Thoughts on my first quarter writing The Elysian
And plans for my second one.
This is my quarterly report on the state of The Elysian. The gist is:
Mondays: I’m going to keep sending essays thinking through a better future (but I’ll be gating up to 50% of them to paid subscribers).
Wednesdays: I’m going to send reading assignments to paid subscribers so we can discuss them with one another.
Fridays: I’m going to keep publishing utopian fiction.
But naturally, I deep dive about the whole thing below if you’re into my thoughts on the matter.
There’s a popular story told that, after the wild success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Queen Victoria loved it so much that she asked Lewis Carroll to dedicate his next book to her. He presented her with a mathematical volume entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.
This story is entirely false, but I love it so much for what it says about Lewis Carroll, a man who became known for his children’s books and contributions to the “literary nonsense” genre, but who also, we forget, worked as a mathematician and professor at Oxford until his death.
I have found a similar vein among novelists I love. Edward Bellamy became a bestseller for his utopian novel Looking Backward, but worked as the founder and publisher of the socialist newspaper The New Nation. William Morris wrote News from Nowhere but worked as a textile designer and socialist club founder. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote the utopian novel Herland but spent her career writing the feminist publication Forerunner.
The illustrious H.G. Wells wrote more than 50 novels and was called the “father of science fiction”—he thoroughly explored the utopian genre while earning four Nobel Prize nominations—but he also spent the latter part of his life perfecting the essay form, pontificating on human progress even as he was hailed an astute social critic and futurist!
This is true for so many fiction writers. They were thinkers by day, dreamers by night, and that makes so much sense to me. Their work was both grounded in reality and capable of imagining something beyond it. I think we need both—that if we focus too much on where we are now we fail to dream about where we could go next, and if we focus too much on the future we can’t figure out how to get there from here.
The combination is important, almost a lost art, and that is something I very much plan to make my life’s work from here on out. When I decided to write this newsletter for a living, I had just been laid off from my job and it seemed worthwhile to see if my interests could live together. Until then, my nonfiction work was my job and my fiction work was my hobby. But like those early thinkers and dreamers, I have found that they go together—that my work is much more cohesive than I thought.
Especially now that I’m free from having to conform to a publication’s constraints and can write about the things I’m truly interested in. Where else could I explore ideas like capitalism, democracy, socialism, and anarchism, and even fiction, without adhering to my employer’s worldview or alienating their advertiser base? I’ve explored some of my most ambitious ideas here and I’m so grateful to have a place to explore them. I want to do more of that.
But the thing I have loved most about writing this newsletter full-time is that I have had the space to think. I have read more than 50 books and 100 essays—there have been weeks where I spent more than 40 hours reading! I have taken countless notes and turned them into thousands of words, I have ideas for so many more. I have pursued deep research and contemplation and I can think of no more valuable use of my time. (And certainly no more enjoyable use of my time.)
World leaders do not have time to spend 40 hours a week reading. The people who are in positions of power, who make important decisions for our countries and companies, can’t spend hundreds of hours mulling over every decision they make and the implications they might hold. But writers can. We can spend hundreds of hours researching a topic, thinking through the various solutions and coming up with ideas, then distilling them into an article that might go out to thousands of readers and sometimes reach many more.
I have loved this work. That there are people (like you!) who are also interested in reading and thinking about these topics feels confirming. In fact, for my work in this space, I was recently accepted into the Roots of Progress Fellowship! Alongside 20 other progress writers, I’m spending the next several months immersed in progress studies and learning how to better research and write about our future, while mentoring under some of my personal heroes in the space—like, , and ! (I have already fangirled all over them and I wish that wasn’t my default personality type!)
If early on I had hoped to devote only one year to this work—to see if I might become profitable enough to support myself financially—I have since decided to obliviate that timeline. To allow myself to pursue this work more deeply, more thoroughly, even if it takes more time to become financially sustaining. Because once it does become financially sustaining, there are so many incredible things I can do with that income beyond supporting myself, and I am supported enough already. For now, my husband has a job he loves, and we both agree that this is the time in our lives to take some risks and pursue what we want to create.
I have dreams to see The Elysian become more than just ideas, but ideas in motion. A place not unlike those socialist clubs of the Enlightenment, where members can exchange ideas and we are funded enough to turn those ideas into print publications, lectures, and in-person gatherings. Where we organize to bring those ideas to life and where our profits actively support the creation of a better future. I hope our work inspires the next generation to be dreamers instead of doomers and I hope our ideas reach people in positions of leadership who can use them!
An analysis of Q3
I’m actually quite proud of my first quarter in business. My only goal was to see if I could write two posts each week—and I did! I wrote a new essay every Monday, and alternated Fridays with utopian fiction and discussions with other thinkers.
I’m still getting used to my new writing rituals, but I’m settling into a routine. I used to write from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. every morning before work. Now I’m writing from 7 a.m. to noon every day, using the afternoons to read, answer comments and emails, and work on other projects. I tend to end my work day around 3 p.m. This schedule has allowed me to have posts scheduled 2-4 weeks in advance.
This quarter I wrote a series on capitalism:
And the economy:
I dove into culture:
And returned to my work and leisure series for two posts:
I also added to my publishing series:
I also added five chapters to Oblivion, my utopian novel:
Chapter 7 - In which we learn the history of Asean
Chapter 8 - In which Elysia remembers how she got here
Chapter 9 - In which Elysia must face the truth
Chapter 10 - In which Elysia remembers her past
Chapter 11 -In which Elysia wonders if this is even real
And wrote two pieces of short fiction:
And I got into several discussions with other thinkers:
I wrote a six-part letter-writing series withabout utopia
I talked to the CEO of the Foresight Instituteabout brain-computer interfaces
I discussed the book Half-Earth Socialism with the authors of the book
I met with the professor of utopian literatureabout William Morris’ anti-tech utopia
I spoke to the venture capitalistabout deglobalization
And I watched a movie with theso we could discuss AI in the art world
I also hosted three writing prompts which have been really fun so far!
My plans for Q4
I want to make this more of a literary salon
Now, I want to continue writing essays on Mondays, but I want to see if I can also write new fiction every Friday, instead of every other Friday.
I also want to spend the next quarter building out The Elysian League, making this more of the collaborative literary salon I’ve been longing for.
So far, I’ve been doing all of the writing and we’ve been discussing it in the comments section, and our discussions there have greatly expanded my reading list and even inspired many of my essays! But I’d love to expose more of my research as it’s happening and be able to discuss it with you. I think ideas are better formed together than in solitude and I’d love nothing more than to think through the important ideas of our time alongside a gathering of minds.
So I’m going to start sending weekly reading assignments to paid subscribers. On Wednesdays, I’ll share a link to a text or documentary—something I think is worth reading, watching, or studying—then I’ll invite members to discuss it with us in the comments section. Once a month, I’ll pick a long read (like a utopian novel) that we can spend the month reading and then discuss at the end, but most of the time I’ll pick an essay or shorter piece we can read or watch that week.
I keep saying that the world needs more thinkers, and what’s a better way to accomplish that than by creating a space where we can read and think critically every week!?
My new publishing schedule looks like this:
Mondays: Essays thinking through a better future
Wednesdays: Salon discussions about literary texts
Fridays: Utopian fiction
Become a paid member of The Elysian League to study texts together.
Because I want to be cognizant of your time, I created a separate section of my newsletter for my essays, fiction, and salon discourse. If you need to receive fewer emails in a week, just unsubscribe from the section you don’t want to receive. Or you can always read in the Substack app if you prefer that over your inbox! (As I do!)
I’m printing the first collector’s edition volume of The Elysian!
I’m also getting ready to print the first volume of The Elysian for my subscribers at the collector tier and I could not be more excited about it! These are going to be stunning white softback books containing one year of my essays (as well as complimentary essays from other writers I admire).
The gold embossed design on the front cover will change with each issue, but they will maintain the same size, shape, binding, and titling so that, as you collect these volumes over the years, they can sit together on your shelf like a beautiful matching set. I’m getting the files together now with the hope of mailing books to collectors by the end of the year!
They will look like this:
Subscribe as a collector to get your signed, collector’s edition print volume, with your name printed in the acknowledgments section!
I’m studying utopian governments
As far as subject matter, next week we’re heading into a series on better government structures. We’ll be studying the best governments we have created so far, as well as thinking through how they might be bettered in the future. Then I’m heading back into my capitalism series for a study of cooperatives and how we could more effectively regulate capitalism. I also have some one-offs planned about technology, politics, the internet, homeownership, consumerism, and retirement, as well as several philosophical posts that might be scattered in there depending on what ideas need to be developed before I can develop others. As there are only 12 Mondays left in the year, this will bleed into Q1!
I’m working toward a membership model
More strategically, I’m going to spend the next two quarters working toward profitability and figuring out how that profitability can be used for good.
Those literary salons of the Enlightenment had membership dues that allowed them to provide important literature and events for members. The philosophers in Epicurus’ Garden were paid directly by their students for their lecture series. Here we have subscriptions that hope to do the same. That’s why I’m going to follow in the footsteps of those salons and gardens, as well as many of my peers on Substack, and gate up to 50% of my essays for paid subscribers.
Like this one. 🥰