Out of office: How writers on Substack approach taking time off
Taking time off as an independent writer can be tricky.
Writers who keep to a steady drumbeat of posts feel unsure about breaking the rhythm, or not offering the value to their readers that they promised.
But we encourage writers on Substack to find ways to take some well-earned days away from the desk and recharge their batteries. Here’s what we’ve learned from writers who have paused their publishing flow.
Are you planning time off and to let your readers know? Share your thoughts in the comments and link to any great ideas you’ve seen in the wild.
Let your readers know
No matter your beat, taking time off is a good thing. Rest helps writers to avoid burnout and be able to keep on writing for the rest of the year.
But the jury is out on whether to backfill and schedule posts (a mammoth effort) or let readers know and mute all messages and devices.
PTO policy: Each year, I take four weeks off. During those weeks, you’ll receive no new posts. However, during other weeks, you’ll receive two or more issues. This way, you will receive at least 100 posts over the course of the year. The time off helps me recharge and write better stuff the rest of the year. ✨
Lyz Lenz in her Substack Men Yell at Me offers a good in-post boilerplate on letting readers know what she will, and won’t, be doing in her time away:
I am taking a break the week of July 24. No newsletter and no Twitter. I’ll probably be on the Discord, though.
On July 14, I’ll be in conversation with Iowa gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear from 6-7:30 in Iowa City on the rooftop of the Chauncy. You do need tickets.
Read the full post:
For more than two years now—two years and 101 days to be exact—I haven’t taken a break from this first daily, then weekly newsletter. Not on holidays, not when I was sick. The work has been an anchor for me, and this beloved community—such a buoy. But on the heels of this most recent 100-day project, and as I prepare to resume chemotherapy, I’ve decided to take a longer break, to lie fallow for a few weeks, to rest. It’s such an important part of the creative process, and I’m excited to return in August refreshed and renewed, with new opportunities for inspiration and connection for our community. I will be keeping up with my daily journaling, and I hope you will too. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, I’ve included some favorite evergreen prompts at the bottom of this newsletter.
Creative ways to fill the void
Share what you are reading
Before taking a summer break, writer Paul Kingsnorth published a roundup of summer reads and podcasts for subscribers:
While I’m away on essay hiatus for a few weeks, I wanted to offer you a few other things to read which have made me think recently, plus a couple of new podcasts of mine which might be of interest.
Invite guest writers and editors into your publication
Haley Nahman of Sunday newsletter Maybe Baby writes a Letter from the Editor about deciding how to “cover” her time away. She invites guest editors to do curatorial roundups and reflects on all the writing she’s done:
I’m here to say hello and to let you know that I’ll be publishing a little differently this month. I’m typically pretty strict about my schedule (still waiting on my A+ grade from Substack…), but I’ve also learned I need some time away from the churn a couple times a year. If I don’t take it, the newsletter starts to suck. Or I just start to feel bad, which is kind of the same thing.
…I’ve also invited five friends with fun taste to do guest curations for my Friday recommendation newsletters, i.e. “15 things I consumed this week,” for July. The first guest list hit your inbox last Friday—hope you loved him as much as I do. I’ll be back in biz at the end of the month, in time for Dear Baby and Dear Danny.
Recommend other Substacks to read
She says, “Expedite is a solo operation, and I, like all humans, need to take occasional breaks. I don’t ever pause paid subscriptions during these planned breaks. Instead, I offer a short note at the top of the last newsletter before the break informing readers I’m taking time away—no apologies, no unnecessary details, just the facts: ‘I’m taking a break next week and Expedite will be back on XX date.’ I’ve never received negative feedback for this approach, and I’ve been writing a weekly newsletter for almost 10 years. I also very rarely take more than one week off from Expedite at a time. Since I decided to skip two weeks to travel, I felt I should give my readers something—in this case, it was linking to three newsletters I enjoy that happen to be written by fellow Substack food fellows. There was no quid pro quo for these links—they’re newsletters on topics that are adjacent to mine, and I figured my readers would find them valuable.
In the past, I’ve also pre-scheduled ‘greatest hits’ posts to cover my absence. I did this most recently when I caught Covid a month ago. I do this very, very sparingly. Since I write about the news, I try not to schedule too many ‘filler’ posts. My audience expects news and analysis, so it’s better for the Expedite brand if I simply skip weeks rather than filling them with potentially stale content.
I’d advise other writers with a regular cadence to alert their audience when they’re planning a break, in whatever voice and style makes sense for their specific newsletter. I’d also advise them not to feel guilty about taking a break!”
Did you know you can schedule posts on Substack? Note: The time that you select correlates with whatever time zone your computer is set to.
Read more: How do I schedule a post for a future date?
How are you sharing word of your vacation with readers? Drop us a note in a comment, from wherever in the world you might be.