A public notice in Corktown, beneath the rail overpass, reading "Temporary Trail Closure." It is almost completely unreadable thanks to snow and graffiti.

I still definitely don’t have a newsletter

Should I?

I dunno. All the other writers are doing it. With Substack imploding, only the latest in a long line of “wait, we have to do something about the Nazis?” thought leadership among Big Tech, I started having to track where some of my favourite writers were moving to (and if they weren’t, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to continue to subscribe). It all has me thinking (again) about whether I should be on this bandwagon.

Because everybody’s doing it. An email newsletter is, to working writers, what Xitter was ten years ago, or LiveJournal was before that. Or so it seems.

I’m not really asking for public consultation here; I’m just musing in writing, which is how I generally do it. Pros of getting a newsletter seem to be: getting the word out about your work, developing a following (in other words, all of the usual social media stuff); getting paid to write blog posts (that’s new — and which, this year of all years, has its appeal!).

Cons, I assume, include siphoning off a portion of whatever measure of your available writing time to filling out that newsletter (you’ll note these blog posts are firmly on a “whenever the fuck I feel like it” cadence, which doesn’t feel as completely equable in a paid environment); and as with all content types but social media content types perhaps especially, rewiring the way you think about your own ideas. About which more in a bit.

It’s all wildly quaint and charming when you think about it — kudos everyone, we re-invented RSS feedblogs! — and if the writers I’m reading weren’t so great at it, I probably wouldn’t care. But man, some of the best reading I digested in 2023 as a whole came via somebody or other’s newsletter article. I’ve had things turn up in my inbox that curled my hair, which is nominally very short. Subscribable newsletters, in their current form, feel like the perfected version of the granular, customized internet — like being pen pals with the eight most interesting people in the world, except you don’t have to write anything back. And for some reason they feel guilty about not writing to you enough.

This year I am already 9,000 words deep on a new novel and revising last year’s novel, and developing a new TV series idea alongside the ready-to-pitch one I already have. So, I’m not exactly hurting for things to do with my keyboard. (And as a five-hour group creative writing session on Saturday proved, when I’m done for the day, I am done… like, head-scooped-out-with-a-melon-baller done. Saturday was a 3,000 word day, a first draft of a short story; and after it was on paper I didn’t want to do anything but drool on the couch cushions.)

But let’s think about the way that these content formats rewire the thought processes of the people creating them, or at least, how they do for me. One of the reasons I was ultimately pretty relieved to be done with Xitter was that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the 140- (and later, 280-) character format had completely colonized my entire mode of discourse, and it did it for like ten straight years. It was annoying. It was annoying to be walking down the street and to think of something that fit perfectly into a tweet and have to either a) immediately fire it into the nethersphere or b) at least put it in my drafts to chuckle about later. It was annoying because after a point I couldn’t think (or write, or talk) in anything but tweets.

And it happens (to me) with all of them: if I get really into posting stories about Palestine to my Instagram feed, my brain doesn’t just think of how to format discussion and awareness of Palestine for Instagram, it thinks pretty much exclusively about Palestine, itself in Instagram terms. That’s worrisome. (To use a more benign example, those action figure vacation pics I used to do? They never became the point of the vacations, thank goodness… but they sure changed the way I looked around in the places I visited, day by day.) I slammed the brakes on TikTok before I got adept at any manner of that form, but it was all starting to happen there too; one of the reasons I’m kind of half-assing it on BlueSky since I joined is that I noticed, as recently as last week, that the way I think about engaging on that platform is just not a way I want to think about engaging with anything anymore.

Each of these social environments has its own discursive methodology, and one of the things that becomes blatantly apparent in times of crisis (see above, re: Instagram) is that not all of it fits. The cognitive dissonance of talking about children being blown to bits, on a platform that was built to sell beauty products, is perhaps too much for the container to bear. And why should we be containing it at all, on a platform built to sell beauty products, anyway?

I have to assume that this formative hard-wiring happens with newsletters, just like it happens with everything else (including blogging, heh!) that has these instant, broad, invisible, public audiences. You gain reach but lose nuance. The tool itself becomes the way you discurse, for lack of a word that actually exists. The methodology becomes the material, or the containers shatter (or both).

Conversely, I followed a very different creative process writing this year’s book, last year’s book, or even the first book. Form followed function. These days, when I write, I wander where the needs of the creative identity take me. Thus far, it’s been sublime.

Online material in nearly any format seems to compel function to serve form. Part of this is simply, unavoidably, the practical rules of what I used to do for a living: digital product management (the stable version of it, anyway) requires the creation of reusable boxes that can be filled over and over and over again the same way, not torn down and rebuilt every time the creative spirit meanders in a different direction. (And believe me, I know: I worked for the most meandery creatives in the history of God’s creation.) Magic requires containment, this I know; but I think it needs a bit less containment than social platforming gives it by default.

Anyway. I still don’t have a newsletter. I suppose I will continue to think about it.