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What Medium Writers Can Learn from Quora and Reddit

Jinmin Lee
ILLUMINATION
Published in
4 min readJan 4, 2024

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A few years back, I wrote a paper over three months. It had the easiest prompt ever: write about anything you want. I proofread it, proofread it again, and printed it out. I was diligent and finished it 3 days in advance.

I never submitted this paper. I brought it to school on the day it was due and walked straight to the teacher.

“I haven’t finished my paper. May I get an extension?”

“Fine,” he said. “But your score will take a hit.”

I nodded, and sat back down, refusing to submit it. It’s easy to get self-conscious about writing.

When we sit down to write on our computers, the blinking cursor judges us.

“You have nothing to say,” it says.

Will to Write vs. Will to Stop

Every time it says so, we are given a choice. Continue writing or give up. Two separate motives fight to make either decision: the internal voice that tells us to stop versus our desire to continue to say something. Let’s call the former the will to write and the latter the will to stop.

Oftentimes, the will to stop wins, no matter how strong the will to write is.

This struggle between the two desires creates frustration because the will to write is sufficiently strong in its own way; we want to be two-dimensional people with nothing special, nothing to say, without nuance. But why is the will to stop stronger?

Whenever we write — or even say — something, we are making a claim. Even a tiny form of communication like saying “yes” to the question “Do you want orange juice?” is shouting a claim. It implies that you are possibly thirsty, like sweet things (or at least oranges), feel comfortable enough to know that the juice isn’t poisoned, and so on.

Writing on Medium is a harder version of making a claim because nobody asks us to write. At least with the orange juice example, we respond because someone is interested in knowing whether we want orange juice, which is an invitation to make a claim. It’s not a crazy claim either, but a subjective one. Nobody will criticize you for saying “no” or “yes” to orange juice. It would also be rude to not respond.

But in writing without a prompt, there are consequences to what we say. People may not agree with our claims and think we’re stupid. More reasons for the will to stop to flourish

How Quora and Reddit Deal With the Chaos of Writing

More importantly, writing is chaotic. Chaotic in the sense that we have to weigh different reasons and values to make a claim. In the process of weighing, we see ourselves, our character, and what we believe in. It’s an existential exercise that requires confidence. We get lost if we can’t muster up the courage to decide why we value one thing over another and defend our reasoning. For instance, if I claim that Quora and Reddit are more popular than Medium and publish the story on Medium, I better know how to justify my claim.

What can Medium writers learn from Quora and Reddit?

Because it has a prompt-answer structure. Both former platforms have someone begging to know the answer. Often it’s advice. It’s like you have people cheering on the sidelines, asking your will to write to win.

Answering questions also has a set structure, a claim, or a goal that you’re trying to get at. On Quora and Reddit, the answers are boolean; either a solid “yes” or “no.” Etymologically, the word “structure” comes from the verb Latin struo, which means to build. So, it is only possible to build thoughts and ideas with proper structure. There is no set structure on Medium. The “yes” or “no” structure on Quora or Reddit helps writers make the courage to embrace the chaos of writing because the value judgments and reasoning structure happen quickly in their heads, even before they start writing.

For instance, a question on Quora could be, “Should an average guy get a road or mountain bike?” Then, subconsciously, the writer gets a gut feeling and almost immediately comes up with reasons why that gut feeling is justified. The structure forms naturally in their head. They have to come up with some original structure themselves.

Because writers on Medium don’t have prompts, they don’t have a weaker will to write because it can often feel like shouting in the desert. Further, they don’t shape their writing structures quickly from the prompt.

So the solution for Medium writers would be either create or get prompts. They can directly get many prompts from Quora or Reddit.

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Jinmin Lee
ILLUMINATION

I dare to tell you how you should live life through stories from philosophy and classics