Mining my identity for profit
When I started writing on Medium in mid-2020 I was picking up a long personal thread of online writing that started back in the last 1990s. As an academic I am expected to produce impactful effective writing as part of my training and job, in many respects finally fulfilling my desire on one level to be a paid author. However, much of my Medium writing essentially mines my own identity for ideas and context, placing many facets of myself in the public sphere that would otherwise be kept discrete. I have this lingering tension that on the one hand knows that the only way I can evolve my personal voice is to explore these issues, but on the other an awareness that by commodifying myself I risk hollowing out who I am.
I love writing in the many guises that use, be it academic, factual, or fiction. Most people who know me know I love to talk, and talk, and talk, and I feel that my writing is a way of corralling this verbosity into word form so I can better explore my thoughts and ideas. Not everything I write explicitly relates back to a portion of my soul, but often my wheelhouse is very much centred in my own gender identity, sexuality, and general map of the world.
By writing centred within myself I open areas that are hard to articulate in 1000 words, and often personal subtleties and nuance that would come across in person are lacking. Not everything I write appeals to every audience, and while more than a handful of articles have got high audiences, most hove around the 100–200 mark. In addition, I make a point of not monetizing my Medium because I want to draw in a broad audience to discuss these issues with, and not everyone can afford or wants to pay to access my content.
So why do I continue to do it? If there is no intrinsic profit in writing, why does a part of me still feel like I am selling myself? The subjects I write about tend to be fairly niche, and each time I write I add a little something to the wider conversation. I feel like I need to explore ideas and contexts, especially when I want to work through my reaction to certain issues. That I am an academic means I have a well of language to draw on that makes my ideas flow, though not often in a direction that connects with many people. Thus, my Medium serves as a way of honing my craft, finding out what works, and where my audience is.
It also serves on a deeper level as a pressure valve for my anxiety, disconnection, and need to better understand the world around me. For all my extrovert nature I still very much feel like an outsider looking in. Not an imposter, more the kid at the window wanting to join in the party. My writing helps me work through whatever issues are at hand, and they are as much for me as they are for those who read them. I know that I will never be a big shot or have the banner headline, but I suppose I continue to write because it centres my thoughts in a way even talking something through fails to achieve.
The cynical marketing part of me also understands that a personal connection to an issue helps readers better relate to it, and that without personal insight I am writing mere bald news. My top read articles include three lists, an article on beauty, and male sexuality, each written knowing that to get a readership I need to be less niche. People only have a finite amount of reading and clicking time, and as a I write I know that if I really wanted to build a big audience, I could knock out a certain click baity article and people would generally come flocking. It is not difficult, though generally it is not me. I prefer to write about what I like, rather than worrying about clicks and likes.
So why worry about selling myself? Why the concern with mining my identity? I know that at the rate I post and write I will get burned out, as I did in September 2020. I lost the habit, and only picked it up again when I felt I had something to say. There is always the danger in mining yourself is that you will have nothing left to give, and that people will always perceive you from a certain perspective. It is why I have changed my identity on Medium, Youtube, and Twitter to a new brand that I can close off if I think things are getting too close to home. I am not afraid of sharing myself, rather, I am afraid of letting too much go and not really being able to have a centre ground just for me.
I suppose all writes and creatives go through this balancing act, on the one hand needing to put a piece of themselves in their work, yet also trying to retain an element that is just their own. The very best creatives walk this fine line, often straying too deep into their realities before the realise they have given too much of themselves. I am not at that point, and hopefully I can box off enough to never be there, but it has been playing on my mind as I write these articles.
There is only so much I can extract from myself before the well runs dry, and I hope that I have the sense to be able to leave enough left that I do not regret privately or publicly putting myself out there. Maybe this is hubris, but I think it is good to be self-aware and reflexive before problems creep up.