Why I made a Substack
And not cautiously, but head-first, with abandon
When I first made a go at writing full-time, I totally pooh-poohed having a website, a social media presence, and all the other things that you're supposed to do when you are trying to write for a broader audience. I eventually did, tentatively, feeling like I’d sold a little piece of my soul to do so. But I was an idiot. It's been about four years since I started adeepersouth.com and it has been a wonderful experience. I would say that I wish I’d started it earlier, but in truth it came along at just the right time. I love being able to write the way I want, integrating words and images in a way that has become my creative M.O. I will continue to write at a adeepersouth.com and publish essays there because it is a venue that allows me to write the kind of essays that I want to make.
But, as I’m sure you will understand, doing volunteer work for free is not a sustainable business model. Substack is an exciting venture that more and more writers are turning to as a way of 1) engaging more directly with their audience, 2) having greater control over their create creative work, 3) disseminating it more broadly, and 4) making an income. The founders of Substack are committed to writers in ways that leadership of no other platform is, really. I have a number of friends who have figured this out started Substacks in the last year or two, but very recently two factors persuaded me to start one of my own.
The first was this essay by Ted Gioia. Ted (whose brother Dana is one of my favorite contemporary poets) publishes a regular newsletter called The Honest Broker, which is one of the best things on the Internet. Ted, who is an authority on jazz and a jazz musician himself, writes regularly about the music business and the publishing industry. He recently gave 10 reasons why he will be publishing his next book on Substack (not to the exclusion of publishing in the traditional way). And by reason number 2, I was 95% on board. By the end, it was a no-brainer.
The second reason I was convinced this might be the venue for me was even more simple: George Saunders has a Substack (and it is, as you might expect, great). So if one of the greatest living writers of creative fiction in an America has one of these things, I have no reason to be a dumb snob about it.
What I just did in the previous paragraph is an additional reason to be writing on this platform. I just shared two other Substack newsletters, which seems pretty simple and unremarkable, but this is how the Substack ecosystem works. About a third of new Substack subscriptions come about within this ecosystem (as in, clicking on my link to George Saunder’s SS and subscribing, which you should do). The other ways we have traditionally shared our work online—through Twitter or Facebook or Instagram—are both incredibly frustrating and increasingly pointless. And I will not speak for anyone else, but I did not get into the practice of writing just to read my own work, but to share it with others. This platform will help me be able to do that. (And yes, it will (I hope) also help me to pay my bills.)
But another reason I’ve been drawn here is that it will force me to write more regularly, and to be accountable to the people (like you, maybe) who have been so supportive of my work, and who have sometimes said to me, “I wish you would write more often.” I have heard you! What’s more, having that external accountability system is especially useful for people who struggle with executive function, like me!
So today, I am sending off one book manuscript to the printers, and beginning this new journey with you all. I am going to be writing weekly, not just at random times throughout the year. I am going to be writing more of the sort of essays I have been writing for ADS, but also from some new angles, taking some unexpected detours. As I have come to realize, this kind of “wandering” is more than just a hobby for me or a way of doing a road trip. Here is a taste of what I mean, from the preface to my forthcoming collection of photography, THE ROAD TO UNFORGETTING:
I have come to think of the ethos of these road trips as less a form of tourism than as a kind of spiritual exercise. The operative principle of this exercise is a voluntary assent to uncertainty, in the trust that the act of yielding mastery in this small way can be liberating. This act of assent can be highly generative. It is both disorienting and exciting to have no idea and no control over what you will come to know (or un-know) about yourself about the world you inhabit. It requires a certain kind of openness to the unplanned, a willingness not to see too far ahead, an ability to bob and weave, to change course on short notice. The learning is in the doing, in the going. This is true not just of road trips, but of life.
That is why I am calling I am calling this new periodical The DETOURIST. Like all my work at A Deeper South, I don’t know where it will go. But that’s the fun part.
[You know what else is fun? BUTTONS! Punch ‘em!👇👇👇]