Behind the scenes of my most-ever successful article (377k views)

Good morning Reader,

Fun fact: my most-ever successful article started as a newsletter I wrote in about an hour. Seriously. Here's the story -- and if you were here a year ago, you might remember it!

Around this time last year, I was getting fed up and annoyed with this one piece of advice I was seeing repeated everywhere:

"You need to be on [insert platform]!"

Insert platform was sometimes LinkedIn, sometimes TikTok, sometimes a newer platform like Threads. So I opened up my newsletter platform, ConvertKit, and fired off a long rant/post about my thoughts to my 6k email subscribers.

TL;DR: in the newsletter, I broke down why I disagree with this advice and why I think creators and especially writers should do the opposite. The punchline is that in my opinion, if you want to be a successful, good writer, pick one, maybe two platforms and stick to them.

The response I got was so overwhelming and humbling. So, so many readers took time out of their busy days to write me an email to say thanks for relieving them of the pressure of being everywhere online, or to share their thoughts, or to tell me they'd done the same thing and how it had worked out for them.

That was so cool. I love, love, love hearing from the people I'm writing to, and it made me feel like I'd hit on something interesting, novel, and valuable to more readers.

So I copied it, lightly edited it, and published it on Medium. I hoped for a positive response, but I was completely unprepared for the second overwhelming wave:

44k claps, over one thousand comments, and close to 400k views:

Isn't that amazing? The equivalent of the entire population of Salt Lake City, Utah read my article. Wild!

We're close to the anniversary of this post, so I wanted to share the behind-the-scenes of this story to illustrate a few writing truths.

  1. The best stories come from the heart.
  2. Testing ideas before committing to them is always a good idea.
  3. Medium's power is in the distribution potential.

Let's break down each one of those.

The best stories come from the heart

It's corny but it's true, so that's where we've got to start. This is a story that draws from my personal experience, my expertise as an online creator/writer, and it's something I feel really strongly about.

That combination of factors let me write something really good, really true, and that resonated with a wide audience of people. Plus it was fun, easy, and quick to write since I'd been mulling it over for so long in my head and I was so fired up about it.

So often, I see writers getting caught up in what I will call the creative cul-de-sac. Say I see my friend Sinem write something kickass, her article performs super well, I'm stumped for ideas, so I try to copy hers. copycat article flops because her article came from the heart and mine was a pale imitation. It sucks, but I don't realize that's the issue, so I keep copying other successful writers instead of finding something that works for me.

Writers get trapped in this comparison cycle, unsure why they're failing and continuing to try to copy another's style, voice, copic, or headline formula instead of just... writing from the heart.

That's not the only factor, of course -- successful writing has to speak to the target audience, come from personal experience, have a good title, etc, but none of that matters if you don't write from the heart.

Start there, and you can learn the rest as you go.

Testing ideas before committing to them is always a good idea.

In case you didn't know, ConvertKit has a nifty A/B testing feature:

You can run two subject line ideas and see which one performs better.

I often test article ideas this way. Not always using ConvertKit (although I love the A/B headline testing feature), but sometimes I'll run something by my mom, or a friend, or I'll post about it in one of my Discord or Slack writing groups.

I've seen writers do this using:

  • Peer groups.
  • Twitter/Twitter threads.
  • The other way around -- use Medium as a sounding board, then develop the idea more fully elsewhere.

It's a great way to suss out:

  • How interesting the idea is to other people. Do people care when you tell them, or do they change the subject?
  • How well you know the idea and have thought about it. Can you defend it to others? Have you fully fleshed out the concept in your head?
  • Good headline ideas, good topics to include or exclude, or how deep to go.

Test and develop ideas in one place, and post them somewhere else.

Medium's power is in the distribution potential.

I want to end by debunking a common misconception: a lot of people get hung up on trying to make $100/month on Medium, or a similar number. They see the potential of Medium as starting and ending with the Medium Partner Program. And they're wrong to do so.

Don't get me wrong: I love that so many people can write and earn on Medium. But to me, the power is in the distribution. The money is a bonus.

On what other platform can you post something without knowing anything about SEO, without needing a Wordpress website, without having built up a previous audience*, and have the potential to get such a response?

*Quick caveat: I did have 88k followers at the time of posting, but:

  1. The post reached far beyond those 88k followers.
  2. I'd built that following over 4 years, so many of those followers were no longer active Medium readers.
  3. You don't need a following to get a big hit. It helps. But it's not necessary.

Thanks to Medium's distribution algorithm, the Boost function, and publications, your story has the best possible chance to piggyback off an existing readership and bring you along for the ride.

Sure, you might go viral on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever. But specifically for writing long-form content, there's no better platform to reach a wide audience of interested readers who will genuinely care about your ideas and take the time to read and respond thoughtfully. That's what I love about Medium.

It can feel a bit like a rat race out there, can't it? There's this pressure to publish, post, and perform at a breakneck pace. I wanted to share this story for one final reason: it's OK to take your time and write thoughtfully rather than frequently.

That one article represented nearly half the views I got throughout the whole year. I received far more newsletter sign-ups, client outreaches, and reputational gain from that article than I did for any other that year. And I've found that as I slow down and spend more time picking impactful ideas to share, the better my writing career does.

There have been times that I've tried to publish twice per day on Medium, or create three YouTube videos per week. For me, that was unsustainable -- and worse, it was self-defeating. The more I wrote, the worse my ideas were, and the more poorly developed they were.

Thank goodness I wasn't getting a lot of reach back then. I think about a potential client reading those half-assed pieces and I cringe, honestly.

In short, it's better to spend time letting your good ideas gestate, pitching and refining them (either with a friend or on a test platform) and giving them the attention they deserve rather than just firing off a spaghetti cannon at the wall in the hopes of something sticking.

Happy writing,


P.S. If you read this far, you deserve to be rewarded! Here is a sweet pic of my cat snuggling with me. Thanks for reading.

I help beginners write online.

Want to share your story online but not sure how to start? I'm here to help. I cover the best writing platforms, how to grow your online audience, monetization options, and reviews of popular writing tools.

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