Are you optimizing your writing habits?
We have a limited amount of attention, bandwidth, and energy. There are only so many “hacks” we can take before it’s going to become ever more important to cull the flow of information and set up systems that let us optimize for our strengths and internal design.
My writing and publishing is best done on a system that allows me to have some freedom, but within a structure. When I have a structure that I no longer have to think about when or why I’m writing, I’m then free to write without spending time wondering when I’ll actually do the writing.
What is a writing frame?
Frames are incredible important for both my own practice as well as for connecting to other people. A writing frame is a pattern or schedule that you stick to in your habit or practice. Some examples of writing frames are: publishing a new blog post every Monday at 10am, writing a monthly newsletter on the first of every month, or writing every weekday at 7am.
Podcasts, television shows, and great newsletters use these schedules to stay consistent. They also use them to communicate to the subscriber, reader, or viewer (you) when new content will arrive.
Think about the newsletters that you read. Do you appreciate ones that are regular and consistent? If it’s something you’re a fan of, you might be a regular reader: you know when your latest episodes of Silicon Valley go live, and when new episodes of your favorite podcast are released.
I’ve written previously about the 20 Mile March and why it’s so useful as a set-up for getting things done. Today I want to share how I’ve broken down my writing structure and why the frames are so helpful for me.
These are my personal writing frames:
A weekly blog, delivered every Monday at 10AM.
I publish a weekly blog at sarahkpeck.com/writing, every Monday at 10AM. (The newsletter ships at 10AM, but the post is scheduled to go live by 6AM Eastern time.)
I try to maintain a queue of posts that are ready to go for at least six weeks in advance, so I’m not operating at last minute. (This doesn’t always work out, but I do my best.) When I need a break, I follow the likes of Paul Jarvis and James Clear and announce that I’m taking a monthly break (this often happens in August for a summer sabbatical and in December/January, when most people are on winter holiday).
In the past, I committed to writing once per week, but I never committed to a specific date or time. This year, I’m increasing the rigidity of the structure by adding a day and a time to it.
Every Monday at 10AM, there’s a new post.
It’s my goal with this to get into a regular habit with my readers to deliver great essays right at the top of the week, when we’re primed to take action and set ourselves up for success.
A monthly newsletter, delivered on the 1st of every month.
On the first of every month, I write a popular newsletter that’s a round-up post linking back to all of the writing I’ve created, the best blog posts, and the newest offerings. I include a monthly writing practice, a review of best books I’d recommend, and links to the best articles I’ve read and think were worth sharing.
One of the things that’s important in my practice of writing a monthly newsletter is curating and culling. Finding ways to set up a structure and add limits allows me to reach for higher-quality work.
The structure of my newsletter is loosely based on the following:
- A short opening essay (usually personal in nature)
- A quiz or a question (”what should I teach or write next?”)
- A round-up of top 4 posts, visually with links
- Monthly journal practice
- Book recommendations of the month
- Quote of the month
- Best of the web: top 10 links that are worth putting in your reading queue
- Accountability: a tracker of my yearly goals and how I’m doing with them (books, meditation, exercise, and learning)
Here’s an example of a past newsletter that follows the structure above.
Daily, public journal.
Sometimes I just need a free place to write, free-form, to work through ideas. I’ve used this Tumblr at sarahkathleenpeck.tumblr.com for years as a place to house ideas, show my process, and write out new pieces.
Sometimes you’ll see an overlap as an idea develops here, and then moves to my more formal blog. Sometimes I take years off (see: having a baby in 2016), and then return to the writing practice time and time again. This frame is more of a house, or a home, and a place I know where I can always go to write. It’s not guided by a specific time but it’s a house all the same: it’s a place I can go write when I need to write in a flurry.
The components of a great frame:
Every time we reduce the amount of thinking we’re doing about the thing we want to actually be doing, we create more space to be doing what we wanted to do in the first place. Frames create a particular quality of freedom by removing the number of times you have to make a decision about how you’re going to behave in the future.
A work schedule is a frame, for example. When you’re committed to working between the hours of 10am and 5pm, that’s a specific pattern and your behaviors fall in line accordingly. (How you decide to spend the late evenings, when you get coffee, what you wear, etc, are all influenced by the work frame.)
A habit pattern or frame consists of the following:
- A rhythm or a pattern tied to a specific recurring day or date.
- A frequency (daily, weekly, etc) or total quantity (I will do this 100 times)
- A specific time
- A place where you do the work, and show up to do the work
- A clear, actionable, specific (SMART) way to measure whether or not you’ve succeeded.
A writing frame that’s every Monday at a specific time (10AM), delivered via WordPress (my online home), publishing via blog and email, and looks like a published, live, blog post is a frame that works for me.
Past frames I’ve given up:
I’ve tried on other frames, like daily blogging, and that hasn’t worked for me successfully. I’ve tried publishing more frequently, and that erodes my available time for other things (like book writing, or running my Mastermind, for example).
What structures do you use to set yourself up for success? How do you plan out and map your own writing or creative practice?
One of my favorite things about the word “practice,” is that it reminds us that all we have to do is keep practicing. If we can optimize for making space to practice, with weekly rituals and reminders, then we’ll be doing the work.
Because doing the work is what matters more than almost anything else.
How will you set up your own frames for success?—
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Also published on Medium.