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Behind the Scenes: What it’s Like to Write an Article

Last year, I suggested to Justin that he keep a diary throughout an entire project—from the very first kickoff call all the way through launch—and eventually turn that into a blog post that shows a behind-the-scenes look at the web development process from a designer’s point of view. He did it and the resulting post was enlightening and inspiring. As I read through it for the second or third time, I realized that the diary format would be a great way to show what it’s like to create content, too. So I thought I’d give it a shot.

So, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing a newsletter for our site.



7:40 AM
Opened up the document where I keep ideas for upcoming articles. I had a few for this month; one I know won’t work because it involved coordinating with Mark and another colleague and we all knew that was going to get bumped a few months. I jotted down a really brief note about how I hadn’t done anything related to content in over a year. So, looks like we’re going with that one.

10:15 AM
Ran the content idea by Mark. He was into it. I’ve got a few other writing deadlines I need to hit before I start on this, but hopefully I can get going on it soon.


7:05 AM
Got in early and started messing around with an outline. At this point it’s just a whole bunch of thoughts that will need serious organization.

I should also report that at this stage of any writing project the usual feelings of doubt surface. They include, but are not limited to, concern that I have little of relevance or value to say about the subject; that I’ll oversimplify the issues or be simply incorrect about something important and/or technical; that my writing will, in the end, be mediocre and yet still come off as pretentious and condescending; that anyone who reads what I produce this time around will realize that either I have no business writing or they have no business wasting their time reading what I write. I’m am well aware of the neuroses at play here.



7:00 AM
Just got in to the office and set up. I probably have a half hour to forty-five minutes of quiet time to write. It’s still dark out, the lamps are “lit,” and I’m streaming my new favorite writing soundtrack. All is well.

7:15 AM
Well, the mood was right but that’s not making it any easier to get started. The cliche “drawing water from a stone” comes to mind. Speaking of which, I forgot to make coffee. Apparently I’m addicted to the stuff—even in very small quantities (I’m known around here for keeping the same small cup of coffee going all morning and still not finishing it.) I realize that pausing to brew some now is really just a veiled act of giving in to writer’s block. I should also tell you that the outline I had already put together for this article is garbage. Not sure what I was thinking yesterday.

(Once I get over myself and actually start making some headway, these entries will definitely get less grouchy and pathetic.)

8:15 AM
Though one hour has passed since my last entry, I really only got about 30 minutes of work in before my first interruption. A few of our early risers came in and wanted to walk over to the coop next door to grab something for breakfast. I joined them, of course. Back to work.

8:30 AM
How do I already have 15 new emails in my inbox? By the way, the fact that I wrote that shows that my hypocrisy knows no bounds. I often advise people to close their browsers or even go completely offline while they are writing to avoid the distraction that is the internet. I never do this. I should. It is a good idea. Anyway, I put myself in the line of fire by going to Google to check on a source for the article. Forgot I had noted it way down at the bottom of my outline document, where it says “SOURCES” in all caps. Riiight.

9:25 AM
I now have two competing outlines. I still haven’t figured out exactly what kind of article this should be—a “digest” style overview of the topic that is easily scannable or a more cohesive, thoughtful and comprehensive treatment. I always lean toward the latter—an ego thing if I’m honest—but I’m stuck obsessing over including all the detail that I know is involved in the topic, which is keeping me from actually writing much of anything so far. Just so you know, this happens to me every_single_time.

Gotta run for our all-hands meeting.

10:30 AM
Just got out of a prototype review. The team is creating good stuff. So I think I’ve got about half an h —

10:45 AM
— Well, I was starting to say I had about half an hour to write before a call, but I got pulled away to look at our production schedule. And now I’m using my remaining 15 minutes to write this.

Look away, I’m hideous!

1:45 PM
I had a few good ideas over lunch, so I scooted back to my desk a few minutes shy of 1pm and shut off everything and typed like a madman. It’s a mess but I think there’s something there.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, the romantic notion of hours spent writing in quiet, contemplative composition is a myth. At least on Thursdays it is.

2:32 PM
While I was on a call, I had an idea for what to do about images for the article I’m working on. I’d been struggling to come up with a good visual metaphor for content that I might use for a series of illustrations (like the “graphs” in Making Sense of the Data, the “currency presidents” in What You Should Know About Ecommerce, or CMS “box” in Choose a Developer, Not a CMS) but got a flash of an image of a person with text instead of a face. I’ll have to do it in a way that isn’t as grotesque as my “fly person” from Designing for Attention, but I think the idea of visually fusing text with people is worth pushing.

4:45 PM
I intended to get another shot at some focused writing in this afternoon, but that doesn’t look like —

5:15 PM
— like I was saying (I got pulled away again, mid sentence), not gonna happen. If it’s hard to do a meta-post about the process of writing something, you can bet that it’s also hard to write something.

Anyway, it’s been a long day. I’m going to close up for now and go to the gym.

7:45 PM
I’ve got dinner cooking and had a few ideas about points/wording. Grabbed my laptop while the water was boiling and added them to the outline. Will probably check back in briefly later just to make sure the thought doesn’t get left behind with the rest of today…

9:15 PM
Worked a bit on the draft. See you tomorrow.



7:15 AM
At my desk. Going to just get started.

8:05 AM
Productive 45 minutes or so. Sadly, that’s a relatively long stretch. But since I’ve been fussing with my outline and thinking about it quite a bit over the past day or so, I was able to bang out a good amount.

Going to pause here and grab a bite to eat next door.

8:50 AM
Got back and consolidated my documents. Went from 5 documents to 1, so that’s progress. Gotta save, close and get ready for a project kickoff.

10:02 AM
Prescheduled the next two hours to write. I’m about halfway done with the material I include in my outl

10:18 AM
Got pulled away to manage a bit of a mini-crisis. Had started to say I’d scheduled until noon, when I have another project kickoff, to write. Better get to it.

3:45 PM
Settling back down to write some more. Wish me luck.

5:45 PM
Had a few interruptions but managed to accomplish quite a bit. I’ve got over 1,500 words written of what I’m guessing will end up around 2,000-2,500 total. Getting there. The hard parts are written, I think.



11:30 AM
Back at my desk. I think I can wrap this up today.

(Stayed up late last night watching Downton Abbey and am now questioning my ability to resist the emotional manipulation and mind control of television. Cursing Thomas. Cursing Edith and Mary. Oh hell, cursing all of them. Except Bates. And Mr. Carson. Oh and Mrs. Hughes—had to check IMDB for her name. No, this has nothing to do with the task at hand but I feel like I might as well go all the way with this confessional thing.)

1:25 PM
Up to 2,301 words. Phoned a friend kind enough to listen to me read my own writing in my stilted, awkward manner and got some helpful feedback on a few passages. All done except I need a conclusion of some kind.

2:45 PM
Wrapped up most of the writing and started working on the imagery for the article. I decided to start with the sketch of the head-with-text-for-a-face, which I’ll probably use as the main image that is featured on the homepage and the newsletter landing page. I originally created it to be flat and illustrative, but then thought it needed some more space and texture, so I used the original photograph. This is what I came up with.



3:30 PM
Based upon my original sketch of the place setting with a “content salad,” I created another image to go with the main illustration. Not really feeling this one. Guess that’s what I get for working on a Sunday.

4:15 PM
Gave up on the illustrations for now. Proofread the article, which I think is in good shape. It ended up at just under 3,000 words.



7:30 AM
Ok, I’m thinking the images I’ve created so far are not hitting the right tone. They’re too sinister and aesthetically, they feel a bit disjointed or unintentional. I think the concepts and compositions are fine, but the textures and colors are not. I’m going to spend a little time reworking them.

8:30 AM
Tada. Sometimes haste makes waste, but sometimes it makes better images. Once I had revised the place setting image and come up with a few others, I realized how to fix the main image.

11:00 AM
Had a couple of meetings. I think this thing is ready to enter on the site, so that’s my next step. I’ll keep it in “preview mode” until tomorrow. Once it’s up there, I can set up the newsletter email in Campaign Monitor and queue it to send on Thursday. I’ll be at the Recourses New Business Summit with Mark, so that will be perfect timing.

11:15 AM
It’s ready to go! Guess that’s a wrap until I hit “publish.”



9:00 AM

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