@adlrocha - Demystifying my writing process
In case you want to launch your own newsletter.
|Alfonso de la Rocha||Feb 16, 2020|
This week, for the first time since I started this newsletter, I couldn’t find a topic to talk about. Let’s not fool ourselves, releasing a new piece of writing every single week is a lot of pressure, and it requires the investment of a lot of time and effort (along with outstanding organization skills in order to fit enough small chunks of writing time throughout the week to allow me have a publication ready every Sunday). Some people have asked me, “how do you manage to write a new article every week? You don’t have a life, or what?” Well I do. I have a full-time job, a live, family, friends, and a lot of hobbies, and I am really grateful for this. Fortunately, writing is one of these hobbies. It is true that sometimes I wish I had more time for other things. And I won’t lie, sometimes I feel tempted to kill this newsletter in order to have more time for my other hobbies, but I almost always end up overcoming the instinct.
The reason why I prioritize writing and this newsletter over other of my hobbies? I think it is good for me personally and professionally. Don’t you agree? This newsletter is like my “public journal”. You can have a quick look at all the reported benefits about writing and journaling to understand why all this effort is totally worth it. I actually encourage you to try journaling at least once in your life.
I was thinking about all of this while searching for a topic to write about this week when it came to me, “wait a minute! what a better topic to talk about in these moments of lack of inspiration than this newsletter and how I find the inspiration and time every week to write a new piece?”. So this publication will be an attempt to immerse you in my writing process. Hope you enjoy it and learn a lot from it!
Where do I find inspiration?
I keep in a notebook a backlog of potential topics to talk about. Every time I come up with an idea for the newsletter I noted down. The kind of things I usually write down as “potential fits” for the newsletter can be categorized in:
Things I want to learn, revise, or elaborate on. I usually use the newsletter as an excuse to force me learn new things I’ve looking to learn for a while. These are the publications that take me the most, as it requires me to understand deeply the new topic, play with it enough to be able to “teach” the concepts (or at least communicate them in simple terms) through this newsletter. Examples of these are my publication about Enigma, or the ZKP and Lattice Cryptography Games. Estimated time of writing 6-8 hours.
Things I learn or use at work, and side projects. As consequence of my daily work I end up coming across problems, interesting concepts, and creative solutions worth sharing, as they may be useful for all of you. Some examples we’ve seen in this newsletter are my newly formed opinion about JS, the development of my Goxyq, or my recent love for WASM. Estimated time of writing 5 hours.
Personal experiences, reflections and opinions: One type of publication I enjoy the most writing are those in which I share personal experiences and opinions. They are the most conflicting topics to talk about as they are significantly subjective, so some people love them, and others hate them (to the extent of “DMing” me clearly stating their discontent with my publication). Of this kind you may remember my attempt to formalize what happiness at work mean, my dissection of tech conference, or my tale of donkeys and lions. Estimated time of writing 2-3 hours.
News analysis, new ideas, and trends: The news are a great source of inspiration for my publications. My two main sources of news are HackerNews and Twitter. With news I don’t mean the consequences of Trump’s last tweet or the economical implications of CoVid-19. Although interesting, these topics do not belong to my field of expertise, so I don’t feel comfortable analyzing these type of news. I usually go for tech news and trends I can discuss about such as the pieces I dedicated to serverless technology, decentralize finance or Libra. Estimated time of writing 3-5 hours.
How do I write my publications?
With my topic backlog built, according to the potential time I have in the week (which depends on several constraints: meetings, appointments, amount of work for the week, errands, training, my weekend basketball games, gettings together with family and friends, etc.), I chose the topic I will talk about for the week. How I usually approach the writing of publication is as follows:
Depending on the specific topic the first thing I do is a bit of research. Even if the topic belong to the group of “personal experiences, reflections and opinions” of my backlog, I like to explore what other’s have written about the topic to confront my views on the matter. When the topic is from the bucket of “news analysis, new ideas, and trends” there is usually a first news, article or publication that serves as a foundation for the research process, and to start writing a first draft.
With all the initial research done, I write a first draft of the publication where I figuratively “puke” all the content I want to include in the article. This gives me a solid first draft for the piece in terms of structure and content. I usually give a preliminary title and subtitle to my publications before starting writing to set a groundwork of what I want to talk about. However, after my “puking” process, and with a global view of the content and structure, I usually change the title a few more times to make it attractive and make it perfectly fit the content.
I have a title, a subtitle and a first draft of the publication. It is the perfect moment to make it pretty with a few images from unsplash that fit the content.
I perform then a thorough revision of the first draft, emphasizing the most interesting parts of the publication to help its reading (and to allow my most lazy readers to get a slight idea of the topic of the article after a quick skim). In this step is where I give consistency to the whole text and structure that may have ended up a bit messy and hard to understand after the first draft. With this, I am ready to include complementary references (if applicable) for my top of the class readers.
Finally, I make a last quick reading to check that the speech is consistent, there are no big typos or weird constructions… and we are ready to go! Click send!
Here’s the critical point, and in my opinion the main reason why there is a lot of variation in the quality of my publications. I try to plan a few (potential) writing slots in the week first thing Monday morning according to my planned schedule. Some weeks I manage to find throughout the week a few small slots to start my research and a full free slot of three to five hours in the weekend to work in my writing. This is the perfect (and my preferred) setup, because it allows me to be completely focused for a few hours straight to write. This setup is when my highest quality publications are produced, and this why the weeks that this happen is when I try to plan topics from my “things I want to research” bucket, which require more focus from my part.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and there are weeks when I don’t have a lot of time for research, and my busy weekend only allows me to allocate small one-hour slots for writing (before lunch, before meeting some friends, after my basketball game, before going to sleep, after cleaning my place, etc.). These are moments where my focus is limited, but they are the only ones available and I can’t waste them if I want to have a brand new article every week. Under this scenario is where I produce my lowest quality pieces of writing. Hence, I try to allocate shallow or easy to write topics for this weeks, where the require focus is not big, and is more like writing a personal diary than a proper technical publication.
And what if you can’t find the time?
Of course, there are weeks when I don’t have time to write at all. For these weeks I have a few resources to prevent me from skipping a week of the newsletter:
The Lazy Publications: Sometimes I only have a full hour to write in the weekend (or I don’t feel like writing at all), but I managed to do a lot of random research throughout the week, either because I had to for work, or because I was trying to find some inspiration for future publications. In this case, what I usually do is a “Lazy Publication” where I share interesting references I may have found throughout the week. In the past year, I just had to use this resource once. It didn’t have a lot of success, but my plan is to try and enhance my Lazy Publications in order to make them a bit more attractive. Estimated time to get the newsletter ready: 1 hour.
#ICYMI Series: This is a wildcard publication where I share a compilation of my top previous articles In Case you have Missed them/It (ICYMI). I haven’t have to resort to this resource yet, but the closest thing I’ve done to this (for you to get the concept) is my 2019 review of the newsletter. Estimated time to get the newsletter ready: 15-30 min.
My Medium publications: Before launching this newsletter, I periodically wrote in Medium. I have a few interesting articles there I haven’t shared yet with my newsletter audience. So whenever there’s a week I don’t have time to write properly, I recycle one of these articles and get it pretty and updated for this newsletter. Estimated time to get the newsletter ready: 30 min.
So this is what happens behind the scenes of the publications you receive every Sunday in your inbox. Any idea how I could improve even most this process?