And why you don’t have to go walking on the moon to achieve it

Turn it off and get back to writing Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

In an interview with the presenter Dermot O’Leary, former The Police lead singer and bassist, Sting, says that “song-writing is like fishing. You won’t catch anything unless you turn up with a line.

Now, before some of you remind me (or Sting) that you can also turn up with a net, or other fishing equipment, let’s just stop and think for a moment about what the Geordie genius is getting at. The point is not what you use to catch the fish. The point is that you turn up. You can make up a pretty story which you tell yourself about how gorgeously the fish in your nearest lake tastes. But unless you go to the lake to get the fish, there won’t be any bones left behind on your plate later on.

Writing is not dissimilar. You have to turn up. Just like fishing, there are various techniques you can resort to in order to make your writing stand out. One of them, in my opinion, is the key to good, far-reaching writing: variety.

Stop putting on the red light

As in the red light for stopping at a traffic light, not the one Roxanne switches on in The Police’s eponymous song. Sometimes I think we writers are our worst enemies when it comes to dealing with writing material. We seek out topics we feel comfortable in and shun those that we’re not too sure about.

Imagine if Gordon Matthew Sumner had come into rehearsals with a bunch of songs about how to write songs. It goes without saying that the multi-award-winning musician we know as Sting today would still have been treading the floors of classrooms back in Newcastle (or he would have retired on a nice teacher’s pension). Both Copeland and Summers, as accommodating band members as they seemed to be, would have had a serious word with their bassist mate about variety.

That’s one of the hallmarks of The Police and it should be one of the distinctive features of a writer’s. However, day after day I’m confronted with the same-sounding articles on how to make x amounts of money on this platform. Recently the claims have become preposterous. For example, a few days ago I came across a post whose author claimed (in all earnestness) that he’d made several hundred dollars (daily!) from a write-up that had gone viral. A quick look at the shot he’d put up (no name or any other way to identify the author or verify that the figures posted were real), number of followers (fewer than a hundred) and output (every single story was on how to make money on Medium) convinced me that he was fibbing. Still, I almost left him a private note with a joke on how I wished him good luck on becoming the first Medium-made millionaire. At the same time, it made me sad that this writer’s potential had been cut short by a red light that he himself had switched on.

Every little thing we write should be magic

They say variety is the spice of life. Writing falls within that variety. Give me turmeric and cumin any time. Bland food, on the other hand, leaves me cold. Same with constant harping on stats, income streams, the Medium algorithm and the difference between this platform and Vocal. I don’t mind the occasional post on those subjects, but must you always serve the same, uninspiring bowl of plain, steamed rice? What if you combine some cinnamon, cumin and cardamom together and see where they take you?

I’m not stupid. I know that the very nature of Medium’s partner programme contributes to a situation I can only describe as “chasing the dragon”. Replacing heroin with reads, of course. Sadly, the upshot of this approach is writers resembling spirits in the material world, “living from day to day, churning out the same clickbait-y pieces, without ever finding another way.

As a writing tool, variety is one with which we ought to be familiar. We’re all multidimensional, multifaceted people. The range of subjects (whether we’re knowledgeable enough or not) should be no barrier to us taking the plunge. I say, have a go. Have a go at being unpredictable, quirky and humourous. Turn that red light off. This time, though, I mean it in the original way The Police intended it.