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Exploring the Mysteries of Substack #3: It's All About the Writing.
This'll be fun. Honest!
Now that you’ve played with the mechanics of a Substack newsletter in Part #1 and Part #2, let’s talk about the really important part: the writing. Getting it down so it reads well and looks good and you’re happy with it.
You’re going to be writing a newsletter. You’ll be inviting people to sign up for regular inbox notifications of upcoming works, and, if you’re lucky, they’ll oblige. Now you’ll have readers!
But not just any readers. You’ll have readers who have signaled by subscribing that they’re in it for the long haul. They want to see more from you. That makes this experience different from the usual blog.
You’re making friends who want to come back. Remember that as you write.
Whatever your focus, whatever your tone, you’re going to be writing for an audience that appreciates you. Gathering them together may be slow-going at first, unless you’ve brought them with you, but ‘discouraged’ is the last thing you need to be as the writer of your own newsletter.
Don’t start off already being discouraged. You’ve been thinking about this for a long time. You have something to say and you have an idea of how you’re going to say it. If you’ve come this far, it means you still have confidence you can do it.
I have confidence in you, too. Which is why we’re going to move along now. We’re a team. We’re going to do this.
So now you’re at that blank space. The tools at the top of the page are no longer scary. In fact, they seem downright friendly. Just waiting to be of service. Nothing stopping you now.
You remember what I said about drafts. There’s nothing intimidating about drafts. This is where you get the job done outside of prying eyes, outside of judges and fools. This is just you, and you’ll never make a mistake that can’t be fixed. Whatever you put down at first isn’t written in stone unless you want it to be. With that handy Draft history (bottom left in Drafts), nothing is lost. You can go back and forth and add and subtract and change to your heart’s content.
This’ll be fun, right?
Put everything else out of your mind. Don’t worry about getting subscribers. Don’t worry about setting up a paid plan. Don’t worry about what anyone else is writing. Don’t worry about what you don’t yet know about Substack. You’re writing today.
Keep your first few posts uncomplicated, with emphasis on what you have to say. Use simple text, without all those bells and whistles you may be tempted to try because you’ve seen them on other bloggers’ pages. You can mess with them later.
Notice this page. My page. It’s nothing fancy, but you’re still reading. It’s the words that count, and I’ve deliberately done it this way—just words. It could be because my background is in newspapers, but I like reading first-person essays or articles without frills and flourishes. It feels intimate. A one-on-one with no distractions.
I use white space and short paragraphs because I like the way they give breathing space. I like the way the page looks. It looks like something a busy reader might have time for.
I use pictures at the top of every one of my posts because I think they add an artful introduction to my pieces. They’re the store windows, the thresholds I’m hoping my readers will want to come across.
All of these things work for me because the things I write work well with them. That may not be the case for you, and these first few forays into Substack writing will give you the chance to work those issues out.
The writing part is up to you now, and I hope you’ll remember that you’re writing for you. You need to feel comfortable with the project you’ve set for yourself. It’s a journey, and one you’ve chosen. By all means, enjoy it.
Be as unique as you hoped you would be. Don’t let fear guide you, or it’ll show in your work. Take control right from the start and feel the rush. Ignore the dread. It’ll pass. This is for you and your new friends.
At some point you’ll feel ready to hit the ‘Continue’ button at top right. Nobody can tell you when that will be, but there isn’t a one of us who doesn’t get the shivers just before we hit it. You will not be alone.
When you hit the Continue button, it’ll take you to the actual Publish page. (‘Continue’ used to be ‘Publish’ but I think the Substack crew recognized how terrifying that was to newbies. They thought they were going to the point of no return and were afraid to push it.)
The button will take you to a page that looks something like the one below. If you realize you’ve missed something or you’re not ready, you can click on the X at upper left and it’ll take you right back to your draft. That’s a good thing. You have to deliberately hit the button way down at bottom right in order to make it public.
So you’ve hit the magic button and your post is public now. It’s not just for subscribers, so don’t worry if you don’t have many subscribers at first. Or any. You can grab the link and do some promoting yourself. Anyone can read it. It’s out there and it’s yours! You did it!
The fourth and last tutorial is on adding pictures and spiffing up the place, but if you like what you’ve done and you’re satisfied, keep it as it is. It’s your blog. Nothing says you have to decorate it.
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