A sneak preview of my new “handwritten blog” experiment.
Substack's been bugging me to do a paid newsletter, and I also just acquired a Kindle Scribe, their first-ever e-ink writing device; so I thought I'd try to combine both and do a blog but entirely handwritten, distributed as a PDF. Your feedback wanted!
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Substack's been bugging me more and more recently about finally starting a paid newsletter; right now the only one I'm doing is a free one, where I talk about my adventures in freelance editing, which I don't charge for because the goal with it is not to make money but to publicize my freelancing services and generate new clients. But it's true that a number of creative writers are actually doing not too badly for themselves at Substack these days, just from publishing creative writing directly through the service and charging their subscribers a monthly fee; and it's also true that I've been feeling a bit more of a desire recently to get back into more confessional writing, like I used to do when I first started this journal in the 1990s, but have also been feeling hesitant because here in my fifties I simply don't know how much of a public audience I want anymore for that kind of intimate writing. Plus, I have to confess, even though I subscribe to half a dozen of my friends' Substacks devoted to creative writing, I almost never make it all the way through any of the issues before throwing it away, because they're arriving in the same way all information in my life arrives — in my email, on my phone or laptop, when I'm on the go or trying to rush through new messages, and my brain simply doesn't have the time or inclination under those circumstances to stop and really focus in on a kind of writing that's dense, slow and complex.
At the same time, though, I recently acquired Amazon's brand-new Kindle Scribe, the company's first-ever e-ink writing device, which of course also doubles as just a regular Kindle, and in this case finally has a ten-inch screen, more the size of a traditional hardback or trade paperback book. These kinds of devices have been available in the US for several years now, and I've been badly wanting to play with them; but so far they've all been from companies like ReMarkable who have marketed their devices straight to upper-middle-class designers and people like that, and therefore have been charging $700 for theirs, and there ain't no fucking way I'm paying $700 just for a toy I may or may not like. But after returning my old Kindle for a rebate, I was able to buy a Scribe for only $260 (and that was brand-new; I bet they'll be all the way down to $200 by the time next Christmas rolls around); and given that it doubles as just my Kindle, a device I use for hours and hours every single day, I figured this was just low enough a price to justify trying out, especially because I'm strongly interested as well in seeing what it's like to read ebooks on a full ten-inch screen.
So, that leaves the question — what to actually do with this new “digital handwriting” ability? I don't want to do any of the things on it that I'm currently doing with my paper Moleskines, such as my daily time management, small notes, my gratitude journal and things like that, because a paper notebook is the perfect form of archival material for that kind of stuff while a glitchy PDF most certainly isn't. So why not finally try this creative-writing blog for Substack I've been thinking of, but do it entirely handwritten and distribute it as a PDF? The glitchy, ephemeral nature of it is actually a bonus in that situation, because like I said, I don't know exactly how to feel right now about starting to talk again online about more personal, confessional things, so I kind of like the idea of doing it in a way that requires a little more dedication than usual, so that it discourages quick scans and kneejerk reactions. This is part of the problem with typed text online, that we've made it so easy to port out into a whole variety of situations and contexts — you can publish it as an email, reprint it as a web page, take an excerpt from it for social media, tell your phone to read it out loud like an audiobook, and on and on. I've been feeling kind of iffy about starting to talk about personal issues again in a way that would be so easy to copy, paste and distribute out of context; so while it would still be possible to distribute out of context with a small excerpt from a handwritten PDF journal, it would be a much bigger pain, so it would prevent any of the casuals from making their latest two-second outrage porn entry for their Facebook feed.
(And speaking of which, I've found myself thinking a lot these days about the mainstream social media companies' turns recently towards nearly 100% garbage and misinformation, and how they seem to only exist anymore to make money off outrage, which has had me thinking about the sci-fi conceit that I think I read in Margaret Atwood's “MaddAddam” trilogy, how in the future the public internet has become such all-consuming garbage that people must now buy paid subscriptions to services just to know which public statements are actual facts anymore. [That's the “Maddaddam” trilogy, right? If it's something else, please drop me a line and let me know!] That feels a lot to me right now how the current state of places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are, just these destinations where you get nothing anymore but 100% blaring, screaming trash, 24 hours a day.)
I really kind of like that people would have to jump through a few hoops to read my confessional journal in this way; the writing's too small to read on a phone screen, and the vertical pages make it awkward for a laptop, so you would need to essentially load it to your tablet or fellow Kindle Scribe to be able to read it from start to finish. Then in the other direction, I also really kind of like that jumping through these extra hoops means that you'll only be reading the journal in the same context you might read a book (at a cafe, in bed, etc.), and thus encourage a slow and thoughtful reading of it, your brain now having switched gears into “book-reading mode” instead of “blaze through my emails as quickly as possible mode.” Really the only question I have is that, even while knowing that my reader numbers would be deliberately lower than otherwise, would I get enough readers to even make it worth my time in the first place?
So in that spirit, I do sincerely hope you'll take a moment to download and try out this first sample issue, then drop me a line at email@example.com to let me know what you thought, or tag me on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org (web version). I'm also at the moment leaving commenting ability on at that PDF over at my Google Drive account, so you can leave your thoughts there for now, but I'll shut that ability down if it gets filled with spam and the like. Particularly please let me know if my handwriting is even legible enough to read, which is a big unknown for me at this point. I'll continue doing my “normal” journal here at Write.as, where I just talk about the small daily stuff going on in my life these days; but if people react well to this idea, I plan on starting this up at Substack just for people who want a hardcore extra dose of Jason's inner brain once a week, probably in a way so the text-only PDF is free, but the “bonus edition” with embedded photos (like today's) would be $1 a month. Looking forward to seeing what you think!