Shadi Mirza


At least, this is how I did it.

Photo by Sharon Chen on Unsplash

It started with an idea for “broetry” on LinkedIn and ended with a 300-word story here on Medium about the time I ate hongeo. 

The character restrictions on LinkedIn meant the story had to be short. More importantly, I needed some thread connecting my experience to work life. LinkedIn, after all, is a professional networking site—not Facebook or Twitter—so I didn’t want followers thinking I was wasting their time.

I asked myself, what is the thread connecting the story of how I ate some truly vomit-inducing food to my professional successes? And I found it: in work, and life, I don’t shy away from uncomfortable experiences. Rather I dive right in.

After publication, the views started rolling in. Immediately, I thought, why not try it on Medium? At around 275 views and 10 likes, I saw the notification in my inbox: “You are now a Top Writer in Food.” Sick.

Here’s what I learned from the process:

1. Start small.

Unless you’re bringing a large following with you from your personal blog, or are already an influencer in your field, you probably aren’t going to crush it in a big category like “Productivity,” “Life Lessons” or “Writing.” You need killer content, followers and an almost preternatural ability to network.

I have less than 300 followers, and, clearly, Food isn’t a huge nut to crack if it can be done with less than 1K views (305, as of this writing). I have no illusions about what a relatively minuscule accomplishment this was. But I’m still going to celebrate the crap out of it.

2. Stop worrying about length.

I’ve obsessed with going viral on Medium to an almost unhealthy degree. I’ve read articles positing that longer is better when it comes to the length of your stories on Medium. Two-minute reads. Seven-minute reads. Heck, I’ve written 1,000-word screeds on the art of writing, only to see them die on the vine.

I got Top Writer with just 300 words. The lesson is this: stop fixating on making your blog posts a specific length. Write until you’ve exhausted your interest in the topic. Then, call it good because chances are if you keep writing long after your passion for your post has waned, your reader will know it. You can pop off and go loco once you’ve built a massive following.

3. Write cool shit.

Aside from length, several other clear traits probably contributed to the slight popularity of my story:   – A quote that hints, right at the outset, exactly what my story promises – A narrative, based on a very specific personal experience, about an obscure and interesting topic – A clear moral laid out at the very end

Don’t write what everyone else is writing. By that, I don’t mean you can’t tackle the same themes because there are certain ideas that do very well on Medium. But package them in a story that only you can tell. 

How many of us can claim to have sold all their shit, moved to South Korea and eaten skate that has been left to ferment with some straw?

4. Build your readership organically.

Yeah, you will get an audience by maxing out the number of people you can follow every day. It works—to an extent. But I prefer the slow burn. Write stories people connect with and, eventually, they’ll follow you to get more of your writing on their home page.

I write every day, and support fellow writers just as often. So, I see at least one or two new followers when I wake up every morning. It could be done faster, but at least I know the people following me actually enjoy what I’m putting out there and aren’t following me out of a misguided sense that they need to reciprocate my following of them.

Oh, and if you’re one of the 305 readers who supported my story about hongeo over on Medium, you helped me earn enough for an expensive coffee at Starbucks. Thanks a latte!

#writing #blogging #Medium

Because what is it they do exactly?

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Oh, you’re an English major—you must be really good with punctuation and stuff,” I’d be up to my elbows in Venti Iced Soy Lattes. But give me that same amount any time someone made the assumption that I must write well because, gosh, I’m a copywriter, and I could retire early. Here’s the thing that bugs me about that:

As a copywriter, my currency isn’t words, it’s ideas.

Yeah, I know how to craft sentences that grab you by the eyeballs. They’re also grammatically correct 99% of the time (copyeditors, I love you). Anyone can write well, though. Heck, there are brand managers on my team who can put together a mean sentence. My bread and butter—the reason I get paid—is this innate ability to take the same idea and present it 100 different ways.

More than someone who plies words for a living, I am a creative. And this is my life.

8:30 AM (ish)

I roll into the office shortly after dropping my daughter off at her Montessori school—unless traffic on the AZ-51 is garbage (which it usually is). Then it’s like 8:40. The very first thing I do, before I even lay a hand on my laptop, is brew up a cup of coffee.

Listen, I’m sure there are people who can write volumes without letting a drop of magic bean water pass their lips. But I don’t know them personally, so they may as well be dead to me. And don’t come at me with that weak-ass powdered creamer action. I like my cup of joe how I like my magic. Black.  Anyway, coffee on my desk, I can finally get to work.

8:45 AM

You know what? Java has a tendency to shoot right through you. So I hit the head to do what I need to do, obsess over my Medium stats page and see how many bots followed me on Twitter. Because why celebrate having more than 200 followers when you can gnash your fingernails worrying how many of them are Russian propaganda accounts?

I digress. Cracking my knuckles, I place my fingers on the home row of my keyboard and wait for the magic to happen.

9:00 AM

But, first, I pause for a stand-up meeting. It’s a well-known fact that the only thing better than getting projects out the door is talking about which projects you’re trying to get out the door.

9:10 AM

Phew. Let’s do this. No matter what I’m writing—an email, banner ad or Facebook post, among other things—it all starts with the headline. So I write a metric ton of those. 

I spend maybe three or four hours writing headlines, with full awareness that the majority are destined for the garbage bin. Why? Because writing complete trash is the only way you arrive at gold. You can see the final headlines out there on the web if your Google-Fu is strong enough. 

But writing many iterations of the same headline isn’t just part of my creative team’s process. It’s critical for another reason:

Often, the headline is my only shot at grabbing your attention.

Now, don’t take this to mean that the body of any marketing piece is an afterthought. It’s just that if I don’t put in the work to hook you on the front end, why bother with the rest?

11:00 AM

Well, that’s lunch. (Hey, I get up at 5 AM to exercise. Don’t judge me.) How’d my latest story on Medium do? Oh, man, double-digit views! Internet fame and fortune, here I come. Should I start locking my posts now? My next story’s going viral—I just know it.

11:30 AM

Yawn. What time is it? Lord knows I’m not writing any more words unless I get another cup of coffee. 

11:35 AM

When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back. What’s another word for “budget?” How many times can I get away with using “tuition” in the same paragraph? What would our legal department say about this? Maybe if I just stare at the computer screen long enough, I can crank out another 30 headlines.

1:05 PM

There is absolutely no way I’m cranking out another 30 of these. I’ve said everything that can be said. Out of the last 40 I sent my Associate Creative Director, maybe five were “working.”

Am I a fraud? 

Have I reached my creative peak? Is there nowhere I can go with my ideas but down into the dank pit of human misery and suffering that is, shudder, agency work? Should I pimp myself out on Fiverr like the copywriting equivalent of a dime-store streetwalker? No. I can do this.

2:26 PM

After another cup of coffee, I’ll be able to do this. Damn it, who drank the last of the coffee?

3:30 PM

You know, the funny thing about 3:30 is that it’s way closer to 5 PM than it is noon. So, when you think about it, the day is pretty much over. God, why does Apple Music insist on cramming genres I don’t like down my throat?

4:05 PM

Just how do you become an “influencer” on LinkedIn? Maybe if I just pretend I’m a hiring manager, I can write a bunch of inspirational stories about choosing the guy who didn’t have the best resumé, but showed a lot of pluck. 

Or, like, I’ll just write a couple of hundred words a day about how modern hiring practices are broken. Because, darn it, we can’t expect job candidates to pepper their applications with keywords. Not that complaining will help anyone get around modern hiring practices—but it sure will make people feel good.

Oh, snap, five more people followed me on Medium. How many of them are Russian bots? Is that even a thing?

5:00 PM

Whoop, whoop. The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll. Peace out, suckers.

#work #life #writing