How to Write and Thrive on Substack: an Interview with Paulina Pinsky
by Writing Workshops Staff
4 weeks ago
Are you ready to dive headfirst into the world of Substack, the platform that's empowering writers to share their stories and insights directly with their readers?
Meet Paulina Pinksy, an accomplished writer, educator, and former figure skater based in Los Angeles. With an MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from Columbia University and a successful Substack newsletter, "newly sober," launched in February 2022, Paulina brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table. Paulina's personal essays have been published by Narratively, Human Parts, Slackjaw Humor, Columbia Journal, and HuffPo Women. Moreover, as the co-author of It Doesn't Have To Be Awkward, a teen guide to consent published by HMH, she's well-versed in the art of crafting engaging and impactful content.
In Paulina's upcoming Start Your Own Substack 4-Week Zoom Workshop, she will guide you through the intricate landscape of Substack. This course is not just about creating a newsletter; it's about immersing yourself in a thriving community of writers and sending your unique voice directly to your readers' inboxes.
Over four weeks, Paulina will demystify the process, helping you discover your niche, draft your bio and eye-catching graphics, establish your publishing schedule, and learn the tips and tricks that make Substack a haven for writers.
Through guest speakers like Tatiana Gallardo of Brazenface and her own insights from the Substack Grow program, Paulina will empower you to make your Substack journey a resounding success.
WW: With the digital landscape constantly evolving, why do you think newsletters, particularly on platforms like Substack, have surged in popularity? What unique benefits do they offer writers compared to traditional blogging or social media?
PP: Having your own newsletter is like having your own publication, except that you don't have to wait for anybody else. No rejection. Just a self-determined publishing schedule in whatever niche you find yourself in. Plus, Substack is a unique platform-- for writers by writers, Substack wants writers to succeed. Whether it's their newsletters highlighting writers or their constant evaluation of how to help writers grow, they are committed to each and every writer on their platform. But also, it's both a publishing platform and a newsletter-- so unlike any other newsletter platform, your writer isn't just existing in your reader's inbox. There is a thriving writing community on Substack, where your newsletter can be discovered by other Substack writers and readers.
WW: Every journey has its challenges. What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when starting your own Substack, and how did you overcome it? Conversely, what has been one of your most rewarding experiences since launching "newly sober"?
PP: In the beginning, adhering to a consistent publishing schedule was difficult. Finding time to write, then send it out at the same time every week, felt impossible-- probably because I was less than 90 days sober. I do not recommend starting a newsletter when you are newly sober-- my brain was mush. However, Substack recommends a consistent publishing schedule. Once I committed to a weekly publishing schedule, it felt easier-- both me and my readers had the same deadline.
Overall, having weekly documentation of my first year sober is incredibly rewarding. If only to see my own insanity (which I can laugh at now). And the friends I've made? The best.
WW: The workshop is divided into four carefully structured weeks. How did you decide on this progression, and how do you believe this systematic approach benefits participants?
PP: So often, when writers get excited about a newsletter idea, they barge ahead and start a newsletter without a plan-- but after the first or second newsletter, they putter out, never to publish again.
I want my students to take their time getting started. Excitement is short-lived, and understanding your project and where your newsletter exists in the Substack landscape will help build a strong foundation that lasts for months and years to come.
WW: You've arranged for guest writers, like Tatiana Gallardo of Brazenface, to share their Substack experiences. How important do you think it is for new writers to hear from those who've been in the trenches, and what do you hope they take away from these sessions?
PP: Substack is illusive until you've talked to someone who has done it successfully. Tatiana is a brilliant example of someone who has successfully built a Substack newsletter, all the while expanding her creative career. Ultimately, experienced Substack writers are here to show you: Substack is possible, if only if you figure out how to make it work for you.
WW: From your experience, how vital is it for a writer to have a defined niche on a platform like Substack?
PP: The more you understand where your newsletter is situated within the Substack landscape, the more potential there is for growth. If only because you have the opportunity to Subscribe to other writers who write in your niche or even collaborate with them. But more than that, the more narrow your focus, the more space you have to explore in your newsletter.
WW: You'll be sharing insights from the Substack Grow program. Can you give us a teaser about one invaluable tip or lesson you gained from that program that new writers can look forward to?
PP: Do not underestimate the power of a consistent publishing schedule. Not only does a publishing schedule teach your reader what to expect, but it is the main way to determine consistent growth-- the more you write, the more readers will find you. A consistent publishing isn't just for you-- it's for the readers who may potentially find you.
WW: One of the course takeaways touches upon the decision between a paid versus a free Substack. From your perspective, what factors should a writer consider when making this decision?
PP: Going paid is more about giving extra perks than hiding an entire newsletter behind a paywall. In fact, Substack suggests that the majority of the letter-- the meat of it-- should sit in front of the paywall.
When Tatiana and I went paid, we were both a bundle of nerves. When she comes, I hope to unpack the feelings involved with going paid-- and if it's worth it.
WW: Your course emphasizes community growth and making connections on Substack. How has the Substack community influenced your own writing journey, and why do you stress the importance of building these connections for new writers?
PP: Substack is the best social media platform because everyone reads the entire post and everyone wants each other to succeed. Not only have I built friendships on that platform, but Recommended Lists yield way more subscribers than you'd think. If it's new subscribers or shared or guest posts, there are so many ways to collaborate in a way that is liberating and enriching. Everyone revels in each other's success, and it's easy to share that success on Substack.
WW: As writers complete your 4-week workshop and embark on their own Substack adventures, what advice would you give them for staying motivated and consistent in their newsletter endeavors, especially during times when they might question their direction or face writer's block?
PP: ROUTINE. ROUTINE. ROUTINE. It will help your creative practice flourish-- it will not stifle it.
The best thing you can do is be systematic about your writing. Even if you have nothing to say? Sit down. Set the time aside every week. And of course, read! Read other Substacks-- books in your niche. And when in doubt? Ask a friend to guest post if you're facing a particularly busy week or feeling uninspired. This is yet another way that building a community on Substack will help your Substack succeed.
You can learn more about Paulina's upcoming Start Your Own Substack 4-Week Zoom Workshop, and enroll if you're interested. We would be honored to write with you this year! So, what are you waiting for? Join Paulina Pinksy on this exciting adventure and gain the tools you need to flourish in the world of Substack, where your words can make a profound impact.
Instructor Paulina Pinsky is a writer, educator, writing coach and former figure skater living in L.A. Paulina received her MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from Columbia and she has been writing the Substack newsletter "newly sober" since February 2022. She is also the co-author of It Doesn't Have To Be Awkward, a teen guide to consent, published by HMH. Her personal essays have been featured in Narratively, Human Parts, Slackjaw Humor, Columbia Journal, and HuffPo Women, among others.