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deletedDec 27, 2023Liked by Amanda B. Hinton
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You're asking good questions here. I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. :)

The weekly cadence is probably only important as a mechanism for helping nudge along your publication's overall growth. (This is something that SEO proved time and again with Google results: the more you publish, the more Google has to index, the more easily NEW folks can find you.) And yes, this DID pull out the yuckiness in a lot of content farms, but that's kind of how all things go with power, right? Some will use it to the benefit of others and some folks will squander it. So as long as you're publishing something true to your writing mission, which could very well be a re-sharing of a piece, a poem you love, etc., I don't think weekly publishing hurts anything as long as it isn't robbing you of your sanity and writing pleasure.

Maureen points out something I think about a lot (reader fatigue). As a personal coping mechanism, I do like to predict human behaviors, but it doesn't mean it changes anything. ;-) I think there is something that we burgeoning writer/publisher hybrids will have to contend with: the fact that all readers reach a saturation point and decide to jump ship on certain things they read as a way to maintain balance in their lives. Rather than trying to take the pulse of reader fatigue and shift around something I can't really control anyways, it's probably a better use of my time to try to keep creating a distinctive enough reader experience that when readers become weary, I've given them all my best reasons to stay. What do you think?

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Identifying a connection point in my writing resonates deeply with me so I am all for the writer to reader litmus test. I appreciate the two different styles of opening you demonstrated here Amanda, they are very valuable.

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Thank you for saying this, Donna. I do feel like there are a few different camps here that make writing for readers a creative sin. And, I'll admit, it used to make me really nervous that something was wrong for me for caring about readers. But, full circle, there's a time and place for tending to my own creative leading AND I can hold the truth that readers matter to me, too.

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I think this is very true! My mentors have very often said you can’t ever write for readers but I always find I do at some point in the process. Not first drafts, but at some point thinking of how it will be received in others’ minds.

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Isn't this fascinating, though? The advice your mentors gave you is the stuff that leaves marketers completely in the dark. 🫠 You wrote a wonderful book, and now you have to bring it in the world to ... people in unidentified places?

This stuff really gets me so, so excited because I think there's some gold waiting to be mined. I've just always had this hunch that there's some hidden gem in this structure I've affectionately called the "writer's reader persona." Or some name like that. It's a reimagining of the old, crude, let's-manipulate-people marketing persona, but with a posture toward connection and relationally-based learning. Anyways, I guess I just gave away one of my ideas for the new year that I'm fiddling with.

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I really think you’re onto something. When I was writing that book, or when I was revising I guess, I was constantly reading and thinking “At what point would someone stop and go check Facebook?” So that kind of attention drift was something I tried to be conscious of. Mostly because it’s about connection!

But these mentors are both older men who gained success in a very different media and literary climate. They’re wonderful writers and have always been supportive, but we’re working under different paradigms.

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I love the phrase "writer's reader persona." That persona derives from you but is not you. I think it's much more dynamic and interesting than that "old, crude, let's-manipulate-people marketing persona" you mention.

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Thank you for waving your editorial wand over my intro, Amanda. The visceral intro is more compelling. The example of medical bills is not the piper in this story - and that tells me I’ve left my reader in the dark. I’m working on a series of linked stories and essays for a collection, rather than a newsletter essay, and this was a first draft so I’m giving myself some grace as I read your revisions! (Which 100% doesn’t negate your points - its 2am so I may not be properly coherent.)

I like the idea of a space that is safe for those seeking self-expression or connection rather than growth, I’m noticing that leads to growth if not the exponential growth / promise of a reliable paycheck some are after. I now have 179 susbscribers, despite being in a few weeks of fallow due to some Real Life interruptions using up most of my spoons. I would like to give hibernating Amanda a hug and the assurance that her status as a golden goose - and her welcome with us - is never in question, whether she gifts us golden eggs or not 💗

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Hi Michelle - I so appreciate your generous posture to my editorial fiddling with your example. It was appealing to me precisely because it can go in so many directions—I felt it would resonate with readers to put it through a handful of lenses. And thank you for the hug! Hibernating Amanda and all the other Amandas swirling around these days, send one right back to you.

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I’m glad to have provided an useful example for a teachable moment. You’re giving valuable feedback for free, so the generosity is in every direction here. Dan Ariely writes about the messiness around social norms and marketplace norms. You can ask your neighbor to bring in your mail while you’re away and thats part of social norms, you give them a box of chocolates as a token of thanks, but ask that same neighbor (a lawyer) to draft a legal letter for free or a box of chocolates and they will likely feel exploited, because that’s what they do for work so it is (or should be) a marketplace norm. Even though the letter would take less time and effort than bringing in your mail for a week.

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Thanks for sharing Dan Ariely's views around the messiness of social vs marketplace norms. I think the line for me can become rather blurred, which is something I continue to explore. I like sharing my skills as an editor and feel as though I receive a sort of benefit-through-osmosis experience. I love that I'm not solely a behind-the-scenes editor anymore. There is a dance here, and I appreciate you acknowledging it: how much to give for free versus tuck behind a paywall. These "Tips & Takealongs" are intended to be paywalled, but I felt some resonance inside that I wanted to talk about the nature of writing feedback, which seemed important to invite everyone into. It's a dance, as they say...

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Lets keep dancing then 💃🏻💃🏻

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I love that distinction. What immediately comes to mind is a trusted writing group people can workshop pieces with. I've had this for a long time, and I'm wondering if that's something people are missing and that's what this space you're cultivating is providing? I have my original writing group, which at this point is more of a personal support group (we've all been through a lot), but we have workshopped many an essay together, all online, since ... 2012? Wow, it's been a while.

And I have a small Slack group of science writer friends. None of us have ever met in person but we workshop pieces and have beta-read books and brainstorm and problem-solve all the time. That's the group I think of when looking at your two distinctions. Sometimes we brainstorm ideas, sometimes we're getting something ready for publication, sometimes we just want feedback with no thought of publication yet. I'm deeply grateful for this group, for all that we can give and hold for one another.

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Ahhh you've really given such a generous door in this comment! I love hearing about the two sets of writing groups you have created and nurtured. And can I say that I'm jealous? :) For all my efforting, I have never been able to cull together a writer's group where I am completely at ease. Plus the coordinating and vying for attention in a group has historically been really unappealing to me. But the friendship and thoughtfulness sure do keep me wishing there was a setup that worked for me.

Your comment also helps me see that my distinction (looking for readers vs hibernating) is trying to address a pattern I'm picking up in the neurodiverse experience: where my penchant for literal thinking keeps me locked away and hiding... that I do not speak up until I have perceived that I'm in the right room, with the right directions, with the right listeners. This year I've experienced so much comfort and enjoyment with my writing just by putting my tiny baby toe into the waters of sharing my writing. I guess I'd like to offer a place that others can practice sharing and sort of work out the jitters that come along with their writing being seen in an incomplete/unedited state. It's a good muscle for me to flex, and I hope it can be helpful to others, too.

Also, as a complete aside, I know that I personally wither under too much pressure to make sure I perform as expected. And I'd like there to be a place where we can be a little messy and also learn to work skillfully with our writing and all that being a writer entails. Anyways, thanks as always for the thoughtful comment. Whenever you hop in, there's a sort of gold dust left floating in my brain.

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"Gold dust floating in my brain" -- somehow your descriptions always land on what I'm thinking about you!

It took me a long time to find these groups, or for them to coalesce or form or whatever happened. I tried a lot of different writing groups and had similar experiences to what you're describing. These I feel like I stumbled into by chance. The first was formed from writers who'd all written for Brain, Child magazine under its original editor, and then for the new publication she'd started, Full Grown People. So I think our voices and life experiences (parenting in particular) were similar enough to provide common ground.

The other formed around more professional interests, and originally was a Slack group for science and creative nonfiction hybrid writers, but only 6 of us were consistently there, and found that we have a lot of shared interests (rigor in science writing, but also love of creative nonfiction and a dedication to centering Indigenous lifeways, stories, and writers wherever we can).

What you're describing here sounds a lot to me like what I've found there, the kind of thing that workshops supposedly promise but too often end up being competitive and even derogatory (too much of that in my MFA program). I feel a huge space opening up the way you're writing about it, a place for all kinds of writers to let themselves grow, and to strengthen their own voices and be validated in their stories and their ability to tell them. To find people who can "hear" your voice and understand what you're trying to do in your writing is such a treasure.

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This is an interesting question, how do you filter feedback? I guess, first, when I ask someone for feedback I try to be very clear about what I'm looking for. Is it copy-edits exclusively? Is it comprehensibility, which is more meta? As in, am I managing to make the point I'm trying to? Can the reader follow the bread crumbs to end up where I want without getting lost?

Ultimately, in both cases I'm filtering all of it through my own voice. If the changes someone suggests makes the writing not actually sound like me then I might make an adjustment, but not the one they're suggesting. Or I might say, NOPE. Not changing that because that is just my voice. So, choosing who I share my work with for feedback is prefaced on whether or not they understand and respect/enjoy my particular writing voice. (It helps that I like my voice, so feedback that changes/erases it I just reject instinctively with no doubt or regret.)

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Reading this comment makes me think of a gardener who has been happily humming and working in the soil. I feel like you are really working with your writing in a way that plants both the visible and invisible. I love hearing how people find their "nope" in writing feedback. There are so many tiresome opinions that disqualify our intuition. Here's to more "nope'ing" in 2024...

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I really love your approach to these questions. The two questions that provide your lens are a really helpful distillation that I’ll take with me into my editing process. I love your refocus on the needs of readers (rather than attracting readers). I tend to run even my comments on other people’s posts through a brief editing process, where I’m looking back over it and asking, “how can I burden readers of this comment less? How can I ease the intake of these words?” And the focus of that process isn’t to produce good writing, but to amplify the possibility of connection. When I comment on a post I’m looking for connection, and readability can aid or impede connection.

I really like what you’re probing with your distinction (hibernating vs looking for readers), and how you are making social space for our hibernating voices. I would also have a hard time locating myself within that binary. I am fiercely committed to the cultivation of my own voice (a hibernating process) because it is the thing I have always abandoned for the sake of connection, but my voice is continually probing for connection. That’s why I’m cultivating it. I want the space inside of me to be a little less lonely.

Here is what stands out to me about the space you are creating. Most “how to grow your Substack/readership” content pulls me out of my garden of creativity and connection, into the harsh landscape of the capitalist economy where everything feels scarce. There’s a scarcity of money to be spent on writing and attention to be given to writing, and I am competing with every other aspiring writer for this scarcity.

As I interact with writers on the blessed little corner of Substack where I’ve landed, I’m finding a different landscape and a different economy. I’m finding a social space where writing is connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking, and I will never have to abandon myself for the sake of the “next step” (can I tell you what a relief it is to lay down that question, whether it’s time for the “next step”). And this economy is marked by abundance. All the earnest writers with their tiny accounts, with whom I am supposedly competing, fill me with such hope. More voices cultivating connection, more voices to reimagine the world. I every human was creatively reimagining the world and excelling at their craft, it would create more space for me, not less.

I feel like at The Editing Spectrum I find writing/marketing advice that lands in this other economy, and leaning into that is what will really make space for my hibernating but connection seeking voice:).

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Shaina, you've really touched me with your comment. There's so much that resonates with me, first and foremost: that you give to a space I've created with your time, attention and thoughtfulness. It's such a full-circle season of life for me, finally feeling people I admire gathering around a topic/issue I love.

I do appreciate your honesty in pointing out that you wouldn't find it easy to fall into the binary of readers/hibernating labels. Even as I wrote this piece, I had a few inner hiccups around what I was trying to share and I think your comment helps me find clarity. In my mind, the ideal use of these labels is context- and writer-specific on any given day. Just as I toggle through the need for reader connection and that hibernating process, so too the labels could help create the right conditions for the most nourishing feedback. Does that make the labels seem more effective?

And finally, I'll be honest, you have given me a huge thing to chew on here re: the abundance economy. I've never filtered my frameworks deliberately through that lens, but now you've given me an open door to do just that. What a gift! I DO have some sense of confidence that there is plenty to go around, and I find the stark "this will fail" and "this will succeed" tactics to be so, so limiting (and intellectually dishonest!). I don't warm to anything that instigates a sense of ravenous clawing at one another. I'm glad we're in the abundance camp together. 🫶

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"I don't warm to anything that instigates a sense of ravenous clawing at one another" is so great!

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Sorry I didn’t make it back to this conversation earlier! I’m glad to be in the abundance camp with you as well! I think the opportunity for your readers to think about and identify the goalpost for each piece of writing is a great next step; and I’m looking forward to seeing how one step leads to another in the coming year (here, and in my little corner, and in the other accounts I so treasure here). Happy holidays!

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“ the focus of that process isn’t to produce good writing, but to amplify the possibility of connection.” LOVE this!

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"Most “how to grow your Substack/readership” content pulls me out of my garden of creativity and connection, into the harsh landscape of the capitalist economy where everything feels scarce." I love this and also how you develop the idea of the two economies. I find that a really helpful framing.

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I have a writers group and a few writer friends, and I mostly get feedback from them. Sometimes, I get feedback from my husband, who has a knack for identifying the thing most people would get stuck on. I don't seek feedback for anything I write for Substack because I see it as my place to be me.

As for the other questions, I think my answers are "I don't know." I can't even answer the poll because the two options don't feel like an accurate dichotomy to me. I don't necessarily seek feedback to get readers. I seek it to better understand myself as a writer.

My personal litmus test for whether to change something because of feedback is, "Do I agree? What part do I agree with?" A lot of times, I might agree that there's an issue, but it's not the issue they pointed out, and it doesn't need the change they suggested.

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One litmus test for a really good post is that it leads to thoughtful, generous comments that help us all. I think this wonderful post totally passes that test and then some.

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Thanks so much for speaking to those who aren't interested in growth. I'm mostly sure I am focused on just myself right now and couldn't deal with more readers if I had them, but I still can't decide if that's 100% the truth. Substack all but forces us to look at stats and I can't help but feel... unwanted sometimes seeing that I'm not growing at all -- which is *completely* to be expected seeing as I hardly interact with others' writing, am not active on social media (and when I am, it's not to promote myself) *and* have just not been at this long enough. And maybe I really am not ready to stand behing my writing fully and unconsciously sabotage or something. Then again, I also *need* the space to not publish the most appealing writing I can muster. I don't want to be appealing. I want to be myself. And getting there, I guess, takes time and a lot of weirdness.

But of course I am longing for connection around (my) writing -- without the expectations and projections that come with a larger readership. I'm hesitant to join any kind of group though because I've never felt like I belonged anywhere. Joining existing groups/communities/cooperations seems to be a lot different (more difficult for me) than stumbling into a "community" centered around my work. (it's also a great way to continue telling my woe-is-me-nobody-sees-me-story, whoops) So... I believe showing my work in different capacities than just sending a newsletter to 138 people is or will be necessary at some point. Getting comfortable with all kinds of feedback and in that process, maybe, accidentally, inviting in more readers at a pace that feels good?! Idk

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Definitely, I think this is true -- insofar as the writer is accurately able to write from their soul, meaning if the first draft is even able to convey "soul" from the get-go. And if we're projecting even the tiniest hint of incompetence or even ill will onto the editor. Because a good editor should know what feedback is adequate when, and when there's been enough re-writing. Ideally, both parties should have the discernment to see when the point is reached where more editing would do more harm than good.

For me, re-writing *is* what brings me closer to the truth, or as truth-adjacent as I'm able to get. My first drafts are usually surface-level nonsense that MAY begin to touch on what is true, but will probably need quite a bit of coaxing and surrender at the same time to get there.

In that vein, I liken writing and expression to poking holes in a container of toxic waste that we'd ideally want to replace with something yummy, bit by bit. By letting out words, any words at all, an opening is made for a little bit of the waste to seep out (and evaporate or something, not sure how that part of the analogy works out) and be replaced by air. The more words are let out, the more air there is aka the more space to be filled by nice/pretty/neutral things. The more first drafts we write and discard, the better what comes out thereafter has the chance to be.

I couldn't say for certain how edits and re-writes from others fit into that equation (not enough direct experience) but I imagine that the right editor will either be able to discern where the writer may be heading and gently point them in that direction -- and/or ask the questions the writer needs to be asked from someone outside of their own brain to get closer to the truth. I do believe that more often than not we need that outside impulse to get there. Hardly anyone is honest enough with themselves to be able to go through that process on their own, I surmise, and even if they are, there is always something we couldn't see no matter how hard we look, no matter how honest we are.

On the other hand, this process requires trust and vulnerability, and both of those things aren't easy. The writer needs to trust themselves *and* the editor quite a bit -- the editor, to hear the feedback on the first place, obviously, and themselves enough to discern what applies and what doesn't to them and/or their work.

So in that -- if either the editor isn't able to "see" the writer fully or the writer isn't able to show themselves fully, or the writer can't "see" the editor's feedback and intentions in a productive way, or the writer doesn't listen to themselves in the process of re-writing and just takes the editor's suggestions as law... I think any way you look at it, writing comes down to the writer trusting themselves, no matter who is involved or not?

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Yes, certainly agree on that. I think that's what happens when both writer and editor go by what they think the audience wants to hear.

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This is so perfect! I wish I could get my workshop students to understand this more quickly, but the early stages of getting feedback on your writing are so vulnerable.

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This was full of open and honest info that is so helpful. I'm all here for feedback and am definitely seeking more of it.

As someone who works pretty much always solo, I feel like I'm only ever talking to myself so an outside perspective is necessary. And on the other hand, when I do receive feedback I try and remind myself I don't need to become the person who gave me that feedback. I don't have to abandon me, or an idea from my gut that I really want to explore further, and lose it within the feedback.

Even with taking your notes from Ask An Editor the other week, I just came back to it today and reminded myself before I began making changes: "You are Emmy, not Amanda. Take her notes and questions and work with those AS ME." I hope that makes sense, as this really comes up when it's in connection to those I admire and am inspired by. 

I also always want to make a connection with readers so I really appreciate the way you framed the lens you use. Such goodness here, as always! 

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