A Toilet Paper Story Got Me Started on Medium

If nothing else dates this article to “writing in the time of COVID-19,” that headline will.

“People aren’t hoarding toilet paper because they think the coronavirus is going to send them to the bathroom all day long,” I told my husband impatiently, one day in early April. “It’s because they’re panic-buying essentials that won’t go bad if they end up locked down in their homes for a long time. It’s the same reason the ramen noodles are sold out, too! Why is everyone making jokes about COVID-19 causing diarrhea? THAT’S NOT WHAT’S HAPPENING. It’s not fair to make fun of people who are just trying to plan ahead!”

My husband is long-suffering, and accustomed to my rants by now. He knows that most of the time they’re not directed at him, and he took me in sickness and in health, in silence and in sounding board. (I return the favor when he complains about people who drive badly.)

“It’s just a joke,” he said patiently, for the tenth time. “People make memes about current events all the time. They’re just having fun. Besides, some of the planning ahead is crazy. Look at how bottled water sold out! This is a pandemic, not a hurricane. No one’s losing power, yet everyone wants to buy bottled water. It makes no sense.”

That evening, a friend shared an article on Facebook which I read with a growing sense of smug confirmation bias. “There IS a reason behind the toilet paper hoarding!” I told my husband triumphantly.

“I didn’t say there wasn’t,” he replied, bewildered.

(To be fair, that was true. Sorry, hon.)

Anyway, the article by Will Oremus explained the toilet paper shortage in clear, engaging language. People are using more toilet paper at home because their workplaces, schools, and public watering holes are shut down, and therefore the demand for Scott and Charmin has increased. At the same time, the supply chain that typically provides toilet paper to commercial locations is facing a drastic drop in demand, while “at-home” toilet paper — manufactured differently — is struggling to keep up.

It was interesting to read, validated what I had been previously feeling, and taught me several things I had not known before. All in all, a great article.

It also introduced me to a platform I had only vaguely been aware of. I clicked around on Medium, read a few pieces, and then hit The Wall — end of free articles for the month. But I’d found the Medium Help Center, read the instructions, and figured… well, if anyone can do this, maybe I could too.

Rashly, recklessly, and extravagantly, I signed up for a Medium member account, forking over $5 for the first month with a promise to continue every thirty days but with the right to cancel at any time. You could make money as a writer on this platform, so maybe I could make my $5 back. I was working from home, feeling frustrated with not quite enough to do, and wanting something to get my mind off The Coronavirus Pandemic (title case, always).

So, here went nothing.

For a few days, I’d been planning to put together a blog post about the benefits of reading and letting your brain turn off from the stress of the news, but my personal blog fits into a very specific niche of literature, historical fashion, and Jane Austen Fandom Stuff. Besides which, it isn’t monetized and has a fairly small readership. I’d been thinking about trying to branch a little further into writing online, and moving out of my comfort zone. Maybe this article would do better on Medium — and it might earn me some money, right?

So I wrote You Need a Mental Break From COVID-19, took a deep breath, and on April 15th I hit publish. My first article! It’s been edited slightly since then, as I’ve learned a bit more about how to finagle the formatting, but I was happy with the ease of working with the platform. The article wasn’t curated, but I felt good about it, and that’s what counts, right?

(I know some people like to see the stats, so… just over a month later it has made exactly 10 pennies. The rush is exhilarating, let me tell you.)

I read a ton of stories in every moment of spare time I could find, followed writers I enjoyed reading, and clapped when I felt like it. (I’m not a fan of the back-scratching follow-for-follow game. If I’m going to enjoy my reading experience, I’d rather keep my New From Your Network feed to stuff I’m actually going to want to read.)

Along the way, I realized that you can actually clap more than once. Oops. Sorry to everyone who received a single clap on a really good story and thought I was being stingy. Thank you to Alex Baia and I Am the One Who Claps Once for alerting me to this phenomenon.

Right around this time, I’d also been thinking about flexing my humor writing muscle a little harder. I frequently write in a humorous vein on my personal blog, but hadn’t specifically considered myself a writer of humor. But now that I’d put myself out there on a new platform, anything seemed possible, so I had tentatively tried submitting to McSweeney’s. The piece I wrote on my less-than-stellar attempts at bread baking was not accepted. Nothing daunted, now with a couple more Medium articles under my belt, I went for Slackjaw. They didn’t want it. Fine. I hit self-publish on Ma Ingalls Would Have Wiped the Floor With My Homemade Bread and went on with my life.

Twenty minutes I checked my stats (because… who doesn’t…) and it had been curated! Not only in Food, but in Humor as well.

I was on Top. Of. The. World. And very tempted to say, “Take that, McSweeney’s!” but I respect their standards of editorial review and would also like for them to publish something else of mine eventually, so I will watch my mouth. And my typing.

My bread piece didn’t end up doing too well, ironically, but it gave me a much-needed confidence boost, and if anyone is curious I have made several much-better loaves in the days since then. And have also been curated a few more times, and felt the dopamine rush every time. I did not make enough to cover my membership costs in April, but in May I’ve passed that mark, so at least this hobby is paying for itself, if not much else.

Why did I write this piece, exactly? Who even cares?

Well, in a Facebook group for Medium writers, someone recently posed the question of what people wanted to read here, and the overwhelming response seemed to be “personal essays, not self-help 10-step programs.” Since I wholeheartedly fall within that overwhelming response, I figured this is the type of article I’d like to read. Why not let it be the type of article I’d like to write, too?

And that is my story of how I started writing on Medium. It isn’t a how-to or a success soliloquy or a get-curated-quick-with-these-hot-tips piece. It’s just my personal How I Got Here. I’m a nosy person and I like to know people’s stories. How did you get here? Was there a certain story that got you up and running, a certain person who inspired you, or were you just looking for a convenient blogging platform? Tell me! I want to know.

In the course of writing this navel-gazing essay, I realized that since I essentially discovered Medium through that toilet paper article before I actually created an account, I had not actually shown my appreciation in any tangible way.

This has since been rectified. I have now given What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage 50 claps. It was the least I could do.

Historical costumer, fifty-cent-word purveyor, aspiring humorist, and Oxford comma fan. History, books, & musings of a new mom. Twitter: @sewistwrites

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