Context: this post was written for a Medium publication, but its main idea applies to any writing, especially to writing online articles. You can find the original post along with readers’ comments here.
Medium is an interesting place. Peculiar may be a better word, but it often comes with a negative connotation. And there is nothing negative about Medium (apart from those seemingly endless 10 Quotes That Will Help You Overcome Writer’s Block ONCE AND FOR ALL articles).
Medium’s peculiarity is of a different, welcoming, even cozy sort. You come across interesting thoughts. You learn amazing or simply curious facts. You discover new ideas. But above all, you connect with people. People from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life, who are here to share their thoughts, ideas, and observations. And not only they are here to talk, some of them are interested in listening to what you have to say — and that, as many of us can attest to, is not as common as it may sound.
Take my own experience, for instance. Less than twenty-four hours after showing up at the Medium party, I’ve been greeted by a number of welcoming voices, all expressing interested in what one bearded sunglasses-wearing self-proclaimed writer had to say in his self-proclaimed 100 days of Medium writing (thanks to everyone who clapped for my musings about the tyranny of names, with special thanks to Missy Nolan, Ann K Frailey, and Geraldine Murphy for leaving such nice welcoming comments). That’s what makes Medium so special. Seriously, where else people would clap when you say something without being on stage?
Medium is a bit like a party. A huge bustling party with guests mingling in groups, and many voices talking aloud at the same time. You show up, not quite sure what to expect, get a drink, and trying to look equally nonchalant and sophisticated, make your way through the crowd, looking for familiar faces or for a group that would welcome a stranger. You suspect that nonchalance comes across more authentic than sophistication, but you don’t care. You are here for some good time in a (yet to be found) good company. And since it’s all virtual, you don’t need to worry about social distancing.
Soon enough, you come across a group that looks welcoming, join them (virtual drink in your hand nicely amplifying the suave of your nonchalance) and even manage to say something of value. Either that or your voice is simply loud enough. Whatever the case may be, you see some smiles, hear some welcoming words and see some people clapping (and, dear reader, if you don’t know that it’s polite to clap when you like someone’s words, you have been going to wrong parties). You smile back and are about to say more when you feel someone’s hand tapping you gently on the shoulder.
You turn around and find a well-meaning face.
“Having a good time?” the face asks in a well-meaning tone.
“Definitely,” you agree, the sound of clapping still ringing softly in your ears.
“Want to stick around?” the face makes a vague gesture, encompassing you, the group and the entire place.
“Then a piece of advice,” the face says, smiling. “Find a niche.”
“Find what?” you ask, bewildered, scanning automatically the nearby wall for a recess.
“A niche. Something you want to be known for. Say, you just talked about writing, right?”
“Great. Stick to that.”
“As in…” you ask, wondering how you ended up in that slightly bizarre conversation. Was it the eyeglasses?
“As in, don’t talk about anything else?”
“So that people start associating you with writing,” the face explains patiently. “That’s the only way to stand out.”
“And if I want to talk about… I don’t know… ostriches, can I do that?”
“Oh no,” says the face, visibly disturbed by the suggestion. “That’s way too far from writing.”
“How do you know? Maybe some ostriches could write War and Peace, if they could hold a pen.”
“Very funny,” the face replies dryly, “I was trying to help. Want to be a jack of all trades? Good luck with that.” And the face, full of indignation, disappears into the crowd.
You too, feel disappointed. This could have actually been an interesting conversation. You could have said that you didn’t want to limit your choices of what you should and should not say. On the contrary, coming to this bustling place you were looking forward to speaking about anything you find interesting, whether you are an expert on the subject or not.
In fact, bringing up a topic you don’t know much about and listening to what experts have to say about it may be as much, if not more, fascinating than speaking. Or you could have said that niche is a nice euphemism for cage. Or aviary. A place where one can fly, but cannot leave. And that confining yourself voluntarily to a place like that does not sound that exciting.
And finally, you could say that you already have a niche and a very natural one at that. It’s the sum total of your interests, knowledge, and experiences. And that sum total is more unique than any artificially picked niche you could come up with. Because there is no other you. Never been, never will be.
And so you turn back to the group, smile, and ask, “Do you guys think, some ostriches could write War and Peace, if they could hold a pen?”