MASSIVE HIGH-FIVE & WELCOME to Total Annarchy #100! Today marks the "centennial" issue of this 3-year-old toddler of a newsletter! Feel that party in your inbox?!
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I launched this newsletter for the joy of making something for others.
But something unexpected happened, too: Writing to you every 2 weeks for 3 years has made me a stronger, better, more confident and riskier writer.
Smug-Me from 3 years ago didn't expect that. I already considered myself a pretty solid writer. I thought this newsletter was my gift to you. Who knew that the bigger gift would actually be to me?
(Certainly not Smug-Me, the sweet little dumdum. We laugh about it now, Smug-Me and Actual-Me. She's grown up a lot.)
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This week I'm sharing How I Write This Newsletter, because my process has evolved over 3+ years.
"Process" sounds as much fun as scrubbing dirt from beets. But have faith, friend! It's more fun that it seems.
I hope seeing my process helps you as a writer, too, even if Smug-You already feels pretty good about your own skills.
A Gift For You: I've packaged the previous issue (How I Grew This Newsletter
) with this week's in a free ebook titled How to Newsletter.
It includes a useful checklist to help your own newsletter live its best life.
Subscribers like you get first access to the beta version of How to Newsletter before I release it to the public later this year. AND YES—you can post freely and share widely with your friends, family, subscribers, Twitter followers, colleagues, teammates, pet goldfish with content marketing career aspirations.... share away.
You get it first because I like you. I appreciate your support.
And because a party without presents is just a meeting.
Can a PDF be party? Heck yeah! PDFs were boooorn to par-tay!
That link again: GET IT
. And now lezgo
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How I Write This Newsletter
This is how I write every newsletter. Hour by hour.
Last issue, I said I spend 8 hours writing this newsletter.
Do I spend those 8 hours in a row, chained to my desk? Slaving over a hot laptop? Sweating out each word and collecting them like precious nectar before distilling them (plink!) onto the page?
Nah. I would die. You would die reading it. It would feel like beet-scrubbing to us both.
The 8 hours aren't consecutive. And they never *feel* like 8 hours. Because I get in that flow zone you get to when you're immersed in something and then you look up and you realize you haven't eaten for eleventy hours and Holy what? Where did the time go?
Note: I wrote this schema in the second person ("you") vs. my own point of view ("I"). I want it to be useful for you. So I wrote you right into it.
Try this on.
See what works for you.
Trash what doesn't.
Adopt what might.
Adapt as you wish.
By the way, I'm talking about writing newsletters here. But you can adapt this process to write almost anything.
🕐 Hour 1: Pay all your bills. Catch up on any movies or TV series you've never gotten around to streaming. Change the oil in your car. Invest your time in scrolling Instagram. ("Invest" LOL.) Commit to making something really complicated for dinner. Attempt to source something called "katsuobushi" for the recipe?
It might seem like you're avoiding writing with all these procrasti-stractions.
But NO! You are not avoiding!
In between all the bill-paying, binge-watching, katsuobushi-sourcing... you've been sorting a few ideas in your head.
You've been thinking about a question that one guy asked you. An experience you had that stuck in your noggin. A conversation.
Some nugget of insight or half-scrap of an idea you jotted down during your daily romp with your diary. (Trouble keeping a daily journal? Try How to Build a Daily Writing Habit
You were mulling during that procrasti-staction-ating.
You were thinking, whether you wanted to or not.
Your fetal ideas were starting to sprout limbs and grow tiny, powerful muscles.
Thinking is pre-writing.
And pre-writing is the key to writing.
🕑 Hour 2: Close your door. (<<< This is important. Why in a sec.)
You pluck one idea to explore in this week's newsletter.
You adhere bottom to chair. Open up laptop. Affix hands to keys with permanent adhesive.
Move them around so the letters form words and the words form longer strings of words.
Full sentences? Structure? Flow? Grammar? What-stinkin'-grammar-where! None of it exists!
You're writing—even if it feels like your a writing mime. Pretending.
🕒 Hour 3: Forgive yourself.
Hours 2 + 3 can be brutal. You expect beautiful and graceful gliding across the keys. You expect elegant. Or at least... good?
Instead you get the writing equivalent of a baby learning to walk. But way less cute.
Your writing is stiff-limbed and unsteady, Franken-stepping across the page. About to crash horribly at any moment.
Keep going. Do not move butt from chair until you've got 999 words.*
*(The exact number I use. 999 feels easier than 1,000. Just like $.99 is way less than $1.00. Brain science? Ridiculous head games? Both?)
You won't use all those 999 words. Most will be isht. That's okay.
Keep those Franken-steps lurching forward.
Did you leave all your awkward baby steps on the dance floor?
This is Draft 0. This is The Ugly First Draft.
Walk away. Give it overnight.
🕓 Hour 4: Draft 1 starts to come alive.
Your door is still closed. Take Draft 0 from yesterday. Read it through in your head. Feel it in your hands.
Breathe on it. It's not so bad, is it? Help it become Draft 1.
> Key idea. Is the main point there? Is it obvious? And right up front?
> Logic. Does it flow? What do you need to move around to help the flow?
> What's missing? Do you have data? A point of view? What information would make your piece feel comprehensive? Fair? Real? True?
> What can you cut from your newsletter team this week? What's a distraction? What's indulgent? What feels too precious, like you're trying too hard? Nurse... Scalpel! Cut it.
➡️ What you cut is often the opening, when you spend too much time setting up the newsletter instead of getting right into it.
➡️ Sometimes you fall in love with a phrase or word or sentence. You can't bear to cut it, even if you know you should. I have a file in Google Docs for this purpose. It holds things I wrote and am proud of, and can't bear to delete forever. The file is titled "Darlings."
🕠 Hour 5: Draft 2 opens the door to let Fun in.
See who is standing there? Your subscriber. ("Hi, Petunia!") Invite Petunia in. With her come fun and lightness.
Did you notice how just one subscriber is standing there—not your entire list? That's because the landing outside your door isn't big enough to hold all those people. Rewrite to one person. One Petunia.
Draft 2 is Petunia's point of view. Step into her shoes. Slip on her skin. See through her eyes.
The most important part of a newsletter is the letter, not the news.
At the top of the newsletter, write: "Hey Petunia!"
Or Dear Stuart. Hiya Octavia. Yo, Mama. Petunia is a proxy for your subscriber here; but use whoever you're thinking about.
You are putting a pillow over the face of anything with a whiff of "Dear Valued Customers."
You're writing to one person in one inbox—not a room full of people crowded around a shared inbox, right? (I'm stating this "one person" stuff twice and in two different ways because it's THAT important.)
> Immediately understand the key idea?
> Follow your logic?
> Does she feel a flash of recognition? Did you deliver an It-Me! Minute?
> Is she enjoying the read?
> Did she LOL at least once?
🕡 Hour 6, 7: Draft 3 layers on voice, style, fun, sparkle, humor, fizz & ginger with abandon!
My fave hours! If I didn't have a deadline I'd spend forever in these hours.
> Count the number of Yous. If you run out of fingers... you're doing great.
> Add context with anything curated. "Here's why I'm sharing this useful thing with you; here's why I believe it's important."
> Sprinkle in questions. "What do you think?" Audience feedback allows you to grow/adjust your focus. (Again: Letter. Not news.)