How to be a Freelance Writer on Medium in 2021

Guo Zhenhao
5 min readJan 1, 2021

That’s the question I asked myself on the way home after a day in the office. For me, running a side gig has always been somewhat of a pipe dream. While I relished the idea of earning extra bucks while doing something enjoyable, trying to maintain some semblance of life balance while also setting aside time to consistently grow a side hustle always seemed like a pretty tall order.

This Isn’t a Listicle or an Instructional

This is just me, a final year undergraduate hoping that my minimal copywriting experience can somehow transform after-work musings into something worth reading. My manager had suggested writing on Medium to provide backlinks to our website. After a flurry of proposals, I managed to get a modest content pipeline going.

I liked the way that pipeline flowed. It brought me down the rabbit hole of modern day blogs that stayed faithful to good old-fashioned writing. With all the fuss over SEO nowadays, I found myself writing for the non-sentient algorithm rather than people more often than not. But blogs like Waitbutwhy and The Woke Salaryman helped me internalise a phrase often touted by marketers: content is king. More importantly, these blogs helped me rediscover my love for reading.

Of course, those blogs are maintained by professionals who have been writing for years, even decades. I’m not delusional enough to believe that I’ll reach anywhere near the viewership that they’ve amassed nor any substantial income from writing on Medium. What I do hope for, is to create content that people might not have thought they wanted to read. Kind of like the stuff you find yourself searching for on YouTube at 3am just because it popped into your head.

Writing Under Different Rules

All four of my anxieties accusing me of not writing | Meme from Wikipedia

Consistency is key to keep content pipelines flowing, The thing is, between a dozen half-finished language exercise books and a guitar that’s collecting dust, I have my fair share of unfinished projects. Writing with healthy pressure from an appropriate number of deadlines and the assurance of monthly allowance is one thing. Writing on your own with no end in sight feels like it’s going to be a whole other ball game. But I’d like to think that I’m just playing under different rules rather poorer circumstances.

Writing Without an Editor

At the workplace, there’s always at least one extra pair of eyes that will look through my work before it goes live. This has a few implications. Firstly, I can probably afford to be less tight with the first draft and before giving it a thorough scrutiny after content has been finalised. This filter also allows me to somewhat distance myself from work that I produce, simply because it is not entirely written by me.

So while writing in my own capacity means that I get full creative freedom, it also means that I’ll bear the full brunt of whatever criticism my work receives. Criticism will come, regardless of whether or not it is constructive, valid, or welcome. Now that I think about it, something tells me that thicker skin is a prerequisite to becoming a freelance writer on Medium.

Writing Without Paid Software and Databases

Taken from Samsung Galaxy Note 9, sent to Google Drive, and compressed on tinypng.com

One thing I love about writing in-house is access to ‘writer’s toys’. It feels strange to write without Google Keyword Planner, Photoshop and Shutterstock on hand, like walking into an exam hall with a lousy pen you got at orientation. Sure the job gets done, but things don’t feel quite so nicely packaged.

I know that Medium’s WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) interface allows for easy access to royalty free images on Unsplash, but IMO, Shutterstock has a wider variety of photos that are more suited for articles. I guess there’s always the option of snapping photos on my old Samsung phone that’s been dropped a million times. Regardless, I’ll have to make do with what’s available.

Time

Writing just takes a lot longer than you would think — period | Photo by Lukas Blazek via Unsplash

I started typing this article at 11pm and it is now 1am in the morning. I can afford to do this during winter vacation, but between thousand word essays in college and endless OT in the future, I’m not sure if I can bring myself to sit on my butt for another 3–4 hours every week (at least!) to draft and edit. And that’s not even accounting for tons of miscellaneous SEO optimisation tweaks. Those hours eventually stack up.

Hopefully, inertia in the pipeline will build up to a point where it becomes easier to move things along. Alternatively, I could write several articles in advance and schedule them to give myself some buffer time. Maybe I’ll figure out the magic configuration to this two-pronged approach somewhere along the way.

Time is that it isn’t a factor in the absolute sense. It’s not so much about what I do with my time, but what other things I could be doing instead of shelling out a few hours every week to throw words into the internet. I do believe that I have a substantial reservoir of words to share, but perhaps I shall restrain myself for today and reserve those words for a future article.

So how does one become a freelancer writer on Medium? I don’t know, but I sure hope to find out.

Originally published at http://guozhenhao.wordpress.com on January 1, 2021.

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