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If a newsletter falls and no one is around to read it, does anybody care?
Spoiler alert: the writer does
I didn’t send out a newsletter last week and nobody seemed to notice. Except my wife and my mom. Granted, they are two of the most important people in my life. And I assume they feel similarly about me. I’m grateful that they care and want to read what I publish each week.
But for the rest of the—*checks Substack dashboard*—2,469 of you, umm, what the hell?
I know, I know, we all have too many entertainment options these days. It’s easy for an itty bitty newsletter writer like myself to get lost in the mix of other Substacks, Instagram, Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, Max, Apple TV+, Hulu, and on and on. We’re all competing to cure your boredom, and I get that I’m not top of mind for most of you.
It’s a net positive that there are so many ways people can create and express themselves nowadays without needing to be picked by some gatekeeper like a book publisher, record label, or whatever. You can spin up a Substack and publish your words to the internet in minutes. And like, not even that many minutes. Go ahead, try it right now. I bet you can go from having no Substack to seeing your words published in a super basic Substack newsletter within five minutes. That’s incredible! Share a link to it in the comments and how long it took you if you try it. It used to be way harder to get that sort of thing set up. And it used to be even harder than that to find yourself lucky enough to be picked by a gatekeeper and get your creations in front of other people.
That’s great and all, but it also means there’s way more noise out there. And that means there’s a ton of people creating amazing art that barely anyone is seeing.
When I step back and consider all the variables, I’m astounded that 2,469 of you even found me. I’m sure some of you wondered why my newsletter issue didn’t magically get delivered to your inbox last Saturday morning. But still, it would've been nice if just one of you mentioned it to me. This isn’t an elaborate way of getting you to say you thought of me last week in the comments. But it’s also not not that.
I’ve seen and heard lots of newsletter writers talk about hitting the magical 1,000 subscriber number. They describe it as if something shifts with that number. Growth comes more easily. There’s more word of mouth. And that’s easy to misinterpret as a lot more people who care about what you have to say. When your writing is about to be published, you picture a crowd of people in the audience waiting for you, the main attraction, to grace them with your presence and brilliance. You’ll hop on stage and dazzle them with your thoughts. But it’s more like you’re one of the artists that’s in tiny print on one of those concert posters filled with a massive list of performers where the big-named artists literally have bigger print. You’re relegated to some side stage next to a huge row of portapotties. And if you have to cancel your show, everyone just walks over to a different stage.
I know how I felt last week was mostly a problem of my own creation. I was the one who decided to skip sending it out. I could’ve cued up another re-run piece like I did the week before. There were a few reasons why I didn’t send anything. I was on a trip to Lake Tahoe to attend a celebration of life event, I had just come off an intense work week and I still had some work to do while on the trip, and I’ve been feeling a bit creatively stuck recently.
But part of me was also curious if anyone would notice.
Once, back when this newsletter was a little baby with around 2,269 less of you, I forgot to schedule the email to go out at my usual 8:08 am PT time. At 8:10 am, I was brushing my teeth when I saw a push notification on my iPhone. It was a DM from a subscriber on Twitter asking me if everything was okay because she hadn’t seen my newsletter yet. As I was rushing to my computer to open the Substack dashboard and send it off, a friend from a writing community messaged me on Slack and asked me the same thing. I was thankful that they both pinged me, and also blown away that they were spending their morning waiting to read my newsletter.
So there I was last Saturday, spending time in beautiful Lake Tahoe with people that I love, and at the same time I was occasionally checking my phone, secretly hoping some random stranger would reach out and ask me if I was okay. I mean, how sad and pathetic is that? Actually, please don’t answer that question.
The reality is that nobody will ever care about my writing as much as I do. There’s a reason why I spend so much of my time attempting to get my words just right. There’s a reason I feel the pull to express myself in this way, despite the incredibly low pay. There’s a reason I want to keep telling my stories.
Those reasons aren’t always obvious to me at any given moment. Sometimes I question why I even bother writing anything at all—why I stay up late on a Friday night (like I am right now) writing, editing, and revising my work until it’s ready—or good enough—to publish the next day. Yet I keep finding myself drawn to this way of expressing myself—drawn to those fleeting moments when words effortlessly flow out of the depths of my brain and body.
You’d think that finding joy and purpose in the writing itself would fulfill me. You’d think that on a day when I get some good writing done I’d go about the rest of it feeling proud and satisfied that I accomplished something.
It’s like when people describe how going to the gym makes them feel great for the rest of the day. But you know and I know that what they really want is someone to notice that they’re in better shape. That their hard work is paying off.
And all I want sometimes is for someone to notice me too.
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