How long is the perfect Medium post? It doesn’t matter!

Write to think. Do it for yourself, nobody else. If you do this, then you will create great work. Do the opposite by trying to write what you think other people want to read and you will create lookalike garbage.

Yes, you may get clicks, recommends, likes, and hearts, but who cares? Well, I won’t lie, I do care. But I shouldn’t care, and neither should you. Those tiny demonstrations of social media love are a powerful and addicting drug. They feel so good, but they are never enough and we are left anxiously waiting for the next vibration.

I wrote something for me. I spent an entire week of early mornings and late nights working on this Medium post:

I wrote because I had a story to tell. I had tried something new, and it improved the way I learned from reading a book. I wanted to write about it, mostly so I didn’t forget what I had just experienced.

When I finished writing, I had ~5,000 words detailing my process, what I learned, and comprehensive examples. It was an 18 minute read on Medium! I had seen articles before claiming that the optimal Medium post should be 7 minutes, and I was worried.

I thought about taking the comprehensive examples out and putting them in another post since they accounted for 3,235 of the 5,000 words. That would allow me to cut the 18 minute read time down to 7 minutes. I started down this path, but it just didn’t feel right.

I paused. Took my fingers off the keyboard. And thought, why am I doing this? The answer was simple, I was afraid nobody would click on my post when they saw the “18 min read” warning. I then asked myself, does that matter? Do I need other people to click on this post? Again, the answer was simple, no.

I wasn’t writing this post for anyone else. I was writing it for me. I learned something meaningful and I wrote it down. If nobody else in the world cared, that wouldn’t change the fact that it was meaningful for me. So, I published my 18 min post. And ironically, people liked it because of the detail and comprehensive examples.

If I think about my own experience reading on Medium, this shouldn’t surprise me. I don’t only enjoy reading articles that are 7 minutes long. I’ve had favorites that were just illustrations and took ~1 minute to read like this post by Sarah Cooper:

And other favorites that took ~20+ minutes to read like this post from Ben Casnocha (which is where I first heard about the book Status Anxiety):

Thank you Medium for not feeding my fear and insecurity that my post was too long. I know you did this on purpose 😉

Have you noticed how Medium makes it difficult to know how long your post is until you’ve already published it? Here are screenshots of the draft of this post in Medium compared to a Word doc:

Medium removes distractions so I can think and write. The word count is one distraction that is ever present in Word and noticeably missing on Medium:

On Medium you can briefly see the word count in the upper left hand corner of your draft when you select text, but it is fleeting and promptly returns to “Draft”:

Every published post on Medium includes an estimated read time:

However, once you have finished writing a draft and are ready to publish, Medium does not tell you what this estimated read time will be until your post is published. Here is what you see before you publish:

Medium is open and transparent about how this expected read time is calculated. You can read all about it here:

If you’re curious, they divide the total word count of an article by 275 (the average words per minute people read) and that produces the expected read time. So, you can easily calculate what the expected read time of your post will be before you publish.

But it doesn’t matter.

At least, that is what Medium is telling us based on the product decisions they have made. The Medium team could have easily made the word count ever present in the top navigation bar so the writer was always aware of the length of their draft. If the Medium team believed an ever present word count was a distraction but still important information to know before publishing, then they could have included a final word count or expected read time calculation in the final publishing process. But they didn’t do either of these. This is no accident.

Ev Williams, the founder of Medium, wrote a post back in 2012 explaining why Medium exists. He said,

“We know that words matter (still), so we built a better system for sharing them.” — Ev Williams

Medium is about the words, your words, my words, anybody’s words. It’s not about who you are on Medium, only what you have to say.

Oh yeah, and it doesn’t matter how many words you write!

Thank you Medium for creating a place where I can easily write my words, share my stories, and expand my ideas.