Is Getting Vulnerable Online a Good Idea?
How to use the secret sauce to cultivate your readers & success.
I love rubbing people’s naked bodies.
Bodies of all shapes and sizes and textures. I’ve touched hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the last 22 years. People don’t hesitate to get this vulnerable in the private rooms of a well-trained massage therapist.
I love using the power of touch to help people. And this work has been a wonderful part-time gig that has carried me through many financial gaps along the road of my zigzagging career.
But having to work with the rather unpredictable income stream it provides in the midst of a weirdly ongoing global pandemic state is a challenge!
Sniffy noses + Too Many Cancelled Sessions = No Bueno for the Budget
As the pandemic descended upon all of us and my income started to dry up, I wondered how I was going to keep the kids enrolled in their school?
Was it time for me to get a regular job again? After escaping the muggle version of corporate America way back in 2007, it felt scary to admit I might have to go back.
Was It Them? Or Was It Me?
I’ve often battled the imposter syndrome that comes with being a college-educated, corporate dropout. With kids.
I didn’t want to be back out on the job boards hunting for a corporate gig, but that was where I found myself at the beginning of 2021. What made it even more depressing was that I really didn’t WANT to chain myself to someone else’s desk 40+ hours a week.
I just felt like I didn’t have any other good options.
After 6 months of looking, I was starting to wonder if I’d lost my juju. I wasn’t getting much action on my applications, despite playing the numbers game.
I had gotten very sick of editing my resume over and over again.
The word salad of qualifications, experience, and strengths was starting to feel limp and unconvincing. It didn’t even make any sense anymore, edited to within an inch of death to keyword and phrase match various applications and AI scanning bots.
Poor broken resume.
So naturally, like all frustrated and constrained creatives, I was called to start making art.
Creative writing, the most lucrative of hobbies, called to me like a siren from the deeps.
Can You Really Earn a Living as a Writer?
Suddenly this ocean of poems and essays and even half-baked stories had been unleashed and was now flowing out of my fingertips and onto the screen in torrents of thought and word.
I was publishing stuff daily. I would write on the app on my phone until my thumbs started to cramp.
Abruptly I had moved past the dark tunnel of endless resume edits, into the light. I started gaining some traction, even starting to build a small following. There was a monthly partner payment consistently landing in my Stripe account, and the number was growing.
And suddenly instead of trying to find a job working for some big company, I began to entertain dreams of being a paid writer and making it online!
Was this a dream?
Yes, You Can Get Paid For Writing.
But Only If…
I quickly found out that in order to make money writing on Medium, you first have to earn your readers. And there is a lot of competition for eyeballs!
Though I don’t have a more current stat, this number should still give you some idea of the oceans of desire out there to be read.
What you find when you begin is that the skill of putting words on a screen is NOT equivalent to getting people to read and absorb those words.
You have to learn how to entice people into wanting to read your words. And it turns out that fearlessly baring a piece of your soul is one way to do it.
Sharing Effectively is a Skill
The skill to capture lots of eyeballs on a regular basis goes above and beyond the humble craft of simply telling stories and sharing words.
It’s about sharing something so universally interesting that lots of people choose to stop by to have a look. It’s learning the skill of combining vulnerability with wisdom, then putting in a package sexy enough to attract lots of attention.
Most of us mortal folks only learn how to write well in this arena by accruing enough experience. It’s an iterative process.
Plain Writing Alone Won’t Cut It
There are few things as frustrating as crafting what you consider to be a beautifully written article, casting it off into the oceans of Medium readers and only earning a handful of reads.
Even when you’re good at writing for a niche audience in academia or business, writing for the whims of the public is an entirely different skill set.
This isn’t always obvious at first to the average writer. And it can feel pointless and hurtful. Why does no one want to read your stuff? What’s wrong with it?
I understand the frustration!
I too spent many an hour casting pearls into the void, all the time wondering what I was missing.
After all, these writers had access to the same resources I did.
What were they doing so differently?
DON’T Cultivate a Bad Attitude
Humorously, lots of people seem to enjoy grousing about the people who are successful on this platform. There’s an underlying air of competition of the negative-sum sort.
“What they write isn’t even very good!” or “Who decided they were the best?”
What these folks seem to miss is that “the best,” when it comes to online writer popularity at least, is ultimately an objective measurement. It gets determined by the objective number of readers any one writer’s work gains.
These poor envious folks. A lot of them could be brilliant. Some of them are very creative. Others have a lot of heart.
But what they all have in common is that they know nothing about how to draw in a crowd and share their thoughts effectively with others.
DO Cultivate and Use a Special Sauce
In recognition of my own lack of skill at capturing eyeballs, I decided to skill up. I was enjoying the art of writing and wanted to invest in getting better at it.
So I took a class called Medium Badassery. I’m a sucker for professional swearing. So of course the nerdy-with-attitude course name appealed to me.
Watching the 3 freebie lessons they emailed as a teaser of the larger course and implementing a few of their suggested changes, I got a nice bump in views and reads.
Super stoked, I signed up for the full class
Ever the optimist about the payout potential of Medium, I reasoned that a cool $500 invested in this class would pay for itself in monthly earnings within a few months.
As some of you might know, in hindsight, Medium has turned out to be NOT so much of an easy earnings platform.
At this point, I really just like the pleasant interface for public writing.
You might randomly get published in national publications if an editor randomly reads your blog and asks to republish you on Psychology Today! Yes. This stuff actually happens to normal people too.
But it’s also a great place to pull in leads for paid freelancing work, which is where the real money in this industry seems to be made.
Even though I’m not going to be a Medium millionaire anytime soon, the investment in the class definitely ended up paying off.
It might be a little weird, but the biggest thing I ended up taking away from this class was enough confidence in my abilities that I have not had to go “get a real job.” I’m still freelancing and raising kids. Woohoo!
Who needs security?
What Did I Find In the Special Sauce?
Learning this skill is an ongoing process of trial and error, but these are the foundational writing tools I gained from Tim & Todd in their class.
1. Vulnerability + Story
Create instant intimacy with a reader by dropping them into an intimate experiential moment. Something unexpectedly personal and intriguing. Like a self admitted love of rubbing naked bodies.
Word choice in your title and first paragraphs is unexpectedly important.
The more you can lead with something that drops that person directly into an intimate space with you, the more deeply you will hook their attention.
The more you can stimulate any sort of strong response in your reader, the more compelling your writing becomes.
2. Share Your Failures
Share your wins, and share your fails. And share the funny things that happen along the way. Your personal failures can make your story come alive that much more because you have authentically learned the lessons yourself!
Most people enjoy learning from a mentor who isn’t afraid to admit they don’t know everything and are still on the path of learning themselves.
After all, only experience leads to success.
3. Speak Directly to Your Audience
If you look at the top medium articles of all time, you’ll notice something.
The draw for these top articles is the provocative titles and subtitles. They provoke a reaction in you somewhere when you read them. They make you want to engage as if the author was writing directly to you.
Phrasing your title and subtitle to directly address each individual reader provokes a different result than speaking in general terms to the collective.
Good writing is edited to address and serve its audience. And by “audience,” I’m talking about you, the one reader, currently reading these words. Yes, you.
When you care about serving your reader more than you care about being successful as a writer, you become a more authentic resource for people to use.
The stronger your intention is to truly help others, the better your words will connect with the public at large.
So Now What?
Color me silly but in hindsight, I’m grateful to COVID for breaking the world as it was. I’m also grateful to all those unresponsive job postings, all the people moving laterally into tech careers from other companies, and the tedious technical interviews.
I’m grateful for all my clients who canceled their sessions during the lockdowns until my budget broke entirely and started sinking.
I’m even grateful for that last excruciating perimenopausal cycle I got out of nowhere on the day of my 5-hour long AWS loop interview. Mother nature guaranteed my brain would be in my uterus for the most grueling interview ever.
That was fun.
Yes universe, you did a great job of backing me into a corner and forcing me to find a path with purpose and meaning that I really love walking.
It’s scary to admit it, but isn’t that what this is all about? Being scared, and doing it anyway?
Living the Dream
Today, I’ve figured out how to combine my updated writing skills with my technical skills. Now I’m comfortably freelancing on retainer, and working half-time to pay the bills.
This dream gig I landed involves helping a fellow poet and artist build the back-office automated business systems she needs to run her online classes. Work I can truly get behind.
I mean — building this kind of content? Fun!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Call me a hippie, but I think 20 hours a week is a perfect quantity of time to work at a computer screen. Working to live instead of living to work is so vitally important to enjoying life. Especially in these fragile days!
I’m even back to rubbing naked bodies again. In my free time which I am so grateful to still have.
Only now I don’t have to rely on massage to make money to pay all the bills.
We’re All Still Learning
My little daughter often reminds me that we are all still learning. She says it with a serious earnestness that reminds me how very right she is.
The art of capturing a reader and forming a connection is something you will only end up learning how to do well over time.
It’s something you have to practice.
And if you believe hard enough in your abilities and your capacity to master this skill, you too can abort your job hunts with a good conscience. You too can spend your days shoeless and snacking. You too can take naps if you need to do so.
After all — it looks like being a bit healthier than the norm might matter just a little bit in the world we’re creating next.
Don’t you think?
© Kaia Tingley, January 2022