May 12, 2022 • 4M

Learnings from one year of Writer Office Hours

Thousands of Substack writers met over the course of the year. Here we share their advice in the form of a well known song: Everybody’s free (to connect with each other).

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The writer community and the Substack team gather together in a discussion thread to share knowledge and answer questions weekly on Thursdays.
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One year ago this week, writers and the Substack team started gathering in weekly Office Hours discussion threads together for the first time. In 38 threads with tens of thousands of comments, writers shared bold ambitions for publishing on Substack, swapped sharp insights on growing an engaged email list, and celebrated milestones like going paid.

A year in and the discussion threads continue, with writers learning and navigating a new chapter for online publishing. Together through Office Hours, Substack writers have authored advice for the future.

In 1997, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote an essay as a hypothetical commencement speech entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” Going viral, the essay was adapted and shared as a spoken word song by Baz Luhrmann. “Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” was an instant hit. 

Today, we bring you Substack’s remix from lessons and advice writers have shared over the past year in Office Hours read by Jackie Dana, one of the generous Office Hours stewards.

Jackie Dana illustrated by Jo Petroni.

Everybody’s free (to connect with each other)

Writers and readers of the class of '22:
Connect with each other. 

If we could offer you only one tip for the future, connecting with each other would be it. The long term effects of engaging have been proved by data scientists whereas the rest of our advice has no basis more reliable than our own meandering experience. On behalf of the writers of Substack, we will dispense this advice now:

Don't wait for your writing to be perfect, or the time to be just right. Neither will happen. Your publication will likely be quiet for a while. Keep going anyway. Building something good takes time. The only real short cut is luck, and that’s no real strategy. 

Don't try to do this alone. The actual writing part usually has to be done alone, with distractions turned off and a faintly unhealthy supply of coffee to hand. There's usually no getting around that. But the part where you're coming up with ideas, or trying to think bigger and bolstering your confidence and hopes...don't try to do that just by sitting by yourself. If you need the door closed when you're writing, try flinging it open when you're not. 

Learn wildly. Connect madly. Allow yourself to be corrected. Being gracious in the face of criticism is a good way to take the venom out of it. And make lots of good friends who are doing something like what you're doing.  As writers, we are all in this together so we need to do our best to help each other grow and succeed. 

Slow and steady is entirely normal growth. Some people come to Substack with an enormous platform already. Some people grow very quickly for a variety of reasons (very few of which are actually controllable). The vast majority of us just plug along, trying different things, without ever having insane overnight success. Doesn't mean you can't be successful, it just means "slow and steady" is entirely normal growth, and success is subjective and depends on your own personal newsletter and goals.

Extra slow days shall pass. It's hard but just keep writing good copy during the plateaus. They too will end.

Dive deep into your niche. The average person on the street may not understand the appeal of your Substack, but you'll gain loyal subscribers and face less competition than if you go mainstream. 

Don't feed trolls. Don't allow them to ruin your day. Just block them and move on.

Celebrate at milsteones. Exclaim: Bravo!!!!! This is awesome! Way to go! That's huge - congrats!!!

Remember: engagement is not just likes and comments, but also conversations between you and your reader in their inbox. Ask questions. Propose ideas. Agree. Disagree. Agree to disagree.

Be careful with the advice you take to heart and put in practice. You might find yourself saying, “I actually didn't follow that advice, and I'm happy I didn't.”

But trust us on connecting with others.

Office Hours stewards and top participants illustrated by Jo Petroni.

We also want to take a moment to pause and say thank you to the writers who have made helping other writers at Office Hours this year a central rhythm in their week by attending the majority of sessions, and generously answering other writers questions. We hope you'll join us in giving the following writers a virtual applause.

Jackie Dana, Cole Noble, Sarah Miller, Alison Acheson, Elizabeth Held, Michael Fritzell, Geoffrey Golden, Mike Sowden, E. Jean Carroll, Melanie Newfield, YouTopian Journey, Paul Macko, Joan Demartin, Chevanne, Lloyd Lemons, Karen Hoffman, moviewise, Петър, Emily Miller, Heather Johnston Brebaugh, Linda Tapp, Rishikesh Sreehari, and Asha Sanaker.

Join us for Office Hours today 

Each week on Thursdays, we gather the writer community and members of our Community, Product, and Writer Development teams together in a written discussion thread like this one to answer writer questions for an hour. 

Whether you are returning to the thread to celebrate one year of Office Hours or joining for the first time, we hope to see you today. Together we will answer your questions on publishing, growing, or going paid on Substack.

Save Office Hours to your calendar

Do you have a favorite memory from Office Hours?

A sharp insight that you learned that you’ve taken with you? Someone you met in the discussion threads that you’ve stayed in touch with? We’d love to hear about it in celebration of one years of hosting Office Hours.

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