A couple of weeks ago, back when I was still fussing over how often I should post on Medium and what types of stories would resonate most with readers, I picked up Austin Kleon’s Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, which was serendipitously floating around the office at my day job the day after I read Ryan Holiday’s popular reading list recommending the same book.
I sat at my desk and read it until I realized I had, in my hands, the answer to a question that had been burning inside of me all along. It simply took exposure to an external voice in order for me to open my eyes.
Medium is a platform for writers like myself who don’t have an audience and provides them with incredible opportunities to have their words read and interacted with. It is a gift to be able to be a part of this platform, and over the past few months in which I’ve been dedicated to writing on it with some consistency, Medium’s editors have curated the majority of my pieces, distributing them under the topics tabs on the homepage. (If you aren’t a Medium writer, curation is the ultimate goal).
As my ego swelled with the possibilities of continued curation, I began to write stories I knew the curators would pick up and distribute in the topics readers were interested in. I was even making some money through its Partner Program, which is a way for readers to directly influence the payout of the writers. When I signed up for the program, it was only to gain unlimited access to all the great writing on Medium; I didn’t even plan to make money myself.
Despite my success (objectively speaking) publishing a couple of pieces per week and creating opportunities for interaction and engagement with my writing, something still didn’t feel right. Something felt inauthentic. And while reading Austin Kleon’s book, the universes coexisting in my head and within the author’s words collided and I realized I was doing it all wrong. I had begun to write for other people (i.e. for curation, exposure and, in the end, money) and the moment you create your art for others, you betray yourself.
Instead of writing pieces like those I started out with — essays on parenting, anxiety, my familial relationships — which helped me understand myself and my world, I began to write the kind of pieces I knew would receive engagement. The easy-to-digest, well-informed, bulleted posts curators and readers love. This would’ve been the right track had my intention really been to make money.
But it wasn’t.
Once my posts started generating $5 here, $35 there, it didn’t take long for my intentions to change. Without much thought about the evolution of my writing, I started producing work for others, not myself.
Meanwhile, I was becoming irritated by many posts I came upon, which were clearly written not to provide real value or beautiful writing, but to maintain a schedule and to get on the good side of Medium’s algorithms. There is so much good content on Medium (I would argue that this platform has some of the best writing on the internet right now) but there is also plenty of writing favoring quantity over quality. And it’s easy to see why — it works for people.
Making money on Medium is a really cool bonus. Many people have even made it their full-time jobs. But I don’t need to do that. I work at a cool company and they pay me. That is the writing that I should attach to receiving an income — not my personal writing.
Once I came upon this part in Austin Kleon’s book, which made me realize I wasn’t being authentic to myself, I took time to identify my personal goals. I took money out of the equation because between my husband and me, we can pay our bills. I asked myself what my goals were and if writing on Medium 2–3 times per week brought me closer to them. Adopting a daily writing practice, which I had to do in order to publish with such a cadence, was beneficial to me and it was a step in the direction toward my goals. Developing a deeper portfolio of writing was also a step in the right direction.
But what I realized after some soul searching is that, although I loved some of the pieces I had written, the only ones I was truly proud of were the ones that were authentically me; those written for me and for nobody else. And after surveying my goals — which are to publish my children’s book in early 2020 and have a collection of short stories written by the same year — I realized my work on Medium wasn’t contributing to them.
Sure, the curation felt great and it made me feel accountable to myself to continue with the streak. But to what end?
I will continue to post on Medium when I have things to work through, like the pivot in my writing direction or if I want to throw out a short story and see if it sticks. It is a brilliant platform and I think every writer should be on it. But I also think writers need to be crystal clear on what their writing goals are outside of Medium in order to identify if posting with regularity here is driving them toward their goals.
The immediate rewards of posting on Medium frequently are much easier to chase than the slow burn of waking up early every morning to work on short stories nobody will read for months. This can get cloudy. But knowing my goals has given me clarity.
Since this reflecting, I have stepped back quite a bit, though I do still read a lot of great content here. Instead of cranking out posts for Medium, I have been waking up at 5:00 each morning to spend an hour on my short stories before my toddler wakes up. And though the reward isn’t instant, at least I know I’m working toward my goals — my real goals, the ones that existed before the concept of making money on Medium was even around.
I hope the same for you. If posting on Medium weekly, daily or even twice daily is bringing you closer to tour goal, you’re a rockstar and I am happy for you. Turning your writing into a money-maker is a great accomplishment. For everyone else, those who feel obligated to post with a certain frequency in order to hit their quota, I hope you can do some soul searching and make sure you’re spending your energy on the things that contribute to your goals.