Exploring the Mysteries of Substack #1: Getting to the Manuscript
Or, if I can do it so can you.
Hello, Everlastings, today marks the start of a new writers’ series on navigating the highways and back alleys of Substack. It’s mainly for newbies, but you all can tag along, of course—and if you see something I’ve missed or gotten wrong I’m counting on you to jump in and help me out. Okay?
I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while, and thanks to my new friend, my newest subscriber, and all-around newbie, Robyn Norman (Thank you for asking, Robyn!), the idea became a nudge and now it’s a reality.
I’m going to try and simplify the starting process here at Substack so new writers can get on board without thinking they’ve seated themselves on the biggest, scariest rollercoaster in the world and only a fool would do that.
So, newbies, here we go: First stop, getting to the manuscript page.
To the Manuscript:
You’re here on Substack reading someone else’s work and you notice that little box at the bottom of the page that says Start Writing.
It’s an invitation, but to you it looks like a demand. Or serendipity. It’s downright spooky, because you’ve actually thought about maybe writing on Substack. Should you push it?
This is what you’ll see: (I’ve made a fake one here that I’ll delete later.)
So you bite the bullet and do it, you agree and continue. And here you are:
Once you continue, this will happen. This is your URL. You can change it to the name you’ve given your newsletter/blog or leave it as it is. If at some later point you want to change the name of your newsletter, you can go into settings and scroll to the very bottom to the Danger section, where, if you’re not afraid, you can do that.
You can either add subscribers or skip this. You can always add subscribers later.
You can either dive into this next step or skip it. (I’m sorry, I have no control over any of this.)
Then you’re here! Almost there!
I forgot how many steps there were! For now, just go into “Write your first post”. We’ll worry about the rest later.
This will come up before you’re finally allowed to write your first post. All good advice, but this is your gig now. Do what you want.
Again, click “Write your first post”. And finally, here you are!
There’s another full page of helpful suggestions on what should be a blank manuscript page, so you’ll have to delete all of the text you don’t want before starting on your own. (Leave the “Subscribe” boxes at the top and bottom where they are. They’re useful tools. You’ll add them to all of your posts from now on. If you don’t and you hit “Continue” (top right) you’ll get a gentle reminder, like “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
So finally we’re at the blank page. Now you’re in familiar territory. Every writer knows what a blank page looks like. I assure you, you can do nothing wrong here. Everything is doable and fixable. This is a draft.
Start out with a title and a subtitle (the subtitle is not mandatory; the title is), then write a couple of expendable paragraphs and play with the tabs on top. As you mess with them it’ll become clear what they’re for. Check out the Buttons and More. Add them to see what they do. Delete them if you don’t like them. Just fool around for a while, but don’t forget to write at some point. That why you did all of this!
So now you know how to get to the blank page—your edit page. You probably won’t have to come back to this section once you’ve arrived, but this should get you to the place where you can start working.
Next time we’ll tackle manuscript mechanics and maybe even get a chance to dip into the content. It depends on how longwinded I get. Don’t get turned off by that word ‘mechanics’. It’ll be fine. Just a few buttons to push.
As you play with your edit page, check out the pages of other Substack writers. What do you like or dislike about the way they look? How can you make yours look like that? Be ready with questions if I haven’t covered them.
Whenever you’re ready, you can click on the box below to get you to the next lesson. Now that you’ve started, I want to get you on your way as quickly as possible.
You’ve got this!
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