Rob Lennon's Secret Writing Process
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This post could also be categorized under the AI Generation heading of this newsletter.
I follow a writer named Rob Lennon. I first ran across him on Twitter. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter and LinkedIn. Rob shared his secret writing process in his newsletter this week, and I asked him if I could share it. He said sure. Good guy. Great info. In depth. From his LinkedIn profile:
Sharing uncommon insights on writing, business, and mental mastery.
Marketing master-generalist with 16+ years in start-ups, 12+ years in marketing.
Self-published author 45x. 1M+ page reads on Kindle Unlimited.
Gained 50,000+ followers on Twitter in my first 6 months. Follow me to learn the secrets behind high-performance audience growth.
Master-generalist marketer with a scrappy entrepreneur approach. Highly skilled at:
• Branding (company & personal)
• Email nurturing campaigns that convert
• 1st page SEO content
• Thought leadership content
• Lead magnets
• Social media marketing / audience building
He had me at mental mastery. So I signed up for his newsletter. It’s awesome:
Steal my writing process (Never shared this before)
by Rob Lennon
How I write long-form (threads, posts, and newsletters)
When I first started writing threads, I’d spend 4-6 hours on each. It was time-consuming.
These days, most of my threads take under 2 hours.
Below, I walk you through, step-by-step, on how I eliminate decisions, apply brainstorming and structure, and then sweeten the content.
Prep your workspace
Put on the ambient music
Neuroscientists who have studied creativity have found that you can access to your subconscious when you are ever-so-slightly distracted.
This distraction can come as washing dishes, taking a walk, or listening to the right music. It occupies some parts of the executive function of the brain (the thinking/deciding part), distracting it just enough to allow the unconscious mind to contribute hidden ideas and so-called eureka moments.
I almost always write with mild music on in the background. I use lofi.cafe. You can open it, hit random, and be done. No decisions. Always good.
Distraction-free writing app
I do my first draft in a free notes app called Bear Notes.
I love how minimalist the UI is and how, no longer being in a web browser, I’m forced to focus only on the writing.
Later, I'll paste my text elsewhere, but I always start here.
Below is a screenshot of this very email (albeit a little further down):
5-min no-stop brain dump
Next comes my favorite part.
If you’ve followed me for long enough, you’ve heard me talk about the power of no-stop writing. This is a technique where you’re not allowed to quit moving. You’re not allowed to even backspace and edit your work.
Pick a topic. Don't stop. Just keep writing.
I used to do this every day in order to train my brain to stop overthinking and just get into a flow state. Now I do it every day but with a focused mind on a specific project.
My view on longer content is that usually you have it in you. But then your mind gets in the way of getting it out.
So the first thing we need to do is to create that sense of ease for the mind to run.
5 minutes later, it's time for...
Fears, Frustrations, Goals, Aspirations (FFGAs)
During my content marketing career, I had something of a breakthrough. I used to think about topics and keywords first, and try to create content around those ideas.
But everything changed when I became obsessed with helping my audience.
This isn’t school. We’re not here just to read about a topic *just because*. People consume content on the web to get something out of it.
So every time I write, I align it with my audience's fears, frustrations, goals, and aspirations (FFGAs) related to what I’m writing about.
Since I’m actually drafting this post right now and haven’t done my FFGAs, let’s do them together.
# Writing long-form posts (e.g. twitter thread, newsletter)
• Nobody reads it
• When I’m done, I don’t like it / don’t think it reflects well of my knowledge
• I don’t know what to write about
• I put too much time in
• I get half-way done then freeze
• It’s not long enough
• It’s too long
• People who start reading finish reading
• Someone who is skimming gets sucked in and starts reading
• People naturally want to share the content
• I’m respected more
• I’m seen as an expert and thought leader
• Someone actually uses the information to improve their life
When I do FFGAs, I don't even try to make an exhaustive list. I just highlight the ideas that pop into my mind first.
FFGAs are the biggest problems to tackle, and plenty of content ideas to keep you going for months if you let them.
I’ll store these in my notes app of choice so that the next time I write about this topic, I have them. And if I want to add more on a different writing session, I can. (I use tana.inc. If you want early access, sorry, I'm out of invites.)
--> BONUS: Ask ChatGPT for FFGA ideas
If you’re feeling stuck or sluggish, an AI may break you out of your rut. Here’s a prompt you can use to generate FFGAs for you:
/Prompt: Find related Fears, Frustrations, Goals, and Aspirations/
For the topic of "content creation systems", what are common fears, frustrations, goals, and aspirations? Return your answer in a person's own words using I-statements, like you would get in a survey or product review.
Choose your target FFGAs and set a goal
Once I have my FFGAs before me, I pick one or more to focus on for my piece. This helps me get more specific.
For example, today's newsletter could be themed around many different FFGAs, like either focused on
Goal: People naturally want to share my newsletter content, or
Frustration: I put too much time into writing my newsletter
Those are actually two different posts, aren’t they?
Engagement/Word-of-mouth vs. Speed.
Often later you'll find you end up going deep and covering multiple problems in one post, like I am here.
But the importance is to pick a specific emotion that you're targeting, and make the purpose of your post to help with that problem or goal.
(By the way, I developed my FFGAs framework to tackle the fear that nobody reads it. And I'm writing this newsletter to give you confidence and speed in your own process, among other things. It's all connected.)
Apply structure AFTER the brainstorm
My brain dump might be pure chaos, and now I’ve also dumped out a brainstorm of FFGAs.
Things are getting messy, but that's how I like to start.
Now it’s time to take a step back, be a pro, and see what the main point is. And what the themes are. Whether I’m going to tackle more than one FFGA, or stay focused.
This is where I do some cutting and pasting and arrange my ideas into an outline.
Especially for a tweet thread or longer LinkedIn post, usually a structure will emerge. Threads thrive on patterns.
Sometimes the pattern is simple:
If it's going to be 10 tips for XYZ, then my overall post looks like this.
10 tips tweet thread structure:
• Sub-hook (credibility + why)
• [Put in example]
• Tip 1
• Tip 2
• Tip 10
• Summary + takeaway
• Call to action (follow me and engage with the post)
Additionally, I have a sub-structure for each tip so that they stay consistent. I usually use one of Erica Schneider’s frameworks for my tweets if that’s the case.
1. Unique Insight (heading)
2. Why it's important
3. How to do it
Here's an example that went viral this year. (In this example, I give a knowledge takeaway and then a ChatGPT takeaway in the next tweet.)
Often, I don’t write a pure list though. You see this in my newsletter particularly, but plenty of my threads as well.
A good post is a song
Non-list posts, articles, and newsletters, I think of them like music.
A good song has plenty of variety. It opens with something catchy for the intro.
And then you have a structure like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. Most songs end with a unique outro as well.
Musicians use the right amount of variety to keep us interested. But they also have a certain amount of harmony and repetition to stay cohesive and make the music easy to listen to.
Good content does this too.
Certain elements should repeat to make it easy on the brain. But there should be variety for flavor.
So my non-list thread/post structure ends up looking something like this:
Non-List Post Structure:
• Hook (song title, artist name, album name)
• What to do, situation/stakes (intro)
• Why to do it this way, benefits (intro)
• How to do X (verse)
• Example of X (chorus)
• How to do Y (verse)
• Example of Y (chorus)
• Evolution of the idea into something greater (bridge)
• How to do A
• Example of A
• How to do B
• Example of B
• Summary or reminder of what we’ve learned (outro)
• Vision of what happens if you implement this knowledge (outro)
• Call to action
If you’re not doing a how-to style post, but you’re more making a point, it might look similar but different:
Another Post Structure:
• What it is
• Why it’s important
• My experience
• Deconstructing the problem
• • Problem element A
• • Problem element B
• • Problem element C
• Constructing the solution
• • Solution to element A
• • Solution to element B
• • Solution to element C
• Summary or reminder of what we’ve learned
• Vision of what happens if you implement this knowledge
• Call to action
If you like, you can brainstorm up as many of these song templates as you like. Then just pick one and fill it in and you have a post.
OKAY, but what should I fill it in with?
ROB - WHEN ARE WE GONNA START WRITING?!?!
Oh, we already have.
Fill it in with ideas from my brain dump and FFGAs exercise, like so:
• Hook (any FFGA+what this post is)
• What it is (from brain dump)
• Why it’s important (from brain dump)
• My experience
• Deconstructing the problem
• • Problem element A (biggest fear)
• • Problem element B (biggest frustration)
• • Problem element C (biggest reason people don’t get to goal)
• Constructing the solution
• • Solution to element A (how to remove fear)
• • Solution to element B (how to remove frustration)
• • Solution to element C (how to achieve goal)
• Summary or reminder of what we’ve learned
• Vision of what happens if you implement this knowledge (biggest aspiration)
• Call to action
I know we’re getting into the weeds here, but you wanted to know how I write, and this is how it breaks down.
It's taken longer to explain this than it takes to do it.
This process flies along for me:
5 minute no-stop brain dump
8 minutes for FFGAs
~20 minutes organizing the structure and finding the song
By the time that’s done, I have written more than half the whole post in about 30 min.
And now, I know what I need to do to finish. All that’s left is to…
Fill in the outline
Do the work.
I could have ended right there, on a mic-drop moment, a 3-word section. How cool would that have been?
But once you’re “done” with filling in your content, there are some sweeteners and spices you can mix in to make it even better.
And you should probably edit.
We’ll quickly end with those.
Let it simmer for 48 hours
Ideally, you re-read your content with fresh eyes.
Do I actually do this in practice?
No, not very often. And I can tell that I’m worse off for it.
Try to write at least most of your content before it's due.
Pop in some images or embeds
Almost anything you write can be enhanced with:
An embedded social media post
A screenshot of an example
A quote from a known expert
A picture of your dog
Skim your writing and see if there’s an easy win to bring in some new kind of media. These little details re-engage the reader’s senses and keep their mind invigorated.
Tips for Editing
Check that it's skimmable
Go get a glass of water or something and come back to your post. Now read, but pretend you are distracted and disinterested. Lazily skim over the headlines and anything that jumps out as if TikTok was calling your name.
Did you get value from the post?
How could you tweak your headlines, bold words, and paragraph openings to improve the reading experience?
To be honest, most people who won’t read every word, and they won't give you their full attention.
That's fine. So optimize for it.
Now remove 20%
Most writers use more words than necessary. They’re redundant, and they say the same thing more than once without realizing it. Like what I did with that last sentence. See how easy it is to repeat yourself unnecessarily?
Unless you’re a veteran writer, you can almost always cut away 10-25% of your writing to make it better.
I used to run a word count and I wouldn't allow myself to stop editing until I’d reduced the count by at least 10%.
Run your words through your favorite checker
Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Google Docs spell check… you’ll find the tool that’s right for you.
But if it’s something that important, run it through some kind of program to catch the errors.
(Writing this for myself.)
Listen using text-to-speech
For my most-important writing, like a book I’m going to publish on Amazon, I always have my computer read the content back to me.
Because I can’t see my own typos (as you most likely have noticed).
I use a Chrome Extension called ReadAloud to do this.
And I usually do it from the Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or Google Doc that I just dropped my writing into. (I may be guilty of running my writing through 2-3 of these to catch unique issues.)
This step adds some time, so I usually skip it for threads.
That’s only because I have the luxury of errors as a solopreneur. People realize the cost of editing, and enjoy that they get maybe 20% more content from me because I don’t thoroughly edit everything.
You may not have the luxury of typos being part of your brand, so if you have to edit, I highly suggest text-to-speech.
But where’s the AI?
Now, I bet some of you are thinking — Wait, Rob’s been writing a lot about AI lately. But he’s writing all of this by hand?
What about automation? Where are the fancy prompts?
That doesn't come into play for this type of content for me. I write all my long-form content by hand, because I write so much thought leadership content.
If I have a list of tips, I might give ChatGPT my list and ask if it has ideas for what I’m missing. Or if I’m feeling self-conscious about my knowledge, I might ask the AI a similar question just to make sure I’m not forgetting anything big.
For brainstorming, planning, and repurposing, AI can do all sorts of ninjitsu, like I share about in AI Content Reactor.
But sharing totally new ideas, original processes, and life stories in long form?
An AI can’t write it, because it can’t know it.
And THAT is my writing process. Hope you enjoyed it.
I hope you enjoyed Rob’s deep dive into his writing process. I know I enjoyed this, and will incorporate some of these tips into my workflow. Thanks for reading. Peace!
Check out more Marketing Posts and AI Posts from Deplatformable.
Wow! There is so much value in this newsletter, thank you! I wish I read this earlier on in my substack journey. I joined back in June 2022 and I struggle with my perfectionism/self-doubt so much which leads me to only post a newsletter once a month. Your tips are so useful. :)
You were right! I did like this :) I'm such a sucker for writers who are able to break down their process into discrete, reproducible steps. I'm bookmarking this post for later. Definitely going to return to it again and again! Thank you!