Noah Brier | December 16, 2019

Why is this interesting? - The Making-Of Edition

On WITI, writing, and what it takes to get a newsletter out five days a week

Noah here. One of the questions we get most about Why is this interesting? is how many emails we have in the bag at any one time. People are generally surprised when I tell them the answer: Zero. I mean once in a while we will both write on the same day, or we will have a guest ready to run, but for the most part things work like this:

Colin’s reply is usually “I got it” or something along those lines, and then thirty minutes later I get a Google Doc with a first draft.

In the spirit of sharing, I thought it might be fun to pull back the curtains on how this thing comes together daily. It’s both a chance to write up some of the details behind making WITI and also an opportunity for me to figure out how Colin does it, which I now realize I’ve never asked.

Why is this interesting?

For me, the process starts in Omnifocus, which I use to manage my to-do list (I’ve never had something stick before I got started with Omnifocus earlier this year). In there I have a Project called Why is this interesting? and I use tags to split up different tasks. There are “link ideas” I use to populate the quick links, “thing of the day” with comics, graphs, and other visual ephemera, and, of course, “topic ideas” for filing away any random WITI ideas. 

(PS - We built a little site to have a more permanent record of Contributors, favorite books, and other stuff.)

From there, when it’s time to write, I either have felt inspired by some new article I’ve read, or I hit up the topic ideas. Frequently it’s somewhere in-between: For last Wednesday’s email, I had made an “airplane boarding edition” task a few months ago when I ran across this Kottke post about optimal methods. I had written a blog post years ago about some of the research back in 2008 and thought it might make for good WITI fodder. Then it sat until last week, when I read this other piece about bank tellers and queuing theory and added it to the same task. At that point, I had enough to put a date on the task (Tuesday, to go out Wednesday).

When Tuesday arrived, I got to writing. If there’s a computer handy that happens while sitting, or, since I am frequently on the move, it’s also often in the Google Docs app (which is excellent). After that, it’s sent off to Colin for edits (thankfully, the Docs app has added suggestion mode) and we throw a “thing of the day,” three links, and a footer in for the final product. After everything is ready, I copy it out of Docs and paste in Substack, mostly via their mobile site. I actually chose Substack specifically because they did the best job dealing with mobile copy/paste from Google Docs. (As an aside, it’s amazing copying into text boxes on the web is still so painful.)

As for Colin, here’s his explanation:

There’s not a ton of method to how I do things and I appreciate how systematic Noah is with his entire process. It makes me want to optimize my game. For me, the most helpful is being a ravenous reader. On long flights, I’ll process a ton of print media. I rip things out of the Economist or other magazines and take photos or add them to Apple notes. Most digital reading gets pushed through the reading app Pocket and then consumed in idle moments (cabs and lulls) and starred if it’s a decent topic. I regularly look at what gets shared on our contributors Slack to see if there are new ideas and catch a ton of high-signal stuff on there. (All the more reason to contribute!) 

In terms of writing, I usually have a draft in my head by the time I sit down to write. So it happens pretty quickly. I do a pass with the Grammarly writing software and then once something is semi serviceable, I’ll add Noah to the doc. His editing of everything is really what elevates the quality of WITI on a daily basis and in another life, I think it could be his full-time thing. We also regularly tap into subject matter experts to take a pass at something, particularly if it could be a sensitive topic or requires a bit more depth. 

Like Noah, all my writing is done directly into Google Docs and frequently tapped out on a phone. I’m writing this on an Alaska flight back from Seattle as we speak. Sometimes as contributor Chris captured below, there are even ice-cold martinis involved, which generally helps. (CJN)

Christmas Gift Idea of the Day:

We love everything that the Outlier team makes. If you’re living in a cooler climate, this merino scarf is warm, beautiful and will last a lifetime. (CJN

Quick Links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

PS - Noah here. I’ve started a new company and we are looking for a sr. backend engineer to join the team. If you are one of those or know anyone great, please share. Dinner’s on me at a restaurant of your choice if you help us find someone.

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

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