The Wander Notebook

A personal journey of lifelong learning, sharing resources, creating things, and trying to be better.

Tag: Editing

How-to Improve Your Medium Game in 2018!

Desk NotebookSource


Making Better Content & Reaching More People

Summary: The beginner on Medium must know that there are three things essential to a good piece of writing: 1) Purpose. 2) Visuals. 3) Community.


The new year has just arrived, how exciting! My very first post on Medium was about the New Year, and I also wrote out my Resolutions for 2017. However — after two years of writing on Medium, I wanted to instead focus on helping others with tips and tricks I’ve come across and have found helpful.

Despite Medium’s minimalist design, it can still be a bit overwhelming to dive right in. If anything, the fact that there’s only a blank page in front of you just makes things even more daunting!

There are a number of factors that you have to consider when you go from a blank sheet of paper to a finished product that deserves to be published. I’ve already detailed my personal writing process, so in this article I’ll be focusing more on the specifics of writing and publishing on Medium.

I’ve found that there are universal rules for good online writing, and they can be summarized as such: Starting out with a clear purpose and idea, followed by executing that idea well and making the work visually appealing, and finally, taking the time to reach out to the community at large. I’ll be going through each of these separately, as well as giving examples of using them within the article itself! (A little meta, right?)


Purpose: Starting with Meaning

If you begin writing with meaningful purpose then you’re already ahead. Bad writing isn’t caused by having a bad idea — it’s caused by having no idea. Starting with a plan is easier than jumping right in, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.


Consider the audience. More than anything, a good writing plan involves empathy. You have to be able to step out of your own shoes and figure out why other people would spend their time reading your work.

You should also note that you can’t appease everybody, and trying to write for the lowest common denominator also ends up with rubbish. Get specific about the demographics you’re looking to write for.

Solve a problem. When you figure out your audience, you can then figure out what they’d be interested in reading — or you can make an educated guess, at the very least. What’s a solution you’ve found that you’d think others would benefit from knowing? Don’t be afraid to take time to research in order to create something that’s truly informative and entertaining — this gives you a cutting edge when so many others are simply rehashing what’s already been said.

Craft a thesis. Once the audience and subsequent topic are figured out, next is the task of writing your own article on the matter. It’s seriously easy to get caught up in any sort of topic and end up with a list of a million ideas to write about and get overwhelmed once again. The trick to avoiding this is to limit the scope of the article to a thesis idea you can summarize in a single sentence. For instance, the one I used for this article is at the very top of it!

Focus on keywords (tags). This sounds like a marketing suggestion, but it’s much more than that. Similarly to crafting a thesis, being mindful about the associated keywords of an article can help specify the scope and help you focus on what needs to be written. While Medium does allow you to choose up to five tags per article, I suggest narrowing the focus to just two or three, and then filling in the rest with whatever ends up being written.


Visuals: Make Pretty Things!

When it comes to how your writing is displayed — visuals are both irrelevant and the most important part. You’d think with the limited number of options that Medium has for presentation that this would be a walk in the park — but it’s far from it!

The Writing Itself

Before anything else, the writing must be formatted correctly. No matter how good an idea is, it will never go anywhere beyond your brain if you can’t communicate it.

Let the words breathe. Whitespace is your friend — break up paragraphs and sections liberally. Have a varying amount of words in each sentence. Use bold and italic styling when it’s helpful.

When it comes to more technical advice, it’s far more wise to refer to one of many well-established style guides— and then be consistent with it.

Beginnings are Everything

Nothing is more important than what’s at the top of your post. The title, subtitle, and introductory paragraph are going to either make or break the interest of any potential readers. Make it as interestingly honest as possible.

Don’t make an initial promise you can’t keep — you’ll get clicks but end up with no reads and a reputation for misleading people. In fact, don’t make any promises at all. Be upfront and state explicitly what you’re article entails from the beginning. If people are interested in reading on that topic, then they will. And if they aren’t, then there isn’t any point to trick them into doing so.

Images

Having visuals is incredibly helpful when trying to draw readers in. A large header image at the beginning of the article will usually suffice — but there’s more that can be done! It’s easy to get creative with the limited options that Medium gives you.

For instance, I use custom designs for my separators in my articles as opposed to Medium’s default ones. I then pair these designs with a free typeface called Amatic SC from Google Fonts that I think matches it well. You can see examples of this at the bottom and top of the article! If you consistenly use the same designs and custom fonts in your work on Medium, it can really help boost your personal branding.

TIP: A cool and obscure feature on Medium is the ability to hyperlink images directly. This is done by clicking on the image to focus it, then using the shortcut ctrl+k (or cmd+k). This is a simple yet powerful way to utilize visuals as ways of directing people elsewhere beyond the article you’re working on.

Footnotes & Citations

If you’d like to get advanced with your work, don’t hesitate to create a footnotes section at the bottom. It’s easy to use a superscript generator¹ in order to improve the readability of your articles by removing hyperlinks altogether. However, this is more of a personal preference.

[1]: https://lingojam.com/SuperscriptGenerator

TIP: When you’re pulling a whole bunch of different sources and images, it can get a little confusing. You may need to write-in placeholders while you work on something else. Medium little-known feature known as TK², where if you write TK anywhere in a paragraph, there will be a little indicator on the left-hand side of your article that the section needs additional content added before publishing.

[2]: TK is a publishing abbreviation used as a placeholder in editing to mark information not yet included in a document, which is “to come.”



Community: Building Good Things Together!

More than anything else, the simplest way of finding readers that are sincerely interested in what you create is this: That you, yourself, must become sincerely interested in what others have to say.

The Tag Method

Each day, there are a multitude of tags that have a spectacular amount of great content created by new, unknown voices. The current Algorithm™ might try it’s best to show you the best on your front page, but that’s often work by people you already follow and other viral stories.

In order to actually find new stuff, this is what I suggest: Take a daily search through the latest of whatever tags you find the most interesting. 
 — For Example: https://Medium.com/tag/writing/latest
Just replace ‘writing’ with whatever other tag you want to search with. This will display an unfiltered list of the newest content of the specified tag.

Now, because this is not curated, there will most likely be a lot of spam and junk you’ll have to sift through in order to find the diamonds in the rough. But trust me — it’s worth it. I’ve found a lot of really great writers and work this way.

The Beauty of the RE:

When I find a good article, the place I go right after reading it is the response section. An exciting and under-utilized aspect of Medium is having the capability to create full-length article responses.

Short and positive comments are nice to get — especially on something you’ve work a long time on — but nothing solidifies your position as a writer more than getting into the weeds about different viewpoints. Don’t be shy about having a differing opinion and starting a dialogue with the author — just make sure that you can back up your position!

Another good way to reach out to other writers is by paying them homage. For instance, one of my own works that I’m most proud of (Zen of Housekeeping) was inspired by a piece by Josh Spilker. Again, don’t be afraid of creating a response to somebody else, regardless of if it’s positive or constructive criticism.

Reaching Out to Publications

A popular method of finding new readership is by publishing your articles in an already established publication. But how do you get involved with a publication?

Well, a good place to get started is a little secret weapon that I’ve discovered — it’s called Smedian, a community of Medium writers and editors. Once you sign-up and link your account, you can request to become a writer for any number of publications that are currently connected to Smedian.

For more information on publications, I highly suggest you check out an article written by Mateja Klaric titled: How to Get Published in Publications: The Beginner’s Guide to Medium #1.


SUMMARY:

  1. Start writing with a strong purpose. Consider the audience before anything else. Brainstorm ideas that you can research that this audience would be interested in reading about, that are both informative and entertaining. Narrow the scope of the article by crafting a thesis and focusing only on a few keywords.
  2. Get creative with the visuals. Use or create a style guide for the technical stuff. Carefully write an interesting and honest introduction. Experiment with different images, diagrams, and fonts. Utilize footnotes and citations when working on larger, more technical writing. Stand out from the crowd.
  3. Become involved with the Medium community. Go out of your way to search for stories from new and obscure writers. Take the time to write long, thought-out responses to articles that changed your perspective or that you disagree with. Reach out to publications when you feel ready.

Thanks for Reading!

Helping each other write better.

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My Writing Process

Antique BlankSource

Five Steps to Go From Brainstorming to Completed Work

Let’s get down to the bare bones to start with: Prepare yourself and focus. Brainstorm and allow yourself to have bad ideas. Outline a thesis. Draft and edit. Cut the non-essential. Now, let’s expand on these ideas…

Today is the third day of November. For some of the day, I’ve been trying to craft a new article to publish. For the large majority though, I’ve just been trying to find new and creative ways to procrastinate!

The first day I wrote about how I’m rebelling against NaNoWriMo this year. Yesterday, I wrote about why I write — a bit of the philosophical and bigger-picture sort of thinking.

Today, I thought I might as well keep on the same topic and talk about the how I write. To detail how exactly to go from a simple and disorderly idea to a completed and coherent article.

There are many steps to this process — from brainstorms to an outline, from drafting to revisions, until you have something publishable.

An Aside: GOOD WRITING?

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” 
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writing is a mysterious and elusive artform. Whether it’s technical, creative, or copy — good writing contains something that cannot be taught. A balance needs to be struck between the formless idea and the formulaic structure.

The idea — the actual content — needs to be exciting and novel. But if the presentation — the display and perception of that content — isn’t also good, then the idea will largely be lost. Yet, if the idea is lacking, then no amount of amazing presentation can salvage it.

1. PREPARATION: Focus

“A winning effort begins with preparation.” 
— Joe Gibbs

Distraction is the worst offender for writing that’s never completed — and often times writing that isn’t even started. Identify and eliminate potential distractions before you begin. Ensure you don’t allow yourself to procrastinate by dealing with them when they arrive.

Be relaxed. Don’t plunge into writing if you’re stressed about a million other things. If you really want to churn out two-thousand words in a single sitting, it has to be your number one priority. Stress also negatively impacts your physical and mental health, which are vital as well. So stay hydrated — have a water bottle handy while you write.

Take a look at your surroundings — create a private workspace. Have music that you enjoy but won’t distract you. I personally love certain background noise, Noisli has a ton of different options. Nearby plants are also always a bonus, and studies have shown they increase happiness and productivity!

Communicate your availability to others before you get into the deep work of writing. Have a do-not-disturb sign, send out an e-mail or mark on your calendar that you’ll be unavailable.

Unplug and disconnect. The research phase of writing is the only time you should be using the Internet. Use an offline word processor, or write by hand. Keep things more traditional — for linguistics, have a dictionary and thesaurus on hand.


2. BRAINSTORM: Bad Ideas > No Ideas.

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.”
— Linus Pauling

Go on an idea sprint. If a good idea is key to good writing, how do you obtain good ideas? Perseverance. Set up a specific time each day and set a timer, force yourself to come up with a dozen unique ideas. Some are going to be bad. Most are going to be bad. But a bad idea is far better than no idea at all. You can still work with a bad idea. You can still write about a bad idea.

Find novel stimuli for yourself. Brainstorming is a mental muscle. No great writer waited for a mystic surge of inspiration before beginning. There needs to be an active search for it. Write in different places and environments. Write about topics you’ve never written about before.

Seek inspiration elsewhere. Look at what other people are blogging about. Don’t be afraid to use their work as inspiration — they’ll take it as a compliment. I came up with the idea of one of my favorite articles from reading someone else’s. Use prompts and 30-day challenges. The main point is to just get the ball rolling — a good idea is far more likely to appear if the canvas isn’t blank.


3. OUTLINE: Craft a Thesis

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 
―Abraham Lincoln

Outline first. Once you’re satisfied with the idea you’re going to be working with, it might be tempting to plunge right into writing by the seat of your pants. However, this will only create more work in the future. Having an outline written will save you time.You won’t be constantly second-guessing yourself — and more importantly, losing focus on the topic at-hand.

Craft the main thesis. Make it abundantly clear to the readers what that thesis is. Then, start carving out different sections, which can then be broken down further into paragraphs. Determine your supporting content — what will help you get your main point across.

Set goals. Take a moment to decide who your ideal audience is. What are they gaining by your writing? The key to goal-setting in writing is relevancy — how will what you create be relevant to others? Take note of what feelings you think your work should invoke.


4. DRAFTING & EDITING

“An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site.” 
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Write inside-out. Don’t try to write the introduction first, it’s always the hardest part. Instead, go through your outline and pick the section you’d think would be easiest to write, and keep going from there.

Write in sprints — set a timer and don’t stop writing until it ends. Don’t sweat about grammar, spelling, or word-choice. Try to write about one concept per sprint.

Try out different headlines. Your work should drive the headlines you use, not the other way around. They shouldn’t hold up the rest of the writing, either. They don’t have to be perfect, and you might want to change them after publishing. Avoid trying to linger titles in mystery or fear-mongering — people have options, not time. Any headline you use should be able to stand on its own, though, in case it gets pulled to another website.

Make what you’re writing clear — clean up the mud and muck. Group ideas logically. Don’t use two words when one will do — there’s no reason to bloat your work for the word count. Use the active voice as much as possible, and subsequently avoid using the passive voice. Avoid clichés and any other boring or overused language.

The reader is not an algorithm. Don’t try to game the system with writing that exploits search-engine optimization or any other such nonsense.

Organize and edit first, then proofread. A good proofreading trick is to read the entire thing out-loud. A good spell-checking trick is to read the entire thing backwards.

Edit, edit, edit. When editing, don’t try to attempt to do an entire rewrite, instead, do a high-level editorial. Improve without restructuring.

Be mindful of the ending. The conclusion should invite an interaction with the reader. The internet empowers an open and free line of communication between the reader and the writer. Or, point them to other helpful resources.

Review a few more times, just in case. Asking peers for their feedback is always a great idea as well. Then, utilize grammar tools. I personally enjoy using the Hemingway application, but take its suggestions with a grain of salt. Applications and spell-checkers never catch 100% of errors made, anyways.


5. CHOPPING: Be Ruthless

“Less is more.” 
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The Internet is chock-full of information. It is also already full of people that want their voices to be heard, and their content to be seen. There has never been such a greater amount of salesmen as there are right now in front of your screen. Everybody is trying to sell something — we live in capitalistic society, after all.

Five-second rule. It takes roughly 2-to-6 seconds to convince a person to stay once they’ve started reading. That’s it. Have something incredible within that incredibly short window of time. Put the most important and interesting information first. Remove long introductions, word-heavy descriptions, and any other purple prose.

Craft the first paragraph carefully. Because people decide if they’re going to read something so quickly, the first paragraph is the most important one. The reader needs to be drawn in. Ask a question, and then answer somewhere else in the post. Be fearless of the controversial, and state something bold. Note an interesting fact or statistic (with proper reference, of course).

Make work scannable, too. Most people don’t begin reading until they’ve skimmed or scrolled. Use plenty of headings, and bullet-point lists.

Whitespace is your best friend. Too much text strains the eye. Watch out for wordy sentences, or lengthy paragraphs, or too many paragraphs without some sort of break.

Be clear and concise. Functional and pragmatic. Distill your message into the smallest amount of words possible. Short is memorable. If it’s easy to digest, it’s easy to share.

Be ruthless. After your first draft is complete, take a pause. Then, return and cut the word count in half.


Current Word Count: 5,165

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