Why Do I Write a Newsletter?
A meta post
As you know, I usually write about urbanism here (broadly understood), with a few other topics mixed in: food and restaurants, retail history, pop culture, video games. But sometimes I write about writing. This is one of those meta posts.
Last fall, at a happy hour, I was chatting with a former colleague, who has been a writer, section editor, and editor-in-chief over the years in the magazine world. We were talking about Substack and the newsletters trend, and whether it’s a flash in the pan, like the infamous “pivot to video” back in the 2010s, or a real and growing sea change in how writing is done, and how it’s read. He—as someone who still works at a traditional magazine—was a little bit skeptical. I, as you might guess, am less skeptical. One of us is right. It’s hard to get a man, etc. etc.
Some of you may wonder what Substack actually is, or what “newsletter” means. What I do every day here isn’t a “newsletter” in the traditional sense, like a quarterly goings-on pamphlet, nor is it a timely industry- or topic-focused email with news items or analysis.
What I’m doing here is somewhere between a blog and a magazine. Substack is essentially a blogging platform, like Blogspot or Medium, integrated with an email list and mass emailing function, all with integrated payment processing. (That’s how you’re able to easily become paid subscribers!) The “newsletter” part refers to the email list part, more than the type or format of the content. We can make whatever kind of publication we want. There are even bona fide online magazines that use the Substack platform.
Sometimes people ask me how having a daily newsletter fits in with being a freelance magazine writer. Back during Easter of 2021, when I was starting to think about launching a newsletter, I ran it by my dad. He thought it was probably a good idea, but he said, just be careful you don’t burn through content. That was my main concern too—and the closely related concern of just not being able to fill the space on a daily basis.
But I came up with an idea: the newsletter wouldn’t compete with my magazine writing: it would fill a space somewhere between a Twitter post and an article, where I could preview or follow-up my articles, turn successful tweets or brewing ideas into conversational, prospective pieces, and share bits and pieces of articles that didn’t make it into the final draft.
That’s where the name “The Deleted Scenes” comes from. Luckily “The Leftovers” or “The Cutting Room Floor” didn’t make the cut.
Far from burning through content or running out of ideas, I find that the discipline of writing every day, and having a space for ideas that aren’t quite articles, multiplies my ideas and creativity. It’s an outlet for what is now hundreds of pieces that are too good for tweets, too short or obscure for a magazine to pay for, but just right for this “newsletter”/modern blog format.
I can write much more easily now, because I don’t feel like once I’ve published an article, I’ve used all my powder and I can’t return to the topic for some time. Now if I think of one more point I really wish I’d made, I don’t have to come up with a distinct magazine-length piece or just sit on it. I can just write a newsletter post titled “A Little More on…” As a writer, it’s amazing. It makes me more careful, but also more prolific.
Some of you are fellow writers and even fellow Substackers. I’m curious how the newsletter format/segment fits into your overall work, and how it changed your approach to writing. Leave a comment!
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