An open letter to the open letters by self-help, life-hack and tech-bro haters

A PRIMER ON NARCISSISM, ANGER AND PROJECTION

The last few weeks, I’ve seen the latest wave of articles complaining about the preponderence of self-help, life-hack and tech-startup articles on Medium that crowd out the “good” stuff written by unknown writers. While I totally agree with your premise, I have to observe that your articles are basically doing the same thing — getting huge numbers of views and recommends, while taking attention away from writers who have written something meaningful — as the people you complain about.

But being the blogger generation, we just like to spew out whatever is on our minds, as if we were the first to think about it. Worse yet, we think the problem just started because it happened to come to our attention at that particular moment. I’ve got a funny personal story about that little combination of ignorance, lack of research, and the irrational overconfidence in our perceptions otherwise known as narcissism, but you’ll have to read that at the end, because I don’t want to make this about me.

This is a loving attempt to help all of you out there who are frustrated by the mass of garbage that clogs up your Medium feed.

First, let’s talk about your choice of subject.

If you do a search like “complaints about Medium,” you will see entries that date back to 2014, if not further (once I got back that far, I stopped scrolling down myself, just to demonstrate piss poor research).

You see, Medium has been dominated by all the stuff you hate probably since its inception.

The only thing is that noobies (and I was one of them) read these articles at first and even like a few of them. Then, someone writes an article that is so incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid that we rage against this virtual writer’s Matrix. But here’s the thing, the Rebellion has been going on just fine without you AND it has been far more entertaining than anything you’ve probably ever written.

I collected every piece by two brilliant writers who have written about the same thing as you, but have turned their frustrations into wonderful sources of laughter.

I give you the king and crown prince of Medium-roasted Medium, Henry Wismayer and Morgan Rock Loehr and a complete catalog of their work:

So people, do some research first, and make sure you aren’t beating a dead horse that was killed a long time ago to hilarious effect. And I say that in the most loving way possible, as I am a master of dead-horse beating (more about that soon).

Next, let’s talk about anger.

You know, friend, your highly rational and understated approach to the serious threat of data-driven content marketing is laudable, but I really wish you could get in touch with the inner YOU and start to express your anger more directly.

It’s as if inner YOU is stuck inside an extremely well-constructed anger piñata made by over zealous parents who had no experience with paper maché, adding enough layers to make it hard enough to act as a 1950s style bomb shelter. Inner YOU doesn’t have a machete, a machine gun or the jaws of life from which you can extricate yourself, but if you perform visualization exercises like using a welding torch to burn a hole to the outside world, or perhaps a volcano blowing a hole upward, or even having a jackhammer break that paper maché under your bottom, I’m sure you can help YOU reach a point where YOU can finally express some anger in a healthy way.

Another way to do this would be to engage in directed fantasy where you can symbolically kill off the schlock writers you despise in creative and fun new ways.

In my professional experience, I would suggest you read

Inside this sprawling collaborative work of art, you will find the efforts of nineteen other writers who channeled your shared frustration to write entertaining fiction, instead of just a simple rant. Your loyal followers are depending on you to be entertained, illuminated and transformed by your message, so why not give it to them?

You could even contribute your own fantasy story to their publication. I hear the editor is a wonderful, friendly and exceedingly modest man who bears a striking resemblence to Tom Selleck (circa Magnum, PI, not Blue Bloods). He encourages every reader to write something, even if it’s only a single sentence describing what you are doing at the Games. It’s a lot of fun. He has had submissions from some of the most celebrated and well loved writers on Medium, so why not you?

Now, let’s take a quick look at projection.

I do need to add one last thought about your feelings of frustration.

Anger is not only a signal about something that is wrong with the outside world, it is a signal about something we don’t like that we see in ourselves.

When you tell all the straw men out there to learn how to write, aren’t you also speaking to inner YOU?

With that in mind, I hope you and inner YOU will carefully read:

These seven steps are so good (guaranteed to get results or double your money back), you’ll come back for an eighth (after you’ve come back with an eighth) and perhaps even a bonus ninth step to becoming a great writer.

You and inner YOU deserve this. In the words of Dr. S. Smalley, “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it people like you!”

Finally, a brief personal story about narcissism

You see, I have done everything I mentioned above, just like you, oh outraged Open Letter writers. The only difference is, I was doing it before the rise of the internet as we know it. My best example is from 1992.

I was going through a very difficult period in my life, and my counselor at the time suggested I read a book called “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck. (Anyone who has read my work before may have seen me reference his definition of love as being the best one ever. If people read and understood it, we would eliminate 90% of the relationship advice and dating experience stories on Medium. Please, for the love of love, read it here and unclog Medium even further.)

Anyway, I read the book and I was just bubbling over how wonderful it was. So I started to tell people about it because I thought it would help them. I even felt like I owned a little caché, because I had “discovered” this wonderful new thing. And then, one day, years later when we had the internet we now know, I did a search for the book and guess what?

The Road Less Traveled had been on the New York Time’s Bestseller list.

Since 1977.

All I can say is, to quote a dear friend, “It’s crowded here at the center of the universe.”

So, you see dear readers and ranters, feminists and mansplainers, judged and judgers, top-of-the-boiled-egg breakers and bottom-of-the-boiled-egg breakers, ich bin ein narcissist, just like you. The only difference is, I was fortunate enough to make a fool of myself to a relatively small number of people over the years, while you get the opportunity to write something online and have the entire universe (to quote another friend) “all the fucking way to motherfucking Jupiter and back” find out the same thing instantly, while leaving evidence that will live on long after you’ve left the world, online, or otherwise.

So do yourselves and all of us a favor. Research first. Reflect second. And then, if it meets all the Buddhist writing criteria (Is it true? is it funny? Is it necessary?), then by all means entertain us with your Rant.

There may be one last question on your minds, “what makes you such an expert that you should be telling us all this stuff that we might already know?” And to that I answer with my own favorite response:

Don’t you know who I think I am?

Enjoy your weekend.

All the best in your journey.


If you decide on reading good stuff, instead of complaining about garbage, here are some recommendations.

First a list of the funniest people I’ve found on Medium. The list is so popular it has more recommends than any serious piece I’ve written since I joined Medium. That probably says more about our need to laugh these days than (I hope) the quality of my own writing.

And here’s a list of other wonderful writers I follow (I know I’m going to miss a lot of you, so apologies to all of you. I will add you to this list is I remember).

The deeply moving and occasionally controversial A McEnnis, whose story helped me see the insanity of the garbage overcrowding the most meaningful personal voices on Medium

The departed [UPDATE: resurrected] Kel Campbell [and don’t f*ckin’ make me change this again], Jules, Heather Nann, S Lynn Knight, and others, who have opened my eyes about sexism and the open wounds of womanhood.

Abby Norman, alto, Jonathan Carroll, Elliot Nichols, and many others who have written beautiful, moving fiction.

Lizella Prescott, whose wordsmithing is almost comparable to Michael Chabon.

Holly Wood, whose unique combination of swearing, astute political observation and fearlessness always makes for a great read.

Mike Essig, the bravest poet on Medium, writing about men’s desires and the ghosts of war. And my friend Jeffrey Field who is brave enough, crazy enough, and stoned enough to write about the most controversial issues that need to be addressed.

Todd Hannula 🤓 a voice of peace and reason

David Graham, an ad industry legend and wonderfully eclectic writer

My favorite noobies, JoJo Magno and Victoria Easterday

The inspiration and founder of The Grammar Games, the goofy but incredibly deep and talented Michelle Stone

And all of the contributors to “The Tao of Blogging,” a rag tag collection of writers both new and established some of whom have found their way into my heart in the span of a single sentence. Please check out their work in this publication:

Thanks for reading.


[UPDATE: My intention in naming some of my favorite writers is not to increase my own readership and number of little green hearts (academic term: Coattail StarFucking™, coined by that renown social scientist Jules). This is an example of Coattail StarGazing™, my own method of fighting Medium’s flawed algorithms.]

[UPDATE 6/5: Based on the incredible response to this article, I am happy to report that at least one person NOT called out in the above list has read this article and recommended it. Thank you, (identity concealed) for your support. I can’t name you, for it would disprove my preceding claim. But you know who you are, and although you will be forced to live on in anonymity, please know I hold you close to my heart!]

[UPDATE 6/5.2: I no longer need to write on Medium. Or write, period. This artist is a much better version of me, and it will take far less time for me to read his articles than to write my own. This article is pure subversive and hilarious genius, combining everything I hope to put into my writing:

Thanks, Medium, it’s been a blast!]

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