I Was A Professional Writer For Twenty-five Years Before I Started On Medium: Here’s What Changed
My first paid gig was a magazine article in the early nineties for a national business publication. It paid $900 or $1/word, which was a lot of money back then and even more, unfortunately, these days. I went on to write eight non-fiction books, two ghost-written for CEOs and six for national publishers. I was paid well for those and one continued to pay royalties for many years after publication, adding up into the six figures (passive income, it’s a beautiful thing).
Then I became what is known now as a digital content marketer starting with the pretentious title Senior Writer and Strategist. This led to other executive marketing jobs, all of which were largely writing. I only mention all this to show that my claims to being a pro are legit. Today I work remotely and freelance for a small group of software clients. So, with all this under my belt, why do I write for Medium, and what have I gotten out of it?
A lot, it turns out.
The joy of writing what I want, when I want
I wrote one or two pieces for Medium early on before it had a paywall or the Partner Program, then basically forgot about it. In March of 2019, a little burned out with content marketing, I went back to Medium, learned about the Program, metrics, publications, and curation, and started writing all kinds of stuff. All in all in 2019, I wrote somewhere around 200 articles (I can’t be exact because of the irritating lumping together of published comments with articles).
Many disappeared without a trace and some resonated. I started regularly contributing to business pubs and getting curated regularly.
I spent exactly zero time and energy speculating about what works, how to get curated, how to make more money, get more followers, etc. I find these obsessions to be incredibly amateurish wishful thinking, attempts to parse out the secrets of constantly adapting algorithms. I’m a bit too techy to believe in this mythology.
What I do believe in is the value for me, as a writer, of doing this. That value lies in my ability to simply write about a topic that interests me, to share an insight or technique, or simply record my efforts to create meaningful change in my life. It has certainly been therapeutic. But there is much more than that.
Practice is Critical
Any professional knows that practice is absolutely critical to maintaining a high performance level. Zen Roshi Shunryu Suzuki will tell you it is not just critical, it is actually what life is about. I have three areas of practice today: Writing, both nonfiction and fiction, physical strength training to ward off aging, and meditation. There is no progress in any of them without practice. Medium is my writing gym or meditation cushion.
For 2020, I’m slowing my pace down a bit, with twelve articles published in the first five weeks. I’m going a little longer and more in-depth and working to only write meatier stuff. If it’s an advice story, it has to get specific. If it is a personal experience, it has to get more personal.
Getting your mojo, keeping your mojo
One of the benefits I get here is the knowledge that someone out there is reading my work and hopefully finding something useful in it. This is where the Partner Program helps. It rewards us for providing useful or insightful content to our fellow members. I think the requirement to pay to play by being a member is important. You have a little skin in the game. My Partner payments, which are nothing compared to what I get paid in the ‘real’ world, easily take care of the sixty bucks a year that membership sets me back. But the real payment is getting my mojo back.
Any creative goes through burnout now and then. I’m pretty sure burnout is why I turned to writing here on a more serious basis. I’d written more than 90 blog posts and an extensive website and content library for a client over eighteen months, all around the same business subject. I needed to change things up drastically. Medium gave me a place to do it.
When I left that client, something interesting happened. I started picking up clients in related businesses with virtually no effort on my part. I’m not sure why, but I’m pretty sure Medium helped.
My marketing articles here have served as marketing collateral for my freelance business. I share them with clients and potential clients and they read them. I think the reader-friendly format Medium imposes on the styling, combined with the professional look of the site (no ads or offers, etc.) showcases the work as legitimate.
Being a more disciplined freelancer
I am a big believer in the power of developing habits to implement positive change. When I started writing here on a frequent basis I was unwittingly installing a new writing discipline. Unlike motivation driven by money or deadlines, this discipline was entirely self-driven. I liked doing it and the metrics add a gamification aspect to it (yes, I’m a stats junky). That discipline spilled over into my freelance work. I’m a lot more proactive about suggesting ideas and offering feedback to my clients and this has always led to more work and a stronger relationship.
The relationship thing is interesting because most of my clients are remote and I have never met them and may never meet them. Not unlike Medium readers and writers!
I’d like to see more discipline here
If I had any constructive criticism to share it would be to my fellow writers, especially the younger ones. Think a little more about the value of what you’re sharing. Don’t write to get better stats, write something meaningful to others. Don’t claim expertise when you’ve barely dipped into a subject. Do more research. Over the long run I’m pretty sure this will pay off more than trying to game the system.
And finally, don’t be desperate about curation, money, etc. Writers, for some reason, are very desperate for recognition. This desperation manifests itself in forums where writers agonize over getting published, often accepting offers that pay nothing, or even require payment. Think of yourself as a pro. Pros get paid. You may not get paid here in cash (or you may) but that is not the inherent value of Medium.