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It's time for me to apologize and also ask for your help
consider this my mea culpa (latin for 'my cuppa' which is british for "wanna have some tea?))
Both Are True is a newsletter written by me, Alex Dobrenko - it’s mostly free but there are some parts very soon that will be just paid depending on how this post goes. If you want to support me and my writing, you can become a paid subscriber here:
For real though, I did want to share some of what the hell has been rattling around in my brain since releasing Brad into the world.
Just like the rules for when to use it’s vs its, the origins of Brad were simple, yet complicated.
NOTE: If you only have a few minutes, please do jump to the poll section here - I would very much like your thoughts on what I can be adding to the substack for paying subscribers.
The numbers, they got a hold of me
As the BAT-heads1 know, I have a very strange relationship / addiction with 'the numbers.' I obsess over them and then my Scheme Mind turns on and all it wants to do is MAXIMIZE the POTENTIAL AUDIENCE which is just a translation of my fears that scream DO NOT MESS UP NOT LOSE OUT NOT FAIL.
This part of me is strong, like way too strong like how arm wrestlers have that one weird arm that’s gigantic? That’s this part of me.
To the Scheme Mind, success and failure are the same thing: failure. Nothing is ever enough. All that matters is MORE. Driven by ego and fear and greed too, it wants to 'game' the world, to trick people, etc. There is an entire world of content - articles books videos and yes, workshops, that I believe PREY on people when they are in their Scheme Mind, promising them riches and followers galore if only they follow These Ten Easy Tips.
A couple of weeks back I read a genuinely fascinating post by Substack writer Elle Griffith2 who had recently done an audit with the Substack team where she was provided with lots of ideas on how to increase her conversion rate, that is the % of her subscribers who were paying for her newsletter.
Of course Scheme Mind looooves this sort of thing, and I became obsessed and overwhelmed which, as is my way, led directly to feelings of anger and ironic detachment which, as is also my way, always lead to me making a dumb joke: "What if I took all these parts of me and exorcised them (not like made em do planks, like removed them from my body as though they were a ghost baddie), into this character?”
So Brad C. Onversion was born. It was the perfect plan. It would be fun and funny and finally I, Alex the cool detached artist guy, would be rid of all these icky feelings. Because they'd be in Brad now. I could satirize the whole thing pathetic need to beg people for money and life would be good and clean and full of classic art films too (for some reason I always connect being a capital A Artist with watching black and white french films).
I told friends about the idea. They loved it, or at least they laughed. Lauren actually didn’t. Or she did but worried it would be weird. Which made me mad because I was like LAUR THIS IS BRILLIANT. This is sort of a classic part of our relationship as outlined here:
The idea grew in my brain from not just a video of Brad but an entire Brand! A Brad Brand. What if he did actual workshops? What if he offered people bad advice on their writing? I BET PEOPLE WOULD PAY FOR THAT I thought to myself. (the one thing I didn’t think about, I regret now, is a Brad Brand Band - that would have been it, the pinnacle, the alpha and its good friend omega).
Maybe this would be a new way for me to get paid subscribers to my Substack! Yes, it was genius - I'd create a character and people would pay for access to him and so I would both start making more $ AND not have to deal wit these evil thoughts!
It was the perfect crime.
But of course it wasn't.
Because right there in my thinking about Brad I had once again become Brad. The dog was eating its own tail, if you will. A snake in its aurora borealis era. I was scheming about Brad the schemer.
There were two Brads. One out there and one in here. And then also Alex. So basically Triplets.
I didn't realize any of this though, too busy gettin high on my own supply aka the idea of Brad C. Onversion - he consumed my mind my thoughts my soul3.
After posting a couple videos of Brad though, I started to feel not so great about it. This is not uncommon after I post stuff - I go through a cycle of despair, regret, self hate, and eventually hopefully into acceptance. But this one did feel different, like maybe it never got to the acceptance maybe cloud.
There's this thing in comedy called punching up. It means you should only make fun of people who have more power than you. So when SNL makes fun of the president, it's great cuz the president has power so he should be mocked relentlessly. It keeps her or him (see what I did!) honest, and is sort of the whole reason why a free press is necessary for a functioning democracy etc.
But if SNL made fun of a writer whose trying to help other writers with their craft, we'd all be like ok that's super specific and yes maybe funny but also just sorta weird. Like, we’re laughing but at whose expense?
Where does this leave us?
Right back where we started, babe, that messy middle feeling of not knowing exactly what to do but feeling like I could be doing something. And so, rather than immediately go for the joke, lemme just try to stay here, in that feeling4.
So the messy question feeling space is this:
I am trying to figure out what additional stuff I want to offer to paid subscribers. But i don’t know what to offer! Help!
There's a long list of things I've thought about adding to the substack for paid subscribers. Give this list a read and then please, babe, answer the two poll questions below.
more intimate posts that are rough and off the cuff and just sort of an exploration of what's going on in my head, like diary entries almost? Sort of like this post? So just like 'more of my writing'
In the Substack guide for going paid, they highlight one writer who does this really well: Writers like Lauren Hough treat paid posts as a “backstage pass,” using discretion on which posts she wants to share in a more intimate setting with just paid subscribers of Badreads. She explains why specific posts are paid in a note to free subscribers.
access to a discord or slack server where we could hang out and talk and eat fresh pretzels
This is a big reason why I pay for access to a few substacks: Culture Study, Today in Tabs, Garage Day, and of course my homies in the Soaring Twenties Social Club
videos - comedy and short sketches and maybe even longer pieces IDK
making comedy vids was all I did for a few years, and I really loved creating Brad, so this is probably something I'll do more of - but I can't tell if I should put it behind a paywall or not
weekly round up of links and stray ideas
offering audio readings of the essays for paying subscribers only
early access to The Pyramid Club (NOT A PYRAMID SCHEME STOP ASKING)
Ask me anything or advice or something??
Give feedback on your writing?? Maybe this is for the $198.00 founding members only??
I dunno what else lol
Or! Maybe I just need to make my pitch for subscribers going paid better? Again, from the Substack guide:
JoeBlogs: On his About page, Joe Posnanski includes testimonials from readers that repeatedly note that they subscribe because they are fans of him and his voice. So, Joe shares personally why subscriptions are important to him and his family.
“There is a free version and a paid version of JoeBlogs. Both contain lots of words, though perhaps some of the better words are in the paid version. Well, ain’t that America. I’d be appreciative if you signed up and doubly appreciative [if] you bought a paid subscription and helped me put two daughters through college.”
So yea, subscribe to Both Are True so I can help put this guy Joe’s two daughters through college. (deep apologies to my own son but Joe’s pitch was strong and I believe in it more than I believe in my 1.5 yr old who only says the word ‘egg’ and then when we make him an egg he doesn’t eat it, I do not think he is college material).
I CANNOT STOP MAKING JOKES I NEED A DOCTOR.
Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor...I am Pagliacci.
Two quick questions for you (please answer lol):
I could also just do nothing. And keep this going and have faith that people will simply pay because they love what I'm doing. This is the Cafe Anne model, who beyond being a great pal of mine is a huge inspiration. As Anne puts in her the recent Substack Grow writeup about her incredible growth and success:
Free vs. paid: I wanted my newsletter to be free because the CAFÉ ANNE vibe is, “Everyone Welcome!” The newsletter’s fundamental premise is that people in general are decent and kind, not to mention generous. My hope is that those who can afford to support CAFÉ ANNE will voluntarily pay to keep it free for those who cannot—like public radio!
Alright, I think that’s all for today. Thank you for listening.
I genuinely wanna hear from y’all! What do you think? Advice, ideas, requests to kindly stfu and focus on writing, all of it is good!!
I know that as soon as I publish this I’ll get upset at myself for being such a wah wah lil guy BUT I’m starting to realize that I prefer that feeling to the one I feel when I do something alienating and strange that disconnects me from others (in this case: you all the readers).
A sign from the music: While writing this I was listening to a lo fi mix hip hop mix and a song came on where the audio was a slam poem called Come Closer by Anis Mojgani. There’s truly nothing that melts my protective exterior made of bits and goofs than slam poetry, and this was no exception. I’ve met Anis and he’s a cool dude and I don’t know why I am including that other than to be like ‘hey look at me I know cool people’ lol.
BUT: The words from the poem felt like a magically perfect encapsulation of how I am feeling and what I want Both Are True to be a space for, so here they are below and/or you can watch Anis perform it here.
Come into this.
You are quite the beauty.
If no one has ever told you that before,
know that right now: you are quite the beauty.
There is joy in how your mouth dances with your teeth
Your smiles are simply signs of how sacred your life actually is.
He made you and he was happy.
You make the Lord happy.
Come into this.
Know that something softer than us but just as holy planted the pieces of Himself into our feet that we might one day dance our way back.
Know that you are almost home.
Come just a little bit closer.
There are birds beating their wings beneath your breastplate, gentle sparrows who are aching to sing. Come aching hearts. Come soldiers of joy, doormen of truth. Know that my heart was too big for my body, so I let it go.
And most days this world has thinned me, to the point where I am just another cloud forgetting another flock of swans but believe me when I tell you that my soul has managed to squeeze itself into such narrow spaces; Place your hands beneath your heads when you sleep tonight and perhaps you will find it there making beauty, as we sleep, as we dream, as we turn over, when we turn over in ground may the ghosts that we have asked answers of do that turning, kneading us into crumbs of light and into this thing love, thing called life, come into it!
Come you wooden museums, gentle tigers, little giants!
I see teacups upside down glowing across your grins, your hearts are like my hands, some days all they do is tremble.
I am like you.
I am like you
I too at times am filled with so much fear, so much fear, but like a hallway must find the strength to walk through it.
Walk through this with me.
Through this church of blood, bone, and muscle, that is ours
There is a door knob glowing like chance before you.
Grab it, turn and pull, step through, back straight, chin up, eyes open, hearts loud.
Walk through this with me.
Walk through this with me.
ALSO: I deleted a section about figuring out your 'why' as a writer but you can see it at the footnote here.5
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This is now what we call Both Are True superfans unless yall can come up with a better name
I would link to this but I think it has been removed or updated into a newer post which I reference a lil later in this essay
Becoming obsessed with a New and Great idea is common for me. Ask Lauren, she’ll tell you. I get wrapped up, I go nuts. Most ideas don't go anywhere, but a few do. Like Both Are True.
One memorable idea that didn't was a newspaper that I mailed to all my friends on a weekly or monthly basis. I guess this is just a zine, but I thought it was revolutionary. Delivering something ONLY in the mail. I got writers together, brainstormed, I think we even had a name. Yes: Parcel. It was to be called Parcel.
A week later I had forgotten all about it.
I almost added ‘I am gonna vomit even typing out the words “stay here in the feeling”’ which AGAIN is just me putting walls up, so it will instead live here, the footnotes.
just this morning Elle published a new piece laying out her business plan for making her Substack profitable. She put most of it below the paywall and, guess what, I ended up becoming a paid subscriber. She got me! And I was happy to pay because I wanted the juicy info.
Her basic point, and I don't think this is a spoiler really, is that people pay for value, for things that will help them in their own lives. In her case, she provides value for other writers through the elaborate and well researched information she can offer them. This is work she’s already doing on her own, but made presentable and easy to benefit from - it’s a great idea! And of course, people pay for it, which is awesome.
But how do you do that when you sort of hate all of that stuff and the best idea you've had so far is to make fun of it by creating a twin brother?
The Substack team is SO HELPFUL with guiding writers through this process. They recently published How to motivate readers to upgrade their subscription which lays out 8 themes they’ve identified for why people decide to pay.
Ok so which of these am I? Accountability - nope. Fandom - nope. Guidance. Nope. Emo support - no. Impact - no. Inspiration - no. Skill dev - na. Fun - nope!
BUT I COULD BE. What if I told you that from now on Both Are True would be an accountability group with a weekly woodworking course (skill development + guidance) which would of course bring us joy (fun) and inspire more people to work with wood (inspiration) AND share vulnerable experiences about how sometimes the wood doesn’t cut exactly like we want (emotional support). We’d then become so obsessed with wood that we’d have a (fandom), and of course we would end up building sets for plays that we’d put on around the world for (inspiration) so more and more people did wood stuff and the world was saved bc no one would drive cars anymore we’d all be too busy doing wood working!!!!
See, there it is again. That urge to be a sarcastic lil dummy because I am afraid to be genuine with this stuff. Is this stuff stupid? I mean, sorta, but also its valuable and so so helpful to people, so good lord Alex just stop trying to be cool and ironic for like THREE SECONDS.