A Medium Noob’s First Faltering Steps
Writing for fun may seem a ‘busman’s holiday’ for a professional writer. In fact, I’m finding it refreshing – and educational. Which may be ironic, as I’m an educational writer.
In my ‘day job’, I write English coursebooks for 14–19-year-old Austrians and Germans. These are bright kids, interested in the world, and creating content for them gives me occasional scope for literary self-expression. More often it allows me to explore ideas in an essayistic (if that’s even a word) or journalistic manner.
Didacticism is not appreciated: no teenager wants the distilled wisdom of some crusty old (!) coursebook writer rammed down their throat. (How wonderfully times have changed!)
On the other hand, the topics I handle, and how I write about them, are necessarily constrained by the curriculum – and my publishers’ fairly firm ideas about what constitutes suitable reading for secondary school students.
And so I have found myself exploring the creative possibilities of writing on social media, including the Q&A site Quora, this WordPress site and Medium.
A first impression of Medium
My first experience of Medium came about 18 months ago, when a writer I had followed on Quora migrated her output there.
On the whole, my impression of the new (to me) platform was rather ‘meh’. Some great writing, but also a lot of listicles, a lot of soft porn thinly disguised as sexual health articles.
I returned to Quora to write largely-ignored answers to obscure questions about bees, banjos and life in general.
Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t terribly satisfying. I’m an established educational writer who is used to being read. It’s a humbling experience to discover that, after 25 years in a cosy professional niche, you’re still an utter noob in related fields.
It was also a very healthy kick in the pants. At 56, I was starting to define myself in terms of past successes: a great way to get stale fast.
A fresh start
At the beginning of 2021, I found myself ready for a fresh approach to writing online, purely for fun. The focus this time would be on fiction, together with autobiographical musings and explorations of random topics that interest me.
My first step was a WordPress blog. This blog. I decided that I would also publish a series of short stories here, Tales from the Water’s Edge. They are quietly turning into a serialised novel. (That’s probably a little Quixotic on a platform geared to short-form writing. I’m still working this through.)
The second step was a return to Medium – this time as a writer, not just a reader.
It has been a revelation and a very positive experience, despite occasional frustration with the interface. There is a real sense of community and I’ve met some lovely, creative folk there.
You’re probably at least as familiar with Medium as I am, but I’m going to assume here that you are not. Here’s what I make of it.
There are numerous Publications within the Medium platform, each given an individual personality by its owner’s editorial stance, the homepage design, and most importantly by the writers who are published there.
This is an idea of real genius. It gives a new writer immediate access to a wider readership than their own tiny band of followers. It makes reading Medium a more colourful and varied experience. It builds a sense of community which I firmly believe to be genuine, not just trading of follows-for-follows, reads-for-reads and likes-for-likes (or in Medium parlance, claps-for-claps).
What seems to be missing is any sort of index of Publications and a synopsis of what each one is about. Medium is a vast library with a few Post-it notes in place of a catalogue.
Any Medium contributor can start a new Publication for their own work, or to invite others to publish with them. The upside to that is that you get total control over the presentation and content of your work; the downside is that your work is going to have a very restricted readership until you get known.
I like to write for smaller Publications, usually when I’ve had a personal contact from the owner which has touched me. Woodworkers of the World Unite!!! has been my ‘home from home’ on Medium. I just love the eclectic spirit of this Publication. I’ve also been published by Where Wild Things Grow and Vagabond Voices. (Thanks to SD, Jess and Trisha for your generous support.)
I know: this concentration on small Publications doesn’t make ‘business sense’. The thing is, this isn’t a business for me. It’s fun. I don’t care whether five, fifty or five thousand people read my stuff, as long as someone reads it and is touched by it in some way.
Medium applause: a noob’s-eye view
I was used to the ‘like’ / ‘upvote’ feedback model on social media, obviously. The ‘claps’ feature on Medium, on the other hand, caused me some head-scratching for a while.
I quickly noticed that I could give more than one clap; I didn’t learn until I started writing for Medium that I could give up to 50 claps. Boy, was I embarrassed about my early clapping performance! There was I, bounteously bestowing maybe, ooh, 5 claps on some brilliant piece of writing …
These days, everything I enjoy reading receives thunderous applause.
I still don’t really have a system, though. I cop out by giving everyone 50 claps – because who am I to decide that this beautiful poem is worth 46 claps and that insightful article is only worth 39?
You can also clap for comments. I clap excitedly for generous praise on my writing, then gradually the number of claps dwindles down the thread, if the correspondence continues. I don’t want to look needy, after all …
This appears to be the Holy Grail of Medium writers: to feature in one of Medium’s various digests, which get a wider circulation than one’s own circle of followers. I have to confess, I rarely find the ‘Trending on Medium’ digest articles worth reading.
I’m hopelessly untrendy, I guess. Oh well.