I Wrote 100 posts on Medium — This Is What I Learnt

Not algorithms, not SEO, but five lessons towards self-awareness

Photo by karen kayser on Unsplash

A year and half or so ago, I came to Medium as a reader. Although not trained to be a writer, I had resumed writing with a passion that had been missing for almost two decades. My first foray into writing had been as a young mother. I tried to make sense of my life as I juggled work and home, always strapped for time, always finding myself falling short on my own expectations, if not on those of others.

I wrote at night, after my baby went to bed, and the house went quiet. Those stolen moments were like a prize that I could win only after a long day at the office and after completing all the other chores that demanded my attention.

The constant tug of war that played out inside me finally subsided when the words poured out straight from the creative source that lay muffled during my waking hours. On the cusp of slumber, I willed myself to stay awake and write, knowing that those extra minutes would lead to deeper sleep. In hindsight, I am glad I wrote.

My words first appeared in a local newspaper. Then some print magazines and some digital ones. For reasons I could not name, my words drew a response from readers who reached out, by email and voicemail, communication channels that existed before the world began to drown in the ocean of social media. It seemed to strike a chord in them — men and women of various nationalities and skin color, various ages and abilities.

I was surprised. Writing, for me, had been a private act, a selfish act. I wrote to make sense of my life by translating my experiences into words.

Returning to writing

For over fifteen years, I stopped writing. Life still went on. Work. Motherhood. Loss. Death. A series of fairly unfortunate events that led to a gap in my writing resume. The hiatus was not intentional. It was a phase of life that urgently demanded my attention. I dealt with everything on my plate and pushed writing to the back burner, eventually abandoning it altogether.

By not writing about it, I let a lot of things simmer. In that compost heap of undocumented experiences and unprocessed feelings, lay the resolution that I had been seeking.

So I began to write again. On weeknights and weekends. Scribbling words in books and on the screen, on my laptop and on my phone, at my desk and on the train. In every situation that I now observed, I could see the shadow of the unresolved past.

A glimmer of understanding that had been hidden from sight was made visible by the act of writing.

A platform for writing

Before I created my website, I decided to check out Medium as a possible home for my writing. I had no agenda and no target. I did not care about SEO or algorithms, metrics or analytics. All I wanted was to upload my writing to a platform that focused on readers. I had dabbled in blogging before — an on-again, off-again activity that I had abandoned mostly due to lack of consistency and lack of engagement.

Medium seemed to be a more vibrant platform that boasted of millions of readers. I posted on a regular basis, without stressing about curation or going viral. I wrote about travel and life in the pandemic, about books and writing, about my life in the world and at home.

A peek at my stats page last week told me that I had written 100 posts in about 18 months. I was pleasantly surprised, even though the popular writers on Medium had probably written 5X the number of posts in the same time frame.

I wrote for a handful of publications and had a few followers. But the rewards on Medium belonged to prolific writers who churned out articles without regard to novelty or value-addition. Lists were popular. So were hacks. Despite a push against click-bait, most of the titles in my feed seemed to come from the same mould. Whether the articles were detailed or brief, most were short on originality.

Was this a race I wanted to participate in? Monthly earning and virality were not metrics I was after. I decided to withdraw from the competition but still stay on the platform. I wrote and posted as I chose. I felt happy when I was curated or when editors of publications approached me to feature my writing. I clapped and responded to other writers and enjoyed connecting with readers who left comments. From a rat race, Medium became a walk in the park, once I stopped obsessing over stats and logging followers.

And one day, I found myself with 100 posts. Not bad. I still couldn’t figure out Medium’s algorithm but I learnt a few things about myself.

Five lessons that may or may not resonate with you:

  1. I am not a content creator: My life provides me with material to mull over and process. I do not mine it for content, I merely shine a light on what happens to me and what I do with those experiences.
  2. I do not offer hacks: The dictionary defines ‘hack’ as the act of gaining unauthorised access to a computer or cutting something with rough and heavy blows. My effort in writing is to offer a nuanced view of the minor details of life, not split it with a hard-hitting blow. My learnings are hard-earned and well-deserved. There are no shortcuts to reach valuable insights.
  3. I can’t tell you how to earn thousands of dollars from writing: If I had figured it out, I wouldn’t still keep my day job as a scientist, which engages a different part of my brain but also pays the bills
  4. I have no tips to turn you into the next Hemingway or Neil Gaiman: I do not have an MFA nor am I the author of a New York Times bestseller. I do have a Ph.D. and a curious mind that is forever engaged in making sense of life. The craft gets polished with every single thing that I write. Like any other experiment that I have conducted in the laboratory, some of my writing succeeds modestly and some fail spectacularly.
  5. I do not engage in political commentary or trending topics unless I have enough depth and distance to make sense of it. This last point makes my writing either irrelevant or evergreen, depending on the way you look at it.

Given the above lessons (caveats?), it is a miracle that most of what I post on Medium gets accepted into publications or distributed on topics such as life, women, creativity, self and others.

Does any of this lead to big $$$? No.

I still come to Medium. To read. To write. To sometimes find kindred spirits — writers who have something original to say, publications that serve a niche that I love.

Will I write 100 more posts? Maybe.

Stay tuned for more lessons at www.ranjanirao.com

I write insightful personal stories about my scientist, immigrant, travel life. 4 books http://bit.ly/RanjaniRao. Share memoir journey -www.ranjanirao.com

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