Discover more from The Forcing Function
#014 - Thoughts on publishing for a calendar quarter
Welcome to Issue #014 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
🗒️ And on a personal note: A thank you to my wife, to the Newsletter Launchpad community, and to you - the reader.
My retrospective of publishing for a quarter of the year.
Publishing Issue 13 last Thursday, I've somehow reached the milestone of publishing this weekly newsletter on time, every time for a straight quarter.
So, indulge me as I look back over the last 13 weeks.
Expectations versus reality
I write for work so writing a newsletter should be similar.
Being a business analyst, I do a lot of writing. One day I'm crafting a business case, another day I'll be doing a technology options paper. Today, I was drafting feature documentation.
I quickly realised that it's not the same thing as writing a newsletter.
Of course there are some parallels but you should've seen the early drafts of the first few issues of this newsletter. They were concise and clear but dreadfully dull. There was no soul and it felt like you were reading a textbook.
Frankly, it was as boring for me to write as I imagine it would be for you to read.
The difference is that I know my clients well, I already had their trust, and my writing served a specific outcome - usually a decision.
That's not the same when writing for a newsletter where all those factors are nebulous. For this readership, I must prove my credibility and I need to work harder to retain their attention.
So, with a different audience to reach, I've adapted how I write for them.
That includes being personal, observational, and playful - as suggested by David Perell. Structuring my core message as a compelling 3-act story (setup → tension → resolution) - as suggested by Randy Olson. And, starting my story at the juicy part and not with a long-winded back story - as suggested by Wes Kao.
Each newsletter would be short and sweet.
In the Newsletter Launchpad course I did, Louie and Chris advocated starting with the "minimum viable newsletter".
Their argument is this gives newcomers the best chance to publish consistently and constantly. By identifying the minimum level, you always get an issue published no matter what - even if you were ill.
I ignored that.
Perhaps it's my classic Asian over-achiever programming. Perhaps, I was being over-optimistic. Perhaps, I was just crazy.
Whatever the reason, I consistently write ~1,300 words for each issue. In fact, I write about ~2,000 words before editing down to a 5 minute read. For comparison, James Clear (who publishes a popular newsletter) writes ~350 words.
Don't get me wrong. There are weeks where I wish that my format was shorter and quicker to produce. But, that's outweighed by the fun I have researching each issue, by the intellectual challenge of editing, and by the fulfilment that I get writing something worthy - even if no-one reads it.
I genuinely don't believe that I would have kept publishing if I forced myself to do a short format newsletter - it's simply not my style.
A common piece of advice you see often is that you need a system to write consistently.
Over the years I've studiously collected all sorts of content over the years. In parallel, I've failed at using personal knowlege management (PKM) apps from Roam to Obsidian to Supernotes to ... well, you get the idea.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
James Clear | Author of "Atomic Habits"
By serendipitious timing, Tiago released his "Building A Second Brain" book as I was starting this newsletter.
He explains, through his CODE method, how to create your "second brain" to digital augment your biological brain. With both, you create and maintain a personal knowledge library to:
Test and iterate on what you think you know
Reveal hidden connections between your ideas
Incubate new insights as you mature them to create something new
So far, this works for me.
Compared with my previous attempts, the key difference is I'm prioritising understanding the fundamentals over learning the latest PKM system I've found. Also, now I'm publishing for real, I have a vested interest in making this practically useful for myself.
Here's a high-level visual of how I've applied Tiago's method:
Capture: Systematically logging those ideas, those insights, those references that resonate with you as you notice them.
Everything notable and digital gets saved into Raindrop along with my highlights about why I thought it was notable for my future self.
Organise: Structuring your notes to serve the outcome you're looking to achieve.
When I started my digital notes were split over 4 apps. By consolidating them all into Raindrop, I've reduced the friction in where to store the note or find it again.
Distill: Supercharging your ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.
With all my digital notes and references in Raindrop, its search functionality has been my "god mode" for surfacing those connections and generating new ideas to write about.
Express: Shifting your default from passively consuming knowlege to actively applying your ideas.
My a-ha moment was to create "content packets" for my newsletter modules so I can re-use them when I start using Twitter and LinkedIn.
Whilst I've made a decent start, my take on Tiago's method is most definitely still a work in progress. But even in this rough state, it's already the bedrock for how I publish consistently.
Critically, it's given me that confidence that not only do I have something of note to write about this week, but also that I've still got plenty left to write. I cannot tell you how reassuring that feeling is.
What's on the roadmap?
Coming up next in this quarter:
Writing long-form articles
Publishing my first guide
Sharing my insights on Twitter and LinkedIn.
🗒️ And on a personal note ...
A thank you to my wife, to the Newsletter Launchpad community, and to you - the reader.
Without all the support and encouragement I've received along the way, I wouldn't be writing about hitting this milestone.
So, firstly, thanks to my ever-suffering wife for putting up with me constantly bouncing ideas off her and for reading my drafts.
Next, to the awesome Newsletter Launchpad community that Louie and Chris built. Especially to Alvin, Janahan, Jen, and KimSia for taking the time to read and feedback on my drafts. Each issue I've published is stronger because of you.
Last but certainly not least: to you, the readers. For subscribing, for your comments on what I should write, and for keeping me going.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
If you enjoyed this newsletter, let me know with the ♥️ button or add your thoughts and questions in the comments. I read every message.
And, if your friends or colleagues might like this newsletter, do consider forwarding it to them.
For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.