Sam Holstein

I’m Becoming a Better Writer by Banning Myself from Checking My Stats

I’m making a big change to the way I write on Medium. I’m blocking my Medium stats page and Medium Partner Program page from my computer permanently.

This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this. Usually, I check my stats page often, even though everyone tells you not to do that. I didn’t check them as much as some other people, perhaps, but I did check my stats several times a day if I didn’t have anything better to do. (Hey, it’s better than checking social media).

This never worried me because my stats never stressed me out. I enjoyed high stats, but disappointing stats never injured my ego or put me off writing. To me, it was just interesting data about my performance.

Today it occurred to me that checking my stats that often may have had a cripplingly high price.

When you start getting tens of thousands of readers, something interesting happens. When you notice certain kinds of stories are easy to write and get huge amounts of views, you find you want to write those stories more often. Everyone likes easy money.

The first few times I wrote clickbait and listicles, I did so because they were easy stories to write and I was feeling lazy on the days I wrote them. But when one of these phoned-in listicles ended up bringing in $5,000, I started writing a lot more listicles. It wasn’t a conscious choice on my part; I just happened to pick listicles as the headlines for my stories more and more often because they were easy and profitable.

Around nine months ago, I noticed a general downward trend in the quality of my stories. A great deal of that had to do with me going through an episode of decompensation related to my mental illness, but it also had something to do with my stats page. I was coming off the greatest success I’ve ever seen on Medium and feeling the pressure to write stories that would be widely popular and easily consumed by audiences to keep the success going.

When you are first beginning on Medium, you don’t feel a huge sense of pressure to write about anything in particular because you’re still an unknown quantity. When you have regular readers, though, there is an ever-constant pressure to produce widely popular, easily consumable content for your readers. Experimenting now has a cost. I think I bent under that pressure, albeit unconsciously, for months on end.

My dream is to write beautiful and moving narratives like David Foster Wallace (or at least like Devon Price and Jessica Wildfire) when the reality is that I write fairly pedestrian blog articles on Medium. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but my dreams are a lot bigger than this.

How Blocking My Stats and MPP Pages Counteracts the Pressure

The primary way I know if my stories are easily consumable and widely popular is they start gathering views quickly compared to other stories. They may not do as well in the long run, but they perform well right out of the gate.

Checking my stats page frequently teaches me to focus on these quick-out-of-the-gate successes. Everyone knows good stories can take months to find their audience, but checking my stats page so frequently teaches me to look for (and unconsciously, to produce) small quick hits.

Blocking these pages will force me to judge my stories on their own merit, not on how many views they get in their first 48 hours.

My plan is to check my stats & MPP income once a week and only once a week.

This strategy carries a minor risk. If a story goes viral and I’m not prepared with my lead magnets and products, I risk losing out on a considerable amount of revenue (as I have done several times in the past). This is only a minor risk because if you don’t have your business stuff ready when a story goes viral, it’s nearly impossible to throw together in 24 hours anyway.

Whenever you’re trying to accomplish something, it’s naive to just rely on willpower to motivate yourself. It’s also naive to keep working harder and harder without asking yourself if what you’re doing is the most effective thing to be doing. You need to be always questioning the processes you use and the quality of their output.

Hopefully, these process changes will give the quality of my product another big kick in the right direction.