At Twin Cities Runoff, I always encouraged writers to get away from writing about themselves. Unless it was a personal essay, I discouraged the “I” because, generally, the writer’s personal experience has nothing to do with the story. “I” essays are the stuff of confessionals and memoirs, and that voice doesn’t have a place in an exploration of a real-world story that has nothing to do with the writer. I’ve never bought the “transparency” argument for the “I,” but here I am, writing a piece in the first person, after having published many wonderful and unique first-person-inclusive pieces.
Putting together and launching Twin Cities Runoff was an awesome experience, and fully worth it. The people who worked with TCR, even those who worked with us for only a short while, made it what it was, which was a website that put out great work every week. It was creative and inspiring and original, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a team. (And thanks most especially to Neal, who was with us from the very beginning and designed and executed the whole site and was most amazing, all the time.)
If I wanted to end it there, it would be short and sweet, but I began the essay with “I,” which means I’d like to explain. I’d like to tell you how my business and I broke up. I don’t write about my personal life in detail, but I would like it if people wrote personal essays about their businesses and careers more often. I don’t care about how you and your boyfriend broke up, unless I’m gossiping. I know that story. I know you feel lonely. But I thought that the best part of Bridesmaids was watching Annie make the cupcake and thinking about how much it must hurt when the cute Irish cop said “Cake Baby.”
Twin Cities Runoff was my little cupcake, baked with a Fiona Apple soundtrack. Really, I just wanted a job, and I was listening to a lot of Fiona Apple because I was feeling sad. I had been an editor and had recently earned an MA in communications, but in 2009 there were no jobs. I worked as a waitress in a high-end cocktail bar. That job helped my interpersonal skills way more than anything I learned in graduate school, and I was tired of looking for the scant communications gigs available. So in lieu of writing crappy profiles and event previews for free or, worse, interning at the age of 27, I decided to create a publication so I could read what I was unable to find online: longer, well-written stories about the town I lived in. There are writers crawling out of the cracks everywhere — surely we’d be able to find those! And I knew a little something about business models and economies, and I knew how to edit and organize, and at the bar I learned how to sell. That’s all you need, right?
It’s not. To run a publication, you need a source of revenue and a way to pay writers, which is not (as I erroneously thought) grant money. The amount of ad dollars we needed required a system that we didn’t have the resources to set up. We briefly attempted a Kickstarter, until I realized that I couldn’t pay the bills and have a successful Kickstarter without the last bits of my spare time burning away, and I didn’t want to Kickstart something I wasn’t positive would be sustainable. Overall, Twin Cities Runoff was a good product, one that I still stand by. I knew enough about hyperlocalism and longreads to put that all together into something that still seems viable, if I had taken about 50 extra leaps that I wasn’t ready to take.
When I was offered a job as an editor in early 2012 that gave me the chance to pay my rent and my loans while doing something I loved, I took it. It’s what I’ve been wanting all along — although, admittedly, the easy way out. The hard way out looked like immediately imminent debt and burnout and giving up on another dream: being a writer. I want to be a byline, not a business owner, at least not now. It’s also close to impossible to edit two publications well at the same time. In a few years when I’ve got a better idea of how things should work (i.e., I’ll hire a sales rep immediately and also get a mentor), I may change my mind or try the business owner thing again.
In the meantime, there are other local publications taking up that mission. There’s a new print magazine called Thirty Two that I’m excited about (and have been working with!). They are having a launch party on June 14. I’ll be there, and maybe you should go too. Subscribe, if you like to read.
I also support MinnPost and MPR. I subscribe to Metro, which has recently gone from ok to being absolutely unmissable thanks to a change in its editorial staff, and to MSP Mag, which has some good reads among the plastic surgery ads.
I also miss reading community newspapers every month. Many of the newspapers we featured in Community News Roundup hire and pay freelance writers. I would say my favorites, but you should make your own favorites. They’re all in the roundups here.
In the end what happened to Twin Cities Runoff was that I was offered a job in something I was interested in, with more security, a steady paycheck and a large amount of creative control. We didn’t get tired of publishing stories, or run out of ideas. (I did, however, run out of money and weren’t ready to take the next fundraising steps to make TCR more sustainable. And writers, checks are coming.) We were teeming with ideas and talent. We all still are; we’re just putting them in other places and making a living.
Writers, launch your own projects. If you have balls, a good product and a lotta luck, maybe they’ll turn into something big, or maybe you’ll get a better job offer. Stop taking classes. Don’t enter contests. Just write, preferably about something beyond your love life or how hard it is to be an adult. Tell the stories in your neighborhood. Ask questions about everything you see, and ask a lot of them out loud. Write nuanced, complex, multi-sourced pitches. Be obnoxious about your sentences. Keep your eyes open, and don’t write for free. If an editorial staff is seeking submissions, ask whether they pay their writers. It’s important that they say yes. It’s important that writers and editors and organizers get compensated for the work they do. The systems that allow writers to make a living writing will only stay sustainable if you, as writers and readers, force them to, so subscribe to publications you like, and donate the amounts that you’re able to donate to the nonprofit ones.
I hope that everyone who worked with us winds up amazingly employed–lots of our volunteers and writers are already! — because they are truly the best in the Cities. Any name attached to this website I’d recommend in a heartbeat.
And in the meantime: please support your local writing and arts institutions–particularly the ones that make an effort to pay their writers a fair wage.
And read the archives.
We did a great thing, and I sincerely wish it had lasted longer. It’s not you, it’s me. One day we’ll do everything we want to do, and we’re already halfway there.
Twin Cities Runoff Roll Call
The Best Writers, Editors, Illustrators, Organizers and Volunteers in the Twin Cities
Neal Hohman | Sara Blair | Erica Edwardson | Ben Miller | Colleen Powers | Jake Mohan | Sarah Howard | Jill Michaelree | Joey Goodall | Ginger Jentzen | Kate Westlund | Lindsay Lelivelt | Aubrey Shermock
Victoria Perkins | Ashle Briggs Horton | Ray Camper | Soleil D. Ho | S.J. Culver | Lisa Luck | Chelsey Perkins | Andrew DeYoung | Sarah DeYoung | T.S. Flynn | Christy Marie Kent | Jacob Croonenberghs | Bill Lindeke | Beth Schulz | Darci Schummer | Paul Carroll
(If your name is listed here and you would like me to link to your website, or if I forgot your name, please let me know at email@example.com.)
Much love to all of our readers and contributors,