Finally, the secret is out, and I am so incredibly excited to bring you guys this very special birthday celebration. Everyone, from the most recent history friend to the long serving Patron, is due to see great benefits and, above all, a whole butload of content.
In the last blog post examining this crazy birthday project, I examined the structure of it, what it would look like on the podcast airways and what you could expect from it. Today, we do something a little different, because today it's time, if you're interested, to detail my personal experiences throughout this project. It's time to denote what it was really like for Zack Twamley as he planned a wedding, remained afraid of change, and ignored everyone and everything to get this project finished. If you want to know a bit more about me and my creative processes, where Patreon came into it, as well as what this podcast means to me in general, then welcome to The Vassal State!
This is the place for you!
First off, a little bit of background is necessary. You see, I have been history podcasting for five years now. Over these years I have released a number of increasingly ambitious projects, always for free, and always in the name of making history thrive. As the podcast grew, so did my ambitions, and my aims for the podcast shifted from doing something I love and profoundly enjoy, to actually wanting to make a difference, and believing that I could make that difference. It takes a lot of self-belief to start genuinely investing in what is essentially your hobby, but to a degree history podcasters will always invest a great deal of their time and energies, not to mention their monies, simply because this hobby requires it. You can't afford to release a shoddy product, just like a would-be historian couldn't afford to release a shoddy history book.
So where does this lead us, and how is it relevant for what we have for you today? Well, to start with,
none of this would be possible without you guys!
And I know that's something a lot of podcasters say, but it's true! What would When Diplomacy Fails be without your enthusiasm, your passions, your support and your demand for more? Arguably, I would still do this even if I could reach one person every week, because of my inherent need to create things, especially history things. Saying that though, you guys have always been a constant motivation for me, and like a parent who waits to see what their kids think of their presents on Christmas morning, I have been developing this entire remastered project with you all in mind. It's something which I can't wait to see your reaction to: you won't believe the amount of time I spent daydreaming and of course talking to the likes of my wife and others about it - I couldn't wait to see what you all thought of the whole thing; I couldn't wait to see you all freak out about exactly what this all meant for you guys as listeners of this podcast. Think about it:
At least two episodes every day for five weeks - nobody has ever done that before
It should go without saying that, yeah, over the last few months I've kind of learned why that's the case. I have been told that I tend to underestimate things when I take them on - this was true of virtually every major podcast project I undertook, but the sheer scale of what was put in front of me here didn't truly dawn on me until I'd say about mid-February, when I remember calculating just how much work I would have to do to actually get this project going. I am still not entirely sure why I believed it would take so little work, but it has to be said that my constantly increasing ambitions for the project did not help. Every day that went by I'd imagine new ways to make the project even more special. Who could I get on the podcast, who could I snag and attach myself to, what original content could I produce, how could I promote this in a special way? All of these were questions I had to come to terms with, during the many times when I'd lie in bed at night, and my brain would literally acquire its own steam, and attempt to debate with me what was and wasn't possible. I distinctly remember getting unduly excited about an aspect of it - I believe it was once I actually arrived at the moniker of '5 weeks to run wild'. It was then that I glanced over at my clock and realised it was 4AM. I wasn't even tired - I was wired with excitement.
In a sense then the excitement kept me going, and I'd be lying if I said that the project was an intense chore that I didn't enjoy - obviously I wouldn't have done it if that had been the case. That said, if you are aware of what's going down in my personal life, and that fact that I was recently married, you'll surely be aware of the fact that, yeah, I planned the biggest podcast project in WDF's history right at the most stressful time in any person's life - that of planning a wedding. Planning a wedding and moving house are apparently the two most stressful events in one's life, so in some ways I shudder to envision what my brain will conjure up and debate with me to undertake if Anna and I ever decide to move!
It has to be said first of all, that I planned small initially, but my ambitions slowly slipped out of my control. At first I had planned to release all of 19 episodes as re-recorded versions, on the 18th May 2017. That was it - then I had the idea to actually complete redo them from the ground up, though retaining their central structure. From there, I discovered I could split them in half and make them more digestible. When I discovered I had about 40 episodes from this process, I had the idea then of extending still further some of the episodes I wasn't happy with - Napoleon, the Russo-Turkish War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion, or the Italo-Ethiopian War are just some that took much time to rewrite and redo almost from the ground up. The more I worked at arriving at a precise concept, the harder I got on myself to perfect old niggling errors or mistakes.
Before long I had a troop of 50 episodes, and it was then that I had the idea of actually making this into a definite project, of making it into a kind of celebration. What better way to get people in the party atmosphere than by including some other podcasters who have been on my radar for some time. Many of whom were massively helpful during WDF's 5 years in podcasting, others I sought to emulate, others still were purely inspiring for their work ethic and passion for creating history. Once my horizons expanded into this territory it became hard to draw the line - I didn't want to exclude anyone who I thought might be able to participate and propel my project forward at the same time. History podcasters will always piggyback on one another - it's only fair when you consider how occasionally lonely this hobby can become, and how immensely rewarding collaboration can be. So I took these collaborations, or collabs as I came to call them, and added them to the mix. Now that I had these, it felt like more of a party, but then something happened which would further alter the project.
At this stage I was still not quite at the point where the lightbulb had gone on and I realised I could use this for my podcast's benefit. I was still at the point where I felt I wanted to give this as a present to you guys, and that was that. It was during mid-February that a now familiar figure, that of Patreon, came to me yet again. Patreon had always been on my radar, but I had never taken the plunge because I believed it would negatively impact my work ethic, and that my listeners wouldn't appreciate me asking them to support in yet more ways than they already do. However, after talking it over with Anna during the course of a week, I decided to take the plunge. If all else failed, we said, it would at least cover my costs such as website, old hosting or books purchased. Once again I underestimated myself, as pretty soon Patreon became something more than an idea which I could discount as merely a 'nice extra'.
I have covered elsewhere the fine line between accepting money for your hobby, and then equating that money with your hobby's success, so I won't get into that aspect of the experience here. Suffice to say when Patreon happened, it took me a little while before I realised just how much of a part it could play in the whole project. It started off small - initially I had injected little pleas into the Remastered project episodes, to go and sign up on PayPal for the monthly donation option, if you really wanted. However, once I realised that Patreon could replace this process, and that it could give my listeners something in return, it became somewhat more exciting. I edited the initial recordings and spliced my own intros into them, talking up Patreon and why it could be great for my listeners. Then, we managed to reach our $150 p/m target in just over a month, and I was faced with a further quandary - as per this target, I claimed I would establish a members' podcast feed for those that paid $5 or more. Now I realised, to my immense surprise, that I would have to actually take this on. Such work was to be added to the bank of work I already had to do on top of the remastered birthday project - underestimating strikes again.
I remember when the idea came to me about making the project work better for Patrons. I was on a run, and grappled with the conundrum of how to make Patrons feel special and loved when the project came around. The reason why I struggled with it was because I had initially planned to simply tell Patrons about it, and then expect them to go and listen to its audio goods in the old feed. I didn't consider the Xtra members' feed to be a suitable vehicle for the project, but at the same time I felt bad, because within the remastered project you had me basically saying that 'oh, you should sign up on Patreon if you want to support'. Maybe it's just me but if I had already signed up and given someone my money, I wouldn't want to be hearing constant pleas for the money I'd already given, so in that vein I knew I had a problem. It should be added that by this stage, as per the $150 goal, I was already releasing Patreon-plug free episodes, one week early, into the aforementioned Xtra feed, so why wouldn't I do the same for the remastered project?
The pure conundrum was that, again, since I had joined up with Patreon approximately halfway through the project, it meant that I already had a great number of episodes 'done and dusted' in my head. During the course of my run I struggled and debated with myself over the question - 'could I really go back over those episodes and edit them, essentially creating a copy of that episode for the members' feed?' By the end of my run I had arrived at my decision - this was to be my great appeal, the Unique Selling Point (USP), if you like, of the members' feed, and indeed now it forms a major part of why I feel becoming a Patron would be such an attractive option to a fan of the podcast. I would craft the remastered episodes and create a project worthy of their support and my own ambitions - there was nothing for it, I would have to go back through each episode, wipe its plugs etc., and inject it into the members feed. So I did, and the labours increased as did my own ambitions once more.
By this point the outline remained relatively loose - 5 weeks to run wild was still a project that would see at least one episode released each day for the 5 weeks; 5 weeks because 5 years I said to my peers. But my ambitions simply kept growing, and as I counted the episodes, and they came tantalisingly close to that magic number which would enable me to release two episodes each day (70), I added further work for myself as I drew up concepts that I could use to fill in the blanks, while also providing additional content of genuine value and worth. Around this time of course, the Patreon hit another milestone, as we smashed through our $300 p/m goal. This was obviously amazing, but what it meant in practical terms was that I would now have yet more work to do. I figured I could compensate for this by giving listeners and patrons a chance to hear my quality academic essays from years passed, so this option was a handy out for a few weeks. Yet, the sheer process of adding further content inspired my addition of further episodes for the whole project - what if to promote the cause of my own Patreon goals, I mused, I released episodes into the project that would complement this theme?
Thus the concept of those WDF THINKS episodes were born. Some of them came to me organically, others were ideas that were totally unrelated, but which I really wanted to undertake; that episode examining why studying history is important, for example, or my experiment in alternative history - these are plainly exercises in putting into practice methods and lessons which I've had in mind for some time. I got to combine all of these goods into one package, and what was more, I had my magic number - over 70 episodes, aside from the remastered TALK episodes, and some other bits and pieces besides. Now I could finally market this bad boy as one truly ground-breaking project. I had my tagline of course - 5 weeks to run wild was already in my mind, but now the concept of 2 episodes every day - at least two episodes, I could add - would be the pod-shattering news that greeted my listeners. Such a project, with a scope and scale never before attempted or imagined by sensible history podcasters, would create such a suitable buzz around me that I could truly hope to gain something, and this was about the time when that voice in the back of my head, the one that hoped to gain something, got that much louder.
As I said, this whole thing started out as a present for my listeners, as a way to thank them for their support over these last 5 years. Indeed, that's still the biggest part of what WDF Remastered is all about, because I wouldn't have done something this insane thing if I didn't love you guys for all you've done for me, both as a creator and as a historian. Saying all that though, and when I began to combine it with the idea of Patreon, the vision for what this project could do, not merely for you guys, but also for me, grew as my idea of what WDF Remastered would look like changed. The idea to use Patreon as a vehicle for generating excitement also fueled the project, as I toyed with the idea, before running with because it was so incredibly crazy, of releasing all of the 91 episodes of the project in the space of about 91 minutes in the members feed. Every minute, starting from 12AM on 18th May, a new episode would be released, until Patrons would suddenly be bombarded with so much content that they simply wouldn't know what to do with themselves.
By so doing, I felt I could develop yet another USP for the project, while still giving those that didn't pay ample opportunities to avail of audio enjoyment - the Xtra episodes released during the project were further testament to this; the second part of Kevin Stroud's interview for example, while I've seen various opinions emerge following my decision to lock that behind the Xtra feed's paywall, all of it was designed to give back to my Patrons, while ensuring that incentives grew for people to pledge their monetary support, and at the same time I couldn't feel too bad about locking one portion of an interview away, considering the sheer scale of this project and all it had to offer.
In such a way did the Remastered project continually change; essentially as my own mind went through different stages of craziness and ambition. I filled countless pages in my copybook incepted especially for the purpose of planning this project; I noted different release schedules and took notes on how I would deal with this eventuality or that. We've seen already how I went from some instant release, surface improvement project into a podcast party of incomparable scale, and I can't quite remember when it clicked that by having such taglines as '5 weeks to run wild' or by having such incredible facts as 'two episodes every day for five weeks', I could potentially generate a great deal of buzz and attention, especially if I collaborated with the right people and got enough history friends to tell their friends due to their own excitement. In short, this is all a roundabout way of me saying that I came to believe that this whole project could be, not simply a 'thank you' to my listeners for their support over the last five years, but a watershed moment in the life cycle of When Diplomacy Fails.
Such a watershed moment was, I felt, necessary, because the podcast had been stuck in a rut in terms of popularity and reach for some time. I desperately wanted to change that, and I believed at the same time that nobody would or could begrudge me for wanting this podcast to get bigger or wanting it to grow. I had to be the force for making this podcast grow - I had to be the one to forcibly change its statistics by applying these insane ambitions to it. I had to apply my penchant for tireless self-promotion to an even greater scale than before. I had to do this because nobody else was going to do it for me. It's the same idea that inspired me to fill in what appear to be ridiculously ambitious goals on our Patreon homepage - why bother fill in the option for $5k, $7.5k or certainly $10k people might ask; what's the point in being so ambitious and flat out crazy when you're unlikely to make it that far? In a sense it was stupid of me to combine Patreon and WDF Remastered together; it was stupid to take on the workload that both undertakings entailed at the same time, while also continuing with my regular podcast schedule. However, doing so taught me something which was both strikingly simple and profoundly important to learn - that even while it seems crazy on paper to have these ambitions, to talk for your podcast in such a way, or to claim that it can ever reach such incredible heights as these...
It's something that I have to do, not just for myself, but also for my creative product,
for the simple fact that nobody else is going to do it for me, and
if I don't do it, if I don't push the podcast out there and believe that it can grow and expand in such a way,
we will always stay the same.
Nobody is going to be this ambitious in the name of When Diplomacy Fails.
Nobody, that is, except Zack Twamley.
I believe the quote went something along the lines of 'You'll never move forward if you always stand in the same place'; I was sick of standing here, and I had to put my ambitious, apparently ridiculous and tirelessly optimistic foot forward if I was ever going to get bigger, better and closer to my goals. Furthermore, what I came to realise the longer I worked at it, the more hours I invested into the project and the more my ambitions for it morphed into yet more ambitious avenues, I came to feel what can only be considered a personal responsibility, not just for this podcast, but for furthering the discipline of history. What was more, after having talked to creators, some of whom were profoundly more successful and renowned than myself, I came to appreciate the sheer value in creating any product, full stop, that a consumer can enjoy. The value of said creator to the cause not merely of creating art, but creating genuine happiness and enjoyment, in this largely messed up world we live in, was considerable, but when this was combined with history, it began to click with me - that I was furthering this process too, that I was helping people experience and learn history who otherwise wouldn't have.
I know that sounds obvious, but I think in a way I'd had taken it for granted before. That was why I found the collaborations particularly rewarding on a personal level - hearing the passions of over 12 other internet creators, of professional historians, of independent producers, this was all so inspiring. It was like the whole experience kept building and building until, after the last collaboration I hosted, it kind of hit me. 'Damn', I thought, 'I am actually doing this, I'm actually making a difference here.' Such epiphanies gave me a second wind of sorts, or perhaps that should be a fourth or fifth wind, since I've gone through a lot of wind over the last few months. The consistently high work load and self-inflicted pressures to perform at this level did have an adverse impact on me on a few occasions, not least because, as I said, I was also under pressure thanks to the particular time in my personal life. It wasn't, to state the blatantly obvious, a particularly opportune time to tackle this Remastered project, to join up with Patreon or to launch a members' feed.
I had thought that 'burnt out' was too strong a term for me to use, because I didn't feel as though I particularly hated podcasting or hated history. Of course I didn't realise that burn out can take many forms - even something as simple as losing sight of why you really do this. Even though I began this project as a chunk of content designed to represent a gift to my loyal listeners, once the lightbulb went on and I realised I could use this project to further the podcast, that was when inklings of trouble began to creep in. I've noted before that there is a fine line between hoping that a body of work benefits your creation, and lumping your hopes and ambitions for the future onto the positive response you hope your body of work will generate. In other words, there was a time when I was doing this whole project purely for the benefits which would be granted to me - be they in terms of income, publicity or simple exposure. I became greedy for all of these, and simultaneously equated all of them with success. It was not enough, my brain insisted, to create this massive remastered project, and for people to simply enjoy it, which had been the original goal. I wanted to gain something on a utilitarian level, because I had lost sight of why this project appealed to me in the first place.
Getting back to that old mind set was tough - especially as the body of work was uploaded, and I tortured myself with additional ways to promote this and add further levels to it. The mission became one of automating as many processes as possible. It wasn't enough to set the episodes to release themselves without me having to do anything, I had to do the same to the facebook posts on social media as well, and I also had to prepare blog posts, such as this one, or prepare work due over the summer, such as the Xtra episodes on Louis' Arms & Armies. It almost looked like I couldn't put the podcast down, because I couldn't accept the fact that I could never be in control of everything. I had to almost physically pull myself back from recording the Xtra feed teasers for the months of July and August, episode-lets that would take very little time to actually produce, but which I pressured myself to complete and add in so that I could tell my overactive brain that absolutely everything was well and truly finished.
There was also a lot to be said at the same time, for using this podcast to bury my head in the sand, and having said what I've just said, I'd like to spend the rest of this post detailing another impact that the remastered project had on my personal life. See, I have always been the definition of a homebird, and yet at 25 I was set to move in with my wife, to an apartment which, granted is only a short drive away, but which in my brain means that everything will change. Of course it was a necessary change - it was the change every adult has to make, and I am so blessed in so many ways that such a change was possible for someone like me, particularly in a country like mine where property and housing is in the midst of a crisis. It is hard to sound grateful while also getting the point across that I was so used to my old life; the process of seeing Anna but not quite living with her, of being able to avail of mother's sublime dinners, of having ready access to my wonderful family. It was hard for me to accept, even while I obviously wanted to move forward in my life, that things would change, that the dynamic would be different, and that a watershed moment in life would be experienced.
To a large extent I felt like I was somehow not qualified to get married, move in, forge a new life, be a fully fledged adult etc. Anyone who has listened to the podcast knows this, because I had been quite open, not about my doubts per se, but my apprehensions. I had been open about them because I had never been one to pretend as though I am this tough, unfazed individual, un-intimidated by the prospect of change. Change has always troubled me - I freaked out when the cupboards were re-organised for crying out loud. My point though is that it was no coincidence that I felt as though I couldn't put the podcast down - the longer I convinced myself that there was more podcast left to do, the less free time my brain would have to torture me with the prospect of embarking on this watershed moment of my life. If I didn't think about it, perhaps, nothing would change. I could get married to the love of my life, but all that existential stuff wouldn't matter - I would still be a homebird and could still live my life as I already had done for the previous 25 years.
All of this makes me sound like I was some kind of baby, but of course I wasn't - I had already organised gas and electricity bills, paid my cursed taxes for many years, successfully acquired an apartment and planned a wedding after all. My point is, the podcast became something which offered me a handy escapism right at the time when I felt I needed it. Maybe, to a degree this wasn't a bad thing - after all it surely wouldn't have been healthy to obsess about what was to come on 6th May - imagining the radical changes, over-blowing the nature of what was about to happen out of proportion, and in the process losing sight of what truly mattered in all of this. The escapism became problematic right around the time when I had led myself to pretend that since nothing was going to change, I didn't have to make the most of now. Thankfully I came to my senses in time, and I got to spend the last few weeks properly with my family, away from my computer, at a time when it mattered most.
I am not exactly sure what you'll make of this whole blog post - you should know that it only came about because I had initially written far too much personal stuff like this in a post that was originally meant to be all about WDF Remastered and what it means for the listener. I didn't want this heaviness to turn people off as they sought to find out more about the project. Yet, at the same time, I feel there is genuine value in being authentic, in letting people know that struggles out there can emerge, sometimes in places where you often least expect them. The truly strange thing is that even while I couldn't wait to marry Anna, I was so terrified in my subconscious about the prospect of change that I hid myself away, buried myself in podcasting, and hoped my brain would simply forget about the life-changing event which was to come. It thus has to be said that this whole experience taught me a great deal about myself, because I never imagined that my brain could work like that. It was only once I had completely finished with the project, and found myself so terminally unable to actually put it aside - like an artist who keeps adding needless brush strokes to their favourite painting - that I began to question why I operated in this way.
I couldn't use the perfectionist card, which had I relied on so extensively in the past, so after much needed honesty with myself I came to terms with my own fears. What was more, I dealt with them, I accepted them, I rationalised them and reasoned them away. I accepted that, yes, things will change, circumstances will change and the dynamic with my family will change. But the love will not change, our relationships will not change, and above all, the most important circumstance in this whole process - that of marrying Anna - would provide me with so much additional joy and love, that the old Zack would very soon adapt to his new circumstances with relative ease. I wouldn't miss the old family unit, because we would be forming our own one, one which retained so many valuable aspects of the former, but adds new ones and more besides.
One of my greatest regrets then is that I didn't look forward to this change enough, even as everyone kept telling me to enjoy the run up to the wedding. Perhaps because I was too distracted with the remastered project, or because I wanted to distract myself through whatever means, and bury my head in the sand. Because of these distractions and fears, I did not allow myself to appreciate how incredibly joyous and loving this new chapter in my life could be. After months of trying to hide from the truth, it has to be said that I now only scratching the surface on how great such a change can be, and just how blessed I truly am.
This has been a far more involved and personal blog post than you are probably used to, but hopefully it achieved its aims - I wanted to give you a chance to get to know me better at this eventful time. I wanted to show you guys that even while I have my struggles, my fears or my distractions - since I am human after all - in the end such issues work themselves out for the better. I remember why I started, what is important and what is truly of value in my life. Who knew that I could learn so much about myself and life in general from a podcast project? To those thinking of undertaking a similarly ambitious project themselves then, I would say beware - you never know what you might uncover, or what you might find out about yourself. Who knows - you may even learn lessons which you didn't even realise were out there to be learned.
This has been a blog post by Zack Twamley, a history podcaster, recently established husband and blatantly crazy creative hivemind of different ideas and ambitions. If you enjoyed reading what I wrote here I hope you'll share it on to those that you feel would appreciate it. Maybe my ramblings had an impact on you in a certain way, or maybe you can identify with my experiences? Either way I'd love to hear from you, and if you think others would benefit from this admittedly long read, please feel free to recommend me to them.
Remember you can visit me on the official website at www.wdfpodcast.com
You can follow me on Twitter @wdfpodcast
Support me on Patreon www.patreon.com/WhenDiplomacyFails