what it adds up to - maybe instead the work will morph into an esoteric TikTok dance...give the people what they want, right?!! Gads I hope not. These legs aren’t made for dancing. Let me spare you from that visual.
Fortunately, you (yeah, you!) give me hope that there is still interest in longer form content, so that in itself encourages me to explore it. Thank you for that. I appreciate it, as well as all your verbal and donated support. It is lovely to be reminded that I'm not just shouting into the void.