Some Unsolicited Newsletter Advice

Dave gathered some thoughts around blogging the other day and I agree with a lot of them but especially this one:

If you ever sit down to write and the words don’t come out, don’t write. Close the computer. Do something else.

This had me wondering what might be good advice for newsletters based on my experience with Adventures and the CSS Tricks newsletter. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Focus on one story at a time

I try not to have a lot of disparate thoughts, topics, and links in one email. I love [insert cool artist’s name here] but their newsletter is difficult to read because it’s all over the place. One minute they’re talking about a novel they like and the next they’re talking about an illustration style they like. It just feels like too many separate ideas to me and I struggle to focus on them. I guess what I’m looking for from my inbox is one small story once a week.

Keep ‘em small

Don’t write long emails. Think about how folks read their email; it’s not a beautiful experience and typography is still pretty dang hard to get right. After following a lot of newsletters, like Matt Taibi’s Hate Inc., I found that I only have enough time to read one with a coffee. Preferably on a Saturday morning. Any longer than that and it starts to feel like something they should post on a website or an idea that belongs in print.

Don't cherish your ideas

Don’t worry if it’s perfect prose or the most insightful batch of ideas. Don’t even worry if it’s an original idea. If there’s one thing that Chris has taught me from CSS Tricks is that if I find something interesting then other folks are likely to as well. No matter how obscure or weird the topic might be. People will always read stuff that’s written in an excited and charming format.

Republish and keep experimenting

Craig Mod once wrote about how he would advise writers to publish stuff everywhere to see what sticks. Try Wordpress and Medium, try self publishing and publish the same piece in multiple formats and platforms. The reason why is because you should keep experimenting with writing styles and your own voice. Plus it’s good practice to figure out what applications and processes you like to boot. But beware: each platform will encourage a certain kind of writing.

Always write to a best friend

I used to send emails to a friend in Australia. We would write to each other about design and typography as well as how our lives were going. And I cherished those emails because of how honest and sincere they were. It was a conversation between like minded friends and so the tone of each email was deliriously excited and informal. This is what I think newsletters crave to be. It should sound as if a clever friend wants to share something with you urgently; punctuation and grammar be damned.