Getting Started in Medium: Long form response and advanced writing practices
Over the last two posts we’ve looked at reading and then writing in Medium. Now we’ll examine some advanced writing techniques. Next week we’ll look at publications, sharing your work on your own blogs, and syndicating to Medium.
To get started, at this point you should have a Medium account, you should have started to follow others and mark up their work. It’s also suggested that you started up at least one publication. In my post on writing, I suggested that you build an “about me” post that shares info about you. You can use my example as a starting point. I would also checking out the great post by Jeroen Clemens as he introduces himself, and his work.
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet with an initial post or two, we can take a look at more advanced forms of writing in Medium.
Long form response
As we’ve discussed in the post on reading Medium, one of the strengths of the platform is that it makes it very easy to read, annotate, and comment on posts. Medium lists each of these comments that you’ve made as “stories”. You can review all of these stories by clicking on your icon in the top right of the screen and clicking on “drafts and stories”.
The benefit of this (IMHO) is that it creates distinct discussion points from each new comment. If you’re the type of person that likes to read, and then finds one line that has the potential to set you off on a rant…this is a great feature for you. Readers are able to identify a specific word or sentence, highlight, write up a quick comment, or draft a longer form response that can live on its own on the platform. Other readers can then pick up on your thinking, and then respond to your ideas.
An example of this was shared from my post on reading Medium, Greg McVerry started up an awesome overview of his thinking about the use of Medium to create classes and portfolios. In another universe, I would have had my initial post on my blog, and then shared out through my social networks. Greg would have seen that post, and written up a response and share it on his blog. He may have left a comment on my blog that indicated that he was riffing off of my work. In Medium, his post shows up as a comment to my original post. I value this as it provides some extra depth and complexity to the work that I shared.
Find something, read something, respond with something
To test this out, I recommend finding a story on Medium that will get you interested and inspired. Find something that gets you thinking and you want to respond. Perhaps it’s this post from a Bay Area teen, and this post from a long-time cop on Matter in which they discuss police brutality. Perhaps it’s this great post titled “Stop saying technology is causing social isolation.” Perhaps it’s this piece on why India Pale Ales (IPAs) are bad. We’ve all got different interests…who am I to judge? :)
I would find something that interests you, something you want to respond to, highlight that once phrase or sentence…and let the words flow. Many times I see these point/counterpoint types of posts written and then lost in a discussion forum or listserv thread. I believe they would have far more value living out online where others can read, respond…and then come back later to revisit.
Starting to write/blog
After creating your “about me” page, and writing a long form response to another post, I would suggest writing up your own stand-alone post. Let’s acknowledge from the start that writing, and especially writing (or blogging) online can sometimes be disconcerting. We have this feeling that “no one wants to read what I have to say” or “who cares about my ideas.” This form of writer’s block, and self-doubt continues to stunt our thinking and growth as a writer. From my experience teaching writing, and my time spent as a failed blogger…I can tell you to just start writing. Get a kernel of an idea in your head, and let the words flow.
In most of my classes, I have students blog, or at least discuss in online discussions. My advice is that blog posts should be short, approximately 300 to 400 words long. They should include images, videos, and links to help support the reader. I know that the posts will be longer than 400 words, but I want them to get started. I also know/believe that the way to learn how to write is to write…and then keep writing…and then write some more. You will always look back and want to revise, or rewrite older pieces. You’ll slowly develop and change your voice over time. You’ll find new insight in your thinking and words, and this will enrich your future writing. But, to get to this point…you need to write. So stop procrastinating, stop doubting yourself…write.
I also advise students to write someplace offline so they don’t lose their drafts if something happens to their Internet. I often break that rule as I mostly write directly in WordPress or Medium on my browser. Pro Tip — I use the Lazarus Chrome Extension that automatically saves text in forms and webpages in case something goes wrong. It’s saved my butt a million times. :)
After writing up the first draft, you can always save the draft and revise it later with a fresh mind. In Medium you can share the draft with a colleague to review and give you feedback before publishing. Once you’re happy with the latest version of your text, let’s add in some final elements to make it perfect.
Best practices in writing online
There are different styles and practices for each writing and blogging platform that writers usually abide by. There are also exceptions to each of these “rules.” While blogging (or in this case) writing on Medium, I give my students the following guidance:
- While there is no real magic number for word count, I believe posts are generally 300 to 400 words and longer. There is no upper limit for longer posts…but I try and think of smaller, follow-up posts instead of trying to cram it all in one post.
- Write a great headline that includes the gist of your story…and all of the keywords. Make people want to click on your story and read it.
- Choose a high-quality photo (minimum 900 pixels, or 900x900) to include as the image at the top of your posts. Flickr creative commons search, and the CC Search portal are great places to look for images. I’m also loving Unsplash more and more each day. Pro Tip — I also really love using Canva to create images and logos for posts as well.
- Where appropriate, use formatting features to guide your readers. In Medium, you can follow their formatting guide. The formatting features typically include using two levels of headlines, notes for footnotes, hyperlinks, and section separators.
- Get feedback on your draft. Proofread for grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Pro Tip — You might want to check out using the Hemingway Editor to give you feedback on your draft as well.
- Use tags when you publish to connect to your audience. When you click on the “Publish” button at the top right, you’ll be presented with a drop down section that asks you to submit (up to three) tags for your post. Tags are general ideas, or themes in your post. They are helpful to connect your work to other content just like yours. As you type in tags, Medium will let you know if the tags already exist, and how many people use those tags. As an example, if you’re sharing this with the Literacy Research Association…you might want to use “LRA” as one of the tags to connect with others.
Once you’ve finished that draft, you’ve gotten feedback, and you’ve followed the guidelines above, go ahead and publish your story. I have other posts on the use and citation of Creative Commons content. We can also talk about more advanced blogging…but for now celebrate. Share that piece out on your social networks and revel in what you’ve created.
If you want more guidance on advanced writing techniques, please review this piece on writing and this piece on tips and tricks for Medium writers. If I missed something up above, please feel free to leave comments.
For now…get out there and find something to respond to. Find something to write about. Get writing and share!!!