A Cynic’s Guide to Writing the Perfect Medium Post

Consider, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this: https://blog.growth.supply/advice-from-30-year-old-me-to-20-year-old-me-b9b035d39e2d.

It’s a piece by Nic Haralambous, a hirsute luxury sock-seller from Cape Town, entitled ‘Advice from 30-year-old me to 20-year-old me’. A list of 11 life lessons he’d like to share with his younger self, it’s been recommended over 6,500 times since Nic hit the publish button back in May 2014. Which is a lot.

There’s just one problem and, at the risk of antagonizing the many people who seem to have enjoyed the read, the problem is this: the article is… well, it’s crushingly insubstantial.

Example: this paragraph from his list of millennial top-tips, about the benefits of reading:

3) Read: Read every day. Read everything you can. Don’t just read about things you know about. Read about people. Read people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of reading. But I can’t help questioning the level of insight here. There are probably tens of millions of 30-somethings who could have conjured this anodyne piece of pseudo-wisdom, and articulated it better. Yet here is Nic, with the blogger’s longed-for virality, all for 700 words of intellectually lightweight condescension.

I pick on this post merely because it’s one that recently came to my attention. But there are dozens of similar pieces churning around Medium at any time: how to listicles, life-hack guides, autodidactic treatises on ‘personal growth’ etc etc.

It’s not difficult to understand the reason for their popularity. These articles flourish by feeding us the seductive idea that we can always improve, always drag ourselves out of the rut, always be successful. Nearly all of them hold some reductive, snake-oil promise of making the reader better in life, work, love or play.

But so much of the content is utterly vapid, offering nothing beyond a few nauseating blandishments designed to appeal to the reader’s individualism and thirst for success.

Do we really need someone to tell us that reading will enrich our lives, or that getting up early in the morning will give us more time to get stuff done?

You should use these to write some to-do lists right now (Flickr CC // David Nicholas)

There is no shortage of extraordinary writing on Medium, from dazzling personal essays to compelling reportage. It’s just a shame that so much gets subsumed by the torrent of banal Thought Catalog-style chaff that seems to constantly find itself at the top of the recommend list. Hey, that’s democracy I guess — the lowest common denominator will out.

So, in the spirit of “if you can’t beat them join them”, here is my hastily convened recipe for writing an insanely popular Medium post.

1. Include some empty platitudes

“Follow your dreams!”; “travel more!”; “do what you love!” — all true, of course, but if you need to be told as much you might need to see someone about your self-awareness issues.

2. Aggregate a list of online tools

A super-popular one this, comprising lists of widgets and websites that will make you better at stuff. Popular examples include: free stock photos, online organizers and apps that will trigger your metamorphosis from irrelevant internet-ditherer to entrepreneurial hotshot.

3. Wank on about UX

Whatever the fuck* that is.

4. Employ gratuitous ‘fucks’

Example above.*

5. Illustrate the piece as generically as humanly possible

The best tactic here is to punctuate your article with barely relevant images that somehow imply productivity. Like this:

Here’s a photo of an old typewriter, a defunct writing implement synonymous with creativity and industriousness, reminding you of the magnum opus you almost certainly have simmering inside your head. (Flickr CC // Arielle Fragassi)

6. Liberally scatter with unrealistic exhortations

These should hold the promise of self-improvement. Like: “You can be a genius, even if you’re catastrophically stupid” or “Never sleep, ever.”

7. Inexplicably, weave in a couple of paragraphs about Uber or Elon Musk

Other headline-grabbing modern success stories will do.

8. Trumpet your own easily replicable success story

I became successful because I did this stuff. If you do this stuff, you will invariably become successful too. “How I became a millionaire with an idea I wrote on the back of a napkin” — that sort of thing.

Follow these simple rules, dear reader, and you’ll be Medium’s new darling by lunchtime.

Postscript: It’s interesting to note, as this tongue-in-cheek post gains some small traction, that more than half of the other articles currently jostling shoulders with it on Medium’s ‘Top Stories’ list fall into the categories parodied above. One of them even namechecks Elon Musk! I digress — what I really want to add is a call-out to Medium’s top brass to consider whether the current ‘Top Stories’ model is serving its users as well as it could. Personally, I would find it much easier to discover the kind of work I enjoy if there was some way of filtering out the crud I don’t, thereby banishing all the lifehack puffery from my screen forever!

Get updates on new stories published here and elsewhere by following me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/henrywismayer. Thanks for reading.