It is a poorly-kept secret that I have been writing “elsewhere” and not on this blog, the last couple of weeks. My friend Rasheed Hooda, who once declared me Queen of the No-Niche Bloggers, likes to do to me what I so blithely do to others. Like the Pied Piper, but instead of a flute he balloon-twists his way through the Internet, leaving breadcrumbs and nudging and cajoling until it’s hard not to follow his wanderings. This time, he lured me back to Medium, where I had an account, circa 2015, but only as a reader.
An Accidental Writing Portfolio?
I had stumbled onto the site long ago – The Atlantic has a presence there – and that may be where I first read work by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Is it any wonder, then, that I had never ventured to write, there? I had not seen Medium as it is widely regarded – as a blogging platform. And as a writer who viewed Medium as a platform for more serious, professionally vetted and edited writing, can you imagine my horror at returning there to learn that every comment is treated as a Story? That people had actually “clapped” for some of the passing comments I’d left behind? I had…followers. A lot of followers. 1,277 of them, as of this moment. I’d already built an audience there, without even trying.
Who were these people and why were they following me? Mostly, I think, they were writers, hoping that I would follow them back. But of course, I hadn’t. I hadn’t returned to Medium at all in about three years. I followed everyone back, indiscriminately. And then I deleted all my Stories – my comments. I tested the waters by re-posting an old blog post. A few readers, there, liked it.
And then Rasheed started nudging. Join the Medium Partner Program, he nudged. Maybe it’ll be another income stream, he suggested. I’m all for getting paid to write, but I had no intention of publishing listicles and formulaic blog posts like “8 Things You’re Doing Wrong with Your Life – Pay Special Attention to Number 6,” just to earn a few pennies. Been there, done that: Themestream, Redpaper, Vines… The idea of micropayments, tiny amounts of cash in return for the time spent reading an article – the challenge of holding a reader’s attention long enough to earn a payment for the work – has its appeal. But I was still determined to be worthy of rubbing elbows with writers published in The Atlantic.
I’m Not a Hack, I’m a Busker!
By January, that first “dip-a-toe-in-the-water” story that I’d posted had earned a whole penny. Dreadful.
Then came The Great Pause. Celebrities showed up on TikTok and Instagram and competed for attention with ordinary, but extraordinarily creative, people. They came without make-up or camera crews, and they came with bad lighting and laundry baskets in view. The originality was breathtaking. “We’re all in this together!” we all proclaimed, but almost as soon as we shouted the hurrah, it was clear that we were not, in fact, “all in this together.” The real celebrities still had more expensive homes, even if they tried filming from their walk-in closets. Pandemic brought into sharp relief the differences that separated us: wealth, “essentialness,” ideology, sense of duty, sense of humor, maturity. Who had the capacity to find the silver linings among the scraps of rust; who could turn rust into useful things? And, if nothing else, who had the capacity to entertain themselves and not be bored under #StaySafeStayHome orders?
Normally, I’d have relished the quiet, the solitude, the ability to sleep in late without guilt. I had plans, too. Vague, but serious, plans. I was going to write a novel, finally. But now, it wasn’t a choice, and I felt less inspired, less creative, less imaginative than I’d envisioned my April self. I felt like a small boat, anchored, motor running, with no one at the helm. Rudderless. There were no waves, just little circular ripples.
So. Why not try Medium as a writer, for a change? Why not.
Busking is performance art. So is impromptu collaboration, as you can see here:
So Where Am I Going with This?
I still don’t see Medium as a “blogging platform,” even if that’s what it is. Jahangiri.us is my website, and Medium never will be. It’s more like a warm-up area before the performance. As is this, in a way – but I control it. My original plan was to use Medium to increase readership on my own blog. I know that Amy Marley gets that; I think she’s the only reader from Medium who ever followed me from there to here – and that’s probably because I’m one of the few who went straight from her bio on Medium to her own blog.
I think that I have widened my reach and found a new audience for my writing, but there is little cross-pollination. “Build it, and they will come,” is utter bullshit. Marketing and PR are exhausting.
It’s not my intention to drag you, Constant Reader, over there. Although I have done exactly that, to at least two of you – and I don’t think you were disappointed. You will find some of Medium’s best articles tucked behind their paywall, including most of the ones I publish there. But even a few of those are free each month whether you choose to pay the $5/month membership fee, or not. Much of that is distributed to the writers whose work you spent time reading (so no skimming, okay?) My plan is to use whatever pennies I earn busking over there to support my own $5/month Medium membership and maybe help pay for the domain and hosting fees (about $250/year) here.
I’m Not a “Joiner,” but It’s Nice to Find a Writing Community
I’m not big on writing groups, but that’s probably just because it’s hard to find the right one. To build a sense of community isn’t easy, and why would you trade reads and edits with people you don’t feel a sense of kinship with?
Shortly after dragging me over to Medium, Rasheed coaxed me, like a wild bird, over to a Publication called, “ILLUMINATION.” Its founder, Dr. Mehmet Yildiz, has the sort of boundless energy for promoting himself and others that you might attribute to a whole team of PR people. He, himself, swears it has something to do with the strength of his mitochondria, and I can’t quibble – whatever it is, no amount of vitamin supplements is giving it to me. I became a contributor there, and to two other publications: Writers Blokke and The Bad Influence. In the process, I’ve made writer-friends. I’ve connected more with my Facebook friend, Bob Jasper, who is spreading his wings over on Medium as a writer – I’m not the only one Rasheed plays Pied Piper to!
I’ve also learned how to use and administer Slack workspaces, and started building my own little community of writers – independent of Medium or WordPress or YouTube or any other platform, just a small community of friends who don’t talk about the horrors of the day. We write about them, if we must, but for the most part, we’re pretty determined to write about the worlds that live in imagination or the silver linings we’ve found and want to share. We don’t just trade links and outrage and mutual despair. We trade links to say, “Hey, I made this thing. Come lookit!” like excited nine year olds. Because we’re starting to feel energized and creative, and having fun with that, again.