How To Write A ‘How To’ Article

Pick an utterly unoriginal topic. Possibly a topic involving someone breaking up with you, those are always good. Pick a topic so boring that the only way to save it is by making it a ‘How To’ article.

Write in the second-person plural present tense. Always, always. You always do this, you are always doing it, you are doing it right now. Cover up your lack of inspiration by writing in this way. Now you are typing. You’re typing something so boring that most people would die if they read it normally. “After he dumped me, I sat in bed and ate chocolate.” No one cares. But now you are universalizing it and making it immediate: “Sit in bed. Cry. Eat chocolate.” Wow. You are good, you. You are really really really really good.

Keep writing in this way. Think about how people will think you are deepYou are deep, aren’t you? You are the next Salinger, the next D.F.W. Your heart is a poem, fluttering along in the wind. Your professor in college said that you were a good writer. Your boyfriend pretended to care about your poetry. You have a Tumblr. Friends pretend to care. You are good; you’ve got the -ism.

Your writing is filled with uncontrollable power. Keep typing. There you go, champ. Type on. You’ll show them all, especially that guy who dumped you, except that you isn’t “you” anymore, right? It’s them. You are them. God, how profound.

What a rush! You are the next Salingerfosterwallace. Has anyone ever been this smart before? Your thoughts, they must be shared. What else happened after that guy dumped you? Oh. You re-watched The Notebook. “Sit next to your crumpled kleenex. Re-watch The Notebook.” Holy shit. Maybe you should send this to The Atlantic. No, The New Yorker.

Fail to think. Fail to think about how you’re covering up your lack of ability by writing in this way. Cover up your failure to think by repeating key phrases in your writing, phrases like “fail to think.” Repetition is good. People like repetition. Repetition is good.

Fail to think about how you may actively be hurting writing as a whole in this way. Don’t worry about it. Haters gonna hate. YOLO. Maybe your next article should be about YOLO; there’s an article in that, right? “Type YOLO. Hate yourself for typing YOLO.” Holy shit, you are on fire.

Be vague. Oh, you’re already being vague, because writing in the second-person present tense requires that you be vague; the very style mandates it. Write vaguely affirmative pap. No, you’re not being original, but you’re sharing. Sharing so that people can leave comments like, “this is so my life right now! its like youre inside my head, get out!!” Fail to reflect on how maybe that’s not the purpose of writing, to exactly mirror the thoughts of 18-year-olds. Fail to reflect on how the essential function of writing throughout the ages has been to try to say something new, something that has never been said before.

What else happened after that guy dumped you? You met a new guy. You started dating. You went to brunch. “Meet someone new. Start to tentatively feel again, like a moth emerging from her chrysalis. Start to feel. Learn to laugh again. Have brunch with him at [trendy place that’s not too trendy], suddenly find yourself laughing uproariously at a joke he makes as a piece of celery from your Bloody Mary is awkwardly lodged in your mouth. You never knew that you could laugh like that. You thought that you might never laugh ever again. But now you are laughing, reborn, free.”

Good, good, go-ooood. Ignore any warning voices in your head. Press “submit.” You have done it. You have done it. You have done it.

Now, tear it up and start again. TC mark

image – Monkey-typing


More From Thought Catalog

  • H

    Ohhh look how much better than everyone you are smuggy smuggerson.

    • Oliver Miller

      Omg. It’s like you’re in my head. Right now. Get out.

      • H

        I’m going, I’m going. It’s so dull in here.

  • Brianna (@BriMarieShe)

    I love the self indulgent articles, but this is a long time coming.

  • kate

    hahahahahahaha. thank you.

  • @BSKzoo

    I often wonder how your relationship is with other writers here. In any case, I got a good chuckle. Well done.

  • Michael Koh

    I’ve been expecting this, Oliver.

  • Concerned and Amused

    This is perfect. Love it. I really hate how all Thought Catalog submissions are structured like this. So good job making fun of all the unoriginal untalented submitters !

  • Vincent Veneziani

    Question: where is the place to go for brunch that’s trendy but not too trendy? Are we talking The Odeon? Sara Beth’s? This is an important question that needs to be answered.

    • Oliver Miller

      I used to like Veleska, b/c Jewish-ish, but that was years ago, and it was getting passe even then.

  • Diana


  • Robyn Showers (@Robyn_says)

    Oh my GAWD thank you. I’ve basically been complaining about these articles for the last month on Twitter. You, sir, are my hero in the fight against second-person narcissism.

  • JL

    How to Write an Article, in the Style of Oliver Miller

    Find some vaguely irritating but otherwise benign and insignificant aspect of the world that you dislike. Realize that there’s gold here. Find all flaws and blow them up out of proportion, and disorient your readers with hyphens, ellipses and random conversational phrases so that you can set yourself apart from the other writers on Thought Catalog.

    Ramble until no one knows what you’re talking about anymore. It’s fine, that’s the point. Keep writing, and over the course of your article, increase your use of hyperbole and passionately disdainful tone. Love your artfully crafted piece of “provocative satire” with all your heart.

    Reply to any and all comments criticizing your writing, opinion, or really anything else about you almost immediately. Make sure you sound both sarcastic and apathetic. Refuse to engage in any real dialogue with commenters. Feel superior.

    • Oliver Miller

      That’s, um — pretty good, actually.

    • Sam

      lmao!!!…JL…I just fell in love with you. Awesome response!!…You totally pulled Oliver Miller’s card.

      My favorite line is this: “…Fail to reflect on how the essential function of writing throughout the ages has been to say something new, something that has never been said before…”


      • Oliver Miller

        The fact that you don’t understand that makes me sadder than I was before.

    • John Johnson

      Great, now someone has to write a How to write a complaint to an article…

  • Kate

    You all do realize that the people who chose to publish this are the same people who choose to publish all the ‘How to’ articles don’t you? And Oliver if you were such a fabulous writer you wouldn’t be on TC with over thought out, condescending crap like this.

    • Oliver Miller

      I definitely realize that the article is being published on the site that the article is about, yep.

      • Kate

        Missed the point much? I wasn’t talking to you anyway, I said “you do ALL realize” as in, everyone else. Also, whilst we’re on it, I was pointing out that you’re criticising the very place that publishes your articles. So that makes you…kind of dumb no? (p.s cringe that you delete and re-write your comments to commenters in order to sound funnier/smarter. Doesn’t work.)

      • Oliver Miller

        I didn’t like my original comment, so I changed it. I did not miss the point much. It does not make me dumb to criticize. I hope that you found this helpful.

      • Kate

        All you did there was say no to everything I said. Good try Oliver. ‘Captain Condescending’ should be your new pen name.

      • Oliver Miller

        It really should be my new pen name.

      • Kate

        Feel free to use it, I won’t hold it against you. I hope that you found this helpful.

  • laura

    While I like reading those “how to” type articles (I mean, I am a 19 year old girl- they all OBVIOUSLY exemplify my feelings and life), this is actually extremely accurate and makes a valid point. And it’s funny. Good job.

  • Robert Wohner

    Haha, okay. Obviously, I’m sure there are many people that share your frustrations with this kind of writing. I get it. But I disagree with you in a few places. Writers ultimately are only responsible to themselves, their readers, and their publishers, not maintaining or progressing some conceptual institution of “writing”. If writers utilize feel that this voice is best at helping them achieve their personal or professional goals, so be it. That’s their call. I think what you’re really criticizing are writers who pander to audiences by tapping into overdone emotional places. Which again, it’s impossible to judge someone’s motivation. People like reading about shared experiences. Deciding what’s a hits grab or genuine expression is impossible. So I don’t think it’s fair either way to judge. Your complaint would be most valid if someone was actively trying to force you to write this way. Which I can’t imagine is happening. Your articles all have variety and personality and sound specifically like Oliver Miller wrote them. Which is a credit to you but also a credit to this website that gives you a lot of liberty to write however you see fit. To me, this website is pretty popular because of the writing you’re criticizing. It’s slightly unfair then to criticize the platform that others worked to build for you to stand on. I guess I’m just trying to say, “You do you” and keep up the good work. (Please forgive my grammatical errors.)

    • Dana

      Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Everything that needed to be said.

    • Oliver Miller

      You lost me a little at “I don’t think it’s fair either way to judge.” Why not? Writing is making decisions; every sentence is a decision, every sentence is a judgment about something, even if you’re only deciding by what you’re not writing.

      • Robert Wohner

        I really agree with everything you just said. But I do think as a contributing writer, you surrender your right to make this kind of criticism public. There are so many websites that share your views on writing and would love you to write for them. But someone of your talent doesn’t want to be published in the wasteland of wordpress blogs. As I see it, it’s unfair to want Thought Catalog’s readers while criticizing the way TC got them.

    • yay

      But… it’s called “Thought Catalog”. It’s a catalog of thoughts and just because someone’s opinion is differing, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included. I actually think it’s great that TC posted this. It shows that they are open to different viewpoints and have a sense of humour about themselves.

  • holidayofzoe

    I love you.

  • cuteness and consequence

    This totally ludicrous. Yes, everyone knows that women who write about their relationships are ruining the written language for everyone. Sigh. I really liked your writing until now.

    • Oliver Miller

      Ah, but that’s not what I said at all.

      • cuteness and consequence

        It was kind of implied by all of the female stereotypes you threw in that this was directed at women whose work you don’t feel is important enough to have an audience and who you believe are “failing to think.” Since I wrote a story similar to the one you are making fun of for TC perhaps I am taking it too personally, but I don’t find this cute at all. I don’t really see how being super snarky is any better use of language than someone ruminating on their relationship.

      • Oliver Miller

        It was directed equally at guys. I spent 20 seconds thinking of what to parody and I was like, “Jesus, I am sick of break-up articles,” so. I do not think that being super-snarky is a better use of language. This just happened to be a snarky article, but I don’t always write snarky articles. Many of my articles are not, in fact, snarky.

      • cuteness and consequence

        I know. Many of them are really interesting and beautiful. Which is why I bothered commenting at all. I totally get where you are coming from with this too. I’m just disappointed because it feels so unhelpful and mean. The sweet first grader with the mustard monsters wouldn’t be nearly so cynical.

      • Oliver Miller

        Aw. I just take writing really seriously, if that helps explain this at all.

      • Oliver Miller

        Ugh. That “aw” was not supposed to be sarcastic. I realize now that it looks sarcastic. It was a heartfelt “aw.” Fucking comments, man.

  • Joe D.

    Haha brilliant! It was either this or satirize the numbered list (i.e. 5 Ways, 10 Things, 50 Quotes, 25 Before 25, etc.).

  • Dana

    Oliver Miller you are one of the most unpleasant writers on this site. Your attitude towards any commenter who happens to oppose your views is so immature and pathetic. The fact that one of your previous articles alludes to the fact that you are in your mid 30s makes me even more embarrassed for you.

    • psstop

      My thoughts exactly.

  • AnnamariaPhilippeaux (@Amphx)

    While there are several “How-To” articles that are exceptions, the ones described here seem to be the rule. I’ve been waiting for an article like this to appear.

    • Oliver Miller

      There are definite exceptions.

  • LO

    Oh. Fuck.

    Thought Catalog derailed.

    This fucking guy.

  • milajaroniec

    Shit girl now what am I supposed to write about

    • Oliver Miller

      Augh, you’re fucked! Quick, write a list about being Polish fuck fuck fucking fuck. …I’m kidding! I’m a jokester, hey!

  • kimberly d. (@kimberMuffin)

    But I just feel so deep.

  • Liz


  • mutterhals

    I’m working on an open letter to open letters right now, NOBODY STEAL IT!!!

  • Julia

    SHAZAAM! You hit zee nail on the head, Mr. Miller. I’m working on a retaliation to the Thought Catalog mission statement, since that shit’ll NEVER get “published” on the site for real.

    1. Thought Catalog is illuminating and informative.

    (Because The People YOU Dated in YOUR 20’s will be the same as The People I Will Date in MY 20’s!)

    2. The site is well-designed and clutter-free.

    (Um, perhaps the text is clutter-free, but that’s where it ends. What about the gazillion ads picture-framing your minimalist post-modern font? Shit INTERRUPTS my enjoyment of Ryan O’Connell’s “How To Keep A Boner While Sobbing” articles.)

    3. TC contributors are smart. They’re at the vanguard of their respective fields and have published everywhere from The Paris Review to Maxim.

    (And that’s why they’re publishing articles merely to share Youtube videos they did not create themselves. Just share that junk on Facebook like the rest of the 21st century.

    AND… that’s why TC’s genius contributors use real journalists to do the real work of content generation by over-quoting from other news sites.)

    4. We’re nobrow and nonpartisan. We don’t take any of this or ourselves too seriously. Culture is our politics.

    (And we’re super pretentious ’cause we went to NYU/smarterthanyou.)

    5. Reading Thought Catalog will probably make you more interesting. You’re going to find out about stuff here you won’t see in the mainstream media. Thought Catalog will open new perspectives.

    (UGH. VOMIT. NO. Reading articles that wreak of the stench of my old Live Journal entries does not make me more interesting. It just makes me another member of today’s self-indulgent, over-pampered, first-world-problems, GIRLS-loving society!

    UGH. Dear Thought Catalog, please box this quote up, think of a cutesy constipation jingle, and place it in the laxative aisle at CVS – because this pretentious prune juice just made me SHIT A BRICK.)

    6. We’re about today. But our mission is also archival. We plan on sticking around for a longtime.

    (THEN WHERE’S YOUR FUCKING CLEARLY-LABELED ARCHIVE. I SCROLLING THROUGH THOUSANDS OF PAGES DOES NOT AN ARCHIVE MAKE. Group it by dates, by categories, by bullshit level – fuck, I don’t care. You’re not sticking around long with your hot mess archival system.)

    7. Our content is always vetted and (most of the time) edited.

    (Edited… most-to-none of the time.)

    8. We’re generous. We’re positive. We’re friendly. We prefer to focus on the good than the bad. We’re more celebratory than critical.

    (Well color me Negative Nelly. Sometimes you gotta clear out the crap instead of accepting every smooth-talking sailor that comes your way.)

    9. Important conversations happen here.

    (I debate this with evidence:

    All on the same page, no less.)

    10. In a small way, you’re supporting the future of journalism.

    (Because reporting on Vogue-dancing 5-year-olds is cutting to the thick of the important issues.)

    Sorry. That was long. Oliver: You have done it. You have done it. You have done it.
    Keep writing. But, don’t write here. This is not worth your time.

    • Joe


    • McKenzie

      HAHA “how to keep a boner while sobbing…” I don’t even know you and I am proud of that phrase. So perfect.

  • Harriet

    I open Thought Catalog in the evening after studies, search for the name Oliver Miller, and am transported into a world where my life isn’t cataloged into break-up depression/relationship joy bins and what I should do before I turn 25. Thanks for the fantastic article.

    • Woo

      Agreed it’s exhausting wading through that crap.

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