GUIDE: How to Start Writing On Medium
The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need
Almost three years ago, I wanted to start writing.
I joined a writing group at my local coworking center, and thanks to another member, I came across a groundbreaking discovery:
This had to be what The Gold Rush of 1849 felt like. After only a few minutes of poking and prodding, I realized this website was made for me.
As someone who has always been plagued with perfectionism, I tend to favor things that promote a bias towards action. As far as I was concerned, Medium was the Usain Bolt of actionable writing tools. It made the writing process almost effortless with tools for drafting, editing, publishing, and distributing your writing.
Once I got started, there was no turning back.
With Medium’s help, I organically created a daily writing routine that, at it’s core, included journaling, reading, and writing. After only a few days, I added publishing to that routine (roughly 2–3 times a week). Each click of the “Publish” button was forward progress, a potent drug I couldn’t get enough of.
The real fun began after people started to actually read my writing.
Readers from all over the world were actually finding value in what I had to say (and others made it crystal clear when they weren’t). I read each comment like it was the name of my school on the screen during a potential snow day, responding to every single one within minutes of the notification.
After a few years, Ev Williams and the Medium Staff changed everything with the introduction of the Medium Partnership Program and writer payouts. The moment I saw this email, I knew I Medium really was leveling the playing field for writers all over the world.
I know, it’s no jackpot, but getting paid for doing something you love will always be worth it, especially after almost three years in the making.
Now that you have a little context behind why I’m so passionate about Medium and its potential as a viable career starter, let’s dig into the nitty gritty. What follows is a VERY in-depth look into Medium, a product I use every single day. You may want to click the bookmark icon and save this one for later.
For those of you who are looking for quick, actionable pieces of advice, I’ve included a TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) at the end of every section. Don’t say I never did anything for you ;)
I always try to be as helpful as possible. Take a look below if you are looking for a specific topic. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride!
0.0 Introduction — Why Should Your Listen to Me?
1.0 Creating a Profile
2.0 Drafting Your First Story
3.0 Editing & Receiving Feedback
4.0 Text Formatting
6.0 Publishing Your Work
7.0 Sharing Online
8.0 Growing an Audience
9.0 Tips & Tricks
(Why Should You Listen to Me?)
That’s a very good question. After all, you don’t even know me and I’m giving you advice. From a conventional standpoint, I am in no way qualified to share what I know.
I haven’t it “made it.” I don’t work remotely from exotic beaches while managing my empire of online writing classes that teach you how to become rich. I haven’t written a single self-help book unlocking the mysteries of life and entrepreneurship using the same set of suggestions you can probably find on Google.
Honestly, I’ve never even had a full-time job.
After freelancing for almost a decade now, I am simply someone who believes in helping others. I also believe it’s never too early to share what you know, especially if someone else can benefit.
Thanks to Medium, I started my writing career just about three years ago and I’ve used it every day since. This product has given me so many benefits.
With this daily use comes an intimate knowledge of the product, both inside and out. Since I’ve benefitted from this self-education, it’s only right that I pass it along to others.
If you look closely, you’ll notice I don’t have millions of followers. On the contrary: I have amassed a modest following for both my personal profile and The Imperfectionist (roughly 5.7 thousand followers each).
For me, Medium is different from other social media sites. It isn’t about the quantity of readers, it’s about the quality of your readership. Each follower tends to be much more engaged and actively participates by leaving constructive feedback on my writing.
All of this being said, you’re not here for me; you’re here for you. You want to start writing on Medium and you need a little help. So, I’ll stop rambling and start dropping some knowledge. If you do want to learn more about me, you can check out my personal site.
• I’m not a writing guru or best-selling author (yet)
• I’ve used Medium (almost) every day for three years
• Focus on quality over quantity with followers on Medium
1.0 Creating a Profile
After you sign in using Facebook, Twitter, or Google, you will see one of the simplest profiles you’ll ever come across online:
Name — Pretty self-explanatory
Short bio — If you have a Twitter profile or other social media, I would use the same bio. If not, be as simple and straightforward was possible. Here’s mine for example: Designer. Writer. Founder. Beatboxer. Imperfectionist. Passionate about helping others make their ideas happen.
Profile picture — Once again, I would use the same photo from your other social media accounts. It’s always better to keep things consistent.
Now that you have a profile, Medium will automatically suggest articles to read based on what is currently trending. Like many other blogging sites, you can customize your feed by choosing specific categories that interest you. The sooner you do this, the quicker you’ll find value in the articles you read.
Some of these categories include:
These are just a few popular topics you can use to discover new stories or make your own stories more discoverable (more on that later).
• Medium profiles are simple and straightforward (name, bio, picture)
• Keep things consistent with other social media profiles
• Customize your feed by choosing categories that interest you
2.0 Drafting Your First Story
At this point, you’re probably getting a little antsy. If you’re like me, you’re ready to stop talking and start doing. In my opinion, this is where the real magic happens on Medium.
The simplicity of drafting stories is what hooked me in the first place. In fact, this platform has become my go-to for drafting any type of writing, regardless of where I end up sharing it.
One thing to keep in mind when getting started is that Medium defines anything you write as a story, including both articles and comments. Once you have written multiple articles and have commented on several pieces, you’ll see them all in the “Stories” tab under your profile.
Now that you’re ready, let’s get to it. There are two ways to create a new story:
- On the homepage, click the green words “Write a story” in the upper left-hand corner.
- Click your profile picture in the upper right-hand corner and choose, “New story.”
Welcome to your new draft!
Instead of starting with a daunting blank page, Medium gives you a blank title and the prompt, “Tell your story…”
Depending on your background as a writer, you might already have hundreds of ideas to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered.
A while back, I wrote a framework for writing your first article that might make things a little easier for you.
One of the easiest ways to get started is to focus on one BIG IDEA. This will keep your story clear and focused for the reader.
In order to develop your BIG IDEA, think of five topics that interest you, turn each topic into a specific question, and then answer each question. You now have five BIG IDEAS to choose from.
When drafting an article, I tend to keep my BIG IDEA at the top until I’m finished. Many times, I turn this into a TL;DR for the story (for those readers who want a better idea of what they’re reading).
• Medium classifies both articles and comments as stories
• To create a BIG IDEA for your story, brainstorm a topic that interests you, turn it into a question, and then answer it.
• Once you’re finished, your BIG IDEA can become your TL;DR.
3.0 Editing & Receiving Feedback
Congrats on writing your first draft! If you ask me, this is the hardest part.
Now that you’ve put in the work, it’s time to make it even better by showing it to real people. Not just anyone — it’s important to find a good balance using these four categories:
- Someone you know who writes
- Someone you don’t know who writes
- Someone who would be a target reader in the category
After you finish your first draft, it’s always a good idea to self-edit. The most important thing to remember is never, NEVER, NEVER edit while you write. This is the quickest way to get bogged down.
Separate your writing and self-editing phases into two distinct sessions.
You’ll notice this is going to take reaching outside of your comfort zone. It might be tempting to only show your work to friends and family, but do this, and you risk hearing unhelpful feedback like, “Honey, this is great!” and, “It’s perfect!” As encouraging as these are to hear, they don’t make your writing any better.
Once you identify at least one editor from each category, Medium makes it simple for them to share feedback with you.
If you look in the upper right-hand corner of your draft, you’ll notice the word “Share” next to “Publish.” Click this, and Medium will automatically generate a shareable link to your article. Copy and paste this link and share it however you like.
Don’t worry about people tweaking your draft; while viewing a draft, Medium limits the reader’s ability to highlighting text and leaving closed comments that only you can read.
As nerve-racking as receiving feedback can be, this is where you learn what works and what doesn’t before sending your story out into the wild.
• ALWAYS separate writing and self-editing into two separate sessions.
• Find someone you know who writes, someone you don’t know who writes, and someone who is in your target reader group.
• Click “Share” to receive a shareable link to your draft.
• This link allows people to highlight text and leave a closed comment.
4.0 Text Formatting
You’ve created your first draft, felt the sting of criticism, and are now ready to hit the “Publish” button. Before you do, it’s time to think about the last 10% that makes a story stand out.
While writing, you’ll notice that Medium keeps things simple in terms of text formatting. You can make text:
quote (option 1)
quote (option 2)
How you use this text styling is up to you. If you follow certain writers on Medium consistently, you’ll notice each has their own preferences when laying out their text.
For example, if I want to include a quote in my writing, I always choose option two and include my own quotation marks. Other writers may decide to use option 2.
If you ask me, the main thing to remember with text layout is to keep things simple. Think about the reader. Will they be able to follow your train of thought if you are switching up the style every time your start a new paragraph? Probably not.
Another thing to keep in mind while formatting text Medium is readability.
When reading a book, you come across parts, chapters, paragraphs, and other sections that break up the writing. Since most posts on Medium live within a medium-length, consider breaking your post up into sections with bold headlines. This will give the reader a list of shorter headlines to skim as well as longer paragraphs of text to dive into.
Since Medium makes it easy to share your writing on Twitter, breaking things up also makes it easier for your readers to share quotes, lines, and other pieces of your writing that resonate with them.
• Find your own style of text formatting that works for you.
• Make your posts more readable by breaking them up into headlines and shorter paragraphs.
• Keep in mind which quotes, sentences, and blurbs your readers might want to share on Twitter and other social media.
(Note: these will all look the same on mobile).
Option 1: Inline Images
This option allows you to flow text around an image. You won’t see this much of this on Medium since it tends to break up text and makes things a little harder to read.
Option 2: Full Column-Width Images
This option increases the size of the photo to the exact width of the text. It tends to be the most standard size since it keeps things clean and consistent.
Option 3: Out-Set Images
This option increases the size of the photo outside of the text column. It helps provide more emphasis and clarity.
Option 4: Screen-Width Images
This option increases the size of the photo to the entire width of the screen. It provides the most emphasis, which is why it’s mainly used for cover images at the beginning of stories.
6.0 Publishing Your Work
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: it’s time to hit “Publish!” This is where shit gets real. As soon as you click that green button in the top right of your screen, the world will be able to see what you wrote (at least the part of the world that’s on Medium).
Once you click “Publish,” you will see the following prompt:
Ready to publish?
Add or change tags (up to 5) so readers know what your story is about.
Like most other major social networks, tags will make your story much more discoverable. Start typing one and Medium will automatically fill in the category while showing you how popular each tag is. This is where doing a little homework pays off.
If you are writing to build an audience as quickly as possible, writing posts with popular tags will help. For example, the tag “Startup” has 256,000 followers.
With tags, the most important thing to keep in mind is transparency. Make sure you are using tags that accurately reflect the subject matter of your post. If you don’t, both readers and Medium staff members will notice, which could lead to an email you don’t want to see.
After choosing five tags (the limit), you will be prompted to select an image to feature (if you have more than one in your post). By default, Medium will select the first image you include.
If you have connected your Twitter and Facebook accounts, you will also have the option to automatically share your post to both social networks. Depending on your sharing strategy (which we’ll go over in the next section), you may want to leave these unchecked.
Finally, Medium allows you to choose the audience for your post (scroll all of the way to the top of your post and look in the upper-lefthand corner). If you have joined the Medium Partnership Program, you will see two choices:
- All of Medium — Your post will be available for anyone on Medium (more visibility, no potential for payment)
- Medium members — Your post will only be available to those viewers who pay $5 per month for exclusive material (less visibility, potential for payment based on engagement).
Once you are ready, all you have to do is click the second “Publish” button.
As scary as this sounds, it’s not that bad. Medium allows you to go back and edit your post even after you publish. They even keep the URL the same so it doesn’t create broken links wherever you’ve shared your post.
Now that your post is out there in the wild, it’s time to get it in front of the people who need it most. In the next section, I’ll share everything I know on creating your own distribution strategy.
• Make the most of tagging by including all five tags before publishing.
• Use tags that are both accurate and popular among Medium readers.
• Choose “All of Medium” for more visibility
• Choose “Medium members” for a potential payout
• Remember, if you’re part of the Partnership Program, your payout is based on several factors based on engagement
7.0 Sharing Online
When I first started writing and publishing over two years ago, my sharing strategy was all over the place. I would post my writing on every single feed I could think of, hoping I could win readers by being everywhere. I even resorted to sharing my writing with matches on Tinder. That’s right, I had no shame. I was so passionate (and unfocused), I somehow thought that people on a dating app would want to read my writing.
Needless to say, after a few years of trial and error, this process has become much more refined and I know focus on a specific audience comprised of three types of people:
- People who work in corporate settings
When sharing my writing with others online, I try and keep one simple thing in mind:
How will this post help my audience? Is it specifically written for them? Is it solving a problem they’ve expressed? Whatever the context is, I try and use it to be more useful to the potential reader.
In terms of my current sharing process, this is what it looks like when I now publish a post:
• Submit post to related publication (both inside and outside of Medium)
• Publish final draft on Medium
• Share article on Twitter
• Share article on personal Facebook profile
• Share article to specific Facebook groups related to post
• Natively post and share article on LinkedIn with a different call to action
• Share article on specific Slack accounts related to post
• Snapchat screenshot and link of article to followers
• Add formatted post to Instagram and include link in bio
• Post article to relevant subreddit on Reddit (if applicable)
In my mind, the first step is probably the most important. Since Medium allows you to publish to publications, either your own or someone else’s, it’s important to cater each post to that specific publication.
If I am writing a post that provides actionable advice for making an idea happen, I naturally publish it in The Imperfectionist, my personal blog. However, if the post is related specifically to writing or startups, I will most likely submit it to The Writing Cooperative or Startup Grind, respectively.
When I talk to people who want to start writing online, I tend to hear the same question:
“What should I do if I want to write about several topics?”
Medium publications introduce a versatility that you can’t find on other writing platforms. You have the ability the create and manage a separate publication for each topic, all under your Medium profile.
Want to start a travel blog? Done. Have you always wanted to write local restaurant reviews? No problem. Medium acknowledges that each writer is multi-faceted and needs a way to share their thoughts on various topics.
There is one caveat: if you divide your time and attention too much, you will naturally have a harder time growing any one specific audience around your writing. We’ll talk about how to effectively tackle this in the next section.
• When sharing your post, focus on context over anything else.
• Identify a specific audience you want to help with your writing.
• Create your own sharing process that is customized for your readers.
• Be selective with which publications you submit your writing to.
• Consider making a separate publication for each dissimilar topic you write about.
8.0 Growing an Audience
Medium is an amazing platform for writing.
However, people tend to forget that, no matter how hard you wish, it won’t do the work for you. Even though the site makes it easier to draft, edit, publish, and share your writing, it won’t magically give you an engaged audience in a few weeks.
Creating a high-quality blog and building an engaged audience both require consistency and long-term commitment.
Growing an audience won’t happen overnight. It may not even happen during your first year or two. Medium definitely lowers to the barrier to entry, but you’re the one that will have to spend countless hours honing your craft.
If your goal is to start growing an audience as soon as possible, then there is one simple thing you you need to do after publishing and sharing a piece of writing:
Listen to your readers by reading their comments.
Since you want to write on Medium, then you inherently want your writing to be seen by other people. Otherwise, why not make things easier by writing in a journal every day?
The best insight will always come from people who actually read your writing. If you are serious about creating a sustainable writing career, then the comments section will be the oxygen you need to continue growing.
You could simply read each comment and call it a day, but we both know you want to go the extra mile. You want to make the most of every opportunity you’re given.
That’s why you are willing to respond to each and every single comment someone leaves after your post. After all, they spent their valuable time reading and sharing what they thought. The least you could do is spend a few minutes crafting a personal response, including a thank you for reading your writing.
Do this each day, and you will be quickly notice the benefits of acknowledging your readers. Remember, even though they’re somewhere else behind a computer screen, they are still a human.
• Growing an audience consistency and long-term commitment.
• Read and respond to every single comment a reader leaves.
9.0 Tips & Tricks
Now that you have a general idea of what it takes to get started on Medium, it’s time to dive into the nitty gritty tactics that can help set you apart from everyone else. The following section will cover various tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the past 2 years of using Medium almost every single day.
9.1: Build a routine
This is the best piece of advice I can offer to anyone who wants to start a sustainable career in writing.
When I started, my routine was pretty bare, consisting of a single 30-minute writing session. Over the years, I have experimented with introducing various micro habits into my routine. These tasks start with only a few minutes and eventually grow into 15, 30, or even 60-minute sessions.
At this point, my daily routine looks like this:
- Journal (5 mins)
- News (New York Times, Quartz newsletter, and LinkedIn Pulse)
- Read — book (30 mins)
- Write — articles for blog (30 mins)
- Answer 3 questions on Quora
- Meditate (10 mins)
- Write — book (1 hour)
As you can tell, some of these tasks may not seem directly related to writing on Medium. I beg to differ.
Each task is either an input (reading a book or the news), or an output (journaling, answering questions on Quora, etc.). All of these inform my daily writing for blog posts and help me to become a better overall writer.
9.2: Submit your writing to other publications
We briefly covered this in previous sections, but it deserves some a lot more attention. If you’re goal is to build a large following around your writing, submitting your posts to third-party publication can help you get their faster.
Keep in mind that each publication focuses on specific topics, which means you should only submit writing that speakers to their specific readers.
If you’re not sure how to get started, trying browsing the posts on a publication that interests you. Pay attention to the types of posts they publish, the formatting requirements, and the writers that contribute regularly. If you keep these things in mind when submitting your writing, you will have a better chance at becoming a contributing writer.
Each publication will have its own criteria and process for submitting a post. Some have a simple form to fill out and others require submission by email. On the off chance the publication doesn’t have any contact info, this is where you need to get creative.
Whenever I find a publication without contact info, I’ll try and find the founder or an editor on Twitter. More often than not, you’ll be able to let them know you have a post that might work well in their publication. If you make it about them, there’s a good chance they’ll accept.
When building your own audience, you’ll want to submit your posts to publications with large numbers of followers. In order to view how many followers a publication has, visit their homepage, go to the URL, and type “/latest” at the end. This will take you to their “About” page, which includes more information and the number of readers following their publication.
Try this with popular publications and you’ll see the following:
This little trick will give you a better idea of the reach a publication has before you submit a post. There’s a good chance they’ll also promote your piece on Twitter if and when they publish it.
• Create your own daily writing routine using micro habits.
• Submit your writing to other publications before you’re “ready.”
• Type “/latest” at the end of the URL to see the # of followers.
I’m a big believer in giving as much value as possible which means, I love sharing actionable resources that help make things easier, even after you’re finished reading. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive list that shares helpful resources for making the most of Medium. As always, if you have one that isn’t included, I would love to know what it is one Twitter!
In order to find images for your posts that are both high quality and free, check out the following sites. (Keep in mind, most publications require you to at least attribute your images to their original sources).
In case you’re not familiar with Mailchimp, it’s one of the easiest ways to get started with content marketing. This comprehensive website allows you to do a few things:
- Create custom sign up forms
- Design email newsletter campaigns
- Distribute your newsletter among various emails lists
- Reach users and readers with targeted ads
- Much, much more
As most online writers and bloggers will tell you, growing an email list and engaging them with newsletter campaigns are a few effective ways to distribute your writing and promote future projects and offerings.
Even though Mailchimp allows you to create email capture forms, Upscribe is a third-party service that seamlessly integrates with Medium. It’s perfect for building an email list that you can later engage using a newsletter you create with Mailchimp.
In order to include a form at the end of each article, simply:
- Setup a free Upscribe account
- Create a subscribe form
- Copy the embeddable link
- At the end of your Medium post, click the “+” button
- Choose the “embed” option
- Paste the Upscribe link
- Push “Return” and, after a few seconds, you should see the form appear.