Writers write. We write compulsively on whatever is available. Stone tablets, parchment, bathroom walls, prison walls, diaries, notebooks, napkins, post-its—you get the picture. The advent of the internet brought something new to write on in the form of online diaries, which were also called weblogs. In 1999 this guy named Peter Merholz jokingly divided the word “weblog” into “we blog” and soon after, “blog” became the term we used and “blogging” became the verb that described writing a blog. In the early aughts popular blogging platforms included Live Journal and Blogger. The first incarnation of this blog lived at blogspot.com, which I think was Blogger.
Moving into the second decade of the 21st century, blogging platforms fell out of fashion, probably because people were occupied with composing Facebook statuses and tweets on Twitter. In 2012 a site called Medium came along as a place for writers to write. It experimented with monetization in the form of a monthly access fee which theoretically trickled down to writers based on their readership. As a result the writing got more and more click-bait-y and the experience (as reader and writer) wasn’t satisfying.
Enter Substack. It’s a platform that allows writers to create their own newsletters, and hosts a website where the letters are archived. Journalists and people with specific knowledge and skills can publish topical “columns” that people can subscribe to. For other writers it’s basically a blog, except its primary distribution is a “newsletter.” So it’s a newsletter with a blog attached instead of a blog with a newsletter attached, like, say, THIS ONE.
Having this one, I don’t really need a Substack newsletter. It’s redundant.
Except I want one. I want a Substack newsletter with blog attached. It’s a little embarrassing, but I do.
I’ve been asking myself why? Is it because Substack is newer and shinier? Am I enamored by the brand— like the Guess jeans I wanted back in the 7th grade? Is it because the cool kids have them, like George Saunders and Heather Cox Richardson?
And a voice in my head (which, though it is my own, it can sound disturbingly like my mom), asks, What’s going to make this “newsletter with a blog” so different from your “blog with a newsletter” that you already have? I’ve put off launching a Substack for more than a year while trying to answer this question in a way that will satisfy the voice. This is what I’ve come up with:
Ways my Substack Newsletter / Blog Is Going To Be Different From This Blog / Newsletter
This blog, which lives on my BarringtonSmith.com site, is just called “Blog.” It doesn’t have a name— writing this, I realize I’m the the worst blog-parent ever, who’s had a kid for over a decade that I’ve never bothered to name.
The newsletter, in contrast, has name. It’s called Brought to You by the Letter W.
This blog doesn’t have a unifying theme. Is it about writing? Is it about cancer? Is it about imposter syndrome, fashion faux pas, social anxiety or weird insects in our house? Answer: Yes. In writing as in career and life I’ve got problems committing to a niche.
But Brought to You by the Letter W does have a unifying theme. Every topic I write about there will relate —even if that relationship is extremely tangential— to a word beginning with the letter “W.” Like Writing, Wellness, and the mystical Woo, and Work, Whimsy, Wisdom, Water, Witticisms as well as questions that start with with words What or Why.
(Is this a bullshit theme created to let me continue to write about anything I want? Absolutely. But weirdly, it already feels constricting, like a waistband that’s a little too tight.)
- PUBLICATION SCHEDULE
This poor nameless, themeless blog has no set publication schedule. As you know, you might receive nothing for months only to have a two day period your inbox gets pelted by a deluge of posts that leads you to wonder if I’m having a manic episode.
Brought to You by the Letter W will be predictable, publishing Weekly, on Wednesdays.
- AUDIO NARRATION
This, I think is one of the main reasons the Substack feels a little shinier. WordPress (the home of this blog) doesn’t yet offer audio narration, but:
Substack lets me to record each post so that folks can listen instead of reading. I’m a reader at heart, but with so much content out there, there’s a lot to be said for plowing through some of it while doing dishes or getting my steps in.
For a number of years, this blog has been a “sneaky blog” — like a beach that’s technically open to the public, but only if you already knows it exists and are willing to walk through what feels like someone’s private yard to get there. It’s given me a sense of safety. Even if I veer into personal topics, it doesn’t feel too vulnerable. It’s not like a real social media platform.
Substack is more like a real social media platform. It talks a lot about building audience and community. It plants big “subscribe” buttons in one’s posts. When I choose Substack, I am basically saying, I hope some readers find me. I hope they like me. I hope I like them back. All of which feels weird and vulnerable— like joining a dating app.
Are any of these reasons good enough for the voice in my head? Maybe not, but as the voice says, Well, I can see you’re just going to do it anyway. (Sigh).
Which is true. I am doing it anyway. In fact, I’ve already started my Substack.
And so I think “we should talk.” The dating app metaphor is apt, because it kind of feels like I’m cheating on this blog. But I’ll reframe that to say: I’m opening up the relationship. I’m planning to have, for the moment, two blogs.
What does it all this mean for this blog?
Will I keep writing this blog? Apparently so. I spend a way too much time on this blog processing my feelings about blogging… which is not a topic that starts with the letter “W.”
Which one will be the primary relationship? I don’t know. This one still feels more intimate, the circle of readers is smaller and non-judgy. I feel a little stiff an self-conscious over on the Substack, which has (slightly) more readers already. But, with the consistency of every Wednesday, I’ll get more comfortable with it over time.
Will I crosspost between the this blog and the newsletter so that subscribers to both get redundant content? Maybeeee sometimes? What seems more likely is that I’ll be doing some stealing and reworking material back and forth. For instance, I started working on this post, and then used some of the draft in last week’s newsletter. But today’s newsletter doesn’t have any cross-over material. Down the line, I can imagine occasionally re-publishing an old post from this blog to the newsletter if I get very busy and don’t have time to write something new. I’m already finding out how quickly Wednesdays roll around each week.
Overall, I think is that the newsletter will have some incarnations and experiments. But this blog has enough history that it will probably stay what it is, which is to say, a bit sporadic and haphazard, but definitely itself.
It will remain my first-blog-love.