One thing I’ve tried to embrace this year, in the midst of so much strangeness and sadness, is the freedom to try different things. The old molds of our lives are broken, so we don’t really have a choice, of course. But I’ve tried to use the need to rebuild as an opportunity to be less of a perfectionist, and to try things that I’m afraid will make me look stupid.
Remote podcasting was one new thing I tried. Another was embracing marketing — being more intentional about what I’m building and why, and trying things I’ve turned up my nose at in the past, like building an email list. I also tried asking for help more, taking advice from listeners and ultimately building a shopping directory, The Local List. There was so much more I wanted to do with all of those things, but I tried to lean in to the “done is better than perfect” mentality. It’s helped me grow in ways I wouldn’t have imagined at this time in 2019.
But my favorite leap of faith has been publishing the Localist Christmas stories. No matter what else I’m doing professionally, I see myself as a writer first — but with so many challenges in 2020, I haven’t been doing much writing. I’d planned to use the month of November to write a really bad draft of a novel by participating in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). I’d sketched a plot, a fictionalized story of my time managing my first bookshop. I was looking forward to it.
In order to write the book, I had to bank Localist podcast episodes for December. My ideas were pretty uninspired, but I was going with them anyway. I wanted to get them out of the way so I could write. And then my husband challenged me to make my December episodes “magical.” He didn’t explain what he meant at all (which was pretty frustrating, to be honest). But what he was really saying was that I should make the podcast true to who I am and what I value — which includes a lot of things, one of them being magic at Christmas.
As I struggled with what to choose (writing or the podcast), I had the idea to sort of combine the two — to use the Nanowrimo method (writing a lot of words without editing yourself) to write non-fiction short stories about owning a bookshop at Christmas, focusing on the shop I cofounded, Church Street Coffee & Books. I had a couple of fully formed plots in my head immediately (they ended up being the first and last stories in the series), and I pieced together the middle two stories together along the way.
Through writing, I remembered so much about the shop that I thought I’d forgotten. I wrestled with choices I’d made in the past, laughed at moments that had been long buried, and got nostalgic not just for my shop (which I sold a few years ago), but for the way of life of shopkeepers and restauranteurs that’s been obliterated in 2020.
To listen to the stories (they’re all about 20 minutes long), search “Localist” on your favorite podcast player, or click the episode links here (they’re listed in chronological order, but they’re also standalones, so you can listen in any order).
I’ve had a few people ask for a way to read them instead of listening. (As a book person, I totally get that.) My friend Jonathan Walls designed a lovely PDF that includes all the stories; if you’d like a copy, sign up here for my email list, and the first email you get will have a link to download or read online.
Thank you to all my listeners, and in particular to the staff and customers of Church Street Coffee & Books (and my first shop, Jonathan Benton, Bookseller). It was truly a joy to write these stories and feel close to you again.