Things I’ve learned from one year on Substack
Collected lessons, upcoming plans, and a timeline of growth experiments
I’ve long been an inconsistent writer. I don’t follow strict schedules or adhere to content calendars. Over the years, I’ve come to accept my inconsistent ways and work with them rather than against them. I change my mind frequently, doubt certain decisions, adjust my priorities—but I also listen to my body, try to cultivate patience, and favour following my curiosity over getting things done perfectly.
Creativity, after all, has an ebb and flow. We need to respect that our time, capacity and curiosity for things are often tethered to various fluctuations in our life, especially when it comes to nurturing a labour of love or a side project.
And yet, I’ve slowly seen this trait morph throughout my first year on Substack. I now consider myself to be consistently inconsistent.
I credit this to the small percentage of paying readers who have allowed me to prioritise writing a newsletter in a way I previously couldn’t.
Some elements of this newsletter remain inconsistent, like the publication day for the two to three essays I send to all subscribers each month.
What is consistent is what I send to paid subscribers. For the first time in years, I’ve been sending something on the same day, at roughly the same time every week. It’s a way for me to thank my readers for their support, but it has also made me accountable to my own writing goals in a way I haven’t been previously.
In this weekly newsletter, I compile the things I’ve been reading, pondering and trying, alongside notes from the day—personal jottings I had previously kept hidden in my phone. This weekly practice of rifling through my notes has helped me realise life while I live it.
This very discovery helped me clarify what this newsletter is about and how I hope to continue to shape it.
In this anniversary post, I want to reflect on the things that have contributed to my newfound status of Consistently Inconsistent Writer, which I hope are helpful for any labour of love or creative pursuit.
Before I dive in, I also want to say thank you for reading along over the year, and a special thank you to my paid subscribers—you really do make this thing possible!
1. You don’t have to know exactly what a thing is before you begin a thing
While having a clear and compelling pitch for your newsletter and a strategy for getting support from the get-go is no doubt great advice, there are some things we must first begin to discover what they are.
In 2022, I decided to end my long-term project Extraordinary Routines after publishing my first book. Yet I wanted a place for my various musings, experiments and thought ‘scraps’. I didn’t really know what it would be at the beginning, I just wanted it to be broadly on things. So I relaunched the newsletter component of the project as On Things.
I began writing and sharing, and through this act of doing uncovered what it was I wanted to unearth. On Things is about getting curious about the complexities of being alive and creative with the things that make us feel alive. It’s about asking questions rather than pretending to have the answers. It offers a moment to reflect, pause and think deeply.
I wouldn’t have arrived here if I tried to figure it all out before starting. Sometimes we have to start to figure it all out.
2. The antidote to comparison is doing more of what you want to do
Comparison is rife on Substack. Those badges. The milestones. A plethora of writers making a sustainable living, a plethora who aren’t.
I’ve spent a lot of time digging through advice on various threads, reading the immensely valuable Grow profile series, signing up for specific growth newsletters. On a good day, I’ll stumble across helpful gems I can implement (I’ve shared many in the timeline below for paid subscribers), and on a bad day, I find myself falling down the comparison spiral, wondering what I’m doing wrong.
But like many things, such comparison is empty because we can never see the full picture. We don’t know the ins and outs of someone else’s audience, strategy, and marketing. Someone could have been writing more consistently for more years, or had a newsletter featured in the media or by Substack. They could have different values, drives, ambitions, resources, support, time, experience.
I’m not sure how many times I’ll have to remind myself of this, but the only thing that matters is what we do with the things we have.
The best advice I’ve stumbled upon came fromof , whose newsletter is one of the most charming and intriguing I’ve read. She said in a Grow feature, “My newsletter really started growing after I adopted a consistent schedule and format while doubling down on my commitment to create the newsletter I’d want to read—rather than trying to please others.”
I think such commitment to desire is palpable as a reader. It’s the antidote to comparison, too. The more we double down on what we want to do, rather than trying to keep up with trends or please others, the more content we feel with what we are doing—and the more content we feel with what we are doing, the less we compare ourselves to others.
3. Beware of the more, more, more trap
When we compare ourselves or solely focus on growth and numbers, we can fall into a more, more, more trap. We might aim to get the badge to declare we have hundreds of paid subscribers, and then covet the one for thousands of subscribers, and so on and so on, looking upward and upward. A newsletter or project becomes a vehicle for external validation rather than exploring curiosities and creative expression.
While yes, we might get more subscribers by offering more, this model can be unsustainable as you may need more time and capacity to do the extra work to keep those subscribers.
I’ve been mindful of expanding the offerings of this newsletter to match the growth of the newsletter. This has meant that I’ve had to be patient with new things I want to do, and adjust my goals accordingly.
To avoid the more, more, more trap, I’ve preferred a method of small experiments to test whether readers are interested in something, and whether my own interest in something is sustainable.
For example, next month I will launch an interview series. If this turns out to be sustainable in the support from readers and my own curiosity, it’s something I can continue.
Launching something we might decide to retire can be daunting, but as independent writers, we need to remain nimble, adapt and demonstrate that it’s okay to try things even if they don’t work out.
4. Define your own metrics of success
When it comes to paying subscribers, Substack suggests 10% of your audience is a good aim.
My figure is significantly lower than this (closer to 3%), which begs the question, how do you define your own metrics of success?
Yes, I aim to make this newsletter a sustainable revenue stream and reach that magical 10%, but that’s different from my measure of success.
My measure of success is not a percentage but a feeling—it’s to enjoy what I set out to do.
It’s to make the newsletter I want to read and to enjoy making that newsletter. It’s to explore my curiosities, stumbles and questions, and invite others to reflect on those things too. In place of rigid content plans, I focus on keeping my promise to “write in the gush, the throb, the flood of the moment…without waiting for a fit time or place,” as Walt Whitman put it.
A measure of success tied to a feeling rather than a number feels enlivening precisely because it’s about what makes you come alive rather than what you think people will want.
There might be plateaus when it comes to audience growth (I go into those details in the timeline below), but when it comes to creating the thing you want to see in the world, that kind of growth is limitless.
So even as I approach this anniversary falling short of numerical goals, I’m delighting in this thing anyway and excited to see what’s to come in this second year.
Things to come in year two
I’m immensely grateful to my paid subscribers and the experiments their support has enabled!
To sustain this newsletter, I require more support to write regular essays and introduce new things.
I am 2% short of my goal for paid subscribers (more on my goals in the timeline below).
If just 200 more people choose to become paid subscribers, On Things can explore more of the complexities of being alive and the things that make us feel alive.
If my writing resonates and inspires, please consider supporting this newsletter so it can continue to flourish in year two. Paid subscribers receive the following things:
1. Regular bonuses
While the main incentive for many paid subscribers is to support my writing, I pledge to continue to offer sustainable bonuses including:
New things as subscriber numbers grow
There’s also a Believer in things option for USD $100/year with an optional special bonus. As a thank you, Believers can choose to receive a personalised list of things to read, ponder and do tailored to the theme of your choice (some examples include a curated list for heartbreak, decision-making, or joy—but all themes welcome!)
2. Interviews coming soon
My upcoming interview series is for paid subscribers only. More on that soon!
3. Lock in your support for less than $1 a week
As the newsletter expands its offering, there will be times I need to adjust the pricing to ensure it is sustainable for me to continue as an independent writer.
By signing up now you lock in the price of $6USD/month or $50US/year for as long as you keep your subscription active.
A timeline of things I’ve tried to help grow my newsletter
The section below is reserved for paid subscribers who are curious to take a behind-the-scenes peep at the experiments I’ve tried for the newsletter.
It includes a timeline, personal targets and growth milestones alongside some of the expert advice I’ve received along the way.
If you haven’t already, sign up today to view the timeline below as well as peruse the newsletter archive