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The Difference Between Writing for Substack and Writing For Medium

Substack is evolving as the medium where the writer has the freedom to evolve new forms as Medium shows indications of becoming more regulated.

Shubham Dhage Unsplash

I published a story on Substack less than 24 hours since I began composing this post. It had already exceeded by more than double my average number of reads two posts ago. The previous post exceeded the same average by 50% and that was over a few days and so I must be doing something right, which is just granting myself permission to be me.

There are no editors on Substack.

There are no rules- You are in charge of instructing yourself on how to be you.

Films that I find engaging, do not necessarily have storylines that follow a straight line. Sometimes it’s a mystery of complexities that draws one in — or not.

Shubham Dhage Unsplash

I have always been the kind of person who thinks in circles or better-said spirals.

When I was in high school I dreamed I was walking across the footbridge in the small coastal town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, with spirals of alternate beingness expanding into greater spirals and coming out the back of my head, commanding me- sort of. The strange being didn’t quite feel like me but it was me because, well, everything is everything, as was commonly said in the 1960s.

Do you see how I just switched the focus there? That is what I mean. My mind does that on its own as in very well-constructed films. Films that I find engaging, do not necessarily have storylines that follow a straight line. Sometimes it's a mystery of complexities that draws one in - or not. 

I have always had a stream of consciousness flowing through my head that comes from all directions. When I spoke it out loud people would say “Well how does this relate to that?” 

Isn’t it obvious?

Finding a subject matter to write about isn’t difficult. Just let the stream of consciousness loose onto the page. The hard part isn’t editing the sentence structure and the words, the hard part is structuring the stream into a sequence with each idea placed so that it accentuates the others. I move blocks of paragraphs around. Sometimes the idea I started with ends up at the bottom of the page and I have to bring it back up.

This is my writing process. It emerges from who I am.

Nadine Shaabana Unsplash

If I were writing for Medium. I could stop right there, according to instructions, but that is not the end of this thought. I am not writing for Medium. I am writing for the world, the times, and for me. I know the formula. I like Tim Denning. He says bloggers can’t write long paragraphs. Yes, they can! And I like to read those writers.

A big difference between Medium and Substack is that the Substack writers that I follow write very long posts weaving ideas together in a way that is unique to themselves. They write in long paragraphs.

Long melodic form-smashing writing can also be found on Medium but I did not start having access to the writers that I find most interesting on Medium until I started radically applying the “Show less of these stories” function to all the stories that instruct on how to go viral and make a boatload of money.

Everything is changing, changing, changing. It's so changing at a faster pace than ever before, so don’t believe “them” when they tell you there is a set template and try to mold yourself to it. The world itself is changing, and along with that, I believe there is a human evolutionary process underway, that is evolving the way that our minds work. In our lives, we have to be increasingly aware of greater layers of complex relationships and so we must adapt as a species. The new human evolution will be mental and spiritual. Our minds evolve. We do not have to think in short straight lines. We can flow in long winding loops and take quantum leaps of faith.

Shubham Dehage Unsplash

By social media standards, I do not have a large Substack following but it is large enough and growing. It started with importing my email list for Andersen Design. For an inexplicable reason, I instantly had hundreds of reads more on Substack than I did on MailChimp.

The number of readers hovered around a certain level until my last two posts when suddenly the momentum has been escalating and I have more than doubled the former norm in my last two posts. The number of reads by subscribers and non-subscribers has increased dramatically, edging toward 150% above the former norm. This with a post that begins with a run-on sentence.

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At the same time that my readership started expanding, I started receiving criticism for not conforming to a theme that the critic identified as the theme of the post. These two thoughts do not belong together. You should separate them.

I did not see it that way and felt that my critics want me to conform to an established norm of what they think a post should be, she said switching her paragraph structure to conform with conventional blog writing format, before adding a third-person voice to mess it all up again.

Birmingham Museums Trust Unsplash

The latest critique occurred when I posted on Medium in a publication that I liked in no small part because I liked the editor of the publication and the positive support that he gave to the writers. I identified the publication with the editor and as a place where one can find offbeat writers.

However, the last time I published, a different editor corrected my comma placement, which had already been corrected once by Grammarly. OK, there are different schools of thought on comma placement. I think it only matters to be consistent, but, whatever.

This time a new editor left a note that my first paragraph (below) should be broken up into shorter sentences.

This weekend we participated in the first annual Boothbay Winter Faire on the Commons, like pagans and gypsies emerging from the mists of history, taking back the town, giving new life to a long tradition that is the milieu of the designer craftsmen movement going back to Medieval times when the first Town Fairs were filled with makers before the emergence of merchant importers.

I disagreed. Like music writing can use different beats and rhythms. I think that paragraph has the right melodic form the way it is and would not be improved by turning it into a series of short sentences. — or consistent with correct content provider format- short sentences as paragraphs with a lot of white space around each sentence. yeah! I know the format!

Other advice broke up other sentences. I saw no point to it. I consider the rhythm of a piece intuitively — by what feels right to me, and that includes sentence structure.

Finally, the editor wanted me to eliminate a section where I describe the stories I read while sitting in my booth on a slow Sunday:

This seems like the start of the third or fourth essay in this piece, not sure how it relates to itinerant Bronze Age Crafters or your experiences with Boards. I think you would keep your reader more effectively if you would develop one theme fully in one five minute piece, maybe do a short series on the parts of your broader thesis.

I have been writing in my own style on Substack, weaving together many apparently separate themes. This story is part of an ongoing series of my broader theme. To the point of keeping my readers attention, I am keeping it and expanding my readership so there are obviously people who do follow my thought. We can’t please everyone.

The reads on my Substack post have continued to tick up as I have been composing this piece.

Meanwhile, on Medium, my story has only one read, but it has only 9 views so one read is slightly better than 10% of reads to views, and who or what decides the views that our stories receive? Would it be the omnipotent algorithm?

Substack does not have an algorithm. I can’t say why my readership is expanding on Substack. Maybe it’s because people are craving those run-on sentences. The list is ordered by who has the most number of subscribers and there is not an option to reverse that order, rewarding those who are already the most successful.

Nonetheless, both my subscriber and nonsubscriber readers on Sunstack are increasing, while my views on Medium have consistently remained on the edge of nowhere, even as my followers have increased. Substack is treating me better. It must be due to my own promotional efforts as there is no other explanation. I have been prioritizing Substack in my promotional efforts.

I responded to the editor’s note about the first sentence with “I disagree”. And the editor said it is the policy of the publication to let the reader decide. He hoped that I would get views, by which he mean the hoped that I would get views without adapting my writing style to what the algorithm is pushing in all the stories I am using to see less of.

I thought that I am not writing for the reader who cannot read a sentence longer than short. I told the editor that I had to radically apply “Show less of these kinds of stories” before I was able to find stories that I want to read in my stream.

He said that he likes to write in longer sentences also but he shortens them to get readership on Medium. I checked out his profile and started reading one of his stories, an interesting and informative story about a subject that I am less informed about than he, but if the key to the readership is very short sentences, he would get more readership by eliminating the “and” in the first sentence and starting a new one.

Really??? If a reader stops reading a story because the author used an “and” instead of a period, what is that reader worth to the greater cause of why we write? What kind of reader cannot understand a sentence if it is long? If a reader cannot understand or gets bored by a long sentence, how is that reader supposed to understand what is going on in our rapidly changing complex world? We have to be intuitively processing several levels at once, even as we consciously focus on a particular task.

The fact that Medium provides a platform where even people with broken English can publish is a good thing. I want to hear from those people, but it is true that they are unlikely to go viral, but what is the importance of going viral, other than the measure in money?

I started to see the onslaught of articles that the algorithm was pushing in our faces as mass programming. Thankfully Medium has given us a way to alter that with the “Show Less of the stories” option. Now please bring back ”Dismiss”.

Mackenzie Andersen's" The Individual vs The Empire! is a reader-supported Substack publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.


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