The last article I published here on Medium was September 23.
19 days ago.
Not that long, really, although the so-called Medium aficionados would liken that kind of absence to creative suicide.
Forgive me if I sound a little cranky, but these 19 days away have really got my wheels turning on what I’m doing over here, exactly.
I haven’t felt compelled to write at all lately, and I have my suspicions about the reasons. The obvious one is that I’ve been busy, and I’m tired.
The Medium aficionados would say, “That’s not good enough, that’s no excuse. I write no matter how tired I am. I set my alarm for 4 in the morning so I can fit in two precious hours of writing before I have to get ready for work. That’s what being a writer is.”
The thing is, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m simply not willing to live that way. And also, my refusal to get up at 4 a.m. doesn’t make me an inferior writer or less aspirational about my writing goals.
Writing is a part of who I am, but I accept the fact it’s not the entire picture.
When I started writing over here on Medium this past spring, I was so keyed up to validate my identity as a writer, and ohmigod, wholly shit, people are actually reading what I’ve written. I’m a writer. I’M A WRITER!
Hold up, now.
I’ve always been a writer.
And those little green notifications that pop up at the top right hand corner of my computer mean fuck all when it comes to validating my experience and identity as a writer.
But I forgot that. I got sucked headfirst into this strange world of Medium, where I was told over and over again how to be a writer, what it takes to be a writer, why I’m failing as a writer.
I created a dialogue that told me that if I wasn’t constantly coming up with new and unique ideas, if I wasn’t putting in the effort to produce something decent every single day, if I wasn’t holding my identity as a writer above all else, then I didn’t deserve the privilege of calling myself a writer.
I worked at it, I really did. Not in the getting-up-at-4 a.m kind of sense, but I really did commit myself to being productive, at the very least.
The more time I spent immersed in the world of Medium working at legitimizing myself as a writer, the less inspired I felt to actually write.
I spent nearly two decades as a blogger, and in the process navigated my way through the realm of personal branding and endless self-promotion and the frustrating process of trying to gain an audience.
My relationship to this approach has ebbed and flowed over the years. At times, I wanted nothing more than to gain some kind of attention, to have some kind of proof of all the effort I was putting in. Other times, I’ve boiled with resentment at the way our entire existence seems somehow framed around social media and the desperate, greedy need for recognition.
When I started writing here on Medium, it felt like a refreshing shift from the world of blogging and social media. It felt more serious, more grown-up. It felt like an exciting new way to challenge myself as a writer, to develop my skill.
And it has helped, there’s no denying it.
I’ve written some pieces over these past five months that I’m extremely proud of. I’ve written pieces that took weeks to fine tune, that challenged me supremely as I toiled over the words. None of them have received the thousands of claps that I’d secretly wished for, but the process of getting to the end of a particularly difficult piece has been rewarding.
I’ve learned that writing isn’t always easy and comfortable, and that has been a huge benefit of my time here so far on Medium.
But there’s also this — the part I’m struggling with.
Medium is a strange thing. I loved right off the bat its ability to give users a clean and clutter-free space for writing, where the words themselves become the focus. It felt like an even playing field, for once, where seasoned and fledgling writers alike can come together in the spirit of creativity.
All of that is true.
But also, Medium, as we all know, gives users the opportunity to pay into the Medium Partner Program, which means paying five U.S. dollars a month to read an unlimited number of articles (otherwise, readers are capped at a modest five).
I bought into the Partner Program only a few weeks after getting involved here because I wanted to read about topics that interested me and engage with other writers. It also meant that when I clapped for or highlighted others’ work, they’d receive a small sum of the five dollars I was spending each month (and, in the way of karmic return, I’d hopefully receive a little bit of payback on the pieces I was producing).
This all felt lovely and well, at least for a bit.
I joined several groups on Facebook created for Medium writers. I’ve gleaned some helpful tips through the groups, and have occasionally shared an article or two in the hopes of expanding my readership.
I watched my Medium earnings slowly — and I mean slowly — trickle in based on the small amount of reads and claps I was receiving, and that felt nice. It amounted to less than the change I keep in the car for emergency coffees, but I couldn’t help feel there was potential to grow.
Plus, all the Medium aficionados were telling me so. Every third article on my feed was focused on “How I Earned $100,000 Writing on Medium”, or “Why You’re Not Earning $100,000 Writing on Medium.”
I just need to engage more, I thought. I’ve got to write more, I figured.
And so I spent a portion of each day “catching up” on my Medium feed — sifting through the many, many stories (a good portion of them on improving my Medium earnings), and engaging with the ones that caught my attention.
Every day I made a point of reading and clapping, reading and clapping.
I’ve discovered some people in the process whose work I really love, and that’s been awesome. I like supporting writers whose work sparks something for me.
But here’s where it’s kind of shifted.
I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Like everyone else, I feel like I spend too much time on my phone or computer privately comparing myself to the tidy, filtered perfection on tap 24/7.
I love social media because it brings people together based on mutual interests and passions. Social media is one of the biggest ways I connect to my passion for herbalism, and likewise has been wonderfully informative the past month and a bit while I’ve navigated transitioning to a ketogenic diet.
At the same time, I hate social media because of the underhanded way it steals our time. There’s this sense of needing to stay on top of it. Oh no, I haven’t looked at Instagram all day, I’m gonna be so far behind.
It’s bullshit, and the reason why I’ve been really working this past while at becoming more aware how much time I’m spending on social media, and recognizing that any pressure to “keep up” is entirely self-perpetuated (at least in a sense, because we all know that social media is literally designed to create a feeling of insecurity and lack).
How does that loop back to Medium?
Well, after many weeks of “staying on top” of my network, I began to resent the fear of potentially falling behind.
The Medium aficionados were constantly telling me I’d never make it big — never earn the $100,000 they promised was possible — if I didn’t spend x number of hours per day engaging with my network.
I’ll just say it: Medium started to feel a bit incestuous.
See, non-paying members can clap all they want on their five allotted articles, but their recognition means nothing (the aficionados reaffirm) in terms of potential earnings.
The key to financial success on Medium, they say, is paying into the Partner Program and doling out claps to your fellow writers, who also pay into the program, in the hopes they’ll return the favor, earning you a little change in the process, and look, see now how happy we all are?
This practice is perpetuated in the Medium Facebook groups encouraging us to share our latest piece for the purpose of earning claps, while reminding us to always clap back.
So here we are, all spending our five dollars a month on claps and views, hoping for some kind of return on investment, reducing Medium to this insular little universe bent exclusively on making money.
And this isn’t really a problem for most. It works. We know it works because the aficionados are reminding us daily of their remarkable $100,000 earnings.
I saw something pop up on social media a few weeks ago along the lines of, “A hobby or passion can simply be enjoyed without the need to monetize it.”
I kind of always thought I was unique in my compulsion of constantly having to monetize my creativity. I’ve been like this for years — coming up with new creative ideas, then automatically thinking, “I could sell this!”
I’ve been learning how to create beaded earrings the past few months, for example, and the thought, “Maybe I’ll get good enough to sell these one day” has slipped in on more than one occasion.
For me in particular, this phenomenon of monetizing my creativity has the unsurprising effect of derailing my inspiration. I get so distracted by the potential of making money that the process of creating becomes secondary.
Which is precisely where my disenchantment with Medium came in.
The more time I spent on the platform, the more urgent became my need to produce for the purpose of potentially making money.
I pretended that I wasn’t being affected by the potential earnings, that I was writing simply to develop my practice — which wasn’t all untrue, and I’d probably have succeeded in ignoring the financial aspect if it weren’t for the fact I was being reminded daily of the potential to win. The good ol’ Medium lottery.
All of this — the need to keep up, the constant noise, the focus on monetary success —it killed my creativity.
I haven’t felt compelled to write these past two and a half weeks because every new idea for an article or story calls back feelings of resentment.
I needed to end my relationship with Medium, at least the way it’s been progressing so far, in order to rekindle my interest in writing.
So I’ve not been engaging with other writers or spending much time on the platform overall, and that makes me feel a bit guilty because there are a handful of writers here whose words get me excited. Who remind me what it is I love about writing — the alchemy of language! — and who inspire me to tell my stories.
I will bookmark their profiles, probably, because I’m not ready yet to delve face-first again into the strange and frustrating world of Medium as a whole.
I think, for now, I’d rather just write.