Community Will Make or Break Your Writing Success
It’s not writing every day that matters, but connecting with those you write for
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb
I had never wanted to leave a party so much in my life.
I set down my drink, fixed my tie, and reached reflexively for my cell phone, only to remember at the last second that it was inappropriate in that setting to be seen on my phone.
I felt like I was standing in a sea of strangers. I looked from face to face and I didn’t recognize one person. Everyone was acting as if they had a mission to avoid me and seemed to execute that by going out of their way or around me to talk to anyone else.
Have you ever experienced that feeling?
Maybe you’re an extrovert and have never met a stranger, but if you’re like me, you’ve likely experienced something similar to that feeling like you’re completely alone in a room full of strangers.
It usually hits you out of nowhere. Maybe you just finished up a conversation that you can’t really remember any detail of what you talked about. Maybe you walked back into the room to find that no one seemed to notice you were gone.
At that moment, you acutely realize that you’re alone.
My hope for you is that you don’t have that same experience here on Medium.
I’ve been writing on Medium for almost six months now. In that time, I’ve read countless articles on how to be successful on Medium. I’ve done research on the best steps to create a following. I’ve followed along with publications and reached out to other writers for advice. I’ve tried to follow the steps I’ve read as best I could to see where it would lead.
Across the board, we’ve seen articles on articles about tips, tricks, and ways to improve your writing to make it on Medium. We’ve heard from people starting out and people who are incredibly successful on Medium like Benjamin Hardy, PhD, Thomas Oppong, and Kris Gage.
So why is what I’m about to tell you any different from all of these articles and advice.
Because it’s the one thing that interconnects all of the other pieces of advice and input you’ve read about how to become a successful Medium writer.
And it’s rarely talked about.
The Importance of a Writing Community
When it comes to being a successful writer on Medium, here are some of the major things we’ve all heard:
It’s important to write every day. Strive to get picked up by publications; clap for articles you like. Leave helpful comments. Read widely. Be generous. Write well. Be yourself. Work hard.
Yes and Amen to all of this.
Style your articles correctly. Picking good headlines that are catchy is crucial. Curate your audience. Have good research and be original. Edit, edit, and edit more. Write and sit on your stories for a few days.
It’s true, headlines are crucial and the audience is king.
Find your niche. Market yourself whenever you can. Pick good images. Link your social platforms. Give action steps. Utilize outside sources.
This isn’t new. Most of us know the basics of how to be successful on Medium. If we actually take this advice to heart and put it to practice is another story.
But even in the midst of all of this great advice, and the majority of it is truly great, there is still something missing. Something that interconnects the pieces and creates the true hinge for your success on Medium or other writing platforms.
I know, mind-blowing right? You’re probably thinking, that’s the big secret? Well, hold on and think about it with me.
Right now, look at your follower count and then tell me: how many of those people you actually know? How many of those people do you correspond with on a weekly or monthly basis? How many of those people do you get excited about when their articles come out, and how many of those people do you consistently clap for and help promote?
For me, sadly the answer is very few.
I enjoy supporting and cheering for Niklas Göke, Vy Luu, Michael Thompson, Linda Smith, and a few others. But I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t done a better job at investing into the writers around me.
And if it stayed that way, I wouldn’t make it on Medium.
No matter what other tips or tricks I applied. Ultimately, I wouldn’t be successful.
Who is in your writing community?
So many of the tips and tricks to be successful on Medium are focused on us, our work, our design, and even our audience. Even when writers address the need to give and take, we often end up getting back to the reality of ourselves.
And on some level, that’s unavoidable.
But on another level, this inward focus is always going to limit us from reaching our true potential of being successful on Medium.
The best Medium writers are not necessarily the ones with the most followers, but the best Medium writers are people who create community.
If your writing turns into your opportunity to tell the world how smart you are, you won’t be successful on Medium.
If your writing turns into your dopamine hit to make you feel successful and valued, you won’t be successful on Medium.
If your writing turns into your daily exercise that you use to inflate your pride and becomes your evidence or boast of hard work or even excellence, you won’t be successful on Medium.
This is because truly great writing — creative and inspiring writing that impacts how people think and influences how people feel — that kind of writing rarely has anything to do with you and has everything to do with the people who are reading.
Yes, great writing is personal and is often based on your story. However, you aren’t the message. You never get to where you are alone. That is the meaning of the African Proverb quoted at the top of this article.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Success is about going far.
For all of the connectedness, the updates, the alerts and the emails, Medium can be a very lonely place.
When you forget this truth, your chances of being successful on Medium are in danger.
Deep down, people don’t really need to read another article that gives them a “how-to” or shares career advice from some vantage point that is slightly different from the next person.
What people need is to know that someone cares about them, their opinions, and their interests. You want to know that someone took the time to think about you specifically and to read the writing that you worked on and invested yourself into.
Deep down, most people don’t want to just be another clap, another statistic, another email update.
You don’t want to be another email newsletter.
You want to be known.
You want to have community.
If we want to be successful on Medium, we can’t let the explosion of writing and writers dull our perception of this.
We can’t become so enraptured in our own platforms that we forget to look around at the hundreds and hundreds of people who are writing all around us, wanting someone to just notice they are in process.
So, What Now?
If you’re like me, you’re thinking something along the lines, “that sounds good and nice, but how could I possibly live that out? I’m just one person.”
You are just one person. That is the beauty of it.
You can start to shift your mindset.
Medium isn’t necessarily going to change overnight. It will continue to evolve, but you could grow and start taking steps towards building community in the next few weeks.
But there’s too many people on Medium for me to connect with.
Not true. This week, what if you found four people whose writing you respect and you reached out? Find four people who make you think, who make you laugh, or who you appreciate their style and content.
If possible, try to find people who have a similar or lower # of followers as you.
Send them a message. It could be as simple as this:
“Hi! I’ve recently read your work on ______ and I was really impressed. Thanks for taking the time to work on and invest in that story. I know Medium can be a big place, so I just wanted you to know that I’m cheering for you and I’m grateful for your writing. I‘m looking to put together a small writing community for people who want to grow, connect, and cheer for each other, so if you’re interested, let me know!”
See if they have a writing community. The odds are that they don’t. Follow their work. Give helpful and meaningful suggestions. Be genuine in your affections.
If they're in, invite your community to a shared Slack workspace. or start an email thread.
Don’t make it over-produced and don’t make your praise conditional on them joining your writing community.
I’m not a good enough writer for people to care about me. I don’t have anything to offer.
On the contrary! Every writer starts off with work that needs serious improvement. How do you think that Tolkien got to be one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century? He was a part of a writing community called the Inklings that met every week at a pub and went over each other’s writing.
It’s the only way he finished writing Lord of the Rings.
It’s way better to grow with friends than grow by yourself and then try to make friends once you’re great.
Find teammates, not professional co-workers.
I’m already in a good community in real life. I don’t know if I can have online friends, too?
I understand the tension of trying to balance friends, family, jobs, kids, and all of the other forty things the typical person has going on a day to day basis.
Here’s the deal though. Helping create a writing community doesn’t mean that you have to pick your new best friends.
By no means is it a permanent thing.
If you set about to form your community with either of these things in mind, you will likely be overwhelmed by the commitment within the first few weeks.
A great writing community is intentional. And it is for a season. It’s applying some focused effort on seeing people and celebrating their work. It’s saying “yes” to helping people become better writers as you yourself seek to become a better writer.
It’s something you try for 3 weeks or 3 months. You’re allowed to come and go as you please — as long as you know that the space is open for you.
I don’t have the time to really see people on Medium.
If you have the time to write and post every few days, you have the time to read an article over your lunch break. You are likely on your email or Slack for a good portion of the day.
You have time for what you make a priority.
When it comes to return on investment in the long-run, your writing community will do 10,000x more for you than that one extra article you wrote every week.
Alone in a Room Full of Strangers
Many of us have been that person from the example at the top of this article.
Alone in a room full of strangers.
I don’t want Medium to be that way for you. I don’t want it to be that way for me.
If we’re not careful, we’ll become so obsessed with being successful on Medium that we’ll overlook the one true way that we can guarantee that we’re successful.
It doesn’t matter if you have 40,000 followers if you have a community of 40, find close-knit writers who you love doing life with.
So be the person who makes those in the room full of strangers feel a little less lonely.
If this article was for you and you’re looking for a writing community on Medium, let me know. Leave a comment on this post and we’ll go about getting a community together so that none of us have to feel alone again.
I admire your work. I’ve enjoyed reading your content and look up to you as a writer. I learn a lot from your voice and the ways you lead people to become better humans. If you’d want to be in a writing community, let me know.
Cheers to being successful on Medium.