Carrie Bradshaw, this is your fault.
Stop this. Stop wanting columns. For the good lord’s sake stop pitching them. Nobody wants to give you a column, and that’s okay. If, after scorching this earth, I leave nothing more in my ashy wake than a writing community that stops treasuring goddamn columns I will consider myself a success. Why are we like this? Why do I keep seeing pitches for columns (my publication has 745 followers by the way)? I couldn’t help but wonder, why do writers think so highly of something that isn’t even a thing?
It’s obviously Carrie Bradshaw’s fault. A show about single and actively dating women needed a career that would let its main character have plenty of time to go places and meet people so it picked a job that she couldn’t, under any circumstance, have really relied on for her living. They gave her a side hustle and then told us it was her whole ass income. They were lying, please wake up.
Y’all, this is ego. Plain and simple, as writers we want to feel important and successful and for some reason we’ve assigned importance and success to columns. I swear to you right now I’d throw out a year’s worth of column pieces for one independent essay that would pull the traffic of all of them combined. Writers think columns make them special, but they don’t. Our writing does. You cannot hide bad or uninteresting writing, not behind a column or the broad side of a barn. Slapping something with “column” status will never make it better or elevate its status. Writing’s own quality however, will.
What is a column, even? It’s regularly published essays by the same writer, in the same place, and it usually has a catchy title. The thing that I think a lot of writers forget, especially writers on Medium, is that the very existence of Medium completely negates the need to have a column. All a column actually is is permission from an editor to write with regularity. Medium gave that to us a long time ago.
Columns are only the big deal writers think they are if the person writing the column is already famous. Perhaps at one point in journalism time you could make a name for yourself with a column, but now everyone can write whatever they want whenever they want so why are they going to read your column when they have no idea who you are or what that catchy title really means? Columns aren’t a thing anymore. Please stop.
I had a column. For almost two years. I loved writing it, I think what I had to say was important, but here’s how I know that assigning “column” status to it was meaningless and I could have just had a contract to write essays twice a month: I got emails and DMs, lots of em, all thanking me for my work. Not one of them referenced the name of my column. They only ever referenced the title of the individual essay that spoke to them. Stop. Wanting. Columns. They. Aren’t. A. Thing. No one remembers the name or theme of your column. They will only ever care about what they’re reading right now.
Writing in column format isn’t an inroad to more readers. Your column came out of nowhere, just like every essay you write on Medium came out of nowhere. Assigning “column” status to your work doesn’t make it instantly famous. I’ll go ya one further and let you know that giving your work to a Medium publication won’t even do that. If I had a nickel for every time an essay of mine that wasn’t in a publication made more money than an essay that was, I’d be making a lot more money on Medium. There are only two reasons why your work will ever be super successful here:
- Medium itself features it.
- It is fucking great.
Bonus: Sometimes #2 leads to #1, which is fantastic.
This ignores of course the throngs of individuals who make piles of money on Medium every month by writing about how to make piles of money on Medium every month. Quite frankly I think this practice is annoying, and shall be short lived.
The only thing that ever matters is the quality of your work. Are you a good writer, or not? If not, that’s okay to admit. Not everyone is. With platforms like Medium, it doesn’t even matter. If you love to write, you have space to do so. Keep going, and don’t ever let anyone tell you to stop. Just know that they also don’t have to tell you, “Congratulations, we’re giving you a column!”
Great writers don’t need columns either. Not in the the age of follower counts, social media, and the ability to send people links. If you write it, they’ll read it, and they’ll share it. The proof will always be on the pages of the pudding.
On the matter of columns, please stop. Editors don’t want to give them, readers never bother understanding that they exist. If you love to write, keep writing. At whatever pace, and on whatever topic that lights you up. Writing for status will never make any of us, myself included, successful or happy. Writing because it’s who we fucking are, most certainly will.
Shani Silver is a writer and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, frequently.