How to be unsuccessful on Medium

Everyone like a bit of appreciation — thank you, Medium

I have always wanted to write a blog, but I never did really get down to it for a long time. Probably because I’m a finicky type who won’t start on something till everything is just right. Basically, the design of all the available blogging platforms really put me off. I didn’t have the skill to design a good looking blog myself or the inclination to learn that skill, nor could I afford a custom designed one. So I waited, and watched.

Enter Medium

And then near the end of 2015, Medium caught my eye. The platform had evolved, and now had a simple, clean layout, was easy to use, had a life-saver of an auto-saver, allowed quick upload of pictures into the layout, was accessible across all my devices, and most importantly didn’t have those horrible ads and ugly social buttons. The commentating system also meant I didn’t have to put up with too many nasties. In short, I finally felt this was a platform I could live with, until I found my feet.

Taking the Jump

With no more excuses to put off writing, I tested the waters with half a dozen stories in 2015. One of them did well, and I was hooked. I set myself a New Year Resolution of two stories a week in 2016, which would get me to around the 100 mark by year end.

An Empty Goal

My goal was to empty out all the thoughts in my head into this blog (which is what I call it for want of a better name). I reasoned that once my head was emptied of all the rubbish, I might be able to come up with something that made sense, and was of interest to people. Of course, this argument made absolutely no sense. But I have found that things that don’t make sense often turn out to be the most sensible. So firmly putting my faith in my illogic, I set off, tap-tapping on my keyboard.

Success comes at a cost

Before starting, I had to decide what I wanted to write about. Most successful bloggers usually have an area of expertise and write extensively on it. Like there’s this guy who has a popular blog on financial investments. He knows his subject and all his posts revolve around that, and it shows. To use his own words, he has had ‘overwhelming success.’

I have a problem with this. It’s all very well being a specialist, but I would be bored out of my head pretty soon if I just had to write about just one subject. And if that’s what it costs to be successful, then I’ll just have to say, “Sorry, that’s too high a price, and I’m not paying.”

The thing is I’m curious by nature, and I like to immerse myself in whatever catches my fancy. This goes on till something new catches my roving eye. At which, I drop whatever I was hooked onto, and hop on the new bandwagon, a sort of digital butterfly flitting from one topic to another on the www

Getting dunked on

My writing follows closely in the steps of my reading habits. When I find something of interest, I learn all I can about it, and then give my own take on it. Like there was this time when I got caught up in the Golden Warriors’ chase for the league record of wins, and followed them all the way till they choked while 3–1 up in the Finals.

NBA is not really popular in India but I wrote a couple of blogs on it. That’s when I noticed the Ringer. Unlike my blogs, they had stats, videos, quotes and more to back up their stories. And it showed in the recommends they received. The ads on their pages were obviously their reward for bringing their audience to Medium. Hard to compete with that kind of firepower. I withdrew to lick my wounds, muttering under my breath, “I’ll be back.”

That Sinking Feeling

This episode made me think it would be nice if I could develop a loyal bunch of readers, and that might get me close to the Holy Grail of online writing: making money by doing what you enjoy.

So I read up on what I had to do to popularise a blog. My heart sank. It sounded a bit too much like work, and it would take the fun out of this whole writing jamboree. I dropped the idea. The blog would have to learn to swim on its own, or sink without a trace, which quite appealed to the fatalistic streak in me, a trait I share with many Indians. Anyway, I decided to forget about results, focus on my stories, and make sure I enjoyed writing them. At the end of the year, I would review what I had done, and take it from there.

A Pat on my Back

December 2016 eventually arrived. It turned out someone had done my review for me, complete with a bunch of fascinating stats. I got to know about this through an email from Medium that went, “Congratulations! You are among the top 10% of readers and writers on Medium this year. As a small thank you, we’ve put together some highlights from your 2016.”

Reading between the lines

Don’t be deceived by that 85 ‘stories’ stat. You get a true picture only when you see the rest: 97 ‘recommends,’ 10 ‘responses’ and so on. I guess if Medium rated my stories on a ratio of ‘words written’ to ‘words read,’ I would be among its most unsuccessful writers. In fact, most of my ‘hearts’ were gifted by SF Ali in his heart-free days. Likewise most of my ‘reads’ are from my wife. She has never given me any hearts though. Not that she’s heartless, it’s just that I deliberately didn’t tell her how Medium works. All in all, it would seem that my ‘sink or swim’ experiment has resulted in a blog that’s neither sunk nor swum.

Technically Yours

Some of the other stats were eye openers. It seems I had churned out the equivalent of a copy of ‘The Hobbit,’ which made me feel almighty pleased with myself. Regretfully, I had also caused the human species to waste nearly 5000 minutes of their precious time on reading this babble. But what really caught my eye was that it seemed my most popular stories were my techie reviews, or rather opinions.

The thing is I am not really a techie, or an expert user, or a master of Photoshop, or whatever. But tech has been one of my interests for many years, and so when I write about it, I know what I’m talking about. Since lots of people are interested in tech, somewhere the connection is made, and that’s why people read my thoughts on tech.

Generalists get nowhere, and that’s ok

However this is not a story on how to be successful on Medium. This means I will continue to resist the urge to only write about things that I have some clue about. Instead I will keep writing about whatever I’m in the mood to write about. Parenting, health, food, yoga, politics, religion, fitness, sports, ethics, marketing, humour, fiction… these are some of the other areas I have stuck my clueless nose into. But everyone changes. I now realize that though the world may be growing smaller, my presumptuous assumption that anyone can write about anything and everything may not hold water.

The truth is you can write about almost everything, but not everything. For instance, the US elections had me completely at a loss for words. I’m still trying to digest what just happened, or rather is happening. Naturally, I will be more a reader than a writer, on subjects like these.

So what else did I learn from my one year on Medium?

Floating with the Tide

I am now confident that I can churn out the stuff. But I still don’t feel up to the task of self-promoting what I write. Sadly, quite a few of my stories are topical, which means they have an expiry date. These babies need to be pushed, and if I don’t, they are going to die stillborn. However I’m still not sure if my blog as a whole is ready to stand on its own feet, probably because I don’t really know where it’s going. So I guess I’ll just float along with the tide for a while, and see how online writing evolves.

Then there are other stories that don’t appear to be getting any traction at all, like my India-centric ones. I’m guessing that’s probably because only Indians would be interested in that, and there aren’t too many India-based Indians on the platform. Most Indians seem to be on Facebook, Instagram, Quora, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Snapchat and the like, which are often collectively referred to as ‘timepass’ which I think sums them up pretty well.

I’m also not too clear how Medium publications work. But having your story out in a relevant publication helps increase its views for sure. Medium’s publication structure has also evolved, and one of my unfinished resolutions for the year is to have my own publication for all my stories.

I guess I’ll do that. You know why? Cause it’s fun. Life is too short to waste it on things that are not fun.

See what I mean. I knew there was a point to this story all this while while I was rambling on, and I can’t say how relieved I am to have finally chanced upon it.

All’s well that ends well.

it’s an odd world

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