Routines are very important to me.
I get up in the morning.
I eat three-to-five children’s gummy vitamins and then start making coffee.
I joined the team at Crew a few months ago as their lead writer—a dream come true—but that’s another story for a different time. Before we could even think about writing, we had to answer a few questions about what we wanted our the blog to be.
These were some of the principals we settled on:
- Research directed
- Answer and explore unique questions & problems
- Must be fun
We knew we wanted each writer to bring their own individual voice to the blog, but having these major themes helped us to direct and guide the blog.
Initially we began by posting around 2-3 times per month. Our goal was to increase that to at least 15 articles per month. In order to do this we developed a publishing schedule to keep everything on track, especially myself.
I’ve been known to go down a rabbit hole—or several—when I’m in the middle of research. Having a schedule helps to remind me that I can’t read every scientific journal available.
Our week begins on Monday morning with a planning session.
I’ve always found that unnecessary formality can really mess up my creative flow. I think too much about what the right thing to say is and less about being open to different ideas and concepts. Each week begins with me coordinating with Mikael (boss and founder of Crew) over HipChat. We use a chat service for a multitude of reasons:
- I’m over 3,000 miles away
- It’s informal
- It’s the best way to get ideas out there quickly and without over-thinking them.
We go back and forth with content suggestions until something sticks. Here is an example from this week:
We keep chatting like this until we have at least four article concepts for the week ahead. Transparency is incredibly important and having a light chat client that breeds openness and banter helps keep everyone accountable and in the loop.
The first draft of anything is shit—Earnest Hemingway
I do most of my research by opening up as many tabs as humanly possible and scanning articles like a machine-human hybrid. Which, if I had to find an equivalent, it would be this:
I do most of my drafting iA Writer. I settled on this program after experimenting with a few others. I like iA Writer because it uses Markdown—a plan-text syntax for formatting documents. This makes transferring the text to websites super simple.
There’s the added benefit of having a constantly updated reading time, character and word count at the bottom.
If I want to see what the post looks like with all of the formatting included, I just go into preview mode. This let’s me see if what I’m doing actually makes sense visually:
Drafting is all about getting as much text down as humanly possible without overthinking it. If I stop too long to think about a paragraph or the introduction, I find that it will stunt my writing process completely. I remind myself that getting the thoughts down is the most important part, I can always go back and edit later.
Transferring the text from iA Writer into Medium helps me shift from the drafting and writing mode into the editing mode. Because I try to write uninterrupted I tend to end up with a lot of embarrassing sentences that look something like this:
“The brain follows two distinct processes, which helps the brain process…”
Editing is my time to take out all of the extraneous sentences and jargon filled phrases that often serve as place-holders for what I should really be saying. I know if I have too much jargon or scientific language, it’s because I don’t trust in my own ability to explain something.
Sometimes I get really attached to certain sentences or paragraphs, that’s a big red flag. It’s where the oft-spoken phrase ‘Kill your darlings’ comes from:
“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
This isn’t always easy to do on your own, which is where Medium’s commenting system comes in handy. I e-mail a link to the Medium draft for Mikael to read through, most days my notes section resembles this:
As Ev Williams says, you can’t write alone. That second pair of eyes is a crucial component of the writing process and without it most of my articles would be horrific messes.
I need to frequently step away from the editing process in order to clear my head. If I try to read a piece too many times in one sitting, I begin to glaze over a lot of the problematic areas. When your brain focuses on something for too long, you just tend to skim the details. You do this without even realizing it, which is why taking breaks from a piece is crucial.
Each article goes through at least two-to-three revisions before it is in a finalized state.
Once the editing has been completed, I prepare the content for our blog which we host on WordPress.
This part is pretty straight forward. I am checking for any inconsistencies in formatting and tightening up any loose ends. I go back and forth between the text editor and preview mode to understand the readers experience.
Why do we cross-post?
It helps us reach a greater number of people who may not otherwise see our content. It also gives us the opportunity to collect data from several different sources.
Each data set tells us something about our audience, the maximum impact or how our articles are being found and referred. I take every bit of information as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Twitter: Share twice with unique image and text
- Facebook: Share once with unique image and text
- LinkedIn: Share once with unique image and text
There is a lot of information out there about what the best time to post is. We’ve found that while these serve as good suggestions, nothing can replace you running your own tests and experiments. Every audience is different and unique and how you post must reflect this.
MailChimp and Data Collection
After we publish to Medium and WordPress we’ll go ahead and prepare the post for distribution to our article dispatches. One of the best parts about using MailChimp is that I can preview in multiple modes to see exactly how the post renders on mobile and in an e-mail browser:
When I was a field organizer back in 2008, something that was drilled into my head is this: “You are only as good as your data.”
Our Field Director in this particular instance was talking about voter data and registration, but I believe the same wisdom can be applied to all data. You can’t fix something that’s broken if you don’t know what it is. You can’t experiment if you don’t know what variables to change out.
For instance, we know the device and OS people use to read our content:
This helps the design and engineering team know more about how to best create templates that make the most of these individual services. In turn, I can do my part by writing and organizing text to maximize readability.
Every step of this process is done in a way to help us collect and visit data about how we post and what we are posting. Something new we have adopted as part of our data collection is weekly newsletters which go out every Friday evening or Saturday Morning. People want to be able to pick and choose which content to read at the times that are most convenient to them, Weekend Reads helps us give them this power.
Here are some of the other questions that we are constantly asking ourselves:
- Are we posting too often or not enough?
- What are the reading times that work best for our readers?
- Are there articles that readers want to see more than others?
All data tells a story, and it’s up to us to decode what that story is. Each step is another opportunity for me to refine and to learn. I never, ever forget that.
I read a lot, I mean a lot of content online.
The experience each reader has is something I spend a lot of time agonizing over. I’ve said it before and I still believe this to be true, writing and reading is one of the most important and uniquely personal connections that we can have with one another.
The best thing we can do is share and learn from one another, which is part of why I felt compelled to write this post. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but if there is something here that can help others write, or draft in a more efficient or useful way, that’s what this is all about.
Our process is always evolving as we learn from one another and develop our strategies. If you have any hints, tips, or suggestions please let us know by commenting on this post or sending me your thoughts on Twitter @missafayres.