On Writing For Medium

How To Find Your Voice and Become a Superb Writer

Save your work, then step back and preview it. Periodically, as I am going along, I “listen” to what I have written. This ensures it still sounds like “me”, that it flows and represents the way I want my story to come across. –Enrique Fiallo

This is a crucial step, and given today’s fast-paced cyberspace, perhaps the hardest. I spend far too much time on social media, with the result that I feel pressured to respond to the latest Facebook post or Twitter tweet and so most of my responses are flippant, with no real thought behind them.

But Medium is different. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’m different when I’m in Medium. I like to think it’s because my visits here have taken on a somewhat ritualistic flavor: I spend time brewing a fresh cup of tea (using whole leaf tea, naturally) and engaging in deep-breathing exercises while it brews.

I then sit down with my mug of tea and open the Medium app, usually on my iPhone. I peruse (yes I do know what the word means) article titles, and click on ones that seem interesting. Sometimes – as in this case – I’m prompted? inspired? to write a response.

But this isn’t Facebook and it’s not Twitter. This is Medium, and I don’t want to come across as some young smart-ass punk (can I even be that at 67 years of age?), and so I do my best to respond in a deliberate and thoughtful voice. (I save my smart-assery for my blogs.)

Once I’ve finished my response I then go over it, making sure it is coherent and consistent. I delete a comma here and add one there, change a word to one that makes more sense or gives more clarity.

Above all, I want to communicate clearly, and if doing so requires me to break some arbitrary rule of grammar, so be it.

After, it’s my voice.

An Open Letter to H.P. Lovecraft

And Anyone Else Who Thinks They Know the Rules of Writing

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

Do you mind if I call you Herb? That is, after all, your name: Herbert Phillips Lovecraft.

Anyway, Herb, I tried your advice about writing at night, and it sucked. See, I’m a morning person. Always have been, always will be. I guess it’s just encoded in my genes that I’m at my most productive around 8 in the morning.

But just for shits & giggles, I tried your way — and gave up after 3 days. First, I could barely stay awake past 10 pm. Second, I still woke up at 8 the next morning, even after forcing myself to stay up until midnight — when I was far too tired to even have an idea, much less write it down.

The about writing is this, Herb: nobody can tell anyone else the “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Writing is communication, and the method is unique to all of us. I tried writing at night, and it doesn’t work for me. Does that mean I’m not a writer? Or — and this is, I suspect, more likely the truth — that I’m not a writer by your standards.

Here are some other ways I don’t write:

  1. With a quill pen, which I understand was once quite fashionable
  2. Standing up and leaning on my mantel
  3. With a typewriter
  4. With a pencil or a pen

All of these were once “rules” of writing for certain specific authors, and which have never worked for me. I grew up with typewriters, first manual and later electric. And while I used to love my IBM Selectric typewriter, and later, my IBM Displaywriter, I’m now perfectly content with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone.

The only hard and fast rule I have consistently adhered to for the past 50 years of writing was one taught by Dr. Louis Bittrich in my advance-placement college Freshman Composition class: “You can’t break the rules until you know them and understand why they’re there. Only then can you deliberately violate them, if it helps get your message across.”

So Herb, this is where you and I part company. I really love a lot of your work, but I’m afraid your opinion on writing at night will, for me, remain just that: an opinion. I tried it, it didn’t work, so I’m going back to writing in the morning, over a steaming mug of strong black tea.

Sincerely,

A Fan

I Do My Best Writing in the Morning

Or at least I think I do. After all, that’s when I get most of my ideas.

So I take one of those ideas and run with it. That way I’m sure not to lose the idea, which, as we all know about our own ideas, is earth-shakingly brilliant in every way. That is, after all, why we write, isn’t it?

But I’m not a complete slave to my habit, and so I’ve decided to try something new.

This morning I came across this passage from the master of horror and the bizarre, H. P. Lovecraft:

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.”

If I have one complaint with Lovecraft it’s this: I was living in Boston when I first read At The Mountains of Madness, and it took me a full week before I was able to venture back into the subway and streetcar tunnels.

But who am I to argue with genius?

So my new plan, which I’m going to try for at least a week (given that it’s going to play merry Hob with my sleep schedule) is this: any ideas I have in the morning I’ll jot down in a notebook and flesh out at night.

Of course, my issues with depression screw up my sleep anyway, so what have I got to lose?

Who Is The Muse of Writing?

Writers and romantic high-school boys often refer to their muse, or inspiration for writing. As near as I can tell, the two muses most appropriate for blog inspirations are Calliope (the Muse of epic poetry), Clio (the Muse of history), and Erato (the Muse of love poetry). Sometimes I can stretch it to include Thalia, the Muse of comedy. And it was Plato, the famous philosopher who declared Sappho to be the Tenth Muse. (Source)

But try as I might, I can’t find a muse of general writing or journaling. And forget about blogging! Mybe that’s because the ancient Greeks wrote their tales and journeys as epic poetry or history? Now there’s an interesting idea for a PhD thesis!

And I guess the Romans were too busy conquering the world to bother with muses of any kind. At least, I can’t find any. Which is strange, because the Roman pantheon pretty much mirrors the Greek, with only the names being different. Were they anticipating Jack Webb’s Dragnet by centuries? “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” At least, that’s what they claimed. I suspect it wasn’t so much to protect the innocent as it was to protect against lawsuits.

So why am I even interested in the nine Greek Muses at all? Because of a new writing tool I discovered yesterday.

TWORDS

From their site:

Twords nudges you to track your writing and establish clear goals for projects. Just set a target word count and fill up the bar!

This is the second day I’ve been using it, and I’m not sure I like it. This is what I’ve written there so far:

I’m going to write my next blog entry about TWORDS and how I’m using it to help me remember to write every day–even when I don’t think I have anything I want to write about.
I’m hoping this will help me do two things: write every day, and do it even when I can’t think of anything to write. Because that’s really what “writer’s block” is all about, isn’t it? An excuse to procrastinate,  to put off actually working?

500 Words

It seems like a lot. But in reality, it’s less than two single-spaced pages in any word processor, so it’s really almost nothing. And that makes me wonder: how many words is my average blog post? Should I add verbiage to pad them out to 500 words? Is that really being creative?

Or is it merely adding words to meet some arbitrary goal?

I just checked and my most recent blog post was almost 800 words, so maybe 500 is a reasonable goal, after all.

But here’s the thing: I’m finished saying what I have to say, and I’m only a little above 200 words. Maybe I’ll create an entirely new post for the blog, and use that to add to my daily word count here.

Back To The Muses

I thought with any luck, I’d be able to find a Muse I could beseech for assistance in figuring out what to write, but then I realized that was about as rational as praying to some non-existent deity to make me rich and famous.

In the end, I did what I always do, and called upon my own personal muses: hard work and perseverance.

They never let me down.

And for the record, that’s 565 words!

Blogging For Success

Recently on Pinterest there’s been a flurry of pins aimed at first-time or beginning bloggers. They all follow a theme: “You don’t know what you’re doing, so you’d better listen to me unless you want to be a failure.”

I get it. There are a lot of things I wish I knew when I first sat down to set pen to paper. (Well, actually, pixels to screen, but whatever.) But those things all had to do with the mechanics of creating a blog: finding the right host, picking a theme, figuring out the editor, and so on.

But far too many of the pins I mentioned have nothing to do with the logistics of running your blog and everything to do with your content.

And, of course, they all offer to sell you their book that promises instant fame, a successful blog, and to cure cancer all in one nifty little package. Just give us your money.

When I first looked into e-book publishing, I found a number of people selling books that promised to make you a successful self-published writer. But upon deeper examination, they all turned out to be a kit containing one e-book covering how to become a self-published writer. All you had to do was insert your own name as the author, and turn around and resell the kit to other people.

It said nothing about the process of writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, and finally submitting your work to either an agent or a publisher.

And that’s exactly what the Pinterest pins seem to be doing: telling you how to spend your money on a kit, then reselling it under your own name.

Advice vs. Advertising

Please don’t misunderstand me: advice is often warranted. I look for it myself when I’m stumped by a particular problem. But useful advice is different than advertising. You have to have an actual product before you start selling it.

In a way, it reminds me of the early days of micro-computing and the concept of vaporware; software that was advertised heavily in computer magazines and advance orders taken. If the ads generated enough interest to make the product viable, then—and only then—was work begun on actually creating the software. If not, any advance orders were refunded with a technobabble line of bull-crap meant to explain the failure of the program.

A Guaranteed Formula For Success

The best formula for guaranteeing your success as a blogger is realizing that there isn’t any guaranteed formula for success as a blogger.

As was once famously said of Shoeless Joe Jackson,

If you build it, he will come.

So start your blog. Check out the tools available to help you. Find the best platform for your specific needs. For example, I chose WordPress. And then write. Write every day. Write even when you have nothing to say. Even if you don’t publish it, you should still write every day until it becomes a habit. Write for a specific audience, if that’s what you want to do.

Or be like me: I just write about whatever comes to mind when I sit down at my laptop. (Well, okay—it’s usually my mobile phone.) Once I’m done, that’s when I decide my target audience and publish it to the appropriate blog. Yes, I have several blogs, depending on my mood and my intended audience.

Writing For Medium

Medium is different. There, I have only one audience I aim for: other writers. People who are serious about their own writing. Or at least serious enough to share it with a critical audience. (In this context, I define “critical” as:

Expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, or art.

“she never won the critical acclaim she sought”

synonyms: evaluative, analytical, interpretative, expository, explanatory

“a critical essay”

(of a published literary or musical text) incorporating a detailed and scholarly analysis and commentary.

“a critical edition of a Bach sonata”

involving the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

“professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking in their students”

When I publish on Medium, I know I’m opening myself up to criticism. But that’s what I’m looking for, what I’m hoping for. What do other writers—many of them professionals, and many of them far better writers than I am—think of what I have to say” of how I say it? How can I improve?

Because ultimately, that’s what it comes to in the end for me: I want to improve. I want to get better. Not for any possible fame or fortune, but simply to become the very best me I can become.