This is the sixth post in a weekly series that will run the rest of 2019. Every Sunday, I’ll post an action plan to help you get ready to start writing on Medium(or take your Medium blog to the next level) in 2020. Click here to get a free ebook about blogging on Medium and be notified when new posts in the series go live.
Read this whole series here:
Anyone who talks about learning how to be a writer — a working writer, earning a living — has something to say about consistency. It’s important to show up (and keep showing up) to do the work.
But it’s not enough to just write a lot.
In theory, quantity matters because the more you write, the more practice you’re getting, and the better you’ll be at writing. The only problem with that theory, of course, is that you have to actually get better for it to work.
In other words, horizontal growth isn’t enough. Churning out post after post after post won’t get you the results you want by itself. You have to learn as well. Each post has to get better. Vertical growth is important.
So, horizontal growth = quantity. Writing often, publishing a lot, persistently showing up to work.
And vertical growth = quality. Making sure you continue to learn and grow as a writer.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to writers who are upset because they write and write and write, but they’re still not getting the results they want. Sometimes the problem is that they’re doing a lot of work without actually learning how to do it better.
So this week, I want you to make a plan for vertical growth.
This isn’t a short-term goal. Becoming a better writer is a long-term pursuit. Continued learning is something that you’ll have to do for the length of your career.
Even after you’re successful. This Octavia Butler quote is my touchstone when it comes to this.
“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”
— Octavia Butler, Blood Child: and Other Stories
Here are some of my favorite ways of making sure that I continue to learn.
Read a Lot
There is no way around this. It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are (novelist, screenwriter, blogger, or whatever), reading is part of your job. If you’re not reading a lot, chances are very good that you’re not seeing the vertical growth you need to be really successful.
Reading is how you learn, as a writer. It’s how you absorb the way it’s done.
Read everything. Obviously, if you’re writing on Medium, you’ll want to read a lot of Medium posts. But also read outside the platform.
Ray Bradbury’s advice to aspiring writers is to read a short story, a poem, and an essay every day for 1000 days. That’s a good place to start.
Read Like a Writer
While we’re on the subject, it’s really important to learn to read like a writer.
Pleasure reading is wonderful. It’s important, even. But you’re a writer now and like I said, reading is part of your job.
Reading like a writer means paying attention to the way what you’re reading is put together. Especially, it’s important to notice what’s working for you (and why) and what’s not working in the piece you’re reading.
A big part of becoming a better writer is figuring out what you need to learn and then finding examples of that and reading them with an eye toward learning.
When you’re just starting to write on Medium, it’s a good idea to read posts that have been curated and that have been well-received by readers in your topic areas.
Pay attention to how the posts are put together, what they actually look like. It’s also important to notice the elements of each post that you really like.
For instance, how do the most successful posts start? How do they end? Are there subtitles? What about white space? What made you click to read?
Pay special attention to things like art and titles.
Read Craft Books
Lots of master writers have put everything they know about writing into books. For the cost of a library card (or less than $20 per book if you want to build your own library), you can get an amazing self-directed education.
My favorites are: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury and On Writing by Stephen King. They both are aimed at novelists or short story writers, but have a ton of good advice for any writer.
Join a Writing Community
Facebook is full of groups for Medium writers. My experience is that they’re — iffy. Sometimes they’re fantastic. Sometimes they’re full of weird drama and cause more harm than good.
What’s really worked for me has been to find a couple of other serious writers to connect with. I talk to Shannon Ashley nearly every day and learn so much from her all the time. I also belong to a little mastermind group of Medium writers on Slack.
And, I’ve created my own community — the Ninja Writers Medium Group on Facebook — that I think is pretty spectacular.
We learn best by teaching, so finding ways to reach out to others and teach them is a great way to learn yourself.
Make Good Goals
Sometimes the continued learning thing is hard because it’s difficult to know what to try to learn. What I’ve found helpful is setting very good goals.
Rather than trying to learn everything all at once, then, I can just focus on my current goal. So, let’s say that in January I want to focus on writing more personal essays or maybe I want to try posting a new type of series.
Having a focus like that helps me to direct my reading and other types of learning. Starting every month with a goal is a great idea.
Lastly — a big part of learning is being willing to take a risk. We learn through failure as well as success. When you hear about something that’s working for someone else, risk asking questions. Risk changing what you’re already doing.
My motto is just see what happens, which is all about trying things and taking the risk that they might not work the way you want them to. At the very least, those risks will teach you something.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.