The Way Forward
Housekeeping, statements of intent and greetings to new readers.
Before we get into this I’m going to take a minute to set the scene.
The winter had been a long one. I was struggling creatively, my paid subscriber count- which is to say my livelihood- was dwindling and I was dealing with a situation in my housing block that was looking like it would take weeks and weeks of pushing against bureaucratic inaction and would still probably require legal action.
Plus this being England, the weather was consistently terrible.
Things were not good.
So earlier on this week I boarded a train with my wife and headed down to Falmouth, Cornwall- no internet, no devices, no self-imposed pressure to create or figure my way out of this mess. No thinking at all as much as I could help it. Just beach walks and pints of ale alongside ship builders and art students, and record shopping and coffee and more beach walks and more ale. A real break.
See one thing I’ve learnt from working in care is that burnout has a way of creeping up on you. You can spot the signs in others from miles away but when it happens to you it catches you by surprise and can only be seen in retrospect.
Anyway. So yesterday I arrived home- relaxed, refreshed, restored- and turned on my neglected and largely forgotten about iPad, my window to what in more optimistic times was sometimes called the Information Superhighway.
And all my notifications and messages instantly pointed me towards this brand new Substack Reads interview with my good friend. Near the start, when asked why he started a Substack he said this:
“But the real reason that I started a Substack was mimetic desire, frankly. I saw a writer that I really like who has a great Substack called The Commonplace. His name is Thomas J Bevan. He was writing essays and looking like he was having a lot of fun doing it.”
I was flattered, naturally. And the metrics reflected that his kind shout out was drawing many new people to my work.
But more than that- this acted as a reminder of what my work was about. What it was for. Who it served and how.
The Rut, The Winter Freeze had been a result of- among other things- me getting away from what I had been doing right, and doing largely effortlessly in the beginning when I was growing and gaining momentum and having a good time while doing it.
So- now filled with optimism and ideas and inspiration once again I wanted to use this correspondence here today to both welcome all the readers driven here by Luke’s kind words (hello, welcome) and outline the directions I am going to take my work in, and what you can expect as both a free reader and a paid subscriber from here on out.
The Return of Essays
It’s obvious, isn’t it? It goes without saying. And I’m sure long time readers are shouting finally at their screens as I now return to my senses.
My essays are what built the core of my audience and are what has kept them here. They are my bread and butter, what I am good at. I think ego led me in late 2022 to go all in on becoming a short story writer (more on this below). Perhaps I- ludicrously- was starting to think that I was somehow above non-fiction writing.
But my meandering, observational, sometimes philosophical, sometimes whimsical Commonplace essays are clearly essential. I think they are a breath of fresh air in Content Land and comments and direct email responses would tell me that they were helpful.
Now more than ever the worldview that these essays espoused and exemplified- take it easy, make sure to stop and smell the roses, life is short and the small moments should be appreciated and are a worthy subject to create art about- is a needed message.
In retrospect I think what made me stop (or at least radically slow down) my output of these essays was perfectionism. As I intend to collect all of them into physical books (volume one is available here) and so I would start on a new piece, ask myself if it was worthy of being printed and bound and this would stop me in my tracks. Clearly I need an outlet for more off the cuff, type-it-out-and-hit-publish works. Which leads me to my next point…
Correspondence and Notes
I have created a new section (just now in fact) to fulfil this need. It will be the home of shorter works, announcements, miscellanea and whatever else I fancy. This will remove the giants gaps between posts that have been the theme of 2023 to date.
This removes the is this good enough to go in a book question and allows me to just have fun and create without pressure. And as opposed to the enforcing of an artistic vision that is the nature of, say, my stories, I am open to this being much more conversational and with audience back and forth.
It will be the difference between a writer’s central works, and their letters journals and notes that are published when they are dead (and thus unable to sue). I don’t know about you but I’ve always enjoyed those ‘the collected letters of [famous dead author]’ books.
On Substack I enjoy the on-going epistolary nature of the dialogue between Terry Freedman () and Rebecca Holden () and I will be looking to create something similar with a handful of willing interlocutors.
Notes and Comments
While it’s on my mind I’ll quickly say this- I like Substack Notes and will be using it almost as a short form companion to the correspondence/miscellanea idea in the above section. It would be a shame for all the hundreds of hours I spent honing my poasting skills on Twitter (before I was banned) to completely go to waste.
Also- to go back to another thing mentioned above- the return of regular essays will mean the return of the comments section which was something I always enjoyed. On reflection many STSC mainstay members (I’ll explain what this is in a minute for new readers who are confused) started out as regular commenters. I’ve always been blessed to attract insightful, kind and interesting people in the comments. Time to resume cultivating the comment section as an oasis of civility, conversation and fun.
Comments on my fiction, however, will remain turned off as they have always been. I’m not deterred by feedback or criticism (I get plenty of this via email whenever I post a new short story) but I believe no comments makes for a better reading experience. No distraction, no spoilers, no analysis from others that colours your own experience, just the work itself, pure.
It’s what I as a fiction reader would want.
Speaking of stories:
Fiction Takes Time
… at least for me. I have found that short stories involve prolonged periods of visualising, thinking, daydreaming, researching and then meticulous editing after a relatively quick drafting period. The formatting for The Zone alone took aaaages, as did the character work for Ghost Lap even though in the final work it is largely invisible.
To write fiction to the standard I demand of myself takes time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I have now learnt that this process alone is a momentum killer if I don’t have any other irons in the fire. Hence the return of essays and the introduction of the correspondence section (of which this very missive is the debut piece).
I have learnt that you have to study your own process and then embrace it without apology. My short stories take time. So it goes. You will be hearing about what I have planned for my next project in early May. I think it’s going to be my best work yet if I can pull it off.
Now, I know you’ve indulged me for a while here but I’ve got one more thing to talk about which is the most important thing of all.
The future of the Soaring Twenties Social Club
The STSC, for those who don’t know, is the community that you become a member of when you become a paid subscriber to my work. It has been going for 2 years now and has over 200 members.
It has inspired members to take their creative work to the next level and actually publish novels and sell paintings and win competitions and be featured in anthologies. It has encouraged people to meet in real life and to focus more on the real world and their real lives. We have collaborated on The Omnibus and The Symposium, and the STSC Substack showcases members’ work to an audience of over 2000 readers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
But it’s not enough.
The set up of the system (i.e. me running two Substacks) is confusing. This has no doubt lost me a good number of paying subs, both in terms of churn and in terms of not converting people who were willing and who would hugely benefit from being in the community.
And further to this the STSC needs to become a true online literary and arts magazine and so we need a self-hosted site. We need to move to creating physical works and crowdfunding and growing as a purely independent entity.
I need to make the on-boarding into the community easier.
I need to articulate the vision more clearly and to let the qualities of this amazing community we have built truly shine so that more people who would gain so much from this space we have built will be attracted to it.
All of this will happen. I’m good at the business of art but I am still learning the art of business.
Wrapping this Up
So in short I am back- revitalised, ready, raring to write. New readers (cheers againand ) can expect great essays, stories and more and those who have loyally stood by can expect a return to form and a new bar being set.
The Soaring Twenties Social Club- already filled with talented, genuine and- for lack of a better word- cool people from all over the world will start to truly come into its own as an artistic collective, and as a community where real relationships are forged over the long term.
In a world increasingly worried by AI and fakery, I am striving to create an oasis of humanity, authenticity, artistry and trust- both with my personal work and within my online community.
So whether you are a new reader or a mainstay I hope you will join me for the ride.
Thanks for reading.
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The Honest Broker has a great essay on how loss of trust is The Scariest Thing in the World that I highly recommend
I've been wondering how you manage STSC and The Commonplace vis-a-vis one another. I love your vision of an online literary and arts magazine and I can understand you may have to separate that out to make it work as you imagine. I've been thinking about this sort of thing as well, here on Substack, with a focus more on essay and memoir. Would love to participate somehow, in these genres.
So glad to hear that you're back refreshed and raring to go, Tom (may I call you that? You did sign off as Tom). When I set up my Substack last year, yours was one of the first newsletters I recommend on my home page. Glad you're separating out STSC, as I never figured out how to use it. I'm still figuring how to use notes, chat, and all the rest of the Substack goodies! And yes, fiction takes time and requires you to bare your soul in quite a different way from essay writing.