How Spirit Killing Bureaucratic Writing Made Me Successful

Templating the template to success

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

When I found Medium in May 2020, I immediately saw the opportunity. To improve my storytelling technique, what better place to do that than in a live environment with immediate feedback?

As a nameless, faceless bureaucrat, my creativity was on life support. Years of stiff and formal writing had destroyed my spirit, and I needed to get it back.

Before I could do that, I had to figure Medium out. I became obsessed with reading ‘how-to-write on Medium’ stories, devouring them a dozen a day before jumping in.

I didn’t start creating much content until late August 2020. I’d been finishing my master’s degree and couldn’t afford the distraction. So it surprised me to see I earned $103 in September. I then more than doubled that in October and crossed November’s $100 threshold on the 15th.

Screen-cap of my MPP payout, as of November 24th, 2020. I ended the month at $203.30. I left the name of the one article in at the bottom so you could confirm this is from me (photo: author).

I did this by doing three things:

  • Building and Following a Writing Template. The steps of which have always been key to my success and are the focus of this article.
  • Content and Volume. The number of articles I published, rather than their popularity, carried me over $100 in September. My highest earning article so far has made $35, but most don’t break $5. At $5 each, that means publishing two stories every three days per month.
  • Niching. My niche is the only thing I’ve written about other than this article. It’s broad enough to come at it in different ways without blurring the boundaries into something else. A too small a niche is critical because you need room to explore. Focusing on my niche also gives me credibility in it.

I won’t lie and say anyone can do this to make $100/month. I am convinced anyone with a good high school level writing ability could, though. I’ve been writing professionally for most of the last thirty years in some form or other.

As a Human Resources professional, my current job is drafting nasty letters. I write about distasteful subjects and people for senior executives. My writing has destroyed careers, livelihoods, and crushed dreams. I sleep well at night, knowing my work is well-founded, well written, and policy compliant.

My 4 step process to template business writing

Getting up to speed as fast as I can, the first step I take in any new workplace is to build a standard writing template for the job following these steps:

  • Step 1 — I learn the department’s organizational writing styles, expectations, and preferences by seeking the best examples and copying them. Every executive, department, and office is different, if only slightly, from others, but learning those differences is essential. Those differences also include how they prepare and process their written products and what intermediary steps they follow. Learn the business processes applicable to me is an important part of this.
  • Step 2 — I look for the personal styles of the people I’m writing for. I find copies of things they’ve written or signed, looking for their literary fingerprints. I look at their grammar preferences, turns of phrase and flare — then mimic them.
  • Step 3 — I retrieve the corrected draft copies of my work to see how managers and executives edit it. I immediately adopt any style or preference edits.
  • Step 4 — I collect what I’ve learned and build a template that follows the office process and matches the preferred content and styles. Then I repeat it several times to refine it. I always keep my eye out for senior personnel changes and am never afraid to adjust.

Doing this saves me production time and increases accuracy. Following processes, eliminating common mistakes, and adopting personal writing styles helps the bosses focus on the substance. Too many format or structural errors are distracting and can poison their view of the matter. It’s tough to recover from that if it happens too often in my job.

Short story template writing

A few years ago, I explored what becoming a freelance writer might be like to see if it was something I could do in retirement. So I puzzled it out, and my conclusion was sex sells better than almost anything else, so I chose a sex-related niche to write about.

Then following my usual process template development steps but shifted readers into the boss’ role. Intent on self-publishing, there was no editor in the picture. Had there been, the editor would also take a boss’ part:

  • Step 1 — I bought a how-to-write erotica book to learn the rules of the road. This included finding what formats and book covers worked, learning basic story flow, and getting it onto Amazon.
  • Step 2 — As I started writing to gain experience, I read what the reader read. I had read little erotica until then, so I read best-selling authors to learn the audience’s preferred styles. I also started writing to mimic them.
  • Step 3 — Because no one corrected my work, I sought feedback from fellow writers, a few readers, and adopted it. My sales performance showed me which stories did better than others, so I wrote more like those. Readers provide feedback by not reading.
  • Step 4 — I incorporated everything I learned in the first three steps until I had a repeatable process I could template. Then I repeated the template from start to finish and refined it as I went.

The process I templated wasn’t only for writing. It included everything it took to get from a blank page to putting the story in the reader’s hand. Self-publishing on Amazon involved many steps, and most had nothing to do with writing.

Things like the font and pitch size; how to indent in an ebook; front matter; copyrights; proper title styles; back matter and links; getting around Apple’s block on links to Amazon; SEO and keywords; and on and on. An uphill battle to figure it out; once I did, writing became more convenient because I didn’t have to worry about the rest.

I ended up writing eight 5000 word short stories. My last was by far the easiest and my favorite. I’m sure I’d have done alright, but I stopped there to focus on my degree.

Medium and me

When I got to Medium, I again followed the same four steps. They also got me to where I’ve broken the coveted $100+ barrier three months in a row.

I figure that when you do something over and over, and it works, it’s worth passing on. My process has worked professionally, for short stories, and now on Medium. Because of that, I know it’s not luck, my popularity, or my stellar storytelling skills. It’s because of how I approached templating. An approach that focuses on giving the boss what they need.

To build a workable template, follow these steps and make notes as you go:

  • Step 1 — Learn the Rules. Find and learn the environmental, platform, and niche ‘rules’ and standard practices. On Medium, the publication style guides are 95% identical. Reproducing the common styles from the outset will see your work correctly formatted before you know what a specific publication wants.

Pro tip — when you give the boss, editor, or reader a piece that looks like what they are expecting, they won’t immediately dislike it. If it doesn’t look like it should, they won’t like it before reading the first word.

  • Step 2 — Mimic Popular Styles. Copy the niche’s best writers by learning their styles, forms, and audiences. Read their work and know who they write it for. Their audience is your audience, so follow their followers.
  • Step 3 — Analyze Effectiveness. Gather feedback from peers, readers, and your stats on your work. Ask yourself if you’re giving them what they want. People might lie, but stats won’t, so learn how to read them.
  • Step 4 — Finalize Your Process Template. Template your story development process to ensure it follows the rules, styles, and reader tastes you’ve had success with. Then repeat and refine it as you continue to learn and develop.

Advice — If Medium changes, learn what they are and adapt to them — don’t complain, just figure it out. The only thing you’re going to be able to change in this scenario is yourself.

Templating your process and repeating it makes work more manageable because you’ll always know what to do next. Templating will ensure your piece fits 90% of the most common formatting requirement you’ll encounter on your platform or in your situation. Templating minimizes the chance wrong formats will distract your readers from your content.

For me, my templates free me. Free me from the things I hate most about the process, which is everything but writing. Templating doesn’t take the pain away but shortens it, giving me more time to create.

And more time to write helps me get my creativity back! It will help me become a better storyteller.

My goal is $500/month by next summer, and I don’t plan to write a hundred $5 stories a month to get there. Instead, I will rely on how I write those stories.

And if I can do it, so can you.


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© Teresa J. Conway, 2020

By Teresa J Conway on .

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Exported from Medium on April 8, 2021.

Author of How to Cheat: Field Notes from an Adulteress, several short stories, I'm active on Medium @teresajconway where I sometimes share my blog posts, and I'm a fair-weather tweeter @tjconway69.

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