Some Brutally Honest Thoughts on Medium and Life
I’m scared to write this.
I’m scared because it’s not following my usual tried-and-true formula for my writing that I know works: inspirational quotes, skim-able paragraphs, personal development advice. I’m scared no one will read something new, something different from me.
This is the kind of article I wrote years ago, back when I was a no-name blogger with no readers and no money and basically no hope anyone would ever start reading my stuff. Back when “writing a book” and “making money from my work” were just dreams no one really believed, including me. Back when other bloggers with a couple hundred subscribers wouldn’t even bother responding to emails from a loser like me.
But I wanted to write this article anyways. Hopefully it helps you with your journey, and how to use tools like Medium to start living the life you want — instead of the drudgery you might be stuck in.
In the past 2 years, I went from no-name blogger to the world’s most-famous-most-recognizable-writer-on-the-Internet!
Kidding. But in that time, I’ve gained over 75,000+ new email subscribers. I got my first book deal. I’ve had millions of views for my work. I’ve been published in international magazines and some of the Internet’s biggest websites like CNBC, Business Insider, and Fast Company. I quit my 9–5 job and now work at home, 100% for myself, work I’m passionate about. It’s freaking amazing. I still can’t believe how incredible my life is sometimes. I thank God every day for this.
Because I know what it’s like to not have this. I worked in telemarketing for a long time. I remember researching the nearest blood banks I could give my plasma to in exchange for grocery money. I know what it’s like to wish for it every day with almost no hope. How many wanna-be bloggers with English degrees ever actually make it? Not many.
But it’s thanks to Medium that I’ve gotten the success I’ve had. Without this platform, I’d probably be back working another terrible desk job again, wishing I could be working from home, spending time with my family, helping people through my work.
Medium had been around for a while when I first back on back in 2017. There were a lot of big names I saw as the “masters of Medium” back then: Benjamin Hardy, Jon Westenberg, Thomas Oppong, etc. Their articles were amazing and mesmerizing and really made me believe change was possible, and I wanted to be just like them.
My wife and I had just moved to South Korea to teach English, and I desperately wanted to come back to America with a fully-formed “writing business” (whatever that meant). I didn’t want to go back to a salaried 9–5 desk job like my Great-Depression-era grandfather urged me to do (“Think of the job security!” Benefits!!”) I wanted to be making enough money to not go back to work.
So I started posting on this little site called Medium all the time. Before, I would post a few times a month on my blog, see what little views I had, and not publish again for months out of depression and frustration. But in Korea, I started publishing content almost every day. It was a really busy schedule — teaching and grading homework and navigating a new country — but desperation made me incredibly motivated. I consistently woke up at 5:00am before long-ass days school days just to write another article. I had an hour break in the afternoons, and I’d usually just walk over to Starbucks in the freezing cold, and work on another article. Write, write, write.
Miraculously, things started happening — I started getting on the “top 20 most popular Medium articles” lists pretty consistently. I remember one day, my wife and I were sitting in a Korean coffee shop when I saw that I had over 600 views in a single day, the most I’d ever, ever, ever had. I knew something was happening, something special. So I kept writing, kept publishing.
But then, heartbreaking disaster.
I had signed up for a writing course hosted by my favorite Medium writer. He was one of the most successful writers on the platform, and it’s not exaggerating to say I was a freakin’ disciple of his. My notebooks and journals were filled with quotes by him. I devoured his content, and wanted to be just like him. I practically wanted to be him, and my writing style was very influenced by his. So when his course came by, I jumped at the chance to spend hundreds of dollars to buy it.
In my eagerness and excitement, I had begun unintentionally plagiarizing this guy’s work. Not a lot — a line here, a quote there. It wasn’t out of malice or deceit; I basically worshipped the guy! I wanted to be just like him! I was quoting and citing him all the time in my work already. But a few times, I just didn’t. In my attempts to imitate his style, I began mimicking him a little too much.
Someone in the course called me out. I just wanted to say, I’ve been seeing some plagiarism and copying in here. I’m not going to name names, but unless this person comes forward, I’m going to say something soon, the ominous comment read.
Wow, sucks for that person, I remember thinking. I didn’t even realize they were talking about me!
The next day, I wake up and use the restroom, as I usually do. I’m sitting on the toilet, and I see a notification on my phone: my favorite Medium writer (the guy who made the course) sent me a personal message!! I was ecstatic. Even though I was undeniably, indisputably his #1 fan in the whole world, there were over a hundred students in the course, and I knew he had lots of customers just like me. Still, I couldn’t believe he had actually sent me a message!
But when I read the message…oh man. I still remember how stunned and horrified I felt.
I know you’ve been plagiarizing my work, it read. Something like that; That’s unacceptable. I don’t appreciate people stealing my work. We’ve decided to kick you out of the course.
That was it. Short and sweet. Final.
I remember enormous beads of sweat breaking out all along my forehead. My temperature spiked. I wanted to puke. I wanted to cry. Me, plagiarizing? Me? I’m your biggest fan! I would never do that! Not intentionally, at least! It’s all a huge misunderstanding!
But it was about to get worse.
I logged back in the course, intent on making a public apology for my oversight and tell everyone how sorry I was for making such a stupid mistake. But people had already beat me to it.
Hey, the copycat is named Anthony Moore! one comment read. My favorite Medium writer commented, too. Don’t worry, I spoke with him. We’re kicking him out.
My blood ran cold. I kept reading — it got worse.
Wow, that guy likes you so much, he practically wanted to BE you! the student mocked.
I know X) my hero wrote. They were laughing at me, making fun of me. Using my name. Telling the whole world I was a plagiarizer. That I was no good, that I didn’t deserve to be there.
I spent the rest of the day in stunned, somber silence. I couldn’t eat. I could barely concentrate. To have my hero, my hero, shit-talk me in front of the whole class, making fun of me and rejecting me…it was one of the worst days of my life.
Long story short — I talked to the guy, told him how sorry I was for my mistakes. We realized just how small of an issue it was — I went back and erased/cited the one-liners here and there I had stupidly copy-and-pasted without citing. He made a public apology to the group, telling everyone that it was a misunderstanding, that he had forgiven me and it was all some huge mistake. He even called me personally, which was nice. I appreciated that. We talked for a little. I told him how I felt, he apologized for his rash behavior. He told me he should have waited and figured things out before publicly ridiculing me. We ironed things out. I was grateful. I was back in the course.
But the damage was done. I had worshipped the ground this guy walked on — I read every article he ever wrote and bought every book/course he ever sold. I was his #1 fan. But after the whole incident, I didn’t really want anything to do with him. I finished the course, but I decided I’d stop reading his stuff. I couldn’t. There was no getting rid of that bad taste in my mouth. I had lost my hero, my role model, and it, well…it sucked. It really fucking sucked. It took a long time to let go of all the anger and resentment and hurt. Sometimes, it still bothers me if I think about it too much. But not often.
He went on to be a successful writer, and I’m happy for him, I really am. He helps a lot of people, and still has great content. I hope he gets even more success. He helped me become the writer I am today, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
But the whole incident helped me learn one major, valuable lesson — I was responsible for my own success. People weren’t always going to help me. They may even actively try to bring me down. But that was OK, I could still succeed anyway. I got a little wiser, a little less naive about writing. More mature, more focused. I couldn’t always rely on others to succeed, I couldn’t always use them as a crutch. I’d need to be able to make it on my own.
I finished the writing class as the #1 most successful writer in all the 100+ students. While everyone was busy trading likes/shares with others (“Clap my article, I’ll clap yours!!”), I busted my ass and just wrote really great content. I stopped reading their stuff, stopped trying to game the system, stopped trying to find shortcuts to the top like they were doing. With a huge chip on my shoulder, I have to admit: I checked every single fucking writer’s stats by the end of the course — I had more readers, more followers, and more income than any other student, the the same students that had joined in my ridicule. A little petty, I admit (but I learned how powerful a chip on your shoulder can be!).
With renewed energy and drive, I dove into books on sales, marketing, and online product creation. Through heartbreak and disaster, I had evolved. In our cramped little apartment in South Korea, I recorded my first online course while my wife silently watched Netflix on the bed next to me. I invested in myself, buying expensive, legitimate online tools like email software, online course tools, and video editing tools. I read a book a week. I still remember when I made my first sale — the $27 came through as the first passive income I had ever made. $27, just for sitting on my ass! $27! You could buy a t-shirt with that money! I could buy us a cheap dinner! Holy shit!
That night after my first sale, I remember putting on all my warm weather clothes and biking to a Korean convenience store, buying a tall can of hard apple cider, and biking to the Taewa river, parking my bike, opening my drink, and just freaking marveling that I had made money. That I was getting over 1,000+ views/day from my writing. That all those blogs I had been guest-pitching for years with no luck were reaching out to me asking if they could repost an article I wrote. It was fucking nuts.
Soon after, I was approached by a book publisher offering me my first book deal. A book deal, with a contract and everything. They approached me! An international magazine asked to repost an article, and pasted my work a few pages away from an interview with freakin’ Matthew Mcconaughey! (That’s how you know you’ve made it, by the way.)
A year before, I had nothing. Bloggers with 500 followers wouldn’t even give an amateur like me the time of day. (That was so hard — I still respond to every single email I get because I don’t want anyone to feel as bad as I did back then). But thanks to Medium — where I had gotten all my readers, sales, and publicity — I was making a real, actual business that could pay the bills. I was making real money from my writing. “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented,” Stephen King once wrote. Woohoo! I was talented now!!
I came back to America with high hopes — I had just finished making a large online course on writing that I was charging $500/student for. People were buying it! I made about 10 sales in the first month back from Korea. We’re going to a nice dinner tonight, babe! I’d tell my wife.
But I wasn’t ready for the inconsistency, the unstable nature of working for yourself. The second month back home, I only made about $1200 — my wife wasn’t working, my income was our only money. Panic set in. Holy crap, I’d think at night, lying in bed, stewing in anxiety. What if this doesn’t work? Do I have to go back to a desk job? I was angry, upset, confused, frustrated. This was hard — harder than I was expecting.
The thing about making your living as a writer is that you’re never really “off.” You have to be disciplined — otherwise, you’ll always be spinning your wheels and be stuck in the “always-working-but-never-working” paradox. I was there for a long time. I still am sometimes!
What helped was building relationships with people who knew what I was going through. I spent a lot of time connecting with people like Tom Kuegler and Tim Denning and Tiffany Sun and Michael Thompson, people who knew Medium and how tough it could be. I’ve found that you’ll never make it without these people — if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with people.
That first year was rough — crazy inconsistency. I’d make $5,000 in a month, then less than a thousand the next. Up and down. I also felt like Chandler from Friends — no one really knew what I did. So, you blog? And make money? How? Medium? What’s that, an app? Wait, so how do you make money? It took more discipline than commuting to a suit-and-tie 9–5 corporate job, because no one was keeping me accountable but me. If I screwed around, we wouldn’t make money that month. More discipline meant more freedom. I think a lot of people get into this game thinking they’re going to be working less than before — you’re going to need to work more than ever if you want to succeed on Medium, or being a writer of any kind.
Which brings me to Medium.
Some Thoughts on Medium
Medium’s great. Aside from high-level columns on Forbes/Huffington Post/The New Yorker or something, Medium is the best place to write online. It has a built-in audience, it’s basically free, and they pay you for your work!
But as my friend Tim Denning recently told me: don’t trust any social media platform ever. I agreed. If you put all your eggs in a basket like Facebook or Instagram or Medium, what happens if they change their algorithm and suddenly you have nothing? (And they will change their algorithm). Medium’s great, but it’s not here forever. They could boot me at any time for any reason. I’m not mad at that, that’s just how it works. I don’t own the platform. I’ve invested heavily here, but I understand the situation.
That’s why I’m so focused on building my email list — something I do control. That’s how I can make so much money — through webinars, books and eBooks, online courses, coaching, affiliate links, and all kind of other income streams — that’s something I can control. If Medium booted me today, no problem; I could survive because I still have tens of thousands of subscribers who read my email every week.
If you want to become a successful Medium writer, I’d still say invest heavily in the platform. Post a ton of content here. Learn the tools — publications, tags, editing/formatting, build relationships with other Medium writers. Learn the business of writing, and get paid while you do it through the Medium Partner Program. Just don’t trust Medium will always be there for you. They won’t. It’s not personal — it’s just how it works.
I’m in this for the long haul, and that means my work has to be great. It can’t be all viral headlines and sensational clickbait (things I’ve been accused of), it has to have depth, to have meaning that will truly help a reader. Here’s what the Do You Even Blog podcast said about my work one time:
Anthony has taken a strong lesson from Buzzfeed and Upworthy:
“Why Most People Will Never Have Great Relationships”
“How to Consistently Accomplish 100x More Results With 1/10th Your Usual Effort”
“How to Be an Irresistible Conversationalist and Make People Laugh More”
But clickbait is only clickbait when the content doesn’t deliver as promised.
Anthony stuff is engaging and useful. Pair that with click-worthy headlines and you’ve got–well, something good.
I’ve learned both — great headlines that get clicks and deep, meaningful content to back it up. You need both, and you need to become a student of the game to learn both.
If you want to be an overnight success on Medium, you might do it — you might even make a couple thousand bucks in one month! (Medium’s a place where that’s even possible).
But all those writers are just a flash in the pan. They’re temporary. In 6 months, no one will even remember them. They’ll be back to making no money in no time.
So study the game. Learn from the experts. Invest in yourself.
Without doing that, I’d be just another blogger with a horrible desk job, like I was for nearly 5 freaking years before I finally started getting it right.
Anyways. Thanks for reading. Thanks for subscribing, for liking my content, for sending me personal messages about how my work’s helped you out. To say I have a “pretty good life” is one of the biggest understatements I can make — I have a freaking incredible life. My life’s so good, I don’t even know how good it is.
It’s all because of you, and people like you who read my stuff. So, from the bottom of my heart — thank you. I hope this helped.