I’ve been writing on Medium for three years this month. But instead of the self-promotion typically found in these “milestone” stories (including my own for my first two anniversaries), I thought I would write about the emotional journey I have experienced writing on Medium.
I should mention that I am not a writer by trade and never seriously considered it as a career. Sure, I harbored the occasional dream of becoming a writer during my first year writing here. But the past three years have confirmed what I already learned through making music. Trying to earn a living in any creative field is very difficult.
Still, I love doing creative things. And writing is creative — at least, it can be. So I had dabbled in creative writing from time to time throughout my life. And Medium is still a good place to dabble.
Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes
I moved through several stages during my Medium writing adventure — many at the same time. Perhaps you can relate. Or not. Everyone’s life (and writing) experience is unique.
I discovered Medium via an Unsplash newsletter. I had been using Unsplash images on my personal website. At the time, I had no clue Medium existed (remember, I wasn’t a writer.) The Unsplash newsletter announced they were partnering with Medium to provide images. So I took a look at the Medium website. It looked interesting, but I wasn’t sure my silly little humor stories or fiction would fit a website design for “big stories and important ideas.”
Then I read that writers could earn money writing on Medium. Hmmm. That sounds interesting, I thought. Why not give it a try? So I did.
Surprisingly, I earned $12 my first month. I expected pennies. I was a little shocked, but also thrilled. Soon I was making between $100 and $200 per month writing whatever I wanted to. It seemed too good to be true. I was hooked.
It wasn’t just money that hooked me. It was the interaction. Readers actually responded to my stories. And clapped for them. That is a powerful thing. As a musician, there is no greater feeling than people applauding your performance. That is the real reason most musicians play. A fortunate few become rich and famous, but applause (appreciation) is addicting. Paul McCartney still plays live in his 70s. Does he need the money? Nope. He desires the applause and the appreciation of his talent. And he loves making music.
I tend to get a little obsessive when I start new things, and I quickly became obsessed with writing on Medium. All of my other hobbies and pursuits got put on the back burner. I just wanted to write. Everything else was either a responsibility or a distraction.
This obsession lasted for about a year and has gradually tapered off since. The Partner Program change in the fall of 2019 probably had a big part in hastening the ending of my Medium obsession by cutting my earnings by 85%. That stung. But it was also a natural progression for me. Which is healthy, I think. Things gradually move from obsessions to enjoyable pursuits or hobbies.
In my obsession stage, I took on too much. I started several publications because I enjoyed creating them and naively thought other writers would submit their best efforts to my publications. A few did, and I made some great Medium writer friends that way, but eventually, the publications became unpaid jobs. Over time, regular writers submitted fewer stories. Then I started getting increasingly lower quality submissions.
I hated rejecting stories, or publishing mediocre ones. I realized I wasn’t cut out to be an editor of a publication. Eventually, I stopped publishing most of the publications I started. I kept my personal publication (another story) and Song Done Wrong — a song parody publication — because it rarely gets submissions anymore, so it is not much work.
For a long time, I felt the need to post something every day. In the beginning, I often posted multiple times per day. Which was too much. Medium isn’t Twitter. It was simply my lack of discipline on display.
Throughout my first year, I was able to accomplish daily posting because I had hundreds of humor “bits” that I had previously posted on Facebook during that golden period when social media was still fun. It wasn’t too hard to rework them into Medium stories and schedule them multiple days in advance.
But I was also writing new stories and branching out into poetry and longer fiction. Even the occasional essay. I love variety, and I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a humor writer. [I am not sure I accomplished that.]
In addition, I earnestly began working on a novel I had sporadically chipped away at over several years. And I decided to put most of my first two years of Medium humor and fiction stories into collections and self-publish them as books.
I was grinding away, ignoring the fact that I was doing too much and couldn’t sustain it. It was a perfect recipe for burnout.
Did I mention that I am still neither rich nor famous? [Laughs.]
Early on, I flirted with the idea of writing becoming a part-time job. A source of extra income during my “retirement” someday. And I am pretty sure any writer who has completed a novel has secretly dreamed of it becoming a best-seller. I know I did. But deep in my mind, I knew the odds were stacked against me.
I understood I was fighting an uphill battle from the start writing fiction and humor on Medium. But it was working until Medium switched to a “read time” (almost everyone makes less) method of payments. In one month, my earnings dropped from $200 to $50, and they have gradually settled at $30 — roughly one dollar per day. I’ll take it, but $200 seemed better.
So I had to let go of the part-time income dream. Such is life — there are no guarantees. I lost my airline job after 20 years because my employer decided it was cheaper to contract my position out. I have felt the sting of lost income before.
The dream of my writing being popular was the harder one to let go of. For me, interaction with readers and other writers is the best thing about Medium. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t care how many people read my stories. I don’t understand writers who say, “I write for myself.” I want others to read my stories. As many as possible. And I want readers to applaud and respond to what I have written.
In my mind, the more readers my stories get, the better. But my stories have lived in the double-digit Read range since my second month on Medium. I occasionally get stories that break 100 reads. And a few flukes that get thousands of reads, but the simple fact is, I am not a popular writer.
I honestly appreciate my small group of regular readers [you make my heart smile], but I had hoped that number would grow over the years. It hasn’t. [I am not talking about the Followers stat which is mostly “follow for follow” hackers who never read one of my stories. I am talking about actual readers.]
Combined With Small Victories
I finally self-published my first novel in June of 2020. That was a great feeling and brought a brief time of joy. I knew self-publishing a novel about a naive 18th century blacksmith (with a ridiculous name) suddenly turned Baron—and his many adventures—was not mainstream or commercial. So I was not genuinely surprised when it didn’t fly off the Amazon “bookshelf.”
Actually, it has sold 30 copies, and I gave away 25 copies during promotions, so over 50 people have my novel. Some have even read it! I know because a few kind folks left positive reviews, for which I am very grateful.
I am genuinely happy to know that a few people enjoyed something I spent so much time on. But would I rather it had become a best-seller? Of course. And I imagine every other novel writer does also. Those stinking odds again.
Between Covid, the dangerously contentious political climate, and the Partner Program change, 2020 was a relatively awful year. Not WWII terrible, but certainly discouraging or even horrible for most of us. There has been a cloud of gloom hanging over the world for almost a year now. Who could focus on creative writing? I tried, but it was often forced. I had to block out the news and social media to accomplish anything. And to preserve my mental health.
I think Medium lost much of its community feeling and a big part of its soul in 2020. Sadly, many of my favorite writers abandoned or severely cut back their writing and reading on Medium. Perhaps because of the changes to the Partner Program, or the Terms of Service fiasco, or disillusionment, or burnout, or the weight of the endless bad news in the media. Whatever the reason, I miss their stories and comments.
I do see tiny glimmers of that community aspect coming back. I hope it does.
I think I have finally entered a contentment stage of my writing journey. Recently, I “officially” declared writing a hobby (for myself.) This means I don’t have to justify the time I spend on it by earning money. Or feel obligated to do any of the other endless tasks writers are supposed to do. I can simply write for enjoyment and fulfillment. I think I can be content with that. That’s the plan, anyway.
Looking Back/Moving Forward
Overall, there have been more positives than negatives for me over the past three years writing on Medium. I found and interacted with many great writers. I read hundreds (thousands?) of great stories. I made many new Medium friends. I improved as a writer. I finished and published my first novel. And I gained a new hobby. That was a pretty good run. I think.
But I am no longer running.* I am no longer chasing something always slightly out of reach. I plan to approach writing as an enjoyable stroll. Not a race, not a challenge, not an exercise. Not a job. That seems like a better pace for this old man. I hope you will join me on a few of my walks.
See you around.
*Unless Netflix or Disney calls and says they want to make Baron Britpop Blastfurnace into a television series. Then I’m outta here. See you in Hollywood.