I did a piece recently, reminiscing about my long-passed Aunt Carrie (“A Cane, A Hatchet, And A Corncob Pipe”) and some of the wisdom she imparted to me, especially as it pertains to the best way to learn new things, as she taught me the importance of keeping my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut. Admittedly, never able to fully internalize the “keep my mouth shut” part, the “eyes and ears” part DID stick, by and large, and after a year and a half here on Substack with the Hermit Chronicles effort, it occurred to me this morning to say a few things about my experience a year and a half in.
First of all, and most importantly, I am deeply humbled by and incredibly grateful for the subscribers (over 90 now) that have been willing to invest some of their precious and valuable time poking around my little corner of the interwebs and engaging in conversation from time to time; my first lesson here is that engagement is the foundation upon which everything else we do as writers is built. Any good writer worth his or her salt talks to themselves on a regular basis, and without subscribers to interact with, there’s really no need to talk to yourself out loud on a website with millions of people who have plenty of other things to do with their day.
The other side of that coin suggests that if we are here to share the products of our labor with others, it’s just good damn manners to share the products of the labor of others whom you admire and respect and want likewise to support and encourage as they labor at their own efforts and chase their own dreams.
To be sure, there will always be creators whose particular craft is far better than yours and even some whose efforts might be lacking. Still, since we are here to share, not compete, we should be both teaching and learning, and we do just as much of a service to ourselves as we do for everyone else by doing so, as far as I’m concerned. A LIKE lets people know you saw them, and a comment assures the Creator that they captured your attention. Further, a share, restacks, or recommendations is how you tell your own people they should consider giving someone else a closer look. On this platform, at least, it’s the way you build and grow communities.
No, what I have said here is not my way of blowing smoke up the collective skirts of the Substack overlords; with all that has been thus far good, there is a caveat to this little group hug that I think needs to be mentioned. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, as much as I appreciate the paywall aspect of this platform (even though I consciously decided not to use it at Hermit Chronicles), a recent entry from Substack Reads gave me pause enough that I think it’s worth a quick observation on the matter.
There are several pages I happily pay a subscription fee to access, even though I don’t have a lot of money because I want to show my support and encourage them to keep working at their craft. I understand there is a growing number of people migrating to Substack because it is a means by which they can generate an income, and, as I said, this is a great feature of the platform. It doesn’t hurt that the platform gets 20% of the take, and I don’t begrudge either side of this financial arrangement for what they are doing. Groupie-level fan of this platform that I am, though, I’ll hate myself if I wait until it’s too late to suggest that sometimes a poorly thought-out zeal for lightspeed success runs the risk of befalling the same fate as those you set out to replace.
We all agree that Twitter sucks now (I thought as much back when I got my first account 17 years ago), and Substack truly does offer people an alternative- free and paid alike- where free speech is respected, quality content is appreciated, and communities can be established and allowed to grow and flourish. One of the most damnable things about Twitter has always been that feeling that you are only allowed to be there to listen, that the pre-Musk blue check afforded you Fame and notoriety you weren’t allowed to have unless you had a jillion followers, and that you’re only job was to sit and listen at the feet of the speaker like a child at Granny’s heel in front of the fireplace. Fuck that and fuck them.
My third lesson, and the one I’ll close this with, is that a balance between paid and unpaid efforts must be carefully struck to ensure that every platform user believes they are on equal footing with everyone else. Consumers can be fickle bitches, and a long enough abandonment of foundational principles can get pretty damn ugly pretty damn fast. The substack read I mentioned above celebrates the arrival of new migrants to the platform. Many of these new arrivals are well known and have a great deal of notoriety and are coming over to share their work and get paid for it, which is fine and allows Substack to generate more revenue, which is also fine.
The contributions of the little people helped this platform get where it is today, well enough positioned to offer a home to those of great fame or notoriety. Still, there could be a rapid devaluation of the little people if the platform overlords lose sight of that. There is a healthy balance here today, but if the day comes that the only people seen and heard are those with the most fame and notoriety ) formerly known as blue checks), yet another set of lessons will have failed to be learned. It is far better to invest in unknown talent than it will ever be in kissing the ass of talent that can’t be bothered with acknowledging you even exist.