There’s one big secret to success on Medium, and publishing in general. It comes from a simple fact about writing — summed up best by William Zinsser in his book, On Writing Well:
There are all kinds of writers and all kinds of methods, and any method that helps you to say what you want to say is the right method for you.
There’s no way anyone could possibly explain all of the methods and tricks to writing, or even success on Medium, in one blog post — or even one book. That leads to lesson #1:
Lesson #1: Read
All the little questions we ask about writing can be answered with one simple practice: Reading. Don’t know how to format your posts? Read. How long should your articles be? Read. How do you write an effective title? Read. How do you develop an authentic voice?
You get the idea…
You have to read 20 times as much as you write. Stephen King makes this point clear in his book, On Writing:
If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things… no shortcut.
And to be honest, you shouldn’t want one. They don’t help. So, who should you read? Here’s a starter pack:
Kris Gage; Shannon Ashley; Brianna Wiest; Michael Thompson; Kay Bolden; Darius Foroux; Jessica Valenti; John Gorman; Niklas Goke; Elle Beau; Emma Austin; Kyrie Gray; Luke Trayser; Hassan S. Ali; Dan Moore; Stephen Moore; Zulie Rane; Ayodeji Awosika; Tim Denning; Traceybyfire; Felicia Sullivan; Tiffany Sun; Tom Kuegler; Shaunta Grimes; Zat Rana; Benjamin Sledge; Ryan Holiday; Jun Wu; Darcy Reeder; Ann Litts, Niki Marinis; Zach Payne; Jack Preston King; Melody Wilding; Barry Davret; Andrew Knott; Jason Weiland; Gillian Sisley; Tesia Blake; Joe Duncan; Adam Diabetic Cyborg
Want to know what makes a killer blog post? Look at what these writers do, and go from there. You can’t copy them, but they’ll influence you. Read their greatest hits, but also the ones that merely did okay. Also — read them because they’ll show you how to be a decent human being.
You should read everything you can in publications like Slackjaw, Human Parts, P.S. I Love You, The Post-Grad Survival Guide, and Forge. And you should read books. Lots of books.
You could memorize a hundred style guides. They won’t help if you barely read in the genre you want to succeed in.
Darius Foroux already explained once how there’s no reason you can’t read two books a week — or the equivalent. (But one’s enough.) Nothing will ever have the same impact on your writing as reading.
Lesson #2: Figure out what you want to do
Dead white guys tell us that we write for three main reasons — to inform, to delight, and to persuade. In this rare case, the dead white guys pretty much nailed it. I have very little to add.
To teach is a necessity, to delight is a beauty, to persuade is a triumph.
— St. Augustine
Everything on Medium falls into these main categories. If you can manage to pull off all three in a single post, then you stand a good chance of topping the charts — at least for a day or two.
You have to be so good at what you do, you expertly capture other people’s attention, and keep it…Your only job is to leave people in awe.
— Brianna Wiest
But you don’t have to do all three — inform, delight, persuade — all the time. Sometimes you just need to inform. That’s fine. Just don’t expect informing by itself to make anyone swoon.
Whatever haunts you (other than your current divorce) often makes the best subject.
— Mary Karr
You can define success in lots of ways, including stats. Only one thing matters, that your writing helps someone. If your writing taught one person how to do something, you succeeded. If your story moved one person, you did well. You might not think so, but it’s true. Success on this platform, like anything else, starts with one fan.
Lesson #3: Publish once a day.
Some writers here publish three or four times a day — or eight. It works for them. Maybe not for you. Once is enough.
Some of us spend three or four hours on a single post. (This one took me most of the afternoon.) That doesn’t usually include the time we spend gathering up sources, or collecting our thoughts. There’s simply not enough time to do more than that and live.
A few of the top writers on here only publish 2–3 times a week, if that. They put a lot of thought and research into their work. Just because it’s a 3-minute read, that doesn’t mean they spent three minutes writing it. The elegance of a short, simple post takes a ton of drafting — and a ton of practice.
Lesson #4: Don’t complain. Ever.
Almost everyone on this platform wants a little more than what they’ve got. In that sense, it’s just like the world.
Medium makes changes. They’ve been making them for years. People get worried and upset. The ones who succeed keep writing — because we know it’s our only choice.
What are we going to do, suddenly stop?
Complaining gets you nowhere. If anything, it drives away readers and support. When you complain, you’re not informing. You’re not delighting. Maybe you think you’re persuading, but you’re not.
Talking about ways to improve Medium isn’t complaining. Telling the world you should be more successful… is.
You don’t need a bunch of hacks and gimmicks to do well here, or anywhere. After all, Medium shows you how to use their own platform.
The biggest secret to success is usually staring us right in the face. We just need a kick in the butt to remember it.