Private Message from Nicola Lamb: “The best time to start is yesterday”
Nicola’s story is one that’s happening across the U.K. right now: a person putting their faith in a platform that allows them to express what they want, how they want
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be making a living from writing about recipes.”
In 2021 a young pastry chef in London was re-evaluating her life.had been a professional chef for six years and had worked at some of the world’s top bakeries, including Dominique Ansel in New York. But the thing she wanted to do more than anything? That was easy: she wanted to write.
She has been thinking about this a fair bit—ever since she started her Substack,, in the depths of lockdown. She loved writing. She loved the way it connected people. But it had always seemed like such a difficult industry to break into.
It was only when her ambition to open a small bakery in Edinburgh, Scotland, fell through that Nicola stopped to consider the impossible. What if, rather than throwing herself back into the kitchen full-time, she devoted more time and space to her real passions, recipe testing and writing? What if she could not only create recipes but also show the behind-the-scenes process and then share the entire thing with a like-minded audience? That was what a dream life could look like.
There were just a few issues. Since she’d been so heads-down in the kitchen, she had only a relatively small social media following. She had also never considered herself a writer. She was a chef, a recipe tester, a consultant … but not a writer. And then there was the rather crucial consideration of how many people really were as interested in the hydration levels of pastry as she was.
She didn’t know. But she was willing to find out.
There were no great breakthrough moments. No secret sauce or nifty hack of how she built an audience—just hard work, consistent recipe testing, and lots of conversations with an audience who, it turned out, cared deeply about the hydration levels of pastry.
Eighteen months later, Nicola is tending to that dream, one that is in full swing. That is to say, she now makes her main income from Kitchen Projects. She has tens of thousands of free subscribers, as well as thousands who pay for her recipes, chats, and community get-togethers. She hosts days out with her subscribers, many of whom travel from every corner of the country to meet her, as well as trade tales with one another about failed baked Alaskas and the perfect jam.
She has also just signed on the dotted line for her first book deal, which she was inspired to write after Substack helped her build a community of loyal readers—including an eagle-eyed commissioning editor who was among her subscribers and who approached her to write the book.
Nicola’s is a story of what is happening across the U.K. right now. It is a tale of one person putting their faith in a platform that allows them to express what they want, how they want. There are no editors, no algorithms, no adverts. Just a creator and their community doing their thing.
As the head of writer partnerships for Substack in the U.K., I have the good fortune of witnessing this every single day. You see, I am watching something truly magical unfolding on this small island—creatives, academics, politicians, bakers, rabble-rousers, and soothsayers all discovering the joy and connection (and, in some cases, riches) that launching a Substack can bring. It is why you will find some of Britain’s most familiar names on here: historian, author , original Great British Bake Off winner , political strategist , even literary giant , who, as we speak, writes live dispatches from his hospital bed since being taken seriously ill last year.
We hope you will join us and them on your own Substack journey. And if you need some inspiration, here’s Nicola’s Private Message on how Substack changed her life.
If you’re inspired by Nicola and want to start your own Substack, you can begin here:
Dorothy Parker wanted this on her tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment. What would yours say?
At this rate, I think it would say something along the lines of: Lived a surprisingly long amount of time, considering how much butter she consumed.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You are not late until you are late. This is something my dad said to me, and I have applied it to every part of my life. It basically just means don’t stress about stuff before it’s a problem, or you’ll just spend your whole life worrying. And also: floss. There’s literally no excuse.
A mistake worth repeating?
The first pancake—the first pancake is always so ugly. You just gotta get through it, and it’s always worth it.
What I’ve learned (in one sentence):
It’s kind of corny, but it is true. What I’ve learned about Substack is, the best time to start something is yesterday. The second best time is today. There’s just no point delaying when it comes to Substack.
What is a Substack in 7 words?
Loads of really good things to read.
Most delicious thing about it:
Oh my gosh. We have so many amazing food writers and delicious things on Substack. I am partial to the phenomenal, who writes . I will read anything that she writes about salad, and because I think so much about pastry, I find that reading her Substack is a yin to my yang, so I really enjoy that.
What has Substack brought to your life?
Definitely control and also an amazing feeling of luck. I feel lucky all the time, which is cool.
What have your subscribers taught you?
To be unashamedly obsessed with whatever you are into. To not shy away from details and to get deep into whatever it is that you love. Thank you for that.
To be unashamedly obsessed with whatever you are into
Fill in the blank: Don’t start a ________, start a Substack.
Don’t start a new Netflix series that you’re gonna get addicted to and spend hours and hours watching; start a Substack.
What is freedom for a writer?
Being able to continuously expand your perspective.
What is Substack to you in one word?
Today’s Private Message concludes the mini series asking writers to leave a voice note for Substack’s writer team, with reflections on what Substack has brought to their life. To continue to find stories of writers and their new beginnings, subscribe to ’s newsletter, .
If you’re inspired Nicola and want to start your own Substack, you can get started here:
HONOURED to be featured and proud to be a card carrying member of the substack fan club. VERY surreal being interviewed by *the* Farrah Storr, too. What is happening?!?! Feeling explosively joyful!
I’m one of Nicola’s paid subscribers. Her Substack has genuinely replaced my Sunday paper of previous years. It is a phenomenal column, I look forward to it every week!