As I’d written before, I’d been chugging along with my blog at the beginning of the year trying a very fixed weekly schedule and style guide. A day after the 100 Day Project started, I decided to try to write every day. When I’m busy, it just takes a couple of minutes and I basically write about something interesting I’ve found—usually in my zettelkasten, or in a big Google Doc I’ve recently started collecting the best fragments of what I’ve read. (It’s already 80+ pages, so I’ll need to figure out a better way to manage this.) If you want to learn how to write every day, here’s what my process looks like, as sequentially as I can get.
Every blog post starts with an idea, an emotion, or a response:
- I never run out of ideas because I collect them all in an editorial calendar in Airtable. I also collect interesting bits from the internet in Google Docs (the best of which make it into my zettelkasten, but those permanent notes take too long to handwrite as well). I’ve been itching to switch to TiddlyWiki or something because this Google Doc is getting very unruly.
- My ideas are all focused on things that I find interesting, sometimes I’ve talked about it with friends, other times I just figure I’ll just put it out there and see if readers like it.
- Actually I get a lot of good ideas when I wash the dishes and I’m not listening to any music or podcasts, random memories and examples collide together in my brain. Same with going on walks, etc. When this happens I do my best to write it down asap, in the aforementioned Google Doc.
When a writer at the New York Times asked master choregrapher and author Twyla Tharp how she made time to read in her very busy schedule, she responded, “’I hack it out of the marble of the day.” Time is similarly the greatest constraint on my writing, and I hack mine out of my own calendar as well—in between chores, first thing in the morning if I woke up early, last thing before bed sometimes:
- If I have very little time—like two minutes—the blog post will be not much more than an excerpt and a headline, maybe a couple of lines that says, “Hey, here’s what I found interesting and here’s why.” (Like this one on positioning.)
- If I have a moderate amount of time—like 15 minutes—I’ll just write the headline as “5 Sentences on… XYZ topic” and try to find 5 things I want to say to illustrate the point I want to make. (And often figure out what that point is.) That’s actually how this post started. This was actually a great structure for me, because I’m forced to focus and find the point I want to make. I also come up with a ton of other ideas in the process—“Oh, this is interesting, not quite what I want to say though.”
- I also realized that even outside of my blog, I already write a lot—like, in emails to friends, taking notes, and such. I often can just copy and paste ideas, and add an introduction and transitions, to make a post I’m happy with. (For example, this blog post started as an email. And actually this one you’re reading right now started as two comments in a separate community.)
- If I have more time, like 30–60 minutes, I’ll write up a longer piece or turn a short piece into a longer one.
That’s how I decide which structure to use. I don’t really follow conventional clickbait headline writing advice at this blog, I’m thinking I’ll probably spend more time headlining at Medium. I like the headlines I write here.
I usually start and finish a post in one session, which is really different from my process for writing other pieces and my previous processes—I used to edit posts three times, once by hand, before I released them.
You’ll notice that none of this actually helps me get my articles read, which would be fine if I were writing purely as a hobbyist. However, I’m not satisfied with that—if I’m writing, I want to get read! Even from a pure business perspective, I want to build my mailing list so I can sell the books I write. I also want to write books that I know will be useful for people, which requires testing ideas out. So here’s a (very undisciplined and simple) promotional process:
- Sometimes, after getting the post scheduled in WordPress, I turn them into threads for Twitter. (I use Hypefury). This works best with my five sentence posts (which are already short enough). One of them recently went viral (here’s the original). Each thread I write starts off as a blog post.
- Each week, I’ll take a couple of hours to re-work some of these pieces to be at a place where Fast Company might be interested in picking them up.
- Occasionally—and I have no set times here—I go back and find keywords that people are searching in Google and seeing if my blog posts can make a good fit—or if I can re-assemble them into a new post that fits.
- I used to republish my posts at Medium, and I plan on having an assistant support me with that.
- Same goes for LinkedIn.
Writing daily can get stressful, so I’ve built up a queue so the deadline pressure isn’t too high. My blog is also now a starting point for ideas, not an endpoint—so I’m not too concerned about how perfect an article is. I’m having a lot of fun with it, which was the main goal!
I didn’t realize I had so many ideas I found interesting, and writing each one out generates more. Enjoying the chaos of it all, which naturally means struggling with structure and focus at some moments.
I’m really enjoying the shift in process, because ideas used to be stuck in my head. I couldn’t share them with people outside of doing a call. This process fits in way more with my philosophy of Creative Doing; the ideas are far from perfect, but in writing them and having other people read them, I can refine them and improve them. I can also see what resonates and what’s not.
With this process, I know that I’m not going to be intentionally doing my cleanest or most concise writing; that’s okay, perfection will emerge from this large volume I’m making. And more importantly, I’m personally getting a lot of momentum, energy, and insights from the process—which makes me happier (“adds to my quality of life” lol), gets me thinking, and makes me better in my personal and professional lives.