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My various side hustles are just that: a way to make a little extra cash. I paywall what I do for specific reasons besides money. 1. Sometimes, I get a little personal. It's simply not information I want to share with everyone. When someone pays to read my writing, they are putting trust in me to provide decent content. I'm return, I am trusting them with a little more access to my life. 2. It keeps out people with whom I do not wish to engage. It's a gate.

It's just that simple. I DO like the social aspect of Substack, and I like the flexibility of the platform for how we each engage with our readers. I really don't use other social media that much. This feels more like it has a purpose.

Would I depend on Substack for the whole of my income? Hell, no! I'd starve if I did that. I'm happy to use it as one of the tools in my kit, though, and I DO value the community that I've found here.

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author

Thanks for that perspective about paywalling for privacy. Your description of that is really excellent 💕💕💕

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

I feel this!

The one thing I'll add is that I don't want to write in order to pimp a side-hustle. This IS the hustle. I'm optimistic about slowly growing a paying base, but I'm also not in a huge rush thanks to my businesses still running reasonably well (they are great businesses, but there are also economic challenges and plenty of obstacles). If not for that, I would have had to make some very tough decisions by now.

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I appreciate that … I am just so weary of hustling for so long and want to live a deeper more enriching kind of creativity that includes community … it’s great that your other businesses are allowing you some time to figure it out.

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Same here, and I very much want this to work for you! (also for me, it's not like it's NOT frustrating at my end too, but I also understand the difference)

Let's keep at it and stay open! I know having peers/sounding boards is very important, and as you rightly point out, this place is fantastic for that.

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author

Yes I want it to work for you too! And glad you have a little wiggle room for figuring out how to make that happen.

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

I feel strongly that the connections I'm making here are legitimate and useful. There's that, too.

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I feel that and I'm not sure what to do with that intangible information right now. But I know that it does matter to me.

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Well, know that I'm on your side and struggling against many of the same forces! Also: dog fam. <3

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This is a really important piece and realisation I think Kathryn. Grateful for you putting words here and ensuring those who are considering what this can be are tuning into what’s actually possible. ✨✨

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author

Thanks for all your support Claire. Knowing what the gap was between what I expected and what I experienced helps me understand how to shift and I do hope my experiences offer insight that’s helpful to others even though all of our experiences are different.

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Thanks for the mention!

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Love your piece and really want to make sure others who are interested in the topic can find a range of perspectives.

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In the spirit of Taoist “Wu Wei” I just write, breath, and exist. Somehow things just work out.

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I love the idea of that and wish I could embody it. Sometimes I do it at least get close but most of the time I am anxiously trying to figure out how to get bills paid. I’m working on trusting the universe a little more.

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

For me i view my Substack newsletter like a miniature art gallery - I'm sharing my creativity openly for an audience and building community. At a physical commercial gallery sales of paintings aren't guaranteed. The event is open to the public. It's a lot of work for everyone involved. Sometimes people will come and look at art, for free, many times before they buy anything at all. That's community building first. Art is primarily a process not a product. Community is where we share that process. That there is a way the community can "take home" a bit of an artist's process is part of the community spirit. Physical art galleries often make a point to have tiers of prices for the artwork - 70 paintings, 700 dollar paintings, 7000 dollar paintings etc and also sometimes even a free exhibit catalog - this tiered price levels is done so that more of the audience, the community, has more of a chance to participate in whatever way fits them.

I like it that here on Substack I have similar access to a robust active creative community - a mutual reciprocity! That is what excites me, that's what I'm here for! That someone can encourage me in return with a 7 dollar or 70 dollar subscription is a gift, a bonus - for both me and them!

Nowadays (thanks to Republicans policies since the 1980s) the ability to sell one painting/book and live on that for a year (as often happened in earlier times) - that phenomenon is now nonexistent. The policies of Republicans since the 1980s have decimated the financial infrastructure for the arts in general. They defund the arts in education and civic life to this day. So the arts at all levels of life and community are struggling and have been for decades. Also largely nonexistent now is the ability of anyone to work one job for 25 years and have a decent income and then a good retirement. This too is due to the deregulation, pro-monopoly policies of Republicans since the 1980's. I don't mention here how the Republicans actively fight against access to affordable healthcare - but that too is a factor in people making ends meet.

So I'm grateful that here on Substack I get to have such a large audience and access to an encouraging community and that sometimes someone also pays for a subscription or buys one of my books, cards, coffee cups or even a painting. Every bit helps.

Yes, I wish we could all have living wages, universal healthcare, a secure Social Security retirement but as long as Republicans hold elected offices in the US they will continue to give everything to billionaires and let the rich white guys tell the rest off us to be wage slaves for the lowest wages or go pound sand - and we'll all eke by with a guess and golly.

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This all makes sense. I like the idea of thinking about Substack as a type of art gallery. But then I guess for me I wonder why do that on Substack and not just on your own blog or website. I hear you for sure that there's a vey specific wonderful creative community here to tap into ... and I agree ... but also that was true for me with Pinterest and Instagram and all the things. I treated my crochet blog like a gallery in some ways, a gallery and a place to provide information and build community, and I used Facebook and Pinterest and whatnot to bring people to that blog, and I monetized with ads and with selling things to people. So I guess in that sense I just do see Substack as any different from any of the other methods I've used in the past that I kind of burned out on. My mistake was in thinking it was something different; realizing that it's not (at least not for me) helps me better understand its possible role in my life. All about expectations I suppose.

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

I do my blog too and Substack as main things. For me Substack has the wider audience and community - I can do things with Substack that I can't on my blog and vice versa. On my blog I don't do advertisements because I can't control what kind of ads would appear. Also I'm not into spending lots of time on SEO for my blog. I just do the parts of blog, website and Substack that work and are fun for me and leave the rest. Low to no expectations of any of it. Less is "more" for me.

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I hate the seo and the ads which is why I’d hoped to create a paid newsletter since my goal is to monetize the writing. But I like the less is more idea. And the fun of it. And I’m glad you’re here because your work regularly inspires me.

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Mar 23Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Aww thanks! And I'm glad you're here too! We're in this creative life together!! 💚💚💚💚

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Yes! Everything that you wrote 100%. I see a lot of stories lately blaming apps, technology and social media for displacing art and culture with mindless scrolling and swiping. There’s a widely restacked article about how we are all becoming “dopamine junkies” and slaves to our phones using what I feel is purposefully inflammatory language (not backed up by actual science). No one, except you, is talking about the bigger picture, a collective malaise, or languishing, only made worse by the pandemic. When it’s government policy to cut programs enabling people to get out of poverty in lieu of tax cuts for the wealthy and war profiteering, our culture as a whole suffers. While Reagan looks like a moderate by todays Republican standards, his “trickle down economics” set off this every widening divide between the rich minority and the poor masses. In one of the wealthiest industrialized countries in the world, it’s shameful to have such high infant and maternal mortality rates, a pipeline to prison and no universal healthcare/childcare/or parental leave policies.

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Thank you so much for hearing me! Yes, the blaming of apps, technology, social media etc seems to me too like just more "blame the victim" tactics. Much like blaming the underfunding of government on a few poor people needing food assistance instead of on the big tax breaks given repeatedly to the few billionaires. Or blaming the abuse on the abused person - for having worn "that"or being "out" - instead of demanding to know why the abuser thought that abusive behavior was acceptable (i.e. "what the f is wrong with you, you big bully?")

The Republicans, the religious and the technocrats (bullies all) need us to accept their framing and thus to remain isolated and totally beholden to what they might "permit" us to do, think or feel. They need us to accept their definition of what "success" is - so that when we chase their definition of success they and they alone will benefit. They need us to use the social media, the apps, buy the "updated" phone etc, attend the church or the political rally etc - to truly believe the hype, the slogans - so that they can get wealth and power at our expense. And then whenever they fail, or something they do causes a social failure, they can point to us and blame us for that failure. When we the people fall for this con - that is what keeps them in power. When we don't fall for it - like during the antiwar 1960s, the women's rights movement in the 1970s, the gay rights movement in the 1980s and 90s - we usually win at least some.

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We've given these tech billionaire celebrity status and hold them up as an ideal to emulate rather than saying, "It's ridiculous for anyone to have that much money; more than they could ever spend responsibly." We are victims of capitalism and this attitude of "every man for himself". In reality, many of the founding fathers were a bunch of profiteering slave owners who created laws, a financial system, and tax codes to benefit themselves. That still holds true today, but it's easier to blame victims for their victimhood than to dismantle a system that benefits those who created it in the first place.

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Nowadays whenever I hear a tech billionaire (or any other rich person) promising that 'they/their tech alone can save us" I automatically start asking "Who benefits if I believe this?".

Same with billionaires, without educational training, advocating for private school vouchers that will ostensibly "save" public education. Who benefits if we hand public tax dollars to a rich person for their private schools?

My eyes roll up in my head like a slot machine whenever I hear rich religious Republicans pontificating and promoting something "new".

A new con-job more likely.

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Thanks for your transparency on this. I've been disappointed how much of my notes are either "here's how to get more followers" or "stop worrying about followers." It does feel more like social media than a newsletter platform, imo

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author

I might be wrong but I suspect that so many of those notes are popping up right now because people are trying to figure out what the site is all about.

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that makes sense

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Mar 22Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Enjoyed hearing your story, and seeing someone ask these questions. I think the elephant in the room on the "for paid newsletters" side of the equation is the simple fact that Substack is, by design, oriented toward professional writers with a highly specialize niche who bring an audience with them, either as a book author or as a known journalist with a stupendously long email list. The idea that "writers" should come here because they can reach and "connect" with "readers" (implying the same sort of mass audience that would have been available even a decade ago) is broad-brush Pollyannish bullshit, based on the false premise that any writer can be "successful" if they merely work long and hard enough. The most that can be said about Substack is that it's a way for writers to connect with readers who are also writers on Substack. Me, I'm on the razor's edge at the moment as to whether I should continue. I fear it is becoming a drag on my own mental health.

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Definitely have to consider the impact on your mental health as I think we need to with all social media. I didn’t necessarily think that I would find readers on the platform itself at least initially … I thought it was a place that had tools to facilitate building your own paid newsletter base - and it does have some. The paid system itself with easy to place paywalls, the buttons, etc - but it seems most of the newest features are all about staying on the platform and connecting to other writers-who-are-readers and I got wrapped up in that and then got distracted from my actual reason to be here. I’m going to give it a go trying to use it as I originally intended and see if I can create a paid newsletter with subscribers from elsewhere. And try to reduce my use of the social media aspects here. I think.

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Mar 23Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Oh, not the mental health issues related to social media, I limit myself on the big ones and don't do much here, either. I meant trying to wrap my head around doing so much work that, realistically, is being read by a couple dozen readers.

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Ah. That makes sense also. What I explore is the how art and mental health intersect for people … if you’re open to sharing more I’d love to learn your experience around that … like what aspect of the experience challenges your mental health and in what way. I would assume a kind of hopelessness or feeling like it’s pointless if it’s not reaching others and then triggers around depression? But that is just a guess …

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Mar 23Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Sure, happy to discuss, although while I am an artist in one sense (I act in and occasionally direct plays) I don't consider my writing on Substack an art, unless one wants to regard it as "creative nonfiction." I regard it as journalism (even though I am writing *about* art). But feel free to DM if that's of interest.

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Thank you for this! I think I have been focusing so much on substack that I've forgotten how important it is to send those submissions out to people who read but aren't here for a tit for tat.

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I came across your post on the timeline in Notes. After reading it, I decided to subscribe since your writing was great and authentically in line with my contemplations as well. I write for a multitude of reasons on Substack, as opposed to, you know, those other paid private platforms, because of the community aspect. That being said, I feel Substack is fostering that through the use of social media. The difference is, it’s evolving into its own platform. I’ve seen a heavy focus from some and been let down by not receiving a lot of paid subscriptions. I do not see Substack as the premium newsletter writing platform; I see it as the free-thinking, idea-rich, creative intellectuals' clubhouse of collaboration and community.

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If it had been described as that last bit then I would have been enticed in but would have had an entirely different approach.

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Mar 24Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

This is so interesting to me because I had almost the exact opposite experience. I heard about Substack because writers were talking about how they were monetizing their writing here, and because it was an easy way to blog. I soon realized I’m not interested in trying to earn any money here, at least not in a serious way, and will only turn on the paywall for privacy reasons. But I didn’t expect such a lively social community of writers, and that’s been the thing that’s really made it exciting for me.

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I do love that we all have different experiences here. I think it’s a great community. I just had different expectations when i showed up so I’ve had to adjust.

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This is definitely something I've been pondering on with my own. How do I want to show up here seems to always be the question I land on every now and again. As weird as it sounds, I am not entirely sure I am here to build a community, even though I was forcing myself to do that. I'm no longer sure that is my "thing". And that's mainly what we are taught here, right?

I thrive on one-on-one connections rather than group settings. Then again, when I look at my Human Design, there is a lot of energy that makes me want to show up for the collective. But I don't feel like I need to do it the way I've always thought I needed to do it. And that is my own shadow stuff that I'm working through, mostly the need to prove my worth and be part of the tribe. When, in fact, I am and always have been a lone wolf who likes to pop in and out of different communities. So, how does one proceed with that knowing, is a question I'm giving myself space to ponder on. Thank you for speaking to my experience through your own.

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Thank you for sharing your experience as well. I am always interested in being part of community and doing what I can to connect to others in a way that supports and builds community ... but also that can mean so many different things at different times. The way I was doing it here was propelled more by the tools of the site than my own direction or intuition which is why I've had to step back some and really think about what I'm doing here. But this is all part of the process, I suppose - how do I want to show up?, as you said.

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Mar 28Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

This is really interesting Silvia. I’m more of a lone wolf too. While I love the chats I have in the comments section, I like my solitude. I’d love to hear how you’re navigating this question for yourself.

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Hello, fellow lone wolf.

Like you, I love the chats and I also love stepping away from these spaces when I have nothing to give.

What I'm realising for myself is that perhaps I'm not actually seeking to cultivate a community of my own. Perhaps I simply want my work to have an audience. For me, it seems to be very much about detaching from the idea of what a community is supposed to look like, and instead shows up with intention and integrity. The process is very much ongoing but what I'm noticing is that the tiny shift in perspective has felt liberating.

I'd be curious to hear more about your experience with communities, whether cultivating them yourself or being part of them. Do you feel like you want to cultivate a community of your own in whatever capacity? And how might that look like to you?

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Mar 24Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Yes, this is exactly part of what I've been feeling. And this: "But ultimately, what seems true for me is that people who are already on Substack are primarily writers and they are able to afford to pay for very few subscriptions."

Then add the fact that all of Substack's mechanisms for growth so far seem to be internal to the app. You grow your readers by recruiting other people who are already on Substack. It's that limited pool again. Any growth drawing people from outside Substack, you're responsible for, even though that benefits Substack.

Thanks also for the amazing links to other people talking about these issues.

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I don't mind drawing people from outside Substack to Substack ... I expected that would be something I'd have to do in order to get my paid readership, but what I expected also was that Substack was a place that would make doing that easier and have tools to facilitate that and the emphasis would be on that ... and as you said, almost all the growth mechanisms offered are internal which isn't helpful.

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Mar 24Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Yes, exactly. And maybe that's harder. Maybe attracting big-name people to start newsletters on Substack is part of that strategy, but I'm not sure it trickles down to the rest of us.

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Someone else had mentioned that the idea is that they bring readers and then maybe those readers will want to read the rest of us. It could be. I discovered Substack because I was getting a single newsletter in my email from someone I loved reading and then eventually decided to check out the platform. But I'm not sure it really works that way most of the time on any kind of large scale.

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This is exactly how I’ve been feeling. I’m coming up on my one year anniversary of writing here, and I’ve been happy with the platform in many ways…my subscriber growth has been slow but steady, and it’s been a great place to test out how and what I want to write. But since the beginning I’ve been telling myself to keep writing, because one day the power-that-be at Substack will start to focus on ways to bring “outside” readers to the site, instead of counting on internal readers, and notching up the social media aspects of the site. And yet it doesn’t seem to happen - with every new update they release, I think to myself “Why in the world do we need that?” As a publishing platform, shouldn’t your number one priority be bringing new readers here and giving them opportunities to discover new writers?? It’s frustrating. I mean, the world doesn’t need a new social media site, honestly.

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I would love to see their focus be on ways that each of us as writers can reach people off of the platform and also on their own efforts to bring more paying readers to the platform.

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Great piece that has brought to the fore stuff I was thinking, without really realising I was thinking it too much. It’s a good reminder to simply get on and create, without getting too bogged down in the platform. I’m enjoying it at the moment.

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Thank you for this. I'm also averse to the word "followers", but also "community". I only recently joined substack - pretty much knowing that it is a social medium that is morphing according to its use. I've wondered if the only people making money here are people teaching writing and trying to make little "communities" that they will lead. It strikes me as less of a library for finding newsletters, and more of a hierarchical sandbox for writers: sectioned off into fan groups. There is a LOT of writing about writing here. Hell, I am doing that, too (though I am no would-be guru). Is there anyone on substack who reads but isn't looking to publish here? "My readers" seems an odd way to refer to professional peers. But yeah, I much prefer readers to followers.

I don't think that there is anything inherently wrong with writers writing for writers - a la actors acting other actors. But the financial aspects make it weird. If someone pays for my newsletter, and we've had conversations on notes, etc, am I expected to pay for theirs?

All that said, there are probably fantastic newsletters out there that aren't about writing - but just haven't shown up in my notes.

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"Is there anyone on substack who reads but isn't looking to publish here?" ... That's the crux of the problem because it feels like the answer is no. It might be that they're here but we don't experience them since they aren't in Notes, which is part of why I'm refocusing on trying to reach outside of Substack to find people interested in my writing here.

Really interesting to hear about your aversion to the word community. I'm pausing and mulling that over. I like the word and I like being part of community ... The original etymology breaks down to "together" and "service" and I think of community that way, all of us being in service to one another for the greater good, and I aim to create that on platforms where my writing invites comments and engagement and collaboration ... But also I'm pausing because we do use the word community a lot and maybe it's lost some of that meaning in this context. So thanks for the food for thought.

Final note: I've found some terrific newsletter here that aren't about writing but it definitely takes some searching. Are there specific topics you love? I'd be happy to recommend some if I know any that are worthwhile.

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That's kind of you. I like nature writing and writing that juxtaposes science and the arts. I'm learning to l88k at whose writing comments on the posts I like. (Re community. I think it's how everyone wants to lead their own but uses a royal we when talking about it. I know that's not reality, it just always jumps out at me.)

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wow. how embarrassing. I should make sure I'm wearing reading glasses next time. look who's looking at whose comments.

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author

l88king works for me :-p

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author

I have others, I'm sure, but off the top of my head some favorites in nature writing:

Lia Leendertz: https://substack.com/@lialeendertz

More photos but also wonderful:

Karen Davis: https://substack.com/@karendavis

Pamela Leavey: https://substack.com/@pamelaleavey

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Mar 26Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

I didn't join Substack with the intention of making money off my newsletter, much less a living. I joined it as a way of sharing my experiences and those of others who are in this niche of the queer community that I don't think gets a lot of exposure, or, when it does, it's negative.

That being said, I'll potentially go paid on some level eventually because creating the newsletter is a labor of love but is labor nonetheless and labor deserves renumeration. Having worked as a writer my entire professional life, I know firsthand how important it is folks in creative fields need to advocate for themselves and assert the true cost of creativity.

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author

Well said. I appreciate that we are all here for different reasons and have different expectations. I love learning about everyone's different experiences.

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Mar 26Liked by Kathryn Vercillo

Thank you for placing an emphasis on matching it's not only expected but it's a writer's playground.

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