How I’ve Been Accepted on 9 Big Pubs in 3 Months Writing on Medium
The Startup, Towards Data Science, Mind Cafe, The Ascent, Be Yourself, and more
I hit publish for the first time 3 months ago. I had been reading medium for a few years already, but never thought I’d write anything here. I’ve always loved writing, but just my reflections and feelings; nothing worth enough to go public — or so I thought.
I started my career as an engineer. Soon, I realized I didn’t like it so I studied AI and landed a job at an AI startup. Then I took a master’s in cognitive neuroscience. I kept going from one place to another. In November 2020 I was fired. The pandemic took over my job. Suddenly I had an open window to explore the world of writing and blogging while I searched for another job.
I decided to give it a go on medium. I wrote an article about social anxiety and tried to get it onto some big pubs. I tried The Ascent, Mind Cafe, and Personal Growth (yep, I didn’t know how naive I was). All rejected the piece so I decided to publish it myself on the 22nd of December.
3 months later I’ve published 29 articles (27 curated). 19 of those have been published in big pubs:
The Startup (783K)
- 8 Behaviors to Avoid When Searching for a Job.
- 5 Powerful Reasons to Rethink What You Do For a Living.
Towards Data Science (573K)
The Ascent (163K)
- 5 Lessons I Learned While Studying Rocket Science.
- 10 Lessons Learned as the First Employee of an AI Startup.
- 3 Things to Focus on When You’re Looking for a Job in a New Field.
- Being Fired Taught Me an Evergreen Lesson about Taking Things For Granted.
Be Yourself (163K)
- Here’s Yet Another Reason to Read: The Most powerful Path to Be You.
- 7 Failures in Your 20s that Will Make You Ready for Adult Life.
Mind Cafe (131K)
- Who Told You to Be Successful?
- Three Truths to Help Set You Free From External Judgment.
- Habitual Acts of the Self-Compassionate.
- 4 Lessons I Learned by Changing Careers Twice in 4 Years.
- 4 Unexpected Features of Emotionally Intelligent People.
Invisible Illness (56K)
Data Driven Investor (46K)
- 13 Lessons from 5 Years of Self-Improvement.
- 7 Traits of Highly Likable People.
- Why the Most Important Relationship You’ll Have Is with Your Emotions.
Here are 10 things I do that led me to these results in 3 months:
I read many of the best writers here
I won’t tag any of them because they probably receive tons of tags already. I read Ben Hardy (who has a youtube channel now), Zat Rana (who uses substack now), Tim Denning, Brianna Wiest, Ayodeji Awosika, Nicolas Cole, Jessica Wildfire, Tom Kuegler, Sean Kernan, Nick Wignall — And many more. I’ve been reading them for years. They’re the main reason I kept coming back to medium and the reason I’m writing here now.
I’ve learned a lot about the world of writing/blogging from them. I could implicitly access many of their writing secrets. By reading their finished artworks I could imbue myself with their abilities and narrative style. I was able to “reverse engineer” bits of their craft. There is a tip that I’ve read here more than once:
Don’t hesitate to emulate those you admire and follow. Do things as they do them until you define your path.
Even more important than implicit learning is explicit teaching. Some of them write about How to Succeed on Medium. They share their lessons, tips, and tricks! This happens because so many of us are yearning for their secrets that revealing them is highly profitable. Who wouldn’t click into an article that says: 5 Simple Steps to Earn $5,000/Month From Medium.
Apart from their Medium-success insights, you’ll also learn a lot from them on things unrelated to Medium. They know what they write about. They are up there for a reason.
I follow one rule for consistency
“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words.”
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I write half of that; 1000 words a day. It doesn’t matter the topic, the quality, or the structure. It doesn’t matter if not a single word from those 1000 makes it to the last edit. The important thing is to write.
This is another of those over-repeated tips from popular writers. It’s true but I understand why many beginner writers don’t wholeheartedly believe it. There is a misalignment between the popularity of this notion and the difficulty to believe it’s right. The reason is that behind this process some things happen that usually aren’t disclosed.
When the popular writers say just write, what they are actually saying is: If you keep writing, all the other aspects that differentiate you from me as a writer will unfold by themselves in the process. It’s not that they don’t care about quality or structure or style or research. It’s that all of those things will come by themselves if you keep writing.
Imagine it as a journey. Those that have finished it (successful writers) show you what they’ve achieved in the journey. But you don’t have now the tools to get there and ask them to give you the tools or show you how to get them. They’d answer: Just walk the journey. And you’d say: But how will that help me get there if I don’t have the tools? In reality, what they are saying is that you’ll find those tools in the journey.
So yeah, write.
I started writing slow, then I accelerated
The first article I published took me about two weeks between outlining, writing, and editing. It’s a 10-min piece about how I overcame social anxiety. I didn’t even have to research the topic. And the article isn’t that good.
This was in December 2020. I’ve published 16 articles in March, that’s about one every two days. It took me 14 days to publish my first article. Now I publish 7 in 14 days. I’ve increased the rate by 700%. And my articles are often being accepted in big pubs.
The only thing that I purposely changed was trying to write more each day. All the other things I’ve improved have appeared to me in the journey of writing more. It’s not just by writing continuously that you’ll get there, but by absorbing all the lessons you’ll learn while doing it.
You’ll find ideas and write faster. Your style will be more clear. The structure of your articles will be more robust. And your finished pieces will be more polished.
I apply tips from other writers
You’ve probably already heard all of these but they helped me get published so here they are:
Take care of headlines and sub-headlines (avoid click-bait, be specific, don’t give it all away, powerful words, be emotional, hint to an actionable takeaway, keep the reader in mind). Take care of paragraph length (some like few lines and a lot of blank space, others want complete paragraphs). Use bold and italic, but not too much. Use quotations, but not too much. Use short sentences. Use easy words. Use active voice. Remove adverbs.
All those tips have been repeated over and over. However, there’s one tip I’ve started to use recently that has changed drastically how my articles are received by publications: Research.
The thing with research is that, while all the other tips are easily applicable, research requires more time and effort.
Let’s say you find an interesting topic. You define the outline, write the article with a clear style and structure and the takeaway is powerful. But you don’t have any references. If you aren’t a “big name”, why would anyone value what you have to say? Research allows those of us who are still “nobody” to back our pieces with expert voices. It takes time to integrate stories, quotes, citations, or different points of view into your writing, but it’s highly rewarding.
I have research experience because of my job and master’s degree. What I’ve learned is that reliability is the key. Not all opinions are equally valued. Reliable sources often come in two ways: Where it’s published. Who the author is.
- Reliable magazines: The New York Times, Forbes, Wired, Time, Inc, Psychology Today, Scientific American, etc.
- Reliable journals: Nature, Science, Cell, The Lancet, IEEE, Neuron, Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Review, etc.
- Reliable experts: Try to find leading experts in the field —Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs in business/entrepreneurship. If you can’t find well-known experts, the best approach is to mention the name, the profession, and the specific work you are referencing so readers can go check it out.
I developed a “writing process”
When I started writing I didn’t know what I was doing. Sometimes I had the title and then wrote the article without an outline. Other times I had a list of ideas but didn’t know how to combine them in a single piece. Other times I wrote and wrote but couldn’t extract anything worth reading.
But I found a good way to structure the writing process. I don’t always follow this pipeline, but it’s helped me standardize the process and make it more efficient. These are the steps:
- Find the idea and write a draft title.
- Outline the article with the main points, intro, and conclusion.
- Write mindlessly for each point. Let it rest.
- First reading.
- First edit by rewriting, adding, and researching (with links). Let it rest.
- Second reading.
- Second and final edit. Mostly style and removing.
- Rethink the title and subtitle. Tags.
- Last reading.
- Send it to a relevant publication.
I’m open to changes, as I’ve been constantly changing it these months. This pipeline is more a way to rationalize what I do than a to-follow list. I often interchange steps or skip them.
I learned to never run out of ideas
What they say about consistency is true. After my first two articles, I thought that was it; I didn’t have anything else to say. But it wasn’t true for me as it isn’t true for anyone. I kept writing and kept finding ideas to write about. I use several sources to find ideas:
- My experiences: Our memories are the most wealthy source of ideas and experiences. It’s when we live life that things happen for us to write about. I always say that I live my life twice: first when it happens and second when I think about it. Writing is part of the latter.
- Books: If you don’t read, you won’t write well. Books are sources for articles, and I don’t mean reviews or “The Best 10 Books to Read This Year” type articles. One idea in one book can become a whole article if it clicks for you. And most importantly, everything you learn by reading books makes you a better writer overall.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
— Stephen King
- YouTube: Many times I’ve found myself thinking of an article idea after watching a YouTube video. My first Mind Cafe article: Who Told You to Be Successful? came from a YouTube comment.
- Other articles: The most obvious source of ideas is Medium itself or other magazines/journals. You can always take an article and tweak the idea to make it unique and personal.
I know the pubs where I’ve submitted my articles
If you want to get accepted, know what they like. Know what they already accept. Find the common denominator and adapt your writing to it without losing your uniqueness. The common denominators are usually topics, style, structure, and quality. If you already write about relevant topics, you’ll acquire the other 3 by writing more.
These are some examples that helped me:
- This article published in The Startup led me to use fables/parables at the beginning of my articles.
- Sinem Günel’s articles in Mind Cafe showed me that they like well-researched articles.
- By reading The Ascent I understood they like the uniqueness that comes from our experiences and vulnerability.
I start with an engaging intro/story
Editors of most pubs emphasize the importance of writing an engaging intro. Medium pays mostly from reading time. If your intro is not good people won’t engage in your articles. Nowadays I use three types of intro:
- Fables/parables: This one is not for everyone. I like storytelling and would love to get better at it. So I try to come up with a story whose moral lesson leads to the main topic of the article. A nice example of a parable is this short article from Niklas Göke.
- Personal stories: This is the type of intro I used most when I started. For instance, my first article starts with the background from my childhood and adolescence, and the story of how I found out I had social anxiety.
- From general to specific: The most common way to start an article is to give some general context that surrounds the topic, you want to talk about and end the intro with the specifics of what you’ll talk about.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the intro. The likelihood for it to be the reason for rejection is high. On the same line, don’t skip the conclusion. Both intro and conclusion are ways to make it easier for the reader to go through the journey of reading your article. A reader that stumbles upon your writing will thank that you facilitate the immersion and egress back to their lives.
I’ve learned to get rejected a lot
Even Tim Denning gets rejected. He wrote a nice article on rejection: why we get rejected, what to do and how to embrace it.
“If you write, you’ll get rejected, a lot. Rejection is a fact of life. The key is to get used to the rejection. You gain mastery when you fall in love with rejection.”
— Tim Denning
There are many reasons to get rejected. You may be slightly off-topic. Your quality may not quite match their standards. They may be looking at something different today. They may have just published an article with a similar idea. They are overwhelmed with submissions and don’t have enough time. Or the editors’ favorite: you don’t meet their guidelines.
Whenever I get rejected I do the following before trying another publication (or, if I truly believe the article has potential, re-pitch to the same pub):
- Change the headline/sub-headline and the sections’ headings.
- Improve the intro/conclusion.
- See where I can put more references.
- Add or remove sections.
- Let the content rest and rewrite those parts I find weaker.
With this approach, I’ve managed to publish in very good publications pieces that I almost threw away after a few rejections. If none of this works after trying some other pubs, I recommend publishing it yourself. That is the power of Medium. And maybe a pub you didn’t think of will find it.
I read the guidelines
It’s been said forever and people will still miss this one. It doesn’t hurt to say it one more time: Read and (try to) meet the guidelines and you’ll be ahead of most.
I look back to December and realize how much I’ve learned. I have a hard time remembering how I saw the writing/blogging world just 3 months ago. Many things have changed and I’m willing to continue this journey.
I’ve been writing these weeks more than ever before and I can assure you it’s true that we learn to be better writers by writing more. Find a way to power your resilience and you’ll meet success down the line for sure.
If you only take one thing from this article it has to be this one:
Keep writing. Writing itself won’t make you great by magic. But you’ll surely find the tools that’ll make you better in the journey.