Leave it to writing on Medium to make you overanalyze every aspect of the writing process. We ponder the optimal publishing frequency, when to publish, and in what topics and publications.
How much is a clap worth? What other factors go into the mysterious weekly payments? How much does curation help, and how do I even get curated in the first place?
All of this thinking and all the questions that come with it boil down into one real query we’re desperately seeking an answer to: “how can I be as successful as possible on Medium?”
Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Everyone has different goals for using Medium. Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be “how can I use my time on Medium most efficiently?”
In this same vein, I’ve been thinking about how long it takes to write an article. This is a part of the process that I find goes largely unconsidered. Sure, we talk about how long posts should be — that 7 minutes is optimal to maximize read time, although an article should be as long as it needs to be and no longer — but not about the actual process of writing the article.
I’m not sure this would have been something to ever cross my mind had I not read from multiple writers here — ones more successful than I am — that they typically spend maybe 30 minutes to an hour on an article. And they don’t say this to brag — it’s just a matter-of-fact detail, which makes me believe it’s true, although it seems crazy.
My average article is roughly a 4–5 minute read, clocking in at around 1,000 words. I would estimate one of these pieces takes around two hours to write, although it could easily take three if it’s something a little longer or that requires more research.
You should be able to see why I was so surprised. Even if you go on the conservative side of the estimates I’ve seen and say that others take one hour to write an article, and I’m having a good day and finish in two, that’s still twice the time!
It’s pretty well known that the quantity of articles published plays a huge role in your earnings, as it gives you more chances to get curated and achieve success on such an unpredictable platform. If I finished each article in an hour and spent the same time writing as I do now, I could theoretically publish two or three times more frequently, and I’d be better off for it.
Unfortunately, that isn’t possible, and it speaks to why certain types of content perform better on Medium as a whole.
I am primarily a sportswriter. Always have been, always will be. Ideally, I’d like to make a career out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the analysis pieces that I write require time to require to perform research, check statistics and even gather my thoughts on how I feel about a particular issue.
For example, when I wrote last month about the NBA’s new coaches challenge rule, I had to first research the rule and then think about what the consequences of it might be just to form my main arguments. I find it very interesting, but it does take time.
Many of the most common types of articles you see on Medium — personal essays, reflections, and advice columns, for example, don’t require this extra work. I’m not by any means trying to delegitimize these categories — after all, it still takes a strong voice, quality writing, and good ideas to get through to readers — but the process is different.
These articles can be written faster, and provided you can come up with the ideas, you can write more of them. Because these pieces have a broader overall appeal and showcase more emotion, they tend to get more fans and claps, and all types of interaction.
Want to write about the things you’re really passionate about? That’s cool. Want to actually get somewhere? Pick the big categories and join the club.
So, as something of a test, that’s exactly what I’ve done. For about the first half of my Medium career, I wrote 100% of my articles about sports. Since then, it’s been roughly 50/50.
Out of the 50 pieces I have published, 14 of them have nothing to do with sports. Of my 10 articles with the most claps, these non-sports pieces (mostly focusing on personal essays and thoughts on writing) account for nine spots, including the entire top eight.
Guess what? I write them faster, put less thought into them, and make more money from them.
It’s funny that on a platform like Medium, which supposedly is anti-clickbait and where quality writing should be important over anything else, I could, in theory, dedicate myself to churning out low-effort content and do much better than I am currently.
I guess it comes back to a point I mentioned earlier, about everyone having different goals on Medium. If I wanted to, that could be my life. But why spend so much time on things I don’t even believe in? Unless I have something real to say, I should leave these categories to the talented people who write things that matter and have real followings because of it.
Maybe I’m making light of how difficult it actually is. I’m sure people in other categories work just as hard as I do. I shouldn’t worry about others or the numbers and instead focus on becoming a better writer, and a more efficient one.
I just can’t stand the feeling that I’m playing a losing game, where I’ve proven that other types of content will do better. So I’ve taken the first step, and written something of a personal essay/writing article here. The question is, have I spent too long on it?
Connor Groel is a writer who studies sport management at the University of Texas at Austin. He also serves as editor of the Top Level Sports publication on Medium, and the host of the Connor Groel Sports podcast. You can follow Connor on Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, and view his archives at toplevelsports.net.