Who remembers those Choose Your Own Adventure books? Along with R.L. Stine and Caroline B. Cooney thrillers, I lived for those tales. Shoot, I lived vicariously through most books in the 80s and 90s.
I think an awful lot about choosing your own adventure in life. How none of us can really anticipate what’s going to happen. We just have to make a choice and keep moving.
Last spring, Shaunta Grimes and I were interviewed by Medium Staff regarding our experiences with the MPP.
“The Rookie and the Pro: Different Ways to Succeed on Medium”
A place where words matter
One of the most memorable parts of the interview for me was when I suggested that writers give up on their specific notion of success. I think this is imperative for every writer, and it’s something I try to talk about a lot.
I’ve never gotten sick of talking about that, actually.
See, it’s great to have big goals, but when it comes to your vision of success, I think it’s much more effective to open yourself up to the possibilities instead.
None of us really knows what’s possible, which is why I share my personal experiences here. At the end of the day, we’re all on a different Medium journey and we each choose our own adventure with every step along the way.
You choose your own adventure every time you show up and write. Every time you edit and research and actually do the work. You can’t dictate everything that happens to you here on Medium, but you certainly get to decide what you will bring.
So let go of the idea that success means you have so many followers. Or that your posts receive a certain amount of claps. Quit expecting a killer book deal. And quit worrying about being a bestselling author.
Do the work and just see what happens. And how do you do that?
Become proficient in the basics.
Basic proficiency on Medium means knowing how to navigate the website and apps (whichever you use). I write almost exclusively from the mobile app.
- Do you know how to make clean hyperlinks?
- Do you format your text with plenty of whitespace?
- How’s your grammar and readability? (There are plenty of online tools to help you check your work.)
- Always use at least one beautiful image from a site like Pexels or Unsplash and credit it.
- Also, be sure to tag your work. You should be using 5 tags every time.
Speaking of tags? I still see writers sticking to super niche tags.
For instance, you might have written a very cool story about ducks, but tagging it “ducks” probably isn’t the greatest idea. What bigger topics do your stories fit into? Use more of those tags.
Most readers aren’t looking for stories about ducks. Or I dunno, Dr. Pepper. But they could be looking for stories about wildlife, food, or life lessons, you know?
Any of the basics you need to know about writing on Medium can be found in various stories right here on the platform. People are trying to help you. Let them.
Run your story through Grammarly before hitting publish.
I didn’t always do this, and yes, I did make a ton of swypos. Awkward.
Honestly? I still don’t always do this, like when I write a story from my phone.
Like this story.
The reality of my life as a single mom means that I sometimes leave the tablet at home and do everything from my phone.
Sometimes, I’ll Swype out a story while my daughter enjoys an indoor park. I’ll have to read it 5 or 6 times just to try to catch all of my typos from working on my phone.
Self-editing is hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not the best editor and that typos, er, swypos sometimes get through.
I’m in good company, honestly.
Give your stories more obvious and catchy titles.
Flowery and creative headlines may not be your friend if you write a lot of essays about life and the issues that matter to you. My top performing headlines are so obvious they’re almost boring. Like “We Don’t Really Know Our Parents Until We Grow Up.”
There’s a very fine line Medium writers have to walk when it comes to headlines. You want an intriguing title without being truly clickbaity.
Clickbait stories are titled in such a way as to urge readers to click on a story, but they always fall short of the promise in the headline.
To be clear, stories about hot button issues are not automatically clickbait stories. Stories about sex are not clickbait either. There seems to be an awful lot of confusion about that.
But please, never give your story a headline like,
10 Tips For The Best Sex Of Your Life
Number 10 will blow your mind!
Dude, that’s just way too clickbaity. Don’t even go there.
Don’t be afraid to say something that some people won’t like.
Anybody with something meaningful to say is bound to ruffle up some feathers.
If you’re writing an essay on Medium with strong emotion or emphasis, using metaphors can work for you. Some writers shy away from these for fear that blanket statements might turn readers away. But the right audience will understand nuance.
“The Fragile Male Ego Has Ruined Online Dating” doesn’t mean that all men have fragile egos. My target readers get that. So take some risks with your phrasing.
And keep in mind that some folks might be determined to misunderstand you. It just goes with the territory.
Find your Medium sweet spot.
Look at the stories which do well on Medium and consider your own writing strengths. The real goal is to find where your strengths and passions overlap with Medium readers.
Wherever those things intersect, that’s your Medium sweet spot.
For me, vulnerable stories work. Being awkwardly honest. Admitting my mess.
“Oversharing” on Medium works for me in part because… it’s not all about me. It’s about letting other people see that letting your guard down is okay. And it’s about inspiring other folks to go after their own challenges and dreams.
I’m on this journey, choosing my own adventure, and it isn’t always pretty. But I’m inviting you to join me.
You can be successful and a fuck up all at the same time. Fucking up some parts of your life doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay stuck in all of it.
So, find your sweet spot. Some of us are conversational writers. Others are more journalistic or informative. But there’s likely a spot that will work best for you.
Don’t worry about not being an expert.
Nobody is stopping you from researching the issues that matter to you or from interviewing the experts who could help make your stories great. There are so few limits here when it comes to what you can write about.
In most cases, you’re only limited by yourself.
There’s also nothing wrong with writing about the issues that matter to you, even if you aren’t an expert. The only problem is when you pretend to be one. It’s okay to be honest about who you are and why you write what you do.
Not everybody cares if you’re an expert, but most readers will care if you’re pretending to be something you’re not.
Find a way to engage in the community here.
Some top writers on Medium are able to engage a little, and some are able to engage a lot. It might ebb and flow for you, and I think most readers get that.
The point is that it helps to take some part in the community that makes Medium so damn special. Foster a little give and take whenever possible.
Lift up your fellow writers whom you admire regardless of how popular they are. Clap generously on stories that move you.
I like to tag the stories that inspire some of my own work. And I like to recommend great writers who encourage me in some way.
Often, I can’t give folks the personal attention they are looking for. But I can usually answer their questions in another story.
Think of Medium as a tool for your growth.
If you want to be successful on Medium, but you’re constantly complaining about the rules and the platform itself, you’ve got to question what you’re trying to accomplish.
It’s more effective to learn how Medium works and then work with the system instead of complaining that the system doesn’t work your way.
Medium is a platform for readers and the Partner Program is an opportunity for writers. None of this is perfect or controllable. But if we use the tool properly, I do believe it is scalable.
Learn how to roll with the punches.
I have only been writing on Medium for about 18 months. As far as writing goes, that’s not a very long time, yet I have seen the platform change more times than I can count.
What I’ve found is that resiliency matters here. Engagement ebbs and flows. Algorithms change. Publications crop up and die out.
For the sake of your own mental health, find a way to live with the changes and the unknown variables.
My success seems to go in cycles. Sometimes I’ve got a lot of successful stories, and sometimes I feel like nothing really picks up traction. All that truly matters is that you can handle the ups and downs in a positive way.
Sticking out through all of the down times and focusing on your writing is a good way to eventually come out on top.
What will you choose?