Why I Stopped Worrying About My Medium Earnings
After 12-months of trying too hard, it’s time to pivot
A year ago, I made a reckless decision. I resolved to ditch freelancing and, by the end of 2019, start supporting myself financially by writing on Medium.
I came to the platform in late 2017, but for the first year, I only wrote when I felt like it. I thought that if I became more consistent, I could easily get to $1,000/month. As long as I lived in Poland, that would be enough to cover my basic expenses.
Fast forward one year, and I’m here to tell you that I decided to stop treating Medium as my primary source of income. I didn’t get to $1,000/month and I can’t see this happening in the first quarter of 2020 either. Meanwhile, I need money because I’m sick of fretting about whether or not I’ll earn enough next month.
Many folks may say that I’m giving up too early to see the results. I guess you could look at it that way. But the way I see it, it’s time for me to pivot. To change my approach to writing — and not just on Medium. There are other places where I’m hoping to publish in 2020.
It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Medium. I still see it as a fantastic platform that allows wannabe writers to turn into real ones.
However, in my case, insisting that the Medium Partner Program pays my bills seems to make it harder to see the money coming in. There are a few reasons this is so.
The Financial Motivation Doesn’t Encourage Me to Do My Best Work
Getting paid to write seems to be problematic for many people. On the one hand, we know that our work is valuable and deserves remuneration. But for some reason, the question of how the pursuit of money impacts our art comes up again and again.
Stephen Pressfield is quite blunt about this. In “The War of Art,” he says:
“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
This kind of assertion can make you uncomfortable. And I understand why. If you want to support yourself financially, how could you be oblivious to other reasons for writing — be it money or your audience’s expectations? It only makes sense to be strategic about writing the way you would be about any job.
But I don’t think Pressfield wants us to neglect these other reasons completely. In other places in his book, he talks about the artist’s work as an act of service to others. Combining his insights with my experience on Medium, I think that his message is something along these lines:
The moment the desire to earn more money outweighs your intrinsic motivation to write, you stop creating your best work.
I wrote most of my best articles when I was the least pressed for money. Maybe that’s because I’m not professional enough or can’t get over my scarcity mindset. Regardless of the reasons, this remains true for me: I write better when I don’t feel like my life depends on it.
“I feel bad for writers who initially started writing on the Medium Partner Program. Why? Because the allure of money is clouding their judgment.”
I feel like this is about me. I discovered the MPP soon after I decided to pursue writing as a career. Ever since then, my efforts on Medium have been attached to earning money from my posts.
In 2020, I’d like to see how it feels to publish here without expecting any specific earnings. I’ll still put my stories behind the paywall because I obviously don’t mind a few extra bucks either. But I want to start treating Medium differently.
It’s a place for me to experiment, connect with readers and… become a better writer than I currently am.
Anyone Can Make a Living on Medium…Provided That They Write Well
There are so many posts on how to earn X dollars a month on Medium. The sheer amount of this advice makes it seem like anyone can make a living writing in the MPP.
While it may be true that you’re capable of this, you’re not necessarily capable of it right now. Many of those “How-to-turn-Medium-into-your-full-time-gig” pieces seem to neglect one crucial factor:
Your level of skill right now.
It’s nice to imagine that you already write well enough to become a Medium celebrity. You may be convinced that it’s just a matter of publishing frequently and with good headlines. And it may indeed be the case.
But there’s also a chance that you need to improve your craft first to start earning thousands from it later.
For the past year, I was too insecure to admit that. But today, I’m ready. My writing can’t compare with a lot of great writers on Medium. I’m almost sure that’s one of the reasons I haven’t been earning as much as I’d like to.
“Before I joined this mastermind group, I had enjoyed a couple of minor successes with my writing. I had managed to get into a couple of the esteemed publications at the time. I had hit my first 1000 followers. So when I joined the group, I was confident I could hold my own.
The reality couldn’t have been more opposite. (…)
Eventually, I was convinced to put one of my articles up for feedback. And it was destroyed.
There was notes left on almost every line. Some suggested new headlines. Others told me my conclusion was weak. There was grammatical errors galore. Some even suggested I rework it entirely. But no advice hit harder than one of the final comments —‘this is good. But it can be much better’. It was in this moment that I realised my work was far from perfect.”
When I read this, I understood that my pursuit of making money on Medium has been hindering my growth as a writer. Because I bought into the narrative that I could be earning as much as I wanted if I just tried hard enough, I became blind to the most obvious explanation of my lack of success.
My work, too, was far from perfect. Instead of churning out one mediocre post after another and obsessing about money, I may be better off working on the skill itself.
Putting All My Eggs in One Basket Doesn’t Seem Smart Anymore
My initial idea with Medium was to make it a reliable income stream. I would start thinking about other writing ventures only after that had happened.
I thought it was clever to focus on one thing at a time. Today, putting all my energy into Medium doesn’t seem like a smart move anymore.
The whole writing industry is fluid, but Medium seems to be even less predictable. It’s impossible to tell where the platform is going in one, two, or five years. Sure, I could just keep grinding here, hoping for the best. But since a year of full-on work (and 1.5 years of moderate efforts before that) didn’t cut it for me, it doesn’t seem reasonable to keep giving Medium my all despite that.
Many successful writers recommend having a few income streams you can alternate between. For a long time, I ignored their advice, thinking that I was different. I convinced myself that it was too hard for me to focus on multiple projects at a time.
But seeing how things turned out for me with the MPP, I think they have a point. What seemed like a legit income stream yesterday may not look the same tomorrow.
That’s why in 2020, I want to diversify. Along with writing on Medium, I’m going to do some freelance work again. I also want to put more time into building my blog that will eventually become a passive income stream.
I know that for some people, investing everything in Medium works out just fine. But this doesn’t mean it’s the best way for everyone. I decided that, currently, it isn’t for me.
I allowed myself to move forward and changed the plan that wasn’t serving me.
The biggest lesson here is this: Just because you once thought something was a good idea doesn’t oblige you to hold onto it forever.
Setting out to make a full-time income on Medium seemed like a great plan to me. Last year, I was excited to focus on my own writing and leave freelancing behind. I believed I could get to $1,000/month here quite easily.
After trying and failing at it 12 months later, I don’t feel defeated. However, I acknowledge that it’s time to pivot. I see this as a chance to reframe my writing journey again.
I learned that the popular slogan to “never give up” is often overrated. When what you’re doing obviously isn’t working, why keep at it and refuse to make adjustments? Sometimes, the best way forward is to pivot. This means aligning your efforts with the lessons you learned along the way.
It takes courage to admit your imperfection or misguided efforts. But there are times when it’s the only way to proceed.