Everyone can (and should) write online
Yes, you too. And no, this isn't an ad for any new writing course.
Recently, some sensible people have argued that Substack is becoming sort of an MLM or pyramid scheme, in which a whole lot of amateur writers are trying to convince our sucker friends to also become amateur writers by selling them on the idea they can make a living out of writing online if only —and here’s the catch— they subscribe to our own writing.
And yes, there’s some of that, probably more than it’s healthy. To be clear, anyone who tries to sell you on the idea that making a living out of writing online is easy is lying to you, lying to themselves, or both. People far more clever and informed than me have pointed out many times just how brutal the competition is in the writing business. Only a tiny portion of the writers in Substack make any money at all, let alone enough for it to be a significant part of their income. (I’m certainly not one of those.)
And if that’s your game — if you want to break into the writing industry and become the next Pulitzer winner or NYT bestseller— that’s awesome; I really hope you make it. But if that’s not your game, there are still plenty of genuine reasons to write online beyond any financial or professional motivation.
The simplest reason is just that writing is good for you. It makes you a better thinker. Writing about technical topics helps you deepen and consolidate your knowledge. Writing about the state of the world will help you see the bigger picture and figure out what the hell is going on. Writing about your daily struggles and concerns will help you put your problems in perspective and understand how you feel about them. Even writing about mundane things will help you debug your emotions and psyche.
So, just writing for yourself is already a perfectly valid reason. But if you can find a community of 10 or 200 or 1000 readers that resonate with your words and cherish your writing, that’s when the real magic begins. You can think of them as an audience, but you don’t have to. You can also just think of them as a community, a bunch of disparate people who share some common interests or goals.
InI think of my readers primarily as people who want to gain some new understanding about some cool topic I happen to know a bit about. In I see them as a community of people interested in honing their craft in technical writing. In I treat them as explorers of a wonderful and surprising world we’re building together.
In each of these cases, I write primarily for myself, but your presence makes it so much better. Would I still write the same articles, short stories, and essays if no one would read them? Probably not all of it. Some of the things I write are heavily motivated by the feedback you give me. But the vast majority of it is just weird ideas that I want to explore and understand more deeply, and writing is just the best tool for that.
So, I don’t think there’s anything inherently fishy or disingenuous in trying to convince you all to become writers, even if only occasionally. If you are not playing the numbers game, then there is no fixed pie to share —and if you are, well, great for you.
There has never been a better time to start writing online. And I can give you some advice, for sure, but there are others far better equipped than me to do so. Just from the top of my head, check out, , and for some guidance.
So go, start writing online today. You most likely won’t ever make any significant money from it, but who cares?
Being a better writer just means being a better thinker. And everyone would benefit if we all just learned to think better.
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