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Dear writer: Advice on creating a sacred writing space
On moving away from measures, writing for oneself, and valuing words as enough
We asked, who writes on Substack, for advice on making her new Substack sustainable, slowly and steadily cultivating a sacred space for exploring writing and ideas, and building her community.
Jamie is an author, designer, digital course creator, and creative consultant living in Los Angeles. Her debut novel, Main Character Energy, was published in September 2023 by the HarperCollins imprint Park Row Books. Her digital course, Live with Intention, has helped over 1,300 people live more intentional lives. Her work has appeared in the HuffPost, Teen Vogue, and POPSUGAR and been shared by millions online. Read on for Jamie’s advice, or listen to her read it aloud above.
Dear writer, how do you make Substack a sacred space?
Back in 2021, my Instagram took off in a way that I thought I always wanted. I got the infamous “k” in my follower number. I got the blue check that I didn’t even have to pay for. It felt like the thing I was supposed to want the most—more and more and more.
But the more my followers grew, the less I felt like I could be my whole self on Instagram. The platform stopped showing my work to the people who followed me, probably hoping I’d start feeding them ad dollars to reach the followers I just got. I have always tried not to let numbers dictate anything I do. It has always been about feeling heard and seen and, in turn, allowing others to feel heard and seen.
The more it grew, the less of a community it felt like I had. It stopped feeling like we had this like-minded little coven of people who can talk self-growth and cool shows and good books, and contain dimension. Instead, I was deemed a “content creator” and felt like the me behind the posts got lost. I felt, maybe for the first time ever, that in order to keep my “engagement,” I’d have to strategize on how to stay “relevant.” These are terms I loathe in the most curmudgeonly of ways. I started my Instagram to share my writing, and that’s all I wanted to do—get my writing out there in the most effective way.
I hesitated about starting a Substack because I really didn’t want another place to be measured, to try to get followers, to have to keep up and show up and relentlessly give.
When I finally decided to publish my Substack, I gave myself a list of informal guidelines. I wouldn’t get caught up in the numbers, or compare my numbers to other people’s, or try to get paid subscribers in any kind of aggressive way. I gave myself permission to start without a plan or strategy. I allowed it to be a little imperfect, to let my heart’s desire guide where I took my Substack over “what works” and “how to grow.” I’ve done that. I’ve done the metric growth. I’ve had the viral moments. It’s entirely too empty to continue to pursue it.
I decided I’d find my voice on Substack with what I felt called to share. It’s not like I haven’t done that on social media. It’s just that I feel that on social media, the pressure to keep up with what’s trending and cool and the next best thing is so immense it can be hard to stay in your own lane.
I decided I’d stay in my lane here at Substack. I’d write for me, not for the platform. I’d allow my curiosity to guide me. I’d make sure I wouldn’t feel boxed in or resentful of a self-imposed strategy designed to grow all the time. Maybe growing to big numbers isn’t really as good as it seems.
I decided I’d let the strategy, if there was ever going to be one, unfold, instead of forcing it open.
I want my Substack to feel like a sacred place, where I and my subscribers can have a respite from the noise. I still do that on my Instagram, but it feels like my longer-form thoughts don’t have a place there, like I always need to condense them, make them prettier, add music, make them more appealing.
It feels like on every social platform, the words are never enough.
But here, I want the words to be enough.
To not need to have a perfect picture to make people stop scrolling, or get it onto a Reel, or limit the caption or figure out a hashtag. But just write. And value my own words again, just as they are. Because they are enough.
I am excited to return to the writing here, my first love.
Words have always been sacred to me. They have always been enough. I don’t need all the splash and filter. I just want something real and pure, to read something that isn’t trying to go viral. I want to get a shift of insight, to be delighted, to go inside the mind of someone and think, “Wow, how lovely their brain is.”
Writing is sacred. It’s important. It’s vital. And it doesn’t need more than this. It stands on its own. In a world obsessed with image, what a revolution to just say: here are my words in black and white, take it or leave it.
What a relief it is from the relentless need to be aesthetically pleasing and present ourselves as branded images. I’m not saying I don’t do it too. I’m just saying it’s nice to be here, having a break from it all.
If you’re inspired by Jamie and ready to write your first Substack post, starting your own publication is just a few clicks away:
This is the latest post in a recurring series of longform writer advice. To see more advice from Substack writers, take a look at previous posts here.
Could you use some advice or inspiration from a fellow writer about creativity, motivation, and the writing life? Submit your question for consideration for a future advice column by leaving it in the comments below.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on October 4 to reflect the writer’s bio.