How To Unearth Fascinating Stories And Support New Writers
The secret to finding the hidden gems on Medium that most readers never see
By the end of my second week as a writer on Medium, I was ready to give up. I had poured my heart and soul into my first four stories, yet only a handful of people had looked at them. I earned a grand total of 6 cents the first week, and 7 cents the second.
“Curation is everything,” screamed the experienced writers, the ones offering Medium writing courses. “With curation, you get two to three times more visibility, sometimes even more.”
Well, the problem was, all four of my stories were still marked, “We are processing this story. Hang tight!” Nearly fourteen days gone by and the curators hadn’t even bothered to look at my work!
“Try to get in large publications,” the experts said. “You need to be in publications to get in people’s feeds, to get eyeballs on your stories who otherwise would never be aware of them. So shoot for the moon! But, only submit your best work!”
Well, the trouble was, how did I even know what was my best work, when curators had not yet looked at even one of my stories? I wanted at least a little experience, a little feedback, under my belt before I started aiming high.
Really, if COVID-19 hadn’t shut down most of the entertainment options in my neighborhood around that time, I might have stepped right back into my former life. My professional writing career would have become just one more fleeting endeavor that didn’t pan out.
The internal reason I stuck with writing
There were two reasons I did not abandon my writing career. One was internal, and the other external.
First of all, I already believed in myself as a writer. I had been writing a personal blog, which kind of grew into an unofficial voice of my neighborhood, for 16 years. It won or tied for Reader’s Choice in the local arts & entertainment newspaper four years, and came in third two more years. So I knew I was a good enough writer to build an audience.
Furthermore, with writing it just felt like I had hit my sweet spot. I tried affiliate marketing years ago, but it felt like I was just skimming a buck or two off people’s Amazon purchases without adding much value. Eventually the taxes I had to figure out on 100+ affiliate businesses became such a pain to figure out that they didn’t justify the several hundred dollars a month coming in.
Last year I tried getting into data science (which is how I found Medium — its Toward Data Science publication is teeming with top writers). It just didn’t feel like a fit, though. I felt like I could develop into a very good data scientist but I’d never be a rock star.
Writing, though, just felt right. I felt like I was doing it for myself, not solely as a money-making venture. It is a part of who I am. I had a sense that I had something to share with readers in a way that no one else could.
External validation helped too
I will never forget the first comment I received on my writing, from Genius Turner. It wasn’t anything monumental, just a quick word that he read my post and enjoyed it, and encouraged me to keep up the good work.
I pulled up his profile and discovered that he had millions of views on Quora, and although he said he was relatively new to the Medium platform he already had 1000 followers. I read a few of his recent stories and they were quite good.
I felt honored and encouraged that such an accomplished writer had taken the time to compliment me on my work. To this day, anytime Genius’ stories come up in my feed, I always take time to read them. For a long time I was not sure how he found me, when few people seemed to, but however he did, I was grateful.
Once I got past my writing block, I felt like I had a reading block
As the weeks passed on, it seemed like I was seeing the same Medium writers over and over again on my feed. It was dominated by the top writers and writers for top publications.
Now, let me make it clear, the top writers have earned every single pixel of their screen real estate. Jessica Wildfire was one of the writers who made me realize there’s a lot more to read on Medium than web development and data science. Ayodeji Awosika’s work on refining beliefs to produce a better reality has inspired me; I’m reading his book You 2.0 currently. I don’t know how Tim Denning puts out so many quality posts back-to-back; I hope to one day reach that level of prolific writing myself.
However, I thought, there are thousands of writers on here whose work I never see. People whose work
- Was not in major publications
- Had not been curated
- Had not been curated yet, because it can take up to two weeks
I knew for a fact those undiscovered writers had a lot of quality work out there that was worth reading. I knew that because I was one of them!
How do I find those writers, I wondered? There had to be a way because Genius Turner found me, along with a handful of others.
One day about four weeks into my Medium writing career, I stumbled onto the secret.
How to drill down into the latest posts in any niche you desire
When you publish a story on Medium, you have the chance to give it up to five tags. People often use tags that are topic names here on Medium, but you don’t have to. If you feel the phrase “cat paws” is highly relevant to your story, you can tag it as such, and other people will be able to search for that tag and find it.
To see the latest posts for any particular tag, just type the following into the address bar:
http://www.medium.com/tag/(your tag name)/latest
So, for example, if you wanted to see the latest posts tagged “cookies,” you would type
If the tag for your niche contains more than one word, substitute hyphens for spaces. So, to see the latest posts tagged “ice cream,” you would type
The great thing about viewing the latest stories for a particular tag is that you see all stories with that tag. It is an unfiltered list. You see stories
- Whether or not they have been curated
- Whether or not they appear in a publication
- Even if no one else at all has read them
- Even if they’re by a brand new writer with zero followers
In other words, you see everything in that niche, as defined by the tag you used.
Now, I will grant you, you have to scroll past a lot of bad stories to get to the good ones. The noise-to-signal ratio can be high, especially in the most popular tags. However, the good posts you find will often be good enough to warrant the additional hunting.
This past weekend I pulled up the latest in one of the most popular topics.
As expected, I had to scroll and scroll and scroll. It took me hours just to go through one day’s worth of posts. Many were not in a language I spoke. I could tell by the headline and subtitle that many were either not of interest to me or not of very high quality. However, among all the noise, I did find
- A story on where to find freely reusable images for your stories. This expanded my world way beyond Unsplash and Pexels.
- A story on how to make money — good money — remotely as a virtual assistant. The skills needed fit my skill set well, and I put this on my to-do list.
- In a similar vein, I found a guide to excelling as a writer on Upwork. That went on my to-do list as well.
I would have missed all of those fabulous stories if I had simply gone to the topic page for Writing, because they had not (perhaps yet) been recommended by the editors in that topic. Nor would I have found them if I had gone to publications like The Writing Cooperative or The Brave Writer. They weren’t there.
These stories were in none of those places. Yet they were nuggets of gold, sitting there in the stream, waiting for someone to pan for them.
What to do when you find one of these hidden gems
- Leave a comment telling the author how their story benefited you personally.
- Highlight your favorite quotes from their story. Even better, comment on those quotes specifically.
- Clap for the story. Clapping tells Medium’s algorithm, “More people need to see this in their feeds.” Did you know that you can clap more than once? You can keep clicking/tapping the hand icon to clap up to 50 times.
- Follow the author so more of their work will appear in your feed.
- Share the story on your social media feeds outside Medium (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) This gets the author even more visibility.
Please take extra care to comment, highlight, follow, share and clap when the author is in their first two months as a Medium member, or when they have 20 or fewer followers. These are the people who are trying their best to write, seeing 4 views and $0.07 as their “reward” for their work, and getting discouraged. Please give them that positive feedback, so they will stick around and enrich our lives with great writing with months and years to come.
There is great writing out here that has not been curated. In some cases, it hasn’t even been seen by curators yet. Nor is it found in publications.
You can use the /tag/(your tag)/latest addition to the Medium URL to find these hidden gems that most everyone else is missing. Yes, you have to scroll through a lot of noise, but it can be worth it.
Be sure to offer feedback in the form of comments, highlights, claps, follows, and shares when you find the hidden treasure. We want to encourage these budding writers to keep writing.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to read more from me, please consider signing up for my mailing list. Here’s another recent story of mine about writing: