Behind the Content of Hurt Your Brain

We spoke with a super passionate and inquisitive thinker, Erik Jones to learn more about why he started writing Hurt Your Brain. Hurt Your Brain is a newsletter fueled by curiosity, it’s the best place for you to learn how the world works and Erik Jones points you in the right direction. 


We delved into how he got into writing Hurt Your Brain, his love for podcasts and the ability to learn something new while clocking in hours at your day job, his favorite podcasts, and his side hustles his newsletter connected him to.

Who’s Erik?

Erik’s passion for podcasts is solely attributed to his day job, in his field of medical sales. Erik spends most of his days driving around which he transforms into his learning nook. All while working, he’s learning and listening to a bunch of different podcasts about, well, anything and everything. As for his side projects, which all have to do with podcasts, they can be traced back to his first side project, Hurt Your Brain. When he started writing, he became completely immersed in the podcast space and along the way he became connected with Bello Collective, an audio-focused publication, and Sound Education, a conference for educational podcasters, audio producers and listeners. These have led to all sorts of awesome online communities and different freelance writing opportunities in the podcast world.

The Spark of Hurt Your Brain Newsletter

“When my son was born, something went off in my brain where I really wanted to pursue more of an entrepreneurial path. So, I had this idea to try to develop this app that would almost be a static Reddit, where if someone was looking for the best science books, there would be one list that people can upvote or downvote. Essentially, the ultimate list with thousands of upvotes that is this encompassing list around one specific question.


Taking a step back, I realized how hard it is to develop an app and learn programming but I still had this draw to learning something new, particularly using podcasts. There’s so much content on the web, which is amazing, but people have a really hard time finding it, so I slowly developed into this person who really enjoyed finding great content, recommending, and curating it.  


Podcasting in general is this super great way to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. Listening and learning while doing something else - like cleaning, driving, cooking, etc. So for me, it's fun to turn people on to amazing stuff that they had no idea existed. Mainly, I wanted to speak to people that were like me. To teach them something by giving quality recommendations  and hopefully spark that curiosity in other people...”


Who was your main source of inspiration which led to the start of your newsletter? 

“The person who was the most influential for me and really sparked my interest on how the world works was Carl Sagan


In the 1980s, he had a really famous series on TV called Cosmos, which I randomly found a couple of years back and it just blew me away. It was still very relevant even though it was decades old. The main message was that the world is amazing. Sagan instilled in me this idea that there is nothing better than developing endless curiosity and that science is the best tool for understanding how the world really works."


Do you have a goal for your newsletter? 

“I want people to realize how amazing the internet is. You can easily feel discouraged by its dumpster fire and the anxious scrolling of news feeds - but there really is a whole universe within the internet that's amazing and still is what we were promised the internet would be."

And honestly, aside from that, I want to connect with people like me, to  point them to something new.There is also so much interest in podcasts, and there are endless amounts of smaller shows that most people don’t know about. My goal is to help connect people with these ideas being shared within the world of podcasts that they’ll find fascinating but aren’t so easy to find.” 


What’s your process like when creating an issue? 

Research, Collection, and Curation

This is by far the most exciting part of the entire newsletter creation process for me. Consuming content, learning, and then getting to shout out a story from an indie creator are all the things that keep me going.


In regards to my research and collection process, there is no “formal” way that I do things. I use Google Docs as my dumping ground. In my newsletter, I include podcasts, articles and videos. Spending time in each media type does take a lot of time but I’ll only recommend content that I’ve personally listened to/watched/read and loved.

A pretzel for your thoughts


For podcast listening, I use Castro. Castro allows me to create a queue where I can always go in and listen, buffet style. My queue will never hit zero because there is always something new that I come across from either my subscribers’ recommendations, other newsletters, Twitter, Reddit, or a bunch of other places.

For videos and articles, I’ll go into Medium, Reddit, Youtube, Quora or any other social media platform but my #1 go-to for content is newsletters. There are so many excellent ones that I follow. When I find something I’m interested in reading, I’ll copy and paste into my GoogleDoc “database.”

When it’s time to curate, I would say I'm very biased to choose things that make me think, if it challenges the way the world works and adds a new mental model, that's important to me. 


Typically what happens is that I’ll find something really interesting, in whatever media form, and this sometimes naturally lends itself to to a newsletter theme. Then I’ll go into my Google Doc and compile a draft that pieces everything together. It does take a lot of time, but the truth is I would be listening to the podcasts or reading these articles anyway, so to me, I wouldn’t consider that as part of my “newsletter process”. We’re learning together.

Creation

When it’s time to create, this takes me at least 4 hours to write up an issue, jot down my thoughts, compile a summary, and draw an original image.

What I like to do is go through my draft from Google Docs and then paste it over into MailChimp... I then add an introduction, hyperlink everything, and sometimes add a mini-playlist.


I want my newsletter to be something that readers can find useful and not too overwhelming, so I continuously play around with the format.. An important aspect of the issue is also the voice and telling a cohesive story. I keep my voice somewhat limited, but I strive for playful yet educational.I want my readers to trust my taste, find fascinating content, but also enjoy reading it enough to not skim it in two seconds.

I am always thinking how my readers would consume my newsletter - I try my best to add quotes, bullets, and thoughts. Typically I’ll go back and shorten, edit, shorten, and edit again. I try and let the content speak for itself as much as possible.

Experimentation is key with newsletters, especially when it comes to formatting. It’s okay to not get it right the first time. Ask your readers what they think, turn to them, and see how you could do a better job.

Publish

In the very beginning, hitting send made me super nervous. Over time, the anxiety of it all is still there along with a shot of endorphins. Right after I click send, I shut my computer and don’t check the statistics and analytics until the next day. People get over obsessed with the metrics but it’s not important. I focus on the feedback instead. If people reach out and say that they love this issue, that’s plenty.

Distribution

It does get scary sending out the first several newsletters, even if it’s a relatively small audience of friends and family at first. And the first unsubscribe is never fun! But it’s important to get into a habit of hitting send on a consistent basis no matter what and to realize that your audience won’t grow itself by magic on word of mouth alone.

The first place I distribute is on Twitter. I love letting people know that the content I curated was from them. I’ll go and give them a shoutout, typically the people tagged are always excited which is great to see.



You have to be careful on how you do it and know the rules of the group, but I sometimes go on Reddit and other newsletter groups to spread the word on the newsletter while also providing value. That is the key, you never want to just be an endless plug machine.


I would say find a peer group that is the same size and covers the same interests. Share ideas and keep connecting with people. It’s a gradual process, embrace the networking and say yes to opportunities because that’s how you’ll meet really cool people. That’s how I met the Listory Team, Bello Collective, and the fine people at Sound Education