Or; how I learned to stop wasting my free time, by writing instead
I have a confession to make — and given the current audience it’s likely to be a shocker:
Until little over a month ago, I had never even heard of Medium.
That is, until the moment my friend Stephen Moore casually slipped into a random, unrelated conversation, some details about his ’online’ jobs.
Wait a minute — A clandestine side-hustle, away from the 9–5 daily grind, as a successful online writer? How attractive!
Hearing that he had been writing for almost two years (also earning some decent cash in the bargain), suggested there must be something enjoyable or at least enticing, about this Medium ‘stuff’.
His stats tell their own story; thousands of followers, curated articles, editor of a publication. He even appears to enjoy it — if you knew him personally, you’d know this is strong stuff coming from Stephen.
The revelation of my friend as a ‘secret writer’ was a far more intriguing one than I had expected as we sat recovering from a badminton game, sipping exceptionally poor, thermonuclear-hot, sports centre coffee.
Until the moment of our conversation, the sum total of my literary efforts were a few bloated academic papers and some fairly self-indulgent, low-quality online rants.
It’s no exaggeration then, to say that until last month, I had never acted on any desire, nor expressed any inclination, to become a writer.
And yet, just a month since our little chat and my daily routines and rituals have already been fundamentally altered.
1. Read — don’t just write
They say at school that one of the easiest and best ways to improve your learning, is to simply read a gargantuan pile of books.
I imagine a similar concept holds true on Medium.
On this platform there are some genuinely fantastic writers and engaging publications. Set up your Medium account in such a way that you actually find them — don’t skip the step that lets you select your favourite or most engaging topics.
Make sure content that is right for you, gets funneled in your direction — you can literally read about anything. Cat grooming habits. Toxic masculinity. Essays from the perspective of the female genitalia…
Don’t believe me? Go on an article hunting quest down the Medium rabbit hole to find the most obscure, random thing that you can.
Find a writer that you like or a publication that you admire, and explore the other works of the writer you just read and applauded.
Reading articles will make you a better writer. You will learn tips and tricks that edge your articles into the curation zone, improve your writing style, writer voice.
You might just get a bunch of new ideas for your own articles in the process.
2. Carve out your niche
Someone once described me as the ‘world’s worst dabbler’.
There is truth to that — I’m guilty of wanting to do everything. Too many hobbies, too many friends…
I absolutely hate the idea of being pigeon-holed too into being a ‘gamer’ or a ‘geek’ or a ‘whatever’.
On Medium, I resolved to never be stuck writing about one single topic. I wonder how you even know what you like writing about, or what you are good at writing about — unless you dabble just a little bit.
I enjoyed trying out writing for a range of publications and a range of different styles.
I started by writing about Games, then Management, with a little Education thrown into the mix. I’m now a ‘top writer’ in Education — go me! Or at least I was for about a week.
‘Travel’ for me is still an untouched goldmine of amusing stories (or at least I think they are). I know I’ll keep writing about my own job as a teacher and will never run out of material there.
Perhaps I’ll later delve into deeper stories about relationships and how I came out at the fairly late age of twenty-give.
The point is— don’t start by thinking of yourself as a ‘business writer’ or a ‘travel writer’. Just be a writer and see what happens.
Try different styles, publications, themes and slowly start to carve out your own little niche on Medium.
3. Write during ‘downtime’
Think of the last time you had a spare fifteen minutes between two activities, meetings or engagements.
Let me guess — you took out your smartphone and whiled away the seconds and minutes, clicking and swiping madly at some random nonsense?
Sure, apps and smartphones have cemented their place in the modern age for some fairly good reasons — texting your mother (when you absolutely have to), facetiming your children.
Their most satisfying use — clearing those annoying red numbers away!
I enjoy sending random amusing ‘gifs’ to my friends on an almost- daily basis: I am rather partial to a ‘300’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ meme myself!
It is all too easy though, to get sucked down the ‘youtube black-hole’ where you then spend three hours watching nonsense clickbait videos.
Suddenly — you have been on your phone for 27 minutes.
I promised myself in my first Medium month to spend any time I would have otherwise ‘wasted’ on my phone, writing on Medium instead.
Even just to throw down the titles or stubs of embryo articles — I currently have 28 potential articles just waiting for their time to step into the light.
I won’t even suggest that they are all even half-decent. I would say though — the simple act of being creative for a few minutes was vastly more productive and better than anything else I could have been doing during those moments.
Chances are if you work, you don’t have a lot of extra time for Medium in your extremely busy life.
Use those little chunks of downtime then, to have a few moments of creativity throughout the week.
4. Learn to love empty spaces
I’m going to be honest with you — some of my early articles, even with extensive coaching, were formatting abominations.
Most of my articles likely still are…
The moment my friend Stephen Moore cut the apron strings and set me loose on the platform — I got a little over-excited an promptly ignored some of his sage-like advice.
Publications, who will be key to spreading your written glory (unsurprisingly), don’t like articles that are badly written, formatted and generally unappealing to the eye.
All these successful writers share one piece of key advice — learn to use lots and lots of ‘white’ or ‘blank’ space.
If you are anything like me and come from an academic writing background, you probably have a steep learning curve to overcome.
Medium abhors epic, meaty paragraphs common in such academic styles of writing.
So learn to love shorter sentences, punchy paragraphs and to break up text with that crucially important white space to expand your readership.
5. Enjoy even the smallest success
The last is, of course, the most important lesson:
Don’t be disheartened when that article that you thought was world-class, totally unique and the single greatest literary effort since the invention of the written word, gets one measly clap and five people reading it.
Be realistic — manage your expectations.
Without a diverse community of souls to applaud and gush over your work, try your very best to be realistic, in terms of who will actually see your article — let alone read it.
Developing a following is even more challenging if you neglect the lessons of the writing gurus that have been mentioned above. It is even tougher if you fail to achieve curation by the Medium ‘humans’ back at Skynet HQ.
So be positive and learn to love all the tiny successes.
Appreciate every read and clap — some human, somewhere just sat and read your unique story.
There is something profoundly pleasing and wonderful about that fact.
I achieved a couple of curated articles, 70-or-so followers (at the time of writing) and I have the bones of 28 articles just waiting to be finished and shared with the world.
Challenge yourself to do better — write better and learn better than I did in my first month.
It turns out — and this might be blindingly, stupidly obvious to seasoned Medium veterans out there — writing can be pretty damn enjoyable.
Also, it’s surely a more productive use of some spare seconds and minutes than swiping away at your smartphone, watching cats react to cucumbers, whilst simultaneously picking your nose and scratching yourself with your spare hand.
I won’t claim to have taken the Medium-verse by storm. My follower count and curated articles list are hardly hallmarks of literary mega-stardom.
Writing though, has been a rare chance for me to be creative, share some stories and connect with some great people — stick with it for a while and don’t be afraid to give it a go.