avatarKevin L. Hing


Writer Wellbeing 101: Don’t Count Dollars. Feed Your Unicorns.

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Is your writer’s spirit under siege?

Are you a new writer frustrated that your carefully crafted articles are only earning nickels and pennies?

Don’t despair. Don’t give up. As a new writer, I’ve found an approach that sustains my emotional wellbeing, and it might sustain yours as well.

What’s my secret? It’s pretty simple.

I measure my success as a writer in terms of how many Writer’s Unicorns I have cultivated, not by how much money my writing has earned.

What is a Writer’s Unicorn?

How do you find them? Feed them? Keep them?

How does the care and feeding of unicorns protect and sustain your wellbeing as a writer?

How can unicorns (whatever the heck they are!?!) possibly be more important than money?

Let me explain.

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Cultivating and Caring for Unicorns is the Key to Writer Wellbeing

When it comes to one’s emotional wellbeing and self-esteem, writing is a risky business.

It takes guts (and for many of us, a lot of hard work) to put your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations in writing and post them for the world to see.

When we do finally publish our work, we are often immediately possessed by a powerful craving for validation as writers and for affirmation of the worthiness of the thoughts and feelings we have expressed.

It’s tempting to measure the value of our writing (and of our sense of self as a writer) by the money it generates, but that’s a big mistake.

The Algorithm is a strict taskmaster.

The Algo doesn’t care how many hours we spend writing our masterpiece. It doesn’t measure the depth of the feelings, the passion, or the utility of what we express. And since it doesn’t measure us in those terms, it certainly doesn’t pay us according to those terms.

What the Algo does seem to value, measure, and pay us for, is reader engagement.

And in this endeavor, the Writer’s Unicorn is the holy grail of reader engagement.

So what exactly is a Writer’s Unicorn?

A Writer’s Unicorn is a reader who is so intrigued, fulfilled and/or satisfied by your writing that they actively engage with you and respond to your work to the greatest extent allowed by the mechanics of the writing/publishing app or platform you are using.

A Writer’s Unicorn is a reader who has found you, followed you, and immediately opens and reads your posts no matter what the title or topic may be.

Writer’s Unicorns like, clap and tag copiously.

They frequently post meaningful comments to your posts that inform you how and why your writing resonated with them and fulfilled their intellectual and/or emotional needs.

And, since they value the efforts of their favorite writers, Writer’s Unicorns are paid members of the platform you are writing for and take pride and pleasure in knowing that their time, attention, and reading engagement provide financial rewards to you as one of their favored writers.

Unicorns are priceless to writers (especially new writers) because the consistency, quality, and sincerity of their engagement provides the encouragement that all writers need to return to the keyboard each day while also providing essential feedback regarding which topics and writing styles are the most resonant, informative, and fulfilling.

Now, I know what you might be thinking…

If you are a new writer, struggling to gain followers, claps and comments, it might seem far-fetched that Writer’s Unicorns really exist. But they do.

How do I know? Well, I know because I myself am a Writer’s Unicorn.

There are some writers whose posts I always open and read immediately because I am consistently intrigued and impressed by their message, style and/or philosophy, and I can’t wait to see where they’re going next. I frequently clap and comment to convey my appreciation for their work. And I enjoy knowing that my time and attention provide financial rewards to those writers.

I’d even bet that you qualify as a Writer’s Unicorn for at least one or two (maybe even more) of the writers whom you are following.

So, if I’m a Writer’s Unicorn, and you are too, then there certainly are many more of them out there, in The Wild, waiting to be found.

So how do we find them, and how do we keep ’em coming back for more?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

On the Care and Feeding of Unicorns

Unicorns are creatures of wellbeing.

They respond to writing that nurtures positive states of being and that inspires the flourishing of mind, body, and soul.

If you have knowledge, experience, or passion for something that supports such a flourishing, and if you incline your writing towards helping people in that direction, you will attract Unicorns.

Yes, Unicorns are rare. But the good news is that once a Unicorn starts noticing you, they are easy to see.

Each time you publish, you’ll see them on your clap lists. You’ll see them posting comments. And if you’re really lucky, you might even see them mentioning you in their own published articles…linking to your profile, your articles, and your other social media links.

And once you have a Unicorn’s attention, the quality of your interaction with them will help to keep them engaged with you for the long term.

I am a new writer, and I don’t yet have as many unicorns as Eve Arnold, Justin Cox, and other big kahunas in the social media space.

But I do have a few.

When I see them responding to my writing, I always take the time to respond to them and express my appreciation for their attention, their thoughts, and the insights that they give me about how my writing fulfills their needs.

I know there is a lot of advice online stressing the importance of posting new content frequently and consistently to gain visibility and boost reader engagement. And we all know that time is precious.

But if I had to choose between 1) spending an hour writing and posting a new article, and 2) spending a whole hour crafting a sincere, heartful response to a single Unicorn, expressing my appreciation for their attention and further exploring the connection that we share, I would choose caring for my Unicorn every single time.

Spend the time to care for your Unicorns.

When you do, they will stay engaged with you. You will learn and evolve as a writer just as they are learning and evolving by reading your writing.

Plus, other readers may read the dialog between you and your Unicorns, and when they see the quality of your caretaking, they just might become Unicorns themselves.

Photo by Sarah J. on Unsplash

Why is Unicorn Caretaking Better for Your Wellbeing than Counting Earnings?

Measuring your success as a writer by the tally of your earnings is a dead end, especially for new writers. Focusing instead on cultivating Unicorns orients our focus toward satisfying the needs of others rather than reinforcing a self-centered (and self-destructive) craving for financial gain.

Let’s face it. As new writers, for every hour we spend writing, it’s likely that we’d make more money if we spent that time flipping burgers.

But that’s OK. Why?

Because we’re not flipping burgers. We’re writing!

With each published article, we’re honing our craft. We’re finding our voice. We’re connecting with new readers. And we’re attracting Unicorns.

Best of all, if we’re really lucky, our writing is enriching the hearts, minds, and souls of our readers.

As writers, this is an orientation of the mind, heart, and soul that will protect and sustain our wellbeing.

And, by the way, being a Unicorn Caretaker isn't all doom and gloom financially. There are also practical benefits to focusing on engagement rather than raw financial gain.

My theory (which is working out for me OK so far) is that if you measure your success in terms of how many unicorn followers you cultivate, then as you gain more of them, one of two things will happen in the short term: 1) money will follow, or 2) the money will gradually lose its luster as a motivation. Either way, your emotional wellbeing is enhanced.

In the long term, my theory is that BOTH of the above results will happen: 1) you will value money less as a metric for success, and 2) you will make MORE money, because publishing Unicorn-worthy content will attract more unicorns to your work, which will bring you more earnings from the increased claps, follows, and responses that you are inspiring.

For me, maintaining a Unicorn Caretaker’s mindset has protected my wellbeing, kept me enthused and excited as a writer, encouraged my engagement with readers, helped me to grow a base of followers, and helped me to get my first Boost after only two months of writing on the Medium platform.

If I can thrive as a Unicorn Caretaker, then so can you.

Go ahead, give it a try. I hope it works for you as well as it has for me!

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