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From Idea to Inbox: Discover the Process Behind This Newsletter
A behind-the-scenes story
How are you? I hope you’re doing well!
I often get asked how I come up with a new story every week. What is my creative process? What are the challenges vs. happy moments?
Earlier, I provided some details in a previous story in My Backstage Story but here is the full process.
First, some background
I started the Visual Storytelling Newsletter six years ago. So for me, this is not a sprint but a marathon I quite enjoy.
Initially, I was using MailChimp as my email marketing platform but last September, as you may have seen, I migrated the newsletter to Substack.
My rationale was simple.
I wanted more visibility for my newsletter beyond a private channel, a cleaner look, yet feature-rich, and a stronger way to support VSI’s larger brand narrative:
“Bringing the gospel of visual storytelling from the world of art into more purposeful marketing.”
The paid tiers also allowed me to convey that I take this storytelling channel very seriously - treating it like an OpEd formatted as a personal letter - with a blend of insightful stories and industry commentary about the rapidly evolving visual storytelling industry.
Now let’s look at my process.
It’s Wednesday! Do you know where your story is?
First thing first, I start my Wednesday with a 7 AM - 8 AM morning walk.
Hey, Vitamin E (E=Exercise) is a must-have, right?
Typically, I either listen to some podcasts or listen to some music and let my mind flow wherever it goes. No constraints on a specific direction.
Podcasts, reading the daily paper, and meeting with clients or networking - are all great sources for finding new angles for stories.
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Wednesday: Sitting down to write
Around 9AM Wed it’s when I really sit down to write. By then if I’m lucky I’ll have an idea and will jot down key points in Notes, so I won’t forget.
I often run online research to bring valid stats to quantify the size of a problem and underline the high stakes not solving it.
Sometimes I may consult with ChatGPT4 about a particular topic to map out the key viewpoints at the forest view level. I installed WebChatGPT Chrome extension, so I can see the sources the information is coming from, which is a great help in content validation.
Other times I may brainstorm a few story titles and add my personal touches.
From this perspective, Peter Dolkens, a London-based software developer nicely sums up AI’s true value in a recent New York Times story:
“It’s the equivalent of a very well-read intern. They might not have the experience to know how to apply it, but they know all the words, they’ve read all the books and they’re able to get part of the way there.”
One thing you can be sure of. The finished story you read every Sunday is 100% brain-generated :)
Like handmade vs. mass manufactured, who knows maybe one day we’ll pay premium for those rare brain-generated vs. AI-generated products…
You may wonder, what does my office look like?
Let’s start with sounds.
Pretty much what you’d hear here:
Next, let’s set the visual scene for you.
My office overlooks a tropical garden, so whenever I get stuck all it takes is stop, look to my right at the palm leaves and hop on the next train of thought.
The visual work
I know some folks first write and add visuals at the end to not disrupt their thinking.
In my case, I can’t help myself once I have a visual concept, I rush over to Canva or other visual creating platforms, get it out of my system and plant it in my story.
It helps me see how the story and visuals gel together.
Next up! Polishing
By noon time on Wed, I’ll have the first draft done.
So the good thing about dropping the newsletter only on Sunday is that it gives me 3 days to let the story simmer “releasing all its juices.”
I often think of new angles to add, rephrase or completely remove parts that may disrupt clarity and digression from the main theme.
So what happens is that I keep perfecting the story on-the-go via my phone while outside, tablet over breakfast and desktop for a deep-dive editing.
Sunday morning, I run the final editing, run tests to spot typos, broken links and things that escape my eye earlier.
If all checks, I drop the weekly newsletter, as you’ve seen, every Sunday at 11:30am ET. What you get is a hearty story with ideas, anecdotes and insights that like “a slow cooking dish” have been simmering for a few days.
My happy moments are whenever subscribers tell me that my weekly email drop has become part of their Sunday routine.
How cool is that?
You’d be surprised, but even after sending the newsletter I sometime still spot errors that sneaked in.
If you come across them, realize this is a human-made effort as opposed to machine-generated. I fixed them as this newsletter also lives on its own Website.
Realize this workflow is not written in stone. I may miss my Wednesday’s inspiration day and a great idea will be born only on Thursday or Friday.
That’s fine as I believe that as long as you surround yourself with a creative environment that allows you to find ideas easily - you’ll always capture one.
As for how can I keep such a tough regiment for such a long time? By now I don’t treat it as a chore but more as a fun habit. The same way you my feel bad if you haven’t worked out for a week.
As such, it’s really my “mental gym” where I can share stories that over time I was even able to package into a whole book four years ago: Total Acuity: Tales with Marketing Morals To Help You Create Richer, Visual Brand Stories.
I hope I was able to give you a clear glimpse behind the scenes about the creative process of producing this newsletter.
Regardless of the output, your creative process may be quite different, and that’s ok. No hard rules here, it’s all about what works for you. I think committing to a publishing schedule also helps as it forces your brain to stay curious - Vitamin M (=Mental).
What’s your process? Feel free to share your experiences, observations or comments below.
So next time when you read my stories, you could easily visualize what it takes to produce a fresh story every week. And maybe it will inspire you to start or improve your own creative visual storytelling process.
Until next time, keep spreading stories people truly care about.