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What I Learned the Hard Way About Medium That Will Help YOU Now

For beginners and non-techies like me

Old teacher giving Medium lessons
Medium Lessons

I am not an expert, just a hard-working writer

Lots of smart, successful people give advice on Medium. I am not one of them. I’m not tech-savvy, computer intuitive, or anyone who can boast that she got thousands of views and made tons of money in the first few months.

In eight months, I’m excited to say that I MIGHT make over $30 this month. I’ve been curated in 19 categories, more than 60 times since October, so it’s not that I don’t create “quality” work. It’s just that there are thousands of writers out there, most with great ideas and tremendous talent. I’m a small fish in a big sea. I’ve stopped thinking that I’ll make thousands of dollars a month and am instead concentrating on growing and improving with the goal of generating $300 a month. But still, I’ve learned an enormous amount and enjoy every single day writing, building a body of work, honing my skill, establishing credibility, and finding an audience for my ideas.

Everything I’ve learned on Medium I’ve learned the hard way, by reading, by making mistakes, by accidental discovery. My background is as a college teacher, so it’s natural that I should want to share my hard-won knowledge with you.

Don’t laugh at how basic some of this might appear. If you’re just getting started, it may make your journey easier. I’m putting my slowness and stupidity out there. Hopefully, it will help you master the formatting and the more subtle aspects of Medium faster than I did.

First things first:

Before you go one step further, familiarize yourself with the basic guidelines of posting on Medium.

  • A title

  • A subtitle

  • An eye-catching photo with credits

Then, make sure you read Medium curation guidelines. Curation helps you earn more, get more followers, and boosts your morale because someone out there is saying your work is “quality” and distributing it to people you may not have reached otherwise.

Read several stories a day paying attention to the visual appearance and layout.

Then add these tips to your repertoire.

The basics — and tools to help you master them

Your title or headline

Titles really matter. Coming up with a fabulous headline is not as easy as it seems. They have to catch attention, explain your story, and hit the emotions of the reader without being clickbait. I’ve used a couple of headline analyzers and a headline generator. If the truth be told, I like the creative kind of clever, teasing headlines that work better for print journalism than online blogs, and creating an awesome title is difficult for me. You might investigate these resources:

Title Generator — Type in a keyword or two and this list comes up. Pick one, or use the list as a starting point for your next great headline.

Are you sure about the correct capitalization of your title? Correctness matters. You can verify the correct capitalization in title case or sentence case with this handy tool. (You can also capitalize according to style, like MLA, APA, and Chicago:

Your subtitle

Just typing a line under your title does NOT make it a subtitle! To make an actual subtitle, you have to type the line below your title, highlight it, and then press the small T on your toolbar. Immediately, it changes it to the standard Medium format.

Easy mistake to make, but not having a subtitle may keep your piece from being curated and keeps it from looking like a “professional” Medium post.

If you change your title or subtitle

I often change my title or subtitle as I’m working or finalizing my draft. When I first started, I didn’t know that the original title would show in the listings if you didn’t go in and “Change your display title /subtitle.” If you change it from the original do this:

  • Go to the three dots on the top right of your screen when you’re editing.

  • Scroll down until you find the “Change your display title / subtitle.”

  • Update to your final title and subtitle.

Your picture

Choose your pictures wisely.

  • Don’t ever use the first or most obvious photo on Unsplash.

  • Be as original as possible in your choice. Yes, Unsplash and its built-in “search and insert” function is fabulous. But if every writer on Medium — and there are thousands of us — is using the same photo bank, it's hard to be original. Check out this article with ideas on how to find better Unsplash photos by Shawn Forno: “How to Find Amazing Unsplash Images that No One Else is Using.”

  • Think outside the obvious and hit the subtle, underlying message or motif. Consider using abstract artwork or drawings instead of photos.

  • My personal preference is always to use COLOR because I find a black-and-white picture to be boring.

  • Consider uploading photos from other free picture sites like Pexels, Pixabay, StockSnap, and WikimediaCommons.

Your headings and subheadings:

Break up your text with headings. This serves two purposes:

  • headings make your purpose clear to the reader

  • headings break up the text, make it easier to scan, and create an appealing visual.

  • Use the big T on your toolbar for headings.

  • Use the small T on your toolbar for subheadings.

Small things I’ve learned:


Earlier, I said, “Don’t laugh.” I should say, “Laugh all you want” because it should have been obvious to me with just a little exploration. But it took me a long time to discover the “comment” function. (That last little icon on the black and white toolbar? I thought it was a little purse and that if I pushed on it it would take me to a program or a store or somewhere that would want money. When I finally pushed the button and discovered it was for comments, I was almost ashamed at my stupidity. What I thought was a little purse is actually a little lock!)

  • If you want to make a note for yourself, or write an editor a note when you’re submitting to a publication, highlight a word, click on the little lock, the last icon on your toolbar, and you’ll get a comment box.

  • Comments are “locked” and are only visible to you and an editor.


The quote formatting options are another way to break up the text and make it visually appealing and easy-to-scan.

  • Click on the double-quotes for “pull quotes.” Pull quotes are used to emphasize text found within the story itself .

  • Click on the single-quotes for “block quotes,” verbatim quotes from someone else.

Word count

Get a quick word count with a simple command: CTRL + A.

Revision history

If you lose everything, don’t panic! (Three times it’s happened to me….always when I’m doing a word count and hit the wrong button.)

The first time, I retyped the post, starting from fresh. (I didn’t know any better.)

The second time it happened, I panicked before realizing that it was an easy fix.

  • Go to the three dots on the page of your story. Click on the “revision history, ” and choose the most recent version. At the top of the page, click on the “restore this version” link.

  • If the last version showing is from 14 minutes ago — like happened to me most recently, refresh your page and see if you get a newer revision. If not, open a new Medium tab, find your story, edit it, and click on the three dots to go to that revision history. A more recent revision will appear.


Think of tags like category labels.

  • Use all five tags.

  • Keep note of tags that fit your writing. I write about books, reading, writing, and human interest topics. Consequently, I use these tags: Books, Reading, Books and Authors, Life, Life Lessons, Relationships, Mindfulness, Self, and Writing a lot. Occasionally, I’ve written about space exploration, history, and job searching, so on those occasions, the tags look a lot different.

  • When you choose tags, pick the ones that have bigger numbers so that if it’s curated under that tag, it will go to more people.

  • This article by Medium might be helpful: “How To Pick The Best Tags For Your Medium Story.”


Someone I read on Medium suggested that at the end of each article, you put links to other pieces — a way to get more eyes on your work. I started doing that. For a long time, I typed in . . . and then centered those dots on a blank line after my post before I realized that all I had to do was hit the fifth circled icon that appears when you start an empty line and hit the + icon.

Voila! An automatic divider.


Yes. We all make mistakes. When you’ve worked on a piece for hours or days, you lose perspective, and those small typos and wording errors can creep in.

Install Grammarly

Grammarly is a software program that helps you catch those errors and typos, and the FREE version works wonders and supports you in polishing your writing to a shine. You DO have to know enough about grammar to know when to ignore its suggestions, but it can aid writers in so many ways. Check it out here:

How Grammarly improves work and attitude

Follow standard rules

  • Book titles should be italicized or underlined, and since Medium doesn’t have an easy way to underline, italicize them.

  • Article titles, song, poem, and short story titles are placed in quotation marks.


I read the guides to posting on Medium when I started, but I didn’t absorb all the information. Here’s a recap:

After you hit “return,” a + appears. Next to that, there are five buttons, each with a different function.

  • First button is used when you want to upload a picture from your computer.

  • Second button is used to search for pictures on Unsplash.

  • Third button is used to insert a video.

  • Fourth button is used to add an embed from another site.

  • Fifth button is used to insert three horizontal “divider” dots in case you want to separate one section from another.

Laugh at my expense if it helps you. I don’t mind. Really. I laugh at myself now for not knowing more when I started, and now these things are second-nature.

Best of luck!

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