The New Digs
Welcome friends. Grab a cozy blanket and make yourself comfortable.
Well hey there friends. It’s so good to see you here.
For those of you who have been faithfully reading my essays and newsletters for years, first of all, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. You’ll notice it looks a little different here, and I’ll get to that. I first started a newsletter in 2016 because people who know stuff were all talking about having an email list. And while I didn’t know then what I do know now when it comes to sharing our work, I think that year I was able to grow that list to just under 200 subscribers.
And you know what? I was thrilled with that. I really was. I am humbled by every person, every time, who chooses to spend the most precious currency anyone has – their time – reading my words.
Now, here we are nearing the end of 2022, and with a good deal of honest reflection and a few metaphorical casualties from running too hard into the boundary lines of my life, I’m making another change to my writing career.
I am moving to a paid Substack platform.
(It’s ok, throw your hands up. Swear under your breath. Roll your eyes at me. Do all the things you need. I understand. I can take it. But if you’ll keep reading, I’d love to let you in a bit more to all the layers of this decision…)
Why #1: My life does not look like it used to
When I started writing on the internet in 2010, I was fresh out of graduate school, in a relationship with a guy I really hoped would be my husband (and now he is), working two solid jobs to be able to pay my rent, and generally living the 20-something’s good life, with the balance of responsibility and freedom that entailed. Finding time to write wasn’t hard. I got married, and I wrote through that. I got pregnant with our first, and I wrote more. I had a second baby, joined up with my friend Ashlee on this fun project she wanted to start, and kept writing. I quit my dream job because, as much as I loved it, 1) I really did want to be home with my kids and 2) my dream job still only paid $18 an hour in 2013 and that wasn’t even going to come close to covering childcare for two kids, so basic math made the decision for me. I got pregnant with our third, and when he was all of four weeks of sleepy, snuggly newborn goodness in my arms, I looked over to find my toddler crouching on the floor with his hands over his ears and I knew at that moment our lives were changing. Cannon was diagnosed with autism in 2016 and yes, I wrote about it, all of it. But by that point, writing was getting harder.
In 2018, we brought home a tiny little girl from a McDonald’s parking lot and then three blurry, paperwork-filled, social worker-examined, and anxiety-ridden weeks later, I realized my period was a week late. Two babies, seven months apart. I still wrote.
And then in June of 2020, (you remember that whole global pandemic that threw everything and everyone into disorder and we all started homeschooling on one weekend’s notice, yes?) almost exactly one year after Alex’s vasectomy, an ultrasound showed a miraculous five-week-young embryonic sac, and we cashed out the meager amount of money I had in a retirement account from that dream job to put down enough cash to make the monthly payment on a 12-passenger van feasible. We also had to put enough money aside for another vasectomy (they do not offer refunds, we’ve asked). But I still wrote, even though writing was hard and I was exhausted and my margins were thinner than a razor, because that’s who I am, and putting words down on paper in the middle of the chaos of life is what I have always done.
And then 2021. The highlight, obviously, is that our miracle baby joined the crew on February 21, after my third and most beautiful unmedicated birth. I’ll never forget that night, ever. But life was not easy. My husband’s struggle with his mental health and depression had not been a secret. The turmoil of being a respiratory nurse when millions of people were catching a virus that rendered them incapable of breathing on their own, that was not a secret either. But the other battles, I didn’t know about those until, well, until I did.
And this, friends, this is when writing started to feel impossible.
Why #2: The target changed
So back to that newsletter in 2017. Some of you were there, and I love you for that. I sent out something once a quarter, linked to a few of my favorite books, and made, I don’t know, $4 in Amazon affiliate fees (I’m serious. It was $4 in a year), and I felt content. But then I started thinking about a book. A Jen Wilkin meets Shauna Niequist meets Kelly Corrigan kind of compilation of essays. I wrote a handful of iterations of a book proposal over the next three years and to catch you up quickly, statements like “I would encourage you to work on your platform” and “stories do not meet a felt need” closed the door.
So I did what any good rule-follower would do: I got to work on my platform and did a bit more work naming the “need” my writing could meet. (For what it’s worth, I disagree now, confidently, in the idea that stories do not meet a felt need. They absolutely do. In fact, I would argue that stories most effectively meet the felt needs of readers while influencing change and behavior, but that’s another topical exposition for another time). And you know, my platform did grow over the last six years. There are not 200 of you on this list but a few thousand. I got to what had always felt to me like the ever-so-elusive 10K follower mark on Instagram. I published with places like Risen Motherhood and The Gospel Coalition.
All the things the writer in me had been working toward for years were slowly, but surely, happening.
Meanwhile, my life was in shambles.
Dreams don’t tend to stay in your line of vision when you’re just trying to get out of bed and make school lunches without falling apart each day.
But by the grace of God, with the steadfast support of my friends, and a good amount of former-athlete grit, I did finish everything I had started before December of 2021 in the last ten months. I wanted to – for myself, yes, but also for the people who had always supported me; and because I held strongly to the truth that I did not want to give the enemy another victory by paralyzing the things I had worked very hard on for a long time. I taught the workshops. I self-published the project of my heart. I kept up with the podcast. I stayed. In every area of my life, I stayed.
But now, with an ever so small distance between me and the months I don’t want to remember, just enough to see it all with a bit less haze, I realize something important: I used to want to write a book. Now, I just want to be a writer.
To those of you outside this strange writing and publishing and content creation world, this distinction between “author of a book” and “writer” may seem too ambiguous to matter. To me, it’s a crucial one.
The girl who wanted to be the author was saying yes to everything in order to grow. I’d write for big publications (which friends, a little peek behind the curtain, is almost always unpaid) with the hope that being tagged on their social media sites would increase my readership. Sometimes it helped, mostly it didn’t. I’d spend hours, literal hours, trying to make a reel or come up with words to make my instagram post super sharable, only to never actually finish or share a reel because I hate them, or be sorely disappointed when the posts I ignored my children to write were not, in reality, all that sharable. Social media became a place I dreaded because it felt like I always had to perform there if I was ever going to be a “real” writer. Not to mention the general angst and discontent and anxiety and brain rewiring and lack of solitude that too much scrolling and consumption was causing me (again, another topical exposition for another time).
So I said goodbye to Instagram. I’ve got much more coming on this decision next week, but in sum: It’s not good for my heart, it’s not good for my brain. It’s not good for my parenting. It is good for plenty of things, don’t get me wrong. Especially if you are selling a product or bound by a contract for any number of things. That’s where the people are, and I fully support you going there. But Instagram is not good for me right now, and it might not be good for me ever again. And I am not bound by any work or contract to be there. So for the sake of everything that means the most in the world to me, my own mental health included, leaving was not hard.
But there is the whole platform thing. Leaving social media, where I felt forced to dance or be funny or get really good at hot takes, was absolutely right for me. But I did have to ask, knowing what publishing entails: am I still a real writer if I never traditionally publish a book? If I never work with an agent or a big publishing house or a marketing agency? Do I have any credibility at all as a writer without those things?
Well, I guess that’s for the readers to decide. But I will tell you where I’ve landed: I was a real writer in first grade when I won the city contest for writing “What the American Flag Means to Me.” I was a real writer in eighth grade when I never missed a night capturing stories in my journal. I was a real writer in 2005 when I started a Xanga blog and never told a soul. I was a real writer in graduate school when the hardest, most intimidating teacher in the program handed me my fifteen-page, thoroughly researched and scrupulously edited paper back and said “you are very gifted, Katie.” I was a real writer in 2010 when I started a blog with my best friend. I was a real writer when I joined Coffee + Crumbs in 2013 because my friend asked me to and I thought it would be fun and had no idea where God would take that work. I was a real writer when I went viral. I was a real writer when I talked about issues I care deeply about: sex trafficking and the treatment of refugees and social justice, and those pieces definitely did not go viral. I was a real writer when I kept raw, crying out to God in pain notes over the past year that no one will ever see.
Yes, I am a real writer.
Why #3: I simply can’t give it away like I used to
So friends, long story long, here’s the summary: I have invested the last twelve years of my life in this craft and this career. And I love it. I’m better when I’m writing. And for some reason, God just won’t let me let it go. He uses the written word in my life profoundly, always has. And I have hardly mentioned the people and community being a writer has given me – irreplaceable friends, sisters really, in my life.
But I am also at a new juncture. I’m the mom to the most awesome, but exceptionally challenging, little boy – whose forehead is marked with a permanent – and growing – mass of scar tissue from hitting his head. I have an adopted daughter whose life is a miracle, and yet not without significant difficulty from both trauma and in utero exposures. I have four other kids who may not have formal diagnoses or easy-to-point-to explanations for their struggles, but they are people just like you and me who have sin issues and pain points and good days and bad days. My three littles are home with me all day, our time punctuated by drives to school and therapies and practices. And God gave me all of them because he somehow saw me fit to be the mom they need.
And, full disclosure here: I’m still getting better. My marriage is still getting better. Maybe I always will be, maybe that’s just the nature of addiction and recovery and staying. I’m learning new boundaries, a new necessity of discernment, and an even more humble posture. But with a tender and healing marriage, six kids, a teaching job and a very full (read: loud) home, I simply cannot afford to give away my time and work like I have for twelve years.
And this is where I ask for your understanding.
Trust me when I tell you this: moving over to a paid subscription is not a decision I take lightly. I know most of you can’t afford to start paying for content, not when there is so much rich, free content out there. And because I don’t want to lose all connection with the readers I care about so much I will still be sharing free work from time to time. My blog and nearly eight years of stories aren’t going anywhere. And some of my writing, like at C+C, will be in places where there is no charge at all.
But the essays and stories I share will largely be moving here, to Substack, and by the end of 2022, the majority of it will be behind a paywall. Not because I’m trying to get rich (ha! I would not be in writing nor in education if that was my goal), and not because I think I’m awesome or better than any other writer out there (friends, I know I’m not the best writer out there because I am friends with the ones who are; and if you only knew the state of writer-self-talk). It’s simply that I want to keep writing, I want to keep connecting with you about disability and foster care and friendship and motherhood and even the things that hurt deeply to talk about. Mostly, I want to keep encouraging you toward the only thing in my life that has always made sense (that’s Jesus, btw). But my life simply does not have room – not with hours in the day or financial responsibilities – for me to do this work for free. I’ve given it the best I possibly could have for more than a decade – and still, knowing my readership will decrease significantly with this move, it’s truly the only one I can make right now.
So friends, with a bit of trepidation and a lot of humility, if my writing has been encouraging to you at all over the years, I am asking that you consider becoming a paid subscriber. I have set that wall at the lowest option available here on Substack ($5/month or a one-time payment of $35/year, less than $3/month). I promise to show up here a few times a month with my very best, most honest words. The stewardship of your investment is something I take so seriously. I’ll keep telling stories like I always have – but within the intimacy and safety of a community of readers who are opting in with their dollars, I have even more freedom to share those stories. I’ll talk about motherhood and social issues and writing and fighting for who you are when you’re most alive, and of course, mercy, because my entire life depends on it.
If you read all the way to the end of this, I wish I could hug you. I know every one of us is facing circumstances in our lives that challenge us to the core – you’ve told me some of your stories, and I marvel at the collective strength represented here. This move is simply not an option for many of you, and I completely understand. We are all just doing the best we can. Even if you can’t join the paid subscription crew, know how very grateful I am for you. And friend, please stick around for the stories I can share freely.
I love you all. I do.