On Medium, Debates, and Saturday Night Live

My first substack post

The one thing I keep seeing in a lot of freelance writing guides is to make sure you have a newsletter. The benefit, as far as I can understand, is that it gives you your own platform where you can reach out to your readers, even if your main platform (like Medium) suddenly goes out of business or whatever. Then I discovered Substack through Emily Van Der Werff, who has her own newsletter here. The rest is history.

So, here’s what I hope to accomplish with this newsletter:

  • This will be a place where I write my thoughts and hot takes on stuff that I care about, but I don’t have enough content to turn into an article. It can be about TV, books, movies, politics, the stuff going on at Medium, and so on. I will type out a quick take, right to the point, and put it all in one weekly newsletter. Maybe two. We’ll see how this goes.

  • All content here will be free. All you have to do is subscribe and you’ll be able to read everything. There is an option for you to pay $5 a month, but you won’t have to in order to see what I’ve written. (Also: I wanted to make it $1 a month, but it turns out $5 is the minimum.) Think of it like a donation. If you want to throw a few bucks my way, I’d appreciate it a ton, but I certainly don’t expect you to.

  • I will schedule every post for Sunday morning, because I’m a romantic sap and having a “Sunday Paper” will always make me feel warm inside for some reason.

So basically, this is going to be a blog, with everything written with the assumption that the reader is someone who is interested in me as a person, even if I’m not writing anything as in-depth as my usual pieces. I hope that this platform provides an opportunity to interact more intimately with readers. After all, because I don’t have to worry about curation or meeting a publication’s editorial standards, I’m free to goof off on substack all I want.

The rest of this post is going to play out how a typical post will: there’ll be a headline giving you an idea of what I’m about to talk about, followed by my thoughts on that subject. And if you aren’t interested in my thoughts on that particular thing, you can just scroll down until you see me talk about something you are interested in.

On Medium Strategies

One piece of advice I keep seeing on Medium is to try to publish at least once a day. Yes, you heard that right: at least once a day.

I’ve read a lot of “how to be successful at Medium” posts, and this is the advice that annoys me the most. Because for most people, writing one post a day is very hard to do. Writing one good post a day is even harder. And when you force yourself to publish once a day (or multiple times a day, god forbid) you inevitably end up publishing content that isn’t as good as it could be. Quality matters over quantity, and when it comes to those Medium writers who post multiple times a day, you can just tell how phoned in a lot of their writing is.

(Note: Ryan Fan and Shannon Ashley are two major exceptions. There are several others, but not many IMO.)

There’s one Medium writer who would write these self-help articles where he’d talk about how he would publish an average of four posts a day, every day, for six months straight. He claimed that this strategy paid off, because after several months of doing this he finally started making over a hundred bucks a month. And all I could think as I read this was: “that’s it? You’re publishing over a hundred posts a month and you think the strategy was successful because you’re just now making a three-figure monthly income?”

This guy isn’t a bad writer, but the content he posts feels so lazy to me. I bet if he stopped posting multiple times a day and focused on publishing 2-3 high-effort articles a week, he’d be doing a lot better. Instead he’s posting work that’s way below what he’s actually capable of, and every once in a while a post will stick, confirming to him that this strategy is a good one.

Medium has changed its algorithm lately to make it more like a blogging platform, so maybe this strategy is more effective now than it used to be. But as a reader, I don’t want to follow a writer who churns out two or three posts a day, making the same few points but in slightly different ways. I want to follow writers who post thoughtful, high-effort content, even if they can only publish once a month.

(The same goes for YouTube, by the way. There’s YouTubers like CinemaSins that upload a new video every few days, and then there’s YouTubers like Lindsay Ellis who post a video roughly once a month. I don’t get excited for a new CinemaSins video because their content is so phoned in, but with Lindsay Ellis I know that everything she publishes has a ton of work put into it. Lindsay’s content feels like an event that I can be excited for; CinemaSins doesn’t.)

Anyway, my advice for Medium writers is: never rush a piece of writing. Make sure everything is as good as possible before you publish it. Make sure you’re saying something new and unique. Make sure you’re giving it your all. Never publish something you aren’t proud of, even if you have to slow down and only publish once a week.

On Debates

With Biden and Joe going at it today, I kinda want to talk about the 2016 VP debate, which was perhaps the most frustrating debate I’ve seen in a long time. For a significant portion of the debate — which just so happens to be the only portion people actually remember — Tim Kaine’s strategy was just to accuse Trump of doing bad things and criticize Pence for tacitly supporting them. Pence’s strategy was to simply deny everything Kaine said, despite the fact that there was undeniable video evidence backing up every accusation. 

In a perfect world, we’d look back on this debate and agree that Kaine was the winner: he mostly told the truth while Pence mostly told lies, and he stood by his presidential candidate by emphasizing Hillary’s strengths, whereas Pence was forced to distance himself from Trump by pretending as if all the things Trump had said and done over the past year hadn’t actually happened. 

But that was not the media narrative in the days that followed. As LA Times columnist Mark Barabak put it in the aftermath:

He [Pence] delivered a mix of conservative orthodoxy and there-you-go-again rejoinders with a coolness and polish that Ronald Reagan himself might have admired.

If you read the whole piece, it’s clear that everyone involved is aware that Pence is lying his ass off, but they still give him the win because of the way the dynamic between the two candidates played out. Kaine would accurately accuse Trump of something, and Pence would shake his head, maybe chuckle a little, and say with a tired, incredulous voice, “He didn’t do that.”

Kaine would get aggravated at this — because most people get aggravated when you deny basic facts and act like they’re crazy for believing them — and as a result he came across as a hyper-active child. Unhinged. Hysterical.

Pence could’ve responded to Kaine’s accusations with the seriousness the accusations merited, in which case he would’ve lost the debate. Instead he belittled and condescended to him, in a way that seemed to many people like the attitude of a tired, rational adult having to calmly de-escalate a child’s outbursts. 

To conservatives and undecided voters watching, Pence seemed like the most reasonable man in the room. To people like me, he seemed maddeningly, unbearably smug. But of course, Pence was not trying to win people like me over.

The good news is: I don’t think Kamala’s gonna make this same mistake. One of the bright spots of 2020 is the fact that, for all her faults, pretty much everyone seems to agree that Kamala is a vast improvement over Tim Kaine, who was just a boring man that brought nothing new to the table. All Kamala needs to do is be as good as she was in that first primary debate, and I think she’ll blow Pence out of the water.

On Saturday Night Live

SNL’s coming back this week, and I for one am very interested to see how they handle the pandemic.

For those who don’t know, I’m a bit of an SNL junkie. I root on the new cast members the same way I assume sports fans root on their favorite players. I’ll watch all the behind the scenes shit, and any time a cast member (current or former) gives an interview on some podcast or whatever, I’ll be there listening to anything they have to say about the show. I follow the “Live from New York” subreddit where we’ll vote on our favorite sketches of the week, come up with our ideas for sketches, make speculations on cast departures, upcoming hosts and musical guests, and so on.

I’m nervous about this season of SNL because, in addition to all the pandemic concerns, they’ve also got the biggest cast in the show’s history. Twenty cast members! That’s insane considering that so many of the political impressions will be played by outside celebrities. In the past few years there’s usually been around fifteen, sixteen cast members, and there would always be two or three cast members who seemed to get massively screwed over with a lack of screentime. Poor Luke Null only got three sketches in his one season career, and the best of them was cut for time:

I’m just worried that with the bloated cast and all the celebrity impressions, a lot of cast members this season aren’t going to get their time to shine.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of SNL let me know in the comments. What’s your favorite sketch? I hope it’s one I haven’t seen yet.