Want followers? Then Here’s a Life Lesson for You: Learn How to Fucking Write.

It’s official, the content marketers have invaded Medium. Yes, we’ve already seen a bunch of self help, listicle shit here, to the point that half the community complained about it. Only just now though, am I seeing posts like “how to gain followers on Medium”. The information contained in these posts is the generic stuff: a click bait headline, including inspirational quotes (here’s a hint, if you need quotes in your work to move people, you suck and need to get better), and offering life advice, or if we want to flog a dead horse even further “add value”.

I’ve got an even better idea, but you might find it a bit wacky: learn how to fucking write.

Do you notice that we never see any posts titled “how to be a great writer”? That’s because there aren’t that many truly great writers out there, and they have better things to worry about than putting out a guide on how to do it. The rare few books that have been written on the topic are actually written by great writers, because you can’t scam your way into teaching something so nuanced and difficult.

You will, however, see a billion posts and ebooks on how to write a bestseller, how to gain followers, how to game Amazon and so on. They are written because the author is in search of easy cash or worse, building a “personal brand” (fuck I’m tired of hearing that) and the people that are desperate for a silver bullet often don’t care if the author has any credentials at all.

Here’s the funny thing with the people who read this stuff, hoping to get a top story or lots of followers: the joke is on you. This is nothing more than writing to a formula, which, to anyone not in the self help crowd rings as hollow and vapid garbage. Even if you’re a decent writer and write to this formula, you’ll likely just sound like a tired cliche. All you’re trying to do is get a dopamine response from people, in turn getting a dopamine response yourself through their recommends and comments.

When it comes to writing I’ll happily admit that I’m a 35 year old going on 70. I’m a cantankerous snob and make no apologies for it, like Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. My attitude is that if you’re not dedicating time to the craft, if you’re not trying to get better every day and all you want is attention and followers, then fuck off to Instagram. I have respect for anyone who starts putting stuff out there one day and just keeps at it, constantly trying to improve. Someone who reads back over their old stuff, and seeing with new eyes where they need to get better. Putting in the hours in obscurity. That’s dedication to craft and how you become good at anything. I know how hard it is because I’ve done it. What I don’t have respect for is people that come in and try to write to a formula in order to gain instant followers and success. You might as well put up a post that says “look at me, pay attention to me! I suck but I want to be at the top!”

Do you really want to be at the top? Then spend time on your craft and write something worth reading. If you want millions of followers, get so good that you’re on par with John Steinbeck, or Christopher Hitchens. They had lots of followers and fans of their work because they deserved them, because they were so good at their craft they stood out like a shining beacon of excellence both in their time and after they died. Becoming a self help shill wanting followers is easy. Becoming a Steinbeck, that’s another thing entirely. It means forgetting about fame, adulation, followers and instead banging out keystrokes for years. When I finished Grapes of Wrath, I could only gape in awe of how perfect it was, and the fact that I most probably will never reach those heights as a writer. That won’t stop me from trying though.

When I see another bullshit self help article or listicle come through my feed on the other hand, I (and no doubt many others) have one of the following reactions:

“Ugh”

Roll of the eyes

“This is worse than shit. It’s shit cobbled together from someone else’s shit, which was itself taken from something that may have actually been good or insightful”.

“Seriously? You’re going to try and speak with authority on this and your tag line is ’entrepreneur’. I bet you haven’t even made a dime.”

What do you expect having all of these self help chasing followers is going to get you? Do you think you’re going to start some online business like the “lifestyle entrepreneur” crowd? That well was already sucked dry years ago. The people who could do this have already done it – no one wants to buy your shitty life advice anymore. The other thing you don’t realise is that all the people who love this stuff so much are cheapskates who won’t pay for any of it – after all, if they were actually serious about improving their lives, they would do it instead of clicking on another self help article.

The other question I have to ask is, what exactly do you imagine is at the end of this formula writing rainbow? Are all of your followers going to hug you in your bed at night? Are you going to sit back with a smug grin on your face due to how happy you are to have followers? It’s a wild goose chase. There is no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. If you aren’t happy with writing itself, then followers aren’t going to make it any better. All you want is attention, and if that’s the case, how about you take your misdirected energy and focus it on your real life relationships? There is far more satisfaction to be had there than with recommends and page views.

I know, I sound angry as shit right now. I’m more just irritated. I’m irritated because there are plenty of people here on Medium who are putting out great work. Some of it is so good and has moved me so much I’ve had tears well up in my eyes. For me, they are the true community of Medium. Content marketers and self help aficionados are just pissing in what was once a very nice pool.

Let me end on this. If I ask who your favourite writers are and you can’t even give me a list of 5 great authors, but instead talk about people online that write self help shit, you have no clue what writing is all about. Please, do us all a favour and go pick up a book (yes, a real one). Hopefully by reading something good, you’ll learn not to flood us with shit.

Related: In Defence of Harsh Words

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Pete Ross’s story.