The Four Seasons of My First Year on Medium

Twelve months, twelve articles. How much did I get out of them?

I used to hate people who make New Year’s resolutions. Then I become one.

I realised I only hated people, myself included, who’d put more effort into brainstorming their goals & telling the world than working towards them.

Exactly a year ago, I decided to start writing again. I set myself a goal of one article per month; small enough to be manageable in my schedule, ambitious enough to be proud at the end.

I reached the goal, and it feels good. I got praises and claps, but more importantly, I learned along the way, about writing, about myself, productivity and creativity. Here is the summary of how it went; the success & pitfalls, the statistics and the priceless lessons.

Photo by Bob Canning on Unsplash

Winter —Start with What you Want to Read

To kick things off, here’s a piece of advice for content creators: you are your first reader, write for yourself first.

Writers often state the opposite: seek a niche, analyse the market and figure out what people want to read. They aren’t wrong; they just approach the craft as professionals and tell you how to become one of them. You do not need to take all your hobbies this seriously for them to be fulfilling.

Start writing about what you want to read, what you are passionate about and urgently need to tell the world. You will get less extrinsic validation from others, but much more intrinsic satisfaction. You will barely make money, yet your enjoyment of the activity will keep you going.

My very first article was about My Readings of 2019, and it’s also the least viewed. I wrote it for myself first & foremost anyway: as I do with my social media, I’ll reread it in months and years to take a trip down the memory lane.

My second least-read article is an even more personal one about my daily routine and how I gained weight. It landed some half-awkward conversations in real life, but I remember enjoying myself so much when writing it.

In February, I wrote an extensive piece on Disney Heroes, a mobile game I played a lot at the time. It initially received a few dozen views (due to a friend’s shootout with many Twitter followers), but it did surprisingly well over time thanks to Google; the two parts combined have 2196 views to date.

I also liked putting this one out, because again, this is the type of content I’d like to read but rarely stumble upon on the Internet. Who takes time to write these anyway? Experts don’t have time. Well, maybe, I do.

Spring — Learn as you Teach

I was getting more comfortable with writing. I felt confident to start working on larger pieces with broader topics that passionate me. Part of my job involves producing detailed games benchmarks, yet I keep forgetting how much you learn when you try to teach.

The writing process captures the indistinctive thoughts that float around your mind and makes them concrete. Even when you have the right instinct, you really figure out all the blurry areas when translating these ideas into words. You know a great deal about a topic, yet it helps you realise there is more to dig. For each of my articles, seeking illustrative examples and data to back up my claim has led to unexpected discoveries.

I explored this concept of “unknown unknowns” in my May piece about the learning process. Trying to develop my own mental model was an interesting exercise. Unfortunately, I also tried to go for a “hand-drawn” graphics illustration style, and the result looks awful. Lesson learned: keep it simple if you lack the skills.

I had a lot of fun writing about Assassin’s Creed's economy, also thanks to what I learned while researching for it. The second part is my favourite, and it wasn’t planned in the initial draft, I discovered it along the way. This story also marked a significant milestone as I got curated for the first time and started to make pennies out of my stories (1.56$ yeah! I could pay myself a coffee if I wasn’t quarantined…)

Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

Summer —More Success, more Process

Thanks to my Brotherhood story's curation, I stumbled upon the SUPERJUMP publication. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of constraints of benefits of publishing there, but I decided to give it a try with my article about ludonarrative dissonance in Uncharted. The experience was delightful, and all my subsequent stories were published there as well.

The publication helped me reach a new audience; the three summer stories did exceptionally well in terms of views, reads & revenues. I attribute this success to the big names: popular franchises catches more attention than abstract game design concepts.

Revenues increased but also felt quite random. The surge I got for the articles was far from being profitable anyway (less than 2$/hour of work), and there’s no correlation between view & revenues. Medium shares the monthly fee of premium members who read your story, so attracting Google or social media audiences won’t generate much. It’s okay; I didn’t plan to get rich anyway.

SUPERJUMP also helped me with the writing: knowing I have an editor made me raise my standards. I paid more attention to the story's structure and flow, like using a pizza metaphor in the article about open worlds. I also dedicated more time to rewrites and tracked my time more consciously, which made me revise my process.

I have too few data points to do averages but generally speaking, a story takes me 10 to 25 hours from start to finish. I have four major steps: drafting (writing down ideas in bullet points), writing (making sentences & paragraphs out of these), rewriting (improving the sentences, sometimes adjusting the content) and illustrations.

When I divide the time spent in each category by the total number of words, I can make rough comparisons. I realised I was spending way too much time in the rewriting phase. The stories about The Last of Us crafting & Ghost Recon exploration took 2h30 and 3h30 of rewrite time per 1000 words; when the other averages around 1h30 per 1000 words. I needed to shorten this because it was burdening my entire writing experience.

On the bright side, I learned my lesson and improved the illustration process during this period. The Last of Us story has it all: gameplay gifs I captured & edited myself, some gorgeous photo mode illustration and graphics somewhat fitting with the game palette. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it immersive, but at least it’s not the colours & styling of Microsoft Office that I used in the Brotherhood piece.

Fall — Finding a New Workflow

My next piece on priorities & accessibility was heading in the same direction as the Ghost Recon one. It would take forever to write & rewrite because of the lack of initial direction, so before reaching this impasse, I decided to hit pause & rewind to the drafting phase.

The piece was first focused on development strategies and usage of the Llosa Matrix, but it’s such a deep topic it was going everywhere at once. I decided to focus on a single example (accessibility), which would also serve as a hook. Suddenly, the whole piece felt less like an academic course and more like a story people could want to read.

Writing this piece took me longer than the previous, yet it was more pleasurable because rewriting was 25% of the total time spent, down from almost 70%! Don’t get me wrong: editing is necessary to elevate your writing and make yourself clear, especially when tackling complex topics. But I find it more frustrating to untangle my thoughts after writing them down, than before, when they’re a list of ideas.

Instead of bullet points, I now make the general structure in an excel table and describe each paragraph's content in a few words. Seeing it all on one screen allows me to quickly order the ideas, ensure the structure has no holes and identify the parts' disbalance. I’ll detail this process in an article someday, once it’s more refined.

The next story on the generic winning strategies felt effortless thanks to this newly-found technique. The Watch Dogs: Legion one was this year's culminating point, using everything I learned on writing & illustration. There is no magic formula though, it was still a tricky topic to tackle, and the result is far from perfect.

With this one, I had a hard time striking the correct balance between leaving the reader to fill the blanks & over-explaining my ideas. Learning conciseness will be my next objective. I feel like I will never get bored with improving my writing; the depth of such an ordinary skill is fascinating to me.

Photo by Lucas Clara on Unsplash

Epilogue — What’s Next

A year ago, I set myself the goal of writing twelve articles. Numeric objectives can be tricky; they tend to encourage short-term thinking and taking shortcuts. I succeeded though and still thrived to reach high-quality standards and improve continuously.

New Year’s resolution worked, time to make new ones! Of course, I can’t tell them directly, because the human brain also tends to trick itself into feeling a goal is half-completed once it’s announced. The accountability you get from your peers isn’t always sufficient to fuel the motivation.

I can give you a rough overview of the big projects I have for this year, though:

  • I’m working on a game as a solo developer, and I plan to release a demo in 2021. Check my Twitter account for updates; I’ll probably write about it on Medium soon too.
  • I have one big writing project, leveraging the experience and techniques I learned this year to produce something substantially more extensive. It’s ambitious but sounds doable. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • The second writing goal is to continue writing articles on topics that passionate me. I’m aiming at smaller, more focused pieces, to save myself time and practice conciseness.

And finally, it might be cliché, but I’d like to thank my readers. The friends, the anonymous. Those who reached out on social media, sometimes in person. Everyone. Thanks for reading me, and I wish you a Happy New Year!

Lead Game Designer at Ubisoft Paris. Expert in system design, economy, progression. Views are my own and do not represent my company.

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