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Pace yourself!

Send newsletters like you're running a marathon, not a sprint

Something surreal happens when training for your first marathon. You wake up one Saturday, look at the training schedule, see that you’ve got a 12-miler, and think, “Thank God. An easy one.” Even if two months prior, you’d never run half that distance.

Running a marathon and professional writing are mostly individual efforts. You might have coaches or mentors, but only you can cross the start line or put pen to paper and race to the finish. They take an extraordinary amount practice and training to finish strong. And one of the things that many runners and writers find the most difficult to internalize is the importance of meaningful rest.

Three weekly recovery strategies in particular can transform someone who’s never run five miles into a marathoner in three months: Rest days, easy days, and stepbacks. Those same strategies can also help you create a newsletter-writing habit that grows your personal platform without burning the candle at both ends.

Sacred rest days

In his book on legendary running coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, USA Marathon champion Kenny Moore writes that “There are only two training questions…What should I do, and how much should I do it?” Questions that many authors, journalists, and solopreneurs agonize over every day.

Around the time Bowerman started coaching at the University of Oregon, a Finnish “hard every day” style of training was the go-to regimen. Runners we doing 400 meter sprints upwards of 40 times per day (~10 miles), every day. Strikingly similar to the advice that many authors see online about building a personal brand, “more is always better.” Record more TikTok videos. Send more newsletters. Tweet more.

But Bowerman noticed that athletes’ times would improve dramatically…up to a point. Up until they’d show up to practice at Hayward Field with “bones that seemed to have aged forty years in the night and the conviction that running was infantile and meaningless.” They’d burn out.

One of the reasons overdoing it is so dangerous, whether it’s running or self-promotion, is the Wile E. Coyote problem. You don’t know you’re in trouble until you’ve already sprinted off the edge of the cliff. Or as Ricky Montgomery described it to Vox in Everyone’s a sellout now, “Next thing you know, it’s been three years and you’ve spent almost no time on your art…[instead] becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good.”

Rest days are so universally agreed upon today that it’s hard to fathom the grueling pre-Bowerman training. Hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll look back on the days of hustle culture with the same nausea. Because, as the Nike co-founder would tell every freshman athlete on Day 1, “Take any organism…make it lift, or jump, or run. Let it rest. What happens? A little miracle. It gets a little better. It gets a little stronger or faster or more enduring. That’s all training is. Stress. Recover. Improve.”

Recovery days only work when they are unmovable and sacrosanct. Even if your legs feel fresh or you had an ingenious newsletter idea over breakfast, punt until tomorrow. Revel in the rest. Eventually, you’ll breeze past everyone who trained for a sprint when they should’ve been training for the marathon.

More LSD

It was nearly impossible to follow running blogs or podcasts in the 2010s without constantly hearing the emerging vocabulary of slow-running: “80/20” or “Zone 2” or “LSD”. Bowerman’s holy rest days, it turned out, still weren’t enough. Coaches were finding that their athletes performed best when there were significantly more easy miles on the schedule than strenuous ones.

“Americans have the saying ‘no pain, no gain’...They get down to the track with a stopwatch and flog their guts out thinking that it’ll make them a champion, but they’ll never make a champion that way,” wrote Olympic marathon coach Arthur Lyriard in 1978, over 40 years before Wikipedia redirected searches for “hustle culture” to its Work Ethic page.

Lyrdiard’s inversion of all-out training was “train, don’t strain”. A philosophy that evolved into a formula equally applicable to recreational marathoners and world-record holders like Eliud Kipchoge: 80% of your weekly mileage should be slow and easy (specifically, around 60% of your max heart rate, AKA “Zone 2”), leaving only 20% of weekly mileage for intense workouts. LSD, or Long Slow Distance, coupled with rest days, became the new running gospel.

Now, productivity gurus are coming around to the idea for newsrooms and newsletters alike. Cal Newport’s Slow Productivity argues that “What ultimately matters [is] where you end up, not the speed at which you get there, or the number of people you impress with your jittery busyness along the way.” And what example does he present to make his point in the book’s introduction? Pulitzer prize-winning writer John McPhee and his Zone 2 approach to writing for The New Yorker, sometimes spending over a year on a single longform article.

For authors growing their platform with a newsletter today, that might mean that on most days you log some miles of causal stream of consciousness writing. Then, for a single two-hour session each week you push the envelope, putting 100% of your effort into perfecting your self promotion. Or maybe, since newsletters are often better when they’re raw and unfiltered anyways, you save the hard efforts for non-writing channels like TikTok or Instagram.

Yet another 80/20 approach could be to spend the majority of your newsletter efforts on connecting with your audience, writing about what you’re working on and enjoying that week. Topics you might chat about with a running partner during a long, slow jog. Similar to Hugo award winning self published author Charlie Jane Anders’s newsletter philosophy, which she describes as simply an “attempt at building something sustainable that can speak for me, and hopefully reach people who care about the same things I care about.”

Occasionally scale down, not up

Rest days and Zone 2 running still aren’t enough rest to get you to 26.2 miles. The assumption for many new marathoners is that you increase your mileage each week until you get to race distance. Author influencers sometimes preach the same: Write a little more than the day before, every day.

It takes an ungodly amount of fortitude to wake up every day and set a new personal best, whether that’s running distance or word count. Anders believes that “‘Write every day’ is terrible advice for a lot of people, but the soul of that advice is ‘find a way to make writing a habit, something you just do without having to psych yourself up too, too much each time.’"

In the 1960s, freelance writer and Boston marathoner Hal Higdon devised an alternative to the “always more than before” philosophy. Every one of his uber popular marathon training plans, from Novice 1 up to Advanced 2, includes his signature advice: “Weekly long runs get progressively longer, [except] every third week is a “stepback” week, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward.” In Week 10 of the Novice plan, the long run is 15 miles, Week 11 is 16 miles, and Week 12 is the stepback to just under a half marathon. That surreal “easy” Saturday run.

Stepbacks also work for writers growing their newsletter list. You might take two steps forward and one backward with how much time you spend on self promotion, how many words you get out, how many emails you send per month, whatever. Two consecutive increases, followed by something shorter and easier on your tired marketing muscles.

Anders wrote in One Thing (Almost) Every Aspiring Writer Needs about how over the years she had “built up my writing practice, almost like a muscle that I'd strengthened. Sitting down in a cafe and working on a piece of fiction felt like second nature by that point.” What used to feel impossible became the baseline.

The all-important “macrocycle”

It’s exhilarating to reach new heights. To run a half marathon and feel fresh enough to keep going. To finish a chapter and want to keep writing through dinner. Most of the time, it’s probably fine. You might even finish, as Bill Bowerman intended, feeling “exhilarated, not exhausted.” But the rest days, easy days, and stepbacks must point toward an end goal. Otherwise, you’ll just keep pushing the finish line further and further out.

Elite marathoners work in what coaches call macrocycles. Periods of training sprinkled throughout the year ensure runners are in peak condition for certain races and cautiously building up their baseline during the off-season.

For authors, that might translate to a ramping up self-promotion in preparation for a book launch or mobilizing an audience after starting at a new publication. Rest is critical during those cycles. Make a specific day of the week marketing-free. Go hard on another day and then take it easy for the rest. Increase output for a couple of weeks but then take a step back. When that season is over or you reach a specific goal, reset. Create a new plan for a new macrocycle. Don’t try to improve ad nauseam.

Matt Fitzgerald writes in 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower that “Running too hard too often is the single most common and detrimental mistake in the sport.” The same could be said of self promotion among authors. Maybe all it takes to go the distance is a little more rest and recovery.

What customers say about Buttondown

Doesn't matter if you're sending out irregular updates to a few dozen friends, or marketing your business to a thousand recipients. It is absolutely a joy to use. The documentation is great. And Justin provides the best support I have ever encountered. Amazon isn't the world's most customer-centric company, Buttondown is.
Tilde Lowengrimm
Head of Strategy, Red Queen Dynamics
I made the transition from MailerLite and I have no regrets. I also like that Buttondown focuses on the essentials by design and keeps me grounded and centered on what really matters.
Arthur Cendrier
Author, Thoughtful Inquiry
Overall, Buttondown has been terrific to work with and I recommend them for anybody who's thinking of starting a newsletter or moving over like I did.
Andy Magnusson
Customer Engineering Leader
Wanna know how good Buttondown as a product experience is? I upgraded to Basic before sending the first email, and then upgraded again two days later.
Zak El Fassi
Founder, Zaigood Labs
Mailchimp lost me due to their inferior product and the nightmarish merry-go-around experience with their overseas support team. Buttondown won me over with their superior product and second to none customer service.
Sav Tripodi
CEO, Sanico Software
Your support is amazing and I deeply appreciate how available and helpful you are. I LOVE being able to turn tracking pixels off. I didn't even realize this was an option when I signed up and am SO HAPPY to not track people.
Andrea Mignolo
Method & Matter
I'm also impressed with how responsive you are, and how you directly answer customers. Makes it really clear that signing up for your service was a good decision.
Nicole Tietz-Sokolskaya
Software engineer and writer
Very happy with Buttondown, works smoothly, it's very configurable and I love the minimalist design of the UI. It makes me focus on my writing. Plus, I'm super happy to support independent software and I should mention - the support I receive whenever I have a question is warm and quick :)
Martina Pugliese
Data scientist and storyteller
I just tested the RSS to Email feature for one of my blogs and it was incredibly easy to set up. It took me about 30 mins to figure out the same feature in Mailchimp.
Nicolas Bernadowitsch
Blogger
This long weekend I fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself to switch my RSS-to-email provider from Mailchimp to Buttondown, and it’s been such a great experience. It’s cheaper, more flexible, less cluttered, and it’s run by Justin Duke who is just delightful and answered a bunch of my questions over the weekend (even though I asked him to please not!).
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Director of Product at PagerDuty
I've been wrangling half a dozen tools to get my stuff up and running recently, almost all of which had some hiccup. Buttondown had zero. It did everything I expected and needed the first time.
Catherine Cusick
Self-Employed FAQ
I, like almost everyone else I've seen talk about Buttondown, am IMMENSELY happy and impressed with your customer service. It turns out we can have nice things, which is really refreshing.
Ed Yong
Staff writer, The Atlantic
Email makes the world go ‘round, and Buttondown is how I manage it all for my keyboard projects.
Tim van Damme
Founder, MVKB
It's a truth, that should be more universally acknowledged, that Buttondown is the best newsletter software. Simple, does exactly what it sets out to do, and reasonably priced.
Noel Welsh
Founder, Inner Product
Buttondown is the perfect fit for my headless newsletter use case. And I contacted support with some specific requests and Justin responded within 30 minutes with great answers and a nice pinch of charm.
Sam Roberts
Software engineer, Tamr
Hands down the easiest way to run a newsletter - and the free version is generous!
Javeed Khatree
SEO expert
With API and Markdown support, you can build workflows that make it so easy to write.
Westley Winks
Peace Corps
I’ve never enjoyed writing newsletters as much as I do with Buttondown.
Kevin Lewis
You Got This!
Buttondown remains the easiest thing I use regularly, and I am grateful for that.
Casey
Journalist
It's a humble app doing a common job but with end users in mind.
Si Jobling
Engineering Manager
Buttondown has been an amazing experience for me. The service is constantly being improved and customer service is the best. My newsletter with Buttondown has grown from a fairly small list to over 15,000 subscribers, and it hasn't broken a sweat yet.
Cassidy Williams
CTO, Contenda
I switched over to Buttondown from Mailchimp because of the difficulty I had with Mailchimp's campaigns, so Buttondown's easy and user-friendly system has been a genuine breath of fresh air.
Jessi Eoin
Illustrator + Comic Artist
You’ve truly built a great product that I feel good about using (vs a monopoly from our tech overlords).
Rachel
2030 Camp
I love how personal Buttondown feels, especially compared to Mailchimp, Convertkit, and services like that.
Simen Strøm Braaten
Designer
This product has been exactly what I’ve needed!
Nathan Bird
Podcast host, Chattanooga Civics
It's already so refreshing compared to the mega companies.
Casey Watts
Author, Debugging Your Brain
Definitely will be using for the foreseeable future. It’s a great service and I feel well cared for. Thank you!
Phoebe Sinclair
Author
I’m a sucker for elegant UI and I really love your site, but above that I think your product has so much value for so many different people. I’m not a coder, I’m only familiar with the bare basics, but I was able to figure out and utilise Buttondown quickly.
Claudia Nathan
Founder, The Repository
The killer feature for me: Buttondown will take an RSS feed then automatically slurp up the content (in their words) and then send it to our subscribers. Job done. They seem like a good company too, so I’d say this is a winner.
Andy Bell
Founder, Set Studio
As a recent user of Buttondown, they are super on the ball. A week ago I discovered a security vulnerability and reported it on Friday afternoon. They acknowledged and fixed it in under two hours. On a Friday night! Talk about going above and beyond for your users!
Predrag Gruevski
Principal Engineer, Kensho
Well may I just say your support experience is already approximately 1 billion times better than ConvertKit. Excited to be switching!
Michael J. Metts
Author, Writing is Designing
Privacy focused sending and sign up form; lets me focus on writing - editor is "just" markdown; simple, elegant design template looks like a blog post; the founder is amazing - he's helped with every question I've had, even outside of Buttondown.
Joe Masilotti
Founder, RailsDevs
We need more nice and professional services like yours on the web.
Tobias Horvath
Designer and developer
No one is paying me to say this, but I love @buttondown so far for my lil newsletter. It’s so smart, simple, and attractive (and to my knowledge, not actively anti-trans!). Customer service is also legitimately excellent.
Julie Kliegman
Copy chief, Sports Illustrated
I love it! It lets me breathe, not compete as I write with other writers.
Devin Kate Pope
Writer and editor
It’s a pleasure working with you. Thank you! (And what a contrast with Mailchimp, where I spent two weeks and a dozen of emails trying find out why our form goes down sometimes (only sometimes), and never really got a real answer.)
Anton Sotkov
Software Engineer, IA
Buttondown exemplifies how I wish most software worked, and I hope to achieve a similar thing with the software I develop in the future.
Matt Favero
Software engineer
It feels incomparably good to be able to email just like a guy named Justin when you have a @buttondown question 15 minutes before you’re about to blast a Geistlist email. (Not a guarantee but wow this guy is human-level good.)
Jacob Ford
Designer About Town
Enter Buttondown, Justin Duke’s lovely little newsletter tool. It’s small, elegant, and integrates well. And it is also eminently affordable.
Will Buckingham
Author
Your settings page is a joy to use and everything about Buttondown makes me happy.
Gareth Jelley
Magazine editor
have been on Buttondown for ~18 months and I can't recommend it enough.
Elizabeth Minkel
Podcast host
You really do make ALL other customer service look terrible by comparison.
Chris Mead
Improv teacher
There is a caring person on the other side of this software, which is one of the things I like the most about Buttondown.
Keith Calder
Film & TV Producer
I’d also like to add that @buttondown is an absolute joy to use. Hats off, Justin!
Elliot Jay Stocks
Creative Director, Google Fonts
Shoutout to @buttondown and @jmduke for building an amazing bootstrapped product for newsletters, all while being very open to feedback and connecting directly with customers 🙏 Easily one of the most enjoyable product experiences I've had.
Den Delimarsky
Head of Ecosystem, Netlify
if you are looking for "newsletter tool for hackers" i tentatively believe the answer is @buttondown full api, compose in markdown, good docs for setting up domain auth, simple subscribe form HTML that you style yourself (or not)
Brian David Hall
Author, Your Website Sucks
I really like @buttondown as a blogging platform, it has the simplicity of Substack but the corporate culture is less toxic.
Chad Loder
Extremism researcher
I worked with @buttondown and asked for some new payment support beyond the supporter single tier / pay-what-you-want options. Justin was great and built it in just a couple days.
Dan Hon
Author & consultant
I write nonfiction and I use @buttondown buttondown.email/Changeset - indie, GREAT personal customer support, very nice default styling, all the options I want including ones to protect my readers' privacy
Sumana Harihareswara
Open source maintainer
I use @buttondown because it does exactly what I need (manage subscribers and send markdown emails), not more and not less 👍 As a bonus it's made by an indie dev which I love!
Max Stober
Founder, GraphCDN
If you’re considering running an email newsletter, or if you already run one and are considering a change of provider, I highly recommend @buttondownemail. Super-easy app, very fair pricing with a generous free tier, and exemplary support. 💯
Peter Gasston
Technologist and speaker
imo @buttondown is easily one of the best-designed services i’ve used in recent years, if you have a substack you should really consider switching!
Kabir Goel
Engineer, Cal
Thanks for getting me excited about email newsletters again.
Garrick van Buren
I'm very thrilled that I can just write in Markdown without having to deal with email builders and all that crap.
Parham Doustdar
Thanks again for all the help! You’ve really turned something super complex into something super easy – sending new issues is as simple as firing off a text message.
Kartik Chaturvedi
Thanks for creating a simple way for people who want to, like, put words in a hole and have it sent to people... I am just thankful that something just nice and human exists on the internet.
Emmanuel Quartey
I tried 3 other newsletter services today and I felt like wanting to rip my hair out. They were all painfully slow. I'm so glad I found Buttondown.
Mohamed Elbadwihi
I’ve found Buttondown to be a great fit for my workflow and have been delighted by all of Justin’s thoughtful features and improvements to the product.
Michael Lee
Like seriously, so many lovely little easter eggs in one could-be-boring service.
Alexandra Muck
I just switched over from Tinyletter and I'm really excited to have found a place to host my tiny newsletter that doesn't seem like it's assuming everyone sending newsletters is an email marketer / growth hacker.
Tessa Alexanian
I'm in love with the simplicity of Buttondown.
Ekfan
I’ve used similar tools in the past and Buttondown is by far the simplest to use and most promising.
Fabrizio Rinaldi
Thank you for creating such a simple and brilliant tool. I’ve just signed up and the experience has been smooth and painless (the docs are great too!)
Oliver Holms
As a developer who has hated every email system I've ever used this is so nice.
Drew Hornbein
I wish I still wrote a newsletter just so I could use buttondown again. It’s like that.
Steven Kornweiss
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