The 5 Secrets to Being a Successful Writer on Medium
Number 2: you have to write things you know won’t do well
You’re reading this because you’re a writer on Medium and you want to make some money by writing.
Maybe you’re aspiring to become one of the very small percentage of writers who make over $100 per month. Maybe you’re looking to earn enough to change your life. Maybe you just want to earn some coffee money.
No matter what amount you’re aiming for, no matter what metric of success you’re looking at, there are five attributes you need to have if you want to succeed for any length of time on here.
These are the five tenets I live by on here — not just me, but almost all successful authors I know on this platform abide by these.
1. You Have to Play by Medium’s Rules
Swallow your pride and learn what this platform is looking for. Learn what works here and do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Things will not stay constant. The platform a year ago was very different from how it is today. If you want to be successful, you have to keep being open to learning new things and changing your strategy.
I had to learn how to write for curation, which matters a lot — read Shaunta Grimes’s excellent posts on why and how. I had to learn to create a newsletter to promote my own work, which is very important because Medium doesn’t show everything you write to your followers (again, see Shaunta’s writing on the best way to achieve this). Neither of those things came naturally to me, but come they did and they helped me do well on here.
A few months ago, I noticed curation wasn’t giving the same boost it used to. Around the same time, Medium’s in-house publications like Forge, Human Parts, GEN, and others started being more heavily promoted.
So I kept working on curation, but I girded my loins for my first-ever submission to a publication that paid money. I had to try lots of different times, do my research on how to submit, and experience a whole lot of failure, but I got in — three times.
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I’ve seen a lot of previously successful authors fall by the wayside because what used to work for them stopped working. Then instead of learning how to make it work for them again, they complained. “Medium isn’t as good as it used to be. Medium’s playing favorites. Medium’s going downhill.”
As you may guess, none of that helped them earn money or recognition on here.
The ones who kept being successful? They’re the ones who learned again, who felt the winds changing and changed with them. For inspiration on this, check out Shannon’s comprehensive post on the subject:
If You Want to Make It on Medium You Need to Adapt
The game always changes, so it’ll be hard to keep playing if you don’t
It’s an exciting, frustrating, nerve-wracking, disillusioning, and thrilling time to be writing on Medium. Like being successful on any other platform, you can’t make up your own rules and expect to do well.
Learn to play by their rules, learn to pivot when Medium pivots, and you’ll go far.
2. You Must Write Things You Know Won’t Do Well
“How do you keep writing so much?” is a question I get asked a lot.
I’d guess my answer is the same one as any other successful Medium author: I love writing. I love experimenting with my style, discovering my voice, trying out new topics, and remixing old ones.
So sometimes, I get a hankering to write something a little unusual. Or I want to share my knowledge of Medium, which I know won’t be curated. Or I feel like doing something fictional, which Medium doesn’t typically favor.
I know these stories won’t do well on Medium. But I write them anyway because they’re fun to write and I enjoy the process of creating them. If I only wrote things I thought or knew would do well on here, I would have stopped writing long ago because I would have lost my passion for writing.
At the end of the day, we’re all here because we love to write. And if we wrote only for our audiences and not ourselves, we’d burn out. So if you’re on Medium, commit to writing things that won’t get the views, curation, or money you crave. You have to write for yourself first and foremost or else there’s no point being here at all.
3. You Need to Use Admiration Instead of Envy to Drive You
Let me get this out of the way for you: There will always be people who do better than you. There are so many metrics on Medium in which folks can outperform you — whether they’ve been featured on the homepage, whether they’ve been accepted by the big publications, how many fans they have, money they earn, followers they’ve accrued.
And there is always going to be someone higher on the totem pole, which will make you feel envy.
The problem is that envy isn’t a creative emotion. We see other people doing better with seemingly half the work and none of the quality of our own, and we wonder what the point is. Maybe it causes you to stop reading other writers’ work because you can’t stand to see them succeed. Maybe you stop writing in a certain topic because you feel you’ll never be better than your colleague. In other words, your envy will be a stumbling block.
The best authors on Medium know they’re not the very best. They learn from one another, try new things based on what they’ve seen work, and use each other’s success as inspiration.
When I saw my friend Jun Wu’s pieces on the most popular list on Medium not once but twice in the span of a week, I was first envious: How had she done that? Then I was curious: How had she done that? I read the posts and was so impressed with her work — and it inspired me to write my own piece on coding, which did very well.
Like any humans, we experience envy. But try to channel it into admiration instead, which will drive you to create more.
4. You Have to Weather the Bumps in the Road
This August, I earned the smallest monthly amount I’d earned since January of this year. I moped around for a bit, feeling sorry for myself, until I got to grips with what I was feeling.
One bad month that was still an incredibly good month by most people's standards. Why was I complaining? And, more importantly, was I going to let it discourage me?
Medium is a transparent platform in every way that doesn’t count. You’ll know when things are curated, but not how or why. You’ll see when you get fans, but not how they’re shown your posts. You’ll see your daily and monthly stats, but without the ability to drill down and analyze.
The problem this causes is that you know exactly enough to make you miserable when things go downhill, without knowing enough about how to fix the issues.
I’ll be frank with you: There will be ups and downs on your journey here on Medium. And the one thing that every successful Medium author has in common? We’ve all kept going. Past the ups, downs, pivots, and swings. We’ve kept writing even when it was bad, in the knowledge that it’s that going to get better as long as we keep writing.
This is made a lot easier by secret number five.
5. You’ll Need to Have a Strong Writers Community
The other day I was trying to express my disappointment that my article hadn’t been curated to a non-writing friend. She was sympathetic but lacked understanding. Ultimately, I went to one of my Medium friends, Kyrie, who was able to not only understand what I was talking about, but she could also share in the dismay and point out the typo that probably had caused my lack of curation.
Whether it’s sharing in the successes, commiserating in the failures, answering each others’ questions, or even just not making you feel stupid for asking them in the first place: every successful author has a strong writing community behind them. It’s not just hard, but impossible to go it alone when you’re creative, and writing on Medium is no exception. The support of a group around you will make your time on Medium not only successful, but also enjoyable.