The Turning Point on My Journey to $1,000 on Medium

I used to think making a living on the platform was impossible

Photo of author by Austin Fassino

A year ago today, I would have told you making a living on Medium was impossible. At the time, I was working only three days per week as a programmer so that I could spend the other two days writing.

But even with this extra time to focus on my craft, I would average only $100-$150 per month from the Medium Partner Program.

At that rate, breaking even $500 seemed like a pipe dream. If two days a week brought me so little money then surely writing on Medium full time wouldn’t be anywhere close to sustainable either.

Making a living on this platform was clearly something for only especially skilled and lucky people. People that got in early and thus had an unfair advantage. People who knew something I didn’t.

So I thought. But on one fateful day, my stance changed. Here’s my story.

In March 2020, I got fired from my programming job. At first, I was really upset. I literally curled up on the floor and started to cry.

But some hours later, I realized, Now I have all the time in the world to focus on what I really want to do: write.

But because of my negative stance on Medium, I first looked elsewhere for an income. I was a programmer, goddamn it — I’d use that to my advantage and make my own site. The old-fashioned Mark Manson kind of way.

So I did that. I built a site on Wordpress, I focused on SEO, I built an email course, I engaged on social media, I started a newsletter. And it wasn’t for naught.

My personal website appears on the first page of Google for certain search terms. And within a few months my newsletter reached 300 people.

I had something going on. It felt like people were resonating with me.

The problem was: I didn’t have a clear path to monetization.

I still didn’t have nearly enough traffic to make money from advertising or affiliate marketing. Months in, I was still living almost entirely on my savings (and some help from the German government).

I was lost, directionless. Until the call.

I had subscribed to the newsletters of a few popular writers on Medium. And one day, one of these writers announced that she and a friend/business partner were holding an “Ask Us Anything” Zoom meeting about how to be a successful writer.

So I thought, why not show up and see what they have to say?

And I actually forgot about the call at first. About 20 minutes in, I realized it was happening and jumped on.

It turned out I was the only person on the call, plus the two moderators (which just goes to show how often people fail to make use of such valuable things.)

We all introduced ourselves, and I started asking the questions that came to my mind, one of which was:

Can you really make a living on Medium?

And the answer was a resounding, yes.

Making a living on Medium was no longer this mystical feat.

The thing is, you hear about all these people making money on Medium. Everyone who makes a living writes about it at least once.

But then to hear it out of this person’s month, speaking with pure honesty directly to me with no ulterior motive, about how she joined Medium only several months before, how she makes a living from it — that was huge. Making a living on Medium was no longer this mystical feat.

If she could do it, I could too.

So why wasn’t I? What was the difference? Why was I making so little compared to her?

The main thing I could point to was this: she was publishing twice as much as I was. Four to six times per week.

Even though I was at my office all day working the normal amount a person works, I hadn’t really been pushing myself enough when it came to the actual bread and butter of what I was doing: writing.

I’d heard the advice before: publish every day, but I had not been convinced until speaking to her. Partially because the messages were mixed.

Sometimes, I would see people who would write three articles on Medium and be okay. Or even two.

I’d felt that if I wrote three really good articles, which felt like the maximum I could do at that point, that would be better than five average ones. I’d thought two or three should be enough.

But it wasn’t.

They advised me to focus on writing, set a goal, and stick to it, push myself — whatever that means for me.

Writing is a muscle, the more you use it, the easier it is. And they were right.

Right after our conversation at the beginning of September, I set this goal: I would write five articles per week for the next three months and see what happens. No more spending half my time on other stuff like programming. This was the priority at all costs. Nothing else mattered.

And it was hard at first to spend so much time writing, which is a mentally tolling exercise, requiring a mix of creativity and brute force.

But I did it. Instead of spending just three hours writing every day, I spent five. Which was what I needed to do to write an entire article, proofread it, and make it ready for an audience.

It was especially hard at first. I didn’t get results as fast as I wanted to. I’d get really disappointed when an article I worked hard on didn’t hit. I got upset when PSILoveYou (the most tough of the publications I submit to) rejected my work.

I would get really caught up in my stats. I felt an enormous pressure to make this work.

After three months of mostly sticking to my goal, I was just shy of the $800 mark. This was definitely a huge improvement from the $230 I made in August before I’d set this goal. But it wasn’t enough. I was pushing myself harder than I had in years, and this still wasn’t close to a real income.

But it wasn’t all bad either.

There were signs I was improving. I had become a top writer in relationships, a very competitive tag. I had a lot more followers. Writing itself was getting easier. By the end, I could write a ready article in four hours instead of five.

So I said, let’s give it another month.

And I’m glad I did.

Last month (December 2020), I made $1,210 on Medium. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I’m pretty happy about it and I have high hopes for the coming months.

From this process, I’ve learned a few things.

Consistency matters as much as quantity.

In December, I wrote on average the same number of articles as I had in September, yet I earned three times as much in December as September.

Which goes to show, it’s not specifically about writing more each month, its about writing a lot (four to five articles per week) and then sticking with that month after month.

Quality is not inversely related to quantity.

It is directly related. The more you write, the better your writing becomes.

The more consistently you write a lot, the more the world of Medium expects to hear from you. They begin to recognize you, they don’t forget about you.

You are loyal to them by consistently giving them quality stuff to read, and they return the favor.

You get more feedback and you get better at what you do purely by putting in the hours every day.

Connecting with others is important.

That call was the real turning point for me. The real proof that I just needed to work hard and be patient.

Since then, I reached out to a few other popular love-focused writers on Medium. They confirmed it’s possible to do really well — some regularly making $5–10,000 per month.

Just that knowledge alone was extremely motivating.

So here I am, having broken 1K.

I’m pretty proud of myself. I feel that number represents something sustainable.

It’s the difference between a side hustle and a real income. You could theoretically scrape by on that salary in Berlin. And you would be golden in a place like Goa, a beachside state in India that I want to return one winter.

But I know I have to keep at it. I can’t get too caught up in the numbers. I must focus on giving my fans what they want to read: insightful stuff about love and life.

So without further ado, I’d like to present to you: me, Sarah Stroh, a writer. This is the first month I can say that is what I do for a living. I’m not a programmer anymore. I’m a writer, baby. And it’s sexy as hell.

If you liked this, check out my first article on writing on Medium. (The advice still stands.)

New Yorker living in Berlin. I overshare stories about sex positivity, love, and non-monogamy. Get more details on my monogamish life 👉 https://bit.ly/2I81N62

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