I've written more than 100 weekly newsletter posts since beginning this Wonder Tools experiment in April 2020. Thanks for joining me on the journey so far. In case it’s useful, in this post I'm offering a window into my process.
I rely on Roam as my digital notebook for a bunch of reasons, including that it doesn’t require me to file items into folders. iA Writer is my anti-distraction writing space. Eagle is where I grab screenshots and organize my images. And I use Substack to publish this newsletter for several reasons, including its ease, though there are lots of other good options.
To publish this newsletter I also end up using other tools, like Alfred for keyboard shortcuts, Chrome for browsing, and Rize for time-tracking. Plus various apps for deep work. And Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive to store files I’m working on.
My toolkit is evolving as new tools emerge and my workflow changes. A year ago, I summed up my publishing toolkit a little differently. Lately I’ve been exploring new browsers and new calendar and note-taking tools. I’m particularly curious about The Browser Company, which is developing a radically different browser.
But tools are just one part of the creative process. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in my writing process, but we each have our own way of framing our work, right? So I’m sharing a summary of that below. 👇
Explore — Every post I've published originates in this exploration phase. In order to write about something I have to:
Find out about it. I discover tools in a variety of places, including:
Recommendations from friends, colleagues & readers
Searches on app stores, Twitter & Google to solve workflow challenges
Product Hunt for crowd-curated recommendations
Newsletters, podcasts & Youtubers who I trust as curators
Try it out. I use whatever tool I'm writing about for things I'm working on. I experiment while working to assess its lasting value.
Outline. When something I use seems like it might interest you, the reader of this post, I sketch out a handful of core points on paper. I usually aim to summarize why a particular tool is useful, what it can be used for, how to make the most of it, and its limitations and alternatives.
Write. I like drafting posts in iA Writer because its distraction-free interface helps keep my short attention span focused on writing. When I'm referencing lots of links I prefer writing with Google Docs because it has lots of hidden gem features, like a shortcut for quickly adding links to text without opening up other tabs.
Edit. I email myself a draft and read it on my phone or on paper. Switching formats helps me move from a writing to an editing mindset. Then I try to:
Cut unnecessary text
Revise clunky sentences
Fix weak explanations
Add useful info
Design. Posts require at least a couple of images, a bunch of links, and some buttons for sharing, commenting and subscribing. I usually do this late in the process, so I don't waste time dressing something that is going to get cut.
Proofread. A newsletter can't be edited once it's in someone's inbox, so I try to clean up typos before hitting publish. I usually miss a couple, so I rely on my secret partner: my wife. She notices spelling errors and missing punctuation. She also points out when something’s boring or makes no sense. That's a helpful reality check when I’m fascinated by a minor detail about which you, the reader, may not care.
1. Weekly publishing requires scheduling deep work 🦋
When I switch repeatedly between preparing to teach, writing, and triaging email, I struggle to delve deep into any of those aspects of my work. I’ve learned to batch those activities into discrete blocks of deep work time.
Because this newsletter isn't pegged to breaking news, I can work ahead at night when the impulse strikes me to map out future posts. I try to stay a few weeks ahead to avoid the rush of last-minute work. I often fail at that. ⏳
2. Inspiration is unpredictable 🐼
I used to get discouraged when I ran out of ideas. I've learned to accept that my mind works in unpredictable cycles. Sometimes I feel empty of inspiration. On other days thoughts flow freely, particularly when I'm well-rested or take a long walk. Other things that help me recharge: nature, games, family time and great books.
3. Fresh eyes matter 👀
I can't write, edit and polish a post in one sitting. I work best when I outline and draft first, then return later to edit something with fresh eyes. Otherwise I risk missing the reader’s perspective. I also try to carve out separate work time for design — adding images and links, and updating headlines and buttons. That type of work requires me to focus on the big picture, not details.
How would you summarize your own writing process?
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p,s. My DMs are open on Twitter @jeremycaplan if you have input to share