Let’s face it, figuring things out is hard. I have been writing on Medium (off and on) since 2017 and spun my wheels for a long time trying to figure out how to write stuff that other people actually want to read.
I won’t say I have “cracked the code” because I still have a lot to learn, but I have improved a lot — and have some extra cash in the bank to show for it.
My goal for 2019 was to reach the milestone of $200 income earned per month on Medium and, sliding across the finish line in late December, I finally made it!
Here are my stats for December 2019:
Here are 5 lessons I learned along the way. If someone would have shared these with me two years ago, I am certain I would be looking at a lot more money in the bank right now, but like I said… figuring stuff out is hard.
Lesson 1: Your titles are crucial
If you don’t pay attention to anything else in this article, pay attention to this. Great titles are crucial. The competition on the Medium (and the Internet at large for that matter) is fierce. Your reader will spend about 5 seconds deciding if they want to click your article or not, and if the title doesn’t grab them, they won’t click it.
You literally could have written the equivalent to Beethoven's Symphony in words but if your title isn’t compelling, nobody will know it. They will scroll further down the page and click on “Why Puppies Make You Live Longer” instead.
What most people don’t know about titles is how to write a great one. They swing endlessly at the fence, trying to write something interesting or witty, but can’t put their finger on why one title generates traffic and another just peters along in its ho-hum corner of the internet.
But I have figured out the secret.
Great titles say how the content will add value to their reader’s life; ho-hum titles merely say what the content is about.
For instance, the article you are currently reading is about the top five takeaways I learned in 2019 on writing. But, if I called it that, you probably wouldn’t read it. Why? Because you don’t care about what I’ve learned until you know how it adds value to your life.
When I re-wrote the title as “5 Lessons That Will Transform Your Writing Into Income in 2020” I’ve said the missing piece — the article’s value to something you care about (earning income).
Writing a great title takes practice and I recommend writing at least 10 versions (yes, I did say 10) for every article you want to publish. This is a good exercise that will stimulate your mental muscles and will help you draw out what aspect of the piece adds value to your reader’s life.
Lesson 2: Your writing needs an identity
When I first started writing I was all over the map. I wrote about anything that entered my stream of consciousness. It was fun, but it didn’t give my readers much reason to follow me.
This is because people follow topics that interest them before they follow people. Topics can be something as general as leadership or something as specific as tips for dog owners.
If you want more people to follow you after they have read your content, develop an identity to your writing.
Sometimes your writing identity can be a convergence of what interests you. For instance, when I first started writing my articles were on: Leadership, Personal Growth, and Writing Tips. This covered a broad range of topics but it didn’t help my readers know what “bucket” to put me in.
If they were to tell others what kind of writer I was, what would they say? For that matter, what would I say? If you can’t answer this question, then your readers can’t either. But, when you are able to answer this question, your writing will gain an identity.
Over time I realized the common thread throughout my writing was that it always focused on helping others develop in some way. This epiphany allowed me to develop an identity around where these topics converge: Personal Development.
Now, I write about all my interests under the Personal Development umbrella and here is what my Medium bio says:
Matt Russell — Personal Development Writer — Just a man on a journey to pursue what matters in life.
Lesson 3: Don’t judge your articles too soon
Everyone dreads that moment when your article’s stats petter out. You get an exhilarating thrill when it’s first published and your stats spike… then the stats fizzle out and you wonder if anyone will ever read it again.
Well, I have good news for you; if you write great content, they will. It’s called the 1 Year Bump. Search engines have a maturation period of about 1 year before the content starts to rank well in them.
When someone searches for a phrase that is similar to your article’s title in Google, your article will come up in the results. This can drive a ton of traffic to your writing.
For instance, see how the stats for my article on How to Lead When You Have No Authority significantly increased after about 1 year; this was almost entirely due to the 1 Year Bump.
Bottom line, don’t judge your articles too soon. Their early stats are largely dependent on traffic from publications or being curated, but it is the 1 Year Bump that really matters. Search engine traffic (not curation) is why I am earning $200 per month.
So keep at it, and trust the process. If you follow these lessons, your articles will rank well too.
Lesson 4: Forget about the “dos and don’ts”
You will read a lot of “dos and don’ts” on how to write your articles.
Some people will say write every day, others will say only write when you have something good to say. Some will tell you to write about current events or fads, others will tell you to only write evergreen (timeless) content. Some people live and die by listicles, others begin their articles with a story and end it with a takeaway.
But here is what no one will tell you; all of it works. There are successful writers in just about every category above. This is because what makes a successful writer is not how you write but what you write. If you write great content, others will read it.
With that said, here is my advice. Forget about the “do and don’ts” and just focus on finding a style/routine that works for you. This is because it is when you are in your comfort zone that you will write your best stuff.
Lesson 5: Just keep showing up
They say 80 percent of life is just showing up. Well, that rule applies to writing also. When you show up consistently, you succeed and when you don’t, well…you don’t. Its that simple.
For instance, I watched Nicolas Cole join Medium one month after I did in 2017 and grow from zero followers to almost 50k in two years by simply showing up. He wrote every day and it paid off for him big time.
Me on the other hand, well… I showed up early on, then took a 13-month hiatus (writing only two articles between mid-2018 and mid-2019) and then emerged again, putting out consistent content in late 2019.
The results: a mere 1.6k followers during the same timeframe.
What did I learn? Showing up makes a difference.
I wonder where I would be now if I showed up consistently since 2017.
For instance, I have published a mere 40 articles since joining Medium, but those articles are generating over 20k views and earning $200 per month. If I wrote consistently since 2017, would I have been able to publish 80 articles?… 200?… 500?
Just for fun, if the same ratio of income to views held true ($200 per 20k views), here is what I would be earning now.
- 80 articles (40k views) = $400 per month
- 200 articles (100k views) = $1,000 per month
- 500 articles (250k views) = $2,500 per month
But I won’t cry over lost time… I will just begin where I am with what I have and keep showing up.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb