My Writing Process: Behind the Scenes
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s been somewhat of a health crisis taking place in China recently. (Bet you didn’t see this opening sentence coming).
The health crisis started its damage by putting the country in a state of blind panic. But once the panic subsided, it was replaced with boredom, worry and job insecurity.
Most people in China at this moment are more scared of losing their jobs than their health. Companies everywhere are going under, and people are becoming unemployed and desperate.
The reason so many companies are dying is that no-one’s buying anything, the economy has almost entirely stopped.
Even while we’re stuck inside, we can’t even shop online because almost all shipping between provinces is halted.
All we can do is stay indoors and pray that our employers will give us homework and throw us a bone.
The fear of unemployment has gripped many foreign teachers living in Shanghai. I’m responsible for a bunch of them, because part of my job is sourcing talent.
So when a few of them came to me and asked how I make my side income on Medium, I got them all together on Zoom (a video conferencing app) and showed them around my Medium profile and taught them my process. (This meeting is what inspired me to write this post).
I believe that everyone here on Medium is making it work for themselves in their own way, but at the beginning, a bit of guidance can go a long way in helping you find your own voice.
I wrote a post recently about some of the many kinds of writers here on Medium. I believe that after a few months on the site, everyone finds the point where their talent meets their reader’s interests and something just clicks.
So here’s the technique that works for me.
Lights, Camera, Action
I like to call myself an infotainer. This means I like breaking news stories and delving deep into informative topics, but I also love to share my opinions, say what I think, and make a joke here and there.
A journalist tells the news, and a blogger generally talks about their life and experiences. Whenever I marry the two, it seems to work for me.
I always begin with a bolt of inspiration.
I’ve read a lot of advice articles here on the site that strongly recommends against waiting for the muse, but I’m honestly useless without it.
If I’m not inspired to write an article, the final result usually reads as stale as month-old bread. I’ve never had any luck forcing out a post, and uninspired posts never make much money, so I just don’t write them.
This sometimes means I have stretches of time where my Medium profile goes barren, but this is a royalty payment system, which keeps the money flowing.
No-one is trawling my profile, then leaves in a huff because I haven’t written in a week (or a month).
The algorithm shows my articles to interested people, and they read them. I’m free of shackles when I’m here.
We’re all free here, so embrace the freedom. Let your boss tie you down with deadlines and rules, but here you can let yourself be wild.
(This opinion is controversial, so feel free to roast me in the comments).
Inspiration usually hits me as an observation or experience. I recently tried Oatly, so I wrote a post about Oatly. I pre-ordered a Nintendo Switch game, so I wrote a post about Nintendo. I had to go to hospital to get medieval-style surgery, so I wrote a post about my harrowing experience.
In Order to Write, I Must Research
Once I know what I’m writing about, the real work begins.
Being inspired to write about Oatly or Nintendo isn’t going to magically imbue me with divine knowledge about their business practices. Instead, I have to research.
I believe in investing in yourself, and I knew a while ago that I’d be looking for articles and news from reliable sources on a daily basis.
So months ago, I got online subscriptions to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Geographic. Often when you’re reading one of my articles you’ll either see these publications referenced, or their research referenced.
I’d say every ten minutes of writing I commit to an article that talks about topics outside of my personal experiences require at least an hour of research. So articles that I spend an hour writing may have needed up to 6 hours to research.
This usually takes the form of furiously reading my phone on the subway and scribbling notes on my iPad at the same time.
But no matter how hard I work at getting it right, I sometimes make mistakes because I’m not a trained journalist. I also infuriate people because after spending a paragraph laying out a grounded, researched argument; I’ll follow it up with my damn opinion.
For a short time, I felt sad when someone wrote something mean on one of my infotaining posts, but I’ve come to embrace the mean.
I have a right to write my way because this is my account. It’s not a news site, I don’t have a boss, and no-one in their right mind is relying on me as a single source of news and information.
This is infotainment, and my articles are just a small part of how some people receive their daily dose of new information. I’m in charge of my profile; and it’s a news corporation of one.
The Next Part Seems Easy, But Rarely Is
After I’ve been hit by inspiration, researched my butt off, and committed my article to the page, I’ll sleep on it.
I try not to let any single article take more time than it’s likely to end up paying, but that’s impossible to accurately predict.
I’ve spent 20 hours on articles I thought would blow up that completely died. I’ve also spent 2 hours on articles that ended up paying my rent, mortgage and all my bills. This is what I think about as I sleep and unsuccessfully try to put the article out of my mind.
The next day I’ll re-read it with fresh eyes and edit while swearing at myself for all the dumb mistakes.
This is also the time I insert my jokes and Lord of the Rings references. After that, I’ll schedule it for release in one of my publications and try once again to forget about it.
I’m not much of a marketer, so you’re in the wrong place for marketing advice. Sometimes I put links on Facebook, but that’s it. I’ve found that all my marketing efforts usually end up with a lot of traffic from non-subscribers, which means $0 for me.
So To Sum It Up
That’s how I do it. A bolt of inspiration, research like crazy, write like crazy, edit, sleep, edit again, insert jokes, post.
Everyone is different, and as long as your Medium journey is giving you what you’re here to receive, there’s no wrong way to do it.
I came here to relax, say what I want to say, and make a side-income. I’ve achieved all those goals, so I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
Give yourself some time, and try not to compare yourself to others. I probably only made $80 in my first six months combined, then I reached the tipping point and started reaching the financial levels I wanted.
Now that I look back, and I feel so dumb for stressing so much when I should have just been patient.
Give yourself room and time to succeed, and enjoy the ride. Once that new-blog-smell wears off, there’s no way of getting it back. Enjoy the ride, and do it your way.
And if you’re interested to hear more of what I have to say, tomorrow I’ll be releasing a followup to this article on Overlords. I’ll be talking about my highest earning articles and what they have in common.
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