The examination of true surprise at the honor of becoming a top writer on Medium and five theories on why.
This was originally posted on Medium through the Writing Cooperative
I checked my email, just before ending an otherwise typical weekday, and I see this sitting in my inbox:
There was genuine shock. I mean, how did this happen? Seriously? What the hell?
Why am I shocked? It’s pretty simple, I don’t have the following, recommends, and responses that I would associate with a top writer. Some of the other writers I follow have thousands upon thousands of followers. As of writing this, I have 128 followers, each and every one I am very thankful for, but not something that I thought would get me the designation of a top writer.
I don’t want to take away my own work, though. I put a lot of time into these articles. Maybe too much, considering I’m trying to edit a book, but I digress. I do this because I love it, because I have thoughts and ideas that desperately need to come out. And with each post I share, I learn more.
If there’s a single point to all the ruminations that will follow in this article, it’s this: grow constantly.
In that journey to grow, I self-examine. Whether it’s a rejection letter, like one I received just before the email from Medium, or a victory like this, I always examine the whys. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.
Feel free to join me because I’m still sincerely figuring this out.
Maybe it’s not about the number of followers. Here are some thoughts on how this has happened, and how you can do it too.
1. Find Your Honest-To-God Niche
I saw this tip early in my blogging research and thought it was just fluffy listicle click-bait advice. (That I now, ironically, have first in my list article). I thought, well duh, write the thing you want to write about. Call it your niche, your passion, whatever, write what interests you. Oh past me, you have much to learn.
And that’s just the point; I found out along the way that you really do need to find a niche.
My initial thought was “I’m a writer, I’ll write about writing.” Well, that’s a huge topic, as I learned in my Google and Medium searching. There’s writing about the structure of language and sentences, writing about how to market your writing, writing about fiction and storytelling, specific “how-to” writing on Medium, and the list goes on and on.
As I wrote some of my early blog posts, the lack of focus was evident. I was floundering around, trying to be relevant to the fantasized reader I had in mind. I was writing about fiction, which I still do, but it was all very lofty, impractical ramblings. There are things I like in there, don’t get me wrong, but it was more or less a journal to myself.
Then I began honing in, and I wrote specifically on the craft of storytelling. That’s when I started to get more feedback, more reads, highlights, recommends, and the ever exciting responses. Something was clicking; I was taking the initial ideas and refining them into something smaller and smaller.
That journey continues, by the way, every article gets closer to a niche. It’s not there yet. Grow constantly, remember?
2. Share Your Story…Seriously, People Want To Read It
Personalization makes that subject we have all read about before something worth reexamining. Don’t believe me? Search: “How to be a top writer” here on Medium. What comes up? Multiple articles about the very thing you are reading about right now. You may have already read them, yet here you are reading another one. Why? Because this is my story about that topic.
No one else has my takes on the topics I discuss, and that rule applies to you too.
Whatever you are writing about, your unique experience brings something fresh to the table.
The more you can incorporate that personalization, the more unique your work becomes. (That goes for any creative art too. How many times have we seen the Hero’s Journey in books and movies? Yet, we keep getting fresh stories utilizing it because they are as unique as their writers.)
When I moved away from the journal-ish feel of my articles, I lost too much of the personalization initially. The posts became boring, if somewhat informative pieces on the fiction writing experience. They could have belonged to anyone, and that’s a problem. Luckily, I realized this after a few less than satisfying posts.
If you get a sinking feeling that something is off when you write, don’t ignore it. Find what makes you feel like your writing is lacking and trust your gut. I knew that I needed to incorporate the personal touch in again. So I started framing my point with a little scene from life. Whether it was a story about a bird fluttering around the store where I work, a grueling hike I went on, or how I received an email one random night, I always start with something personal. It sets a tone, adds some color to the opinions I’m about to dive into, and reminds you that I’m a real person behind these posts and I have my own ideas.
Whatever way you want to incorporate your personal story into your written story, do it, we want to read it.
3. Be Consistent, Stick With It
“But I don’t need to! I’ll write that one fantastic article, and I’ll bring my audience in that way.” Oh my goodness past me, you are a lot of talk, aren’t you? Actually, I don’t think I was ever that prideful (I hope) or naive (entirely possible, actually). Remember, I was, and still am, legitimately surprised about this top writer thing.
This topic in the list is that boring thing you are tempted to scroll past because it’s obvious, and you are doing it, and you got this. Well, that sentiment is more accurate of my thought process when I first started posting articles.
But, you know what I discovered about being consistent? It’s as much of a pain in the ass as it is absolutely necessary.
It’s not easy to come up with something interesting to write at a routine pace. Then, there is that whole life thing that happens. My early posting started well, then began fluctuating when reality hit. I could see the numbers on my website respond to this. When I started, I posted a decent amount of content, shared, and it was having some (very mild) success. In November and December of 2016, when my blog was in the early stages, before discovering Medium, I had a spike in new readers and page views.
Then Christmas happened, and everything slowed down. Obviously, so did the numbers. It spiked back up in February when I told myself I was gonna commit to this thing, I started writing on Medium too, but it never got back to the early numbers. That drop took its toll, and returning to writing didn’t immediately fix it. Did I learn my lesson? Nope. I lost the consistency again, and the numbers went with it again. I moved across the country, and there was a big gap in my content.
Now, I’m currently in the middle of my best run at being consistent. A habit has formed, I actually get anxious if I can’t write every day, which has its pros and cons. I wrote a series I created about storytelling and kept at it. Even when I hit road bumps and busy weeks, I kept on schedule. And now I sit here, writing an article about becoming a top writer.
There must be something to this whole consistency thing. You have to push, you have to keep writing, yes it is work. But we love it, that’s why we do it.
4. Your Unique, Consistent Niche Stuff, Has To Be Good
It all comes down to quality. If you aren’t doing something well, it will show. Having a detailed writing schedule, flawless marketing strategy, and dedicated time for brainstorming, will be almost useless without quality content.
I think the most blatant reason why my early blog posts didn’t get read was because I didn’t take enough time to edit and do it right.
I spent time on certain sentences and ideas, but I didn’t give myself time to get down to the nitty-gritty of editing. I thought I was, which worries me, but again, always self-examine and find where you need to improve. Grow constantly.
Looking back, oh God, I’m embarrassed. Simple mistakes. (And I still have plenty to improve upon). So, for the love of all that is holy, use Grammarly or something equivalent, and spend time reading and re-reading your posts. Let it sit for a day, go back, and see how amazing fresh eyes can really be.
Your readers will know copy/pasted ideas when they see it. You have to have meaningful content. Again, you are the unique piece in this, you need to make it yours. That’s the origin of quality. Your topic should come from you, be researched, the grammar on point, and the ideas captivating and relevant. All of that comes from practice; just keep pushing. Keep learning.
5. Quality Is Your Best Marketing Tool
I don’t have as many followers as some of the best of the best on Medium, that’s for sure. Again, I’m so thankful for each and every one of you, and every time I see a new follower, I’m genuinely thrilled. But how do I get my following? It’s simple: writing articles. That’s it. I don’t do the “follow a ton of people and get followed back” routine. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that (my numbers are lower because I haven’t done this), or that the strategy doesn’t have its upsides, but every one of my followers, many of you reading this, came from an article they read, then decided to follow me. That’s a real audience, real people, not a number. I have an engaged following.
Marketing can quickly lead you to the pitfall that it’s all about sheer numbers, and it really isn’t.
I’ve been retweeted by people, other authors or writing networks, and I love it. But sometimes, I’ll realize that they have retweeted seventeen other posts in a matter of seconds. Is that even a person? They have a huge following because it’s polite to follow back, but their followers mute their account. There’s no way people can sit there and engage, or even look at that many tweets coming in at that frequency. So, those accounts end up just speaking into the crowded room with duct tape over their mouths. Don’t be that account.
Engage and create quality work that creates a real audience of real people.
I’m a top writer with a small following because I’m consistent, and I’m constantly growing to provide the highest quality writing I can. There’s no secret formula. These points I’ve shared, you have seen them over and over, I just know it. But, I’m here to remind you that it’s true, it’s the grind, the honest work, the everyday writing, that produces quality and, ultimately, might bring you that recognition.
I’m at the very beginning of my writing journey, and there will be more highs, even more lows, but I’m going to keep learning. The more I learn, the opinions I form, the more I’ll keep sharing them. It’s about community and encouraging each other.
So keep writing. If I can be designated as a top writer, you absolutely can too. In fact, I’m sure this designation won’t last forever, but I’ll celebrate it while I can. There are plenty of other writers on Medium that produce work better than mine, I bet you can too.
Remember: Grow Constantly.