Last month my phone started blowing up with Medium push notifications. New followers, claps, comments. All that brilliant social engagement stuff that all writers pretend not to care about, but most would secretly die for. I thought this was a bit odd as I hadn’t published anything since May. So I figured it would be merely a passing blip.
Sitting here at my computer one month on, my 15 minutes of low-level Medium fame seem to have lasted quite awhile longer. Not only has the trend of engagement continued—it has substantially increased. So I decided to do a little digging to find out which stories of mine readers are so drawn to, and why.
My most popular posts
Of my 17 stories published to Medium, there are two that have been receiving the most attention since August 1st. One on my struggles with anxiety and the other on how to write each day. The rest have virtually no views over that time.
“How to write each day, from someone who has tried and failed”, published in April, received only minimal engagement and readership until August. It is, admittedly, the type of story you see a lot of on Medium; read this and you will know how to become a prolific writer, etc.. Maybe I’m underselling it, I do think it is quite useful for people. Ironically, though, it was one of my last posts for months.
Similarly, “Stupid things people say to anxiety sufferers” received marginal engagement and readership compared to some of my older posts, but also heated up in August. This was the second in a series I started (and am still writing) on anxiety—and one of the pieces I’m most proud of to date. Even more so than “How to write each day…”, I’ve received positive comments and engagement from people all over the world; kind souls offering support and sharing their own struggles.
In the two months after publishing the aforementioned stories, I received a cumulative 750 views, 449 reads and 52 fans. In the past two months—during which I’ve published only one (wildly unpopular) post—I’ve tallied approximately 1.6k views, 1k reads and 140 fans. All metrics have more than doubled.
“How to write each day…” has garnered over 1.3k total views and just as many claps, while “Stupid things people say…” has received over 900 total views and around 600 claps. Both have also accrued far more money than anything else I’ve penned (although not enough to quit my job, unfortunately). The only other post I’ve ever published to get such traction was one that got 5k views for a major publication’s social-media blog, but they had over 30 million social media followers to leverage towards that number.
Surprisingly, this trend upwards doesn’t seem to be slowing — even as graduate school, work and life have prevented me from getting anything else (except this) written. So, what is causing this prolonged popularity for an otherwise absentee Medium scribe such as myself?
People want to relate
One common theme throughout both of these popular stories is relatability. Everyone, whether or not you’ve suffered from an anxiety disorder, can relate to feeling anxious or misunderstood at some point in their life. We have all experienced times in our lives when we wanted to speak and to be heard, but couldn’t. The anxiety post has provided an outlet for those who have read it; proof of this is the relatively high read-ratio, as well as the numerous positive and empathetic comments people left.
Furthermore, if you’re on Medium, chances are you’re here to write. Whether you fancy yourself as a future Pulitzer novelist or just an everyday blogger, we all want to beat back writer’s block and be more productive. This is, first and foremost, a community of writers. And as writers we can all relate to how difficult it can be at times to self-motivate.
Humans are aspirational
Aspiration can take many forms—but ultimately, it’s a concerted effort to attain happiness. Both articles speak to those who want happiness; one in the form of finding more writing success, the other in just trying to get back to a normal life.
All humans are driven by an aspiration for happiness, whether or not they’re aware of it. Sometimes it takes a prolonged case of writers block, career uncertainty or severe anxiety to remind us of this. The daily writing article (and the comments by readers) in particular speaks to how we all want to be successful in our endeavors, and how a lack of success can make us frustrated and unhappy.
You can go viral, too?
What can we learn from all this? Probably that there is no secret to going viral. No flashy title; no generic laptop-next-to-coffee-with-person-writing-in-journal cover image; no specific style. Most of it is just writing what you want to write — the rest is luck. There, I said it. This is something that most other Medium scribblers would never tell you, but it’s true. Maybe people will relate, maybe they won’t. But it cannot be forced. In any case, what is good and what is popular are not always the same thing.
So just do you, write good shit—and let everyone else chase engagement.