A Random Writing Recipe

I have to confess, now that my youngest child is nearly a teenager, I often find myself nostalgic for the days when the kids were diaper-wearing toddlers.

Of course that’s a complete lie. I don’t miss those days at all, other than, perhaps, for the fact that gasoline was two dollars a gallon and my house was still considered a valuable asset.

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But the thing I don’t miss the most was having to jump up and get out of bed the instant one of the kids woke up. Today, in fact – and yes, I am bragging – our kids wake up and get out of bed in the morning before we do!

Here’s our approximate weekday sequence:

  • 6:00 AM: My 12-year-old son, Jonathan, gets up and takes a shower in the hallway bathroom.
  • 6:10AM: As a means of both avoiding Jonathan and the swampy grotto he’s busily creating, my 15-year-old daughter, Emily, comes into our bathroom to get ready.
  • 6:20 AM: I pretend I don’t hear my wife Linda telling me to get up.
  • 6:25 AM: I get out of bed, knock on the bathroom door and, once granted permission, walk in briefly to grab my bathrobe from the hook.

And that’s where today’s newsletter really begins. Because for some time now, during the five seconds it takes me to walk in and reach for my robe, I tell Emily one line of an ongoing story.

To call these stories nonsensical is beyond generous. They are idiotic, usually involving some kind of animal (like a mouse or a bear) and some food item (like a cookie).

Here’s a representative sample:

Monday: “Hearing a noise, the mouse grabbed the cookie and turned towards the door.”
Tuesday: “Oddly, there was nobody there … and yet someone – or something – had made a sound.”
Wednesday: “‘Perhaps just the wind,’ thought the mouse, foolishly.”

And so it goes. I don’t know how long we’ve been doing this, but I have noticed two things:

  1. It’s really hard for me to remember, from day to day, where the story last left off. (I briefly considered writing it down, but that seemed like way too much effort.)
  1. To the extent Emily enjoys this at all, she only does so if the line of the day is clever and/or interesting. In other words, she doesn’t keep track of the storyline either.

Believe it or not, your newsletter works the same way:

It’s extra effort on your part to have your topics follow a logical sequence AND … even your most engaged and loyal readers won’t care or remember anyway. Like Emily, all they want is something useful and interesting each time you show up (hopefully not in a bathrobe).

Instead, keep these things in mind:

  • At their best, your newsletters represent an ongoing conversation, not chapters in a book.
    And so while it makes sense – and I recommend – coming up with a big list of topics when you begin publishing, that’s really just to get you started. Your most memorable issues will be those in which you notice something – in your work or in your industry – and are able to comment on or explain that something’s relevance from the perspective of the experienced expert that you are.

    Insights, not information.

  • Redundancy is not a big problem.
    When writing their newsletter, lots of people are overly concerned with “saying something I said before.” My recommendation? Don’t worry about it.

    First, because practically no one other than you will remember what you said and when you said it. And second, to the extent someone else does (you should be so lucky), they’ll simply think of you as someone with a consistent point of view.

    Am I saying it’s okay to tell the same story again or make the same point in the same way over and over? Am I saying it’s okay to tell the same story again or make the same point in the same way over and over? No. That’s boring.

    What I’m suggesting is that overlap in the things you believe, love, distrust, object to, etc., is to be expected. That’s what having a consistent point of view leads to.

  • Order doesn’t matter.
    For all the reasons mentioned above, the order in which you cover information is unimportant. Instead, I recommend picking topics based on what’s most interesting/pressing/controversial today.

    If it’s on your mind, based on what’s happening all around you, it’s on the minds of your readers too. Take advantage of the immediacy of e-mail and be as timely as you can in deciding what to write.

Here’s the bottom line. If you’re looking for a metaphor which describes great E-Newsletter writing (and who isn’t?), I recommend the “business lunch.”

It’s friendly, it’s relevant, it’s timely. It doesn’t matter what you talked about last time and other than a general impression of the other person (good or bad), you probably don’t have much memory for the specifics of the conversation.

Write your newsletter like that and even your teenagers will pay attention.

P.S. Post your “one line” for the next segment of the Emily story above in the comment section below for all the world to see. (I reserve the right to use it tomorrow morning.)

13 thoughts on “A Random Writing Recipe

    1. Joan Lyons

      I really enjoyed and learned a lot from the other participants “one line.” All, in one line, added drama and introduced the tension for the story.

  1. Michael Katz Post author

    Oh, you guys are good. Meet me at the bathroom door Monday morning bright and early and we’ll surprise Emily!

  2. Kathy Shaul

    He shivered as he glanced nervously toward the open window into the pitch black darkness outside and felt the cookie tugged deftly from his mouth.

  3. Simon Glickman

    “The mouse heard footsteps across the hall and shrank back into the shadows to avoid discovery — but suddenly he was overtaken by a powerful urge to sneeze.”


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