What I learned from publishing 1K stories on Medium

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

ast week I crossed an arbitrary threshold. Like all milestones that end in zero, this one begged for some exploitation. That’s right. I published my one thousandth story on Medium. So why not brag? Wait. Err. I mean, give everyone some advice. That’s what I meant.

Honestly, 80 percent of my stories are comments. But I counted, and I’ve published about 200 different posts over the last year.

That’s a decent amount of blogging. Plus, I posted for about a year on other platforms before switching to Medium — which was a great decision. Not to kiss their ass too hard, but wow. I’ve never had such a big, interactive, positive audience before. It’s pretty kickass.

My writing has grown by miles thanks to this platform. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to catch and hold onto a readership. And I want other people to do well on here. A rising tide lifts all ships.

Ideas come from everywhere

All bloggers face the challenge of inspiration. Where do you get ideas? For me, lots of places. They can come from past experiences — old relationships, bad shit that happened to me, stupid things I did, smart things I did, obstacles I overcame. Observations and meditations…

Ideas can also come from emotions. Did something happen yesterday that pissed you off? Good. Write about it. Explain why. That person or thing made you angry, sad, wistful, happy, or thankful for a reason.

Maybe something about education or politics needs fixing. Maybe there’s something you wish more people understood about your job, your profession, or something important to you.

Sometimes, ideas flow like water from a fountain. Other times, they drip like a leaky faucet. They might come to you while you’re walking to your car, or buying groceries. That’s why it’s helpful to have some kind of system for keeping track of ideas. Me? I like to use Google Keep. But if you want to carry around a little notebook, go for it.

Whatever works. Just have something. Nothing sucks more than landing an idea that you can’t remember when you get home.

Butt in chair doesn’t always work

Blogging has also taught me that the “butt in chair” approach just leads to a sore ass sometimes. I tried to live by that mantra for a few years. Maybe it works for novels, and it’s generally worked for academic writing. But not for blogs. Why?

With a novel, you’re not starting a fresh premise every time you sit down. You at least have characters, a setting, a general plot. A novelist can skip around in the story line if they want.

Same thing with academic articles. It takes me months to write one of those. So a workaday approach makes sense. You don’t have to feel inspired to summarize data or type up some quotes you know you’re going to use to frame your theoretical lens.

But when I blog, I’ve got to feel some kind of spark. Sitting in a chair, staring at a screen, doesn’t always help.

I’m not saying go to a coffee shop. The horror, the horror. I stopped writing in coffee shops years ago. Too many distractions. But maybe take a shower, do the dishes, cook something. Vacuum. Mindless tasks have a way of helping other parts of your brain focus. Let your mind wander over things you’re interested in. Whenever that spark comes, you’ll feel it.

Lots of times, an idea has hit me when I’m driving, or at the gym. As long as I can hold onto a phrase or an image, I’ll remember enough to write when I get home. You can also write in your head. Not with words, per se. But you can stitch together ideas and images.

Other times, I’ll still try the butt in chair approach. Some of my best stuff has come from staring at my ceiling and consciously thinking through ideas for a post. Fifteen minutes of intense brainstorming can feel like an eternity. If I’ve sat for 20 minutes and still can’t come up with an idea, then I’ve probably got to move on with my day. Sure, I’ll be slightly pissed off until dark. But whatever. Deal with it, I tell myself.

Observe, Imitate, Experiment

Every day, I try to read at least 5–6 stories on Medium. That helps for lots of reasons. First, it helps me stay informed. It feeds my brain. It’s also a nice break from grading and research.

Second, observing what other people do well helps you imitate and emulate. Do you want to know the secrets used by the best bloggers? Don’t sit around waiting for them to tell you. Read their posts. Track their sentence length, their paragraph length, their sentence structure, their content and themes, their titles. You learn so much through observation.

Experiment. Not everything that works for other bloggers works for you or me. It’s okay if you write something new and different and your post only gets 30 views.

You can always recycle content. I don’t mean simply cutting and pasting your old post into a new story, with a tweaked title. What I mean is taking the core idea of your last post and, a month or two later, taking another stab at that idea. From scratch.

That’s worked for me a few times. Last year, I wrote posts about fetish and sexuality that didn’t gain much traction. But I liked the basic ideas. So six months later, I rewrote them. Completely. The memories and ideas obviously survived, but everything else changed.

The other week, I tried something new and wrote about ghosts. I’d never done that before. The post didn’t do as well as I wanted. But that’s fine. It was still fun to write, meaningful, and led to some interesting responses. In a few months, I’ll write something else about ghosts. It might draw from the same basic experiences. But I’ll use a different tone, a different featured image. And we’ll see what happens.

Time of day doesn’t matter

Some writing gurus have offered advice on ideal times to post. The evidence is hard to dispute. It’s always a safe bet to post on early afternoons, midweek. Posting on nights and weekends isn’t the greatest idea.

Duh. People are asleep, or out partying. They’re probably not looking at their phones, or scrolling through Medium.

That said, I’ve posted stories at literally every time of day you can imagine. Some of my late night posts have done pretty well. Some of my daytime posts have tanked.

Medium does a pretty decent job of promoting and rewarding content they find valuable, even if it was published at 3 am Sunday morning. That means a lot. Inspiration can strike 24–7, and sometimes you just can’t wait until peak traffic hours to publish.

Me? Sometimes I have a helluva time sleeping. Hitting the “post” button helps me calm down and settle into bed. So I do it. But lately, I’ve made more of an effort to write during the day. At first, it was hard. I worried that it wouldn’t be my best writing. But turns out when I write and when I post doesn’t matter as much as making sure I have something to say.

Help build a community

My 1K stories break down into about 200 blog posts, the rest comments on other people’s writing. That tells me something important. A successful blogger spends as much time or more reading and interacting with other people. If you want people to read you, then read them.

That might sound self-serving. But think of it this way. You can’t even begin to expect other bloggers to support your work if you don’t support theirs. Sure, some people will be assholes. I can’t tell you the number of times I bought someone’s book or read their short story, and they didn’t reciprocate. But I always remembered — it’s a gesture, not a contract.

Also, you’re not just mindlessly clapping on other people’s work. You obviously can’t hunt down every single person who comments on your writing. But the best you can, try to check out someone else’s profile and read their stuff if they’ve written a couple of thoughtful comments on yours. I’ve found that thoughtful commenters are usually writing quality content, regardless of how many followers or claps they have.

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