How to Write a Think Piece
I really didn't want to write an article about Phil Robertson from <i>Duck Dynasty</i>, but the internet cycle of outrage meant that I had to. So, I set out to write the greatest righteously indignant think piece of all time.
Phil Robertson ruined my week. I really wanted to write a charming personal essay about Christmas traditions in Los Angeles in this column today—something about it being 75 degrees and how the fake snow on my tree is actually cocaine. It would have been so cute and funny, but the bearded asshole from Duck Dynasty had to say something outrageous about gay people. Goodbye, self-indulgent casual humor piece. Hello, angry think piece.
Sure, I could have tried to ignore all the chatter about the Phil Robertson story, but I wanted to be connected to a hot SEO topic. So, I decided to write the greatest think piece in the history of the internet—an article so infuriating and controversial that you would have to share it with all of your friends on various social media platforms.
But first, what is a think piece?
“A piece of writing meant to be thought-provoking and speculative that consists chiefly of background material and personal opinion and analysis.”
I created an alternate definition that I think is a bit more concise and also much more accurate:
“A piece of writing on Salon.com.”
Now that I was clear on what I was writing, I went through my handy Internet Writer's Handbook and followed their steps for how to write a killer think piece.
STEP ONE: FIND SOMETHING TO BE MAD AT
This is the easy part. There's a reason why dumb people end up becoming famous so often in our modern media landscape. They keep creative writing students, comparative literature majors, and people with trust funds employed by giving them targets to lob their thesaurus at. We should all get down on our knees and thank Phil Robertson for being alive to comment awkwardly on social issues. Just expect him to beat the shit out of you when you get down on your knees if you're a man.
STEP TWO: DO YOUR RESEARCH
I was already bored thinking about having to, like, call people or get out of my chair. No thanks. I got into this business to throw my opinions around like they were carved on a stone tablet by Moses and blessed by the Dalai Lama's dick. Plus, I had an accupuncture appointment that I could not miss. I did what any proper writer would do in this situation. I googled “how to write a think piece.” Richard S. Cohen, Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego, conveniently wrote “The Think Piece: A Guide,” presumably for his students who are looking to make a living as professional contrarians. He was all, “I require think pieces to be well organized and coherent,” and I was all, Fuck that. Then I found a link titled, “How to Write a Think Piece Without Doing Any Work,” and I was like, Baller.
STEP THREE: FIND THE MAJORITY OPINION, THEN ESPOUSE THE EXACT OPPOSITE OPINION
Nothing is more tedious than an essay that parrots what you already believe. The point of a think piece is to piss off enough people that they send your story to all of their buddies, who will also be outraged at how anyone could say something so clearly false. A Facebook status similar to, “I don't want to give this writer any more attention, but I also want everyone to know how offensive his or her ideas are. This is what's ruining America!” is what you're going for. In that vein, I decided to write a think piece about how Phil Robertson is probably a closeted homosexual. Gay people will click knowing that I'm on their team, and homophobes will be up in arms that I basically made up a story about their hero. I call this the Double Whammy.
STEP FOUR: DEVELOP A UNIQUE WRITING STYLE
Professor Cohen's guide gave me some license to open up my creative toolbox. He says, “You might write a formal essay, citing sources. You are permitted to use the personal 'I'; you are permitted to tell stories; you might even write a poem.” I thought, A poem is a great idea for my Phil Robertson think piece. Not only is a poem a unique form—it's also super short, which means I'll be done faster.
I wrote this haiku:
Phil must be gay.
To say such mean stuff. He's a self-hater.
Duck Dynasty is not a spinoff of Duck Tales. Huh.
I showed my poem to a few fellow media elite types and was told that it was not only not a haiku at all, it was also “fucking terrible.” Your mileage may vary.
STEP FIVE: COME UP WITH A CRAZY HEADLINE
The best website in the world is Media Takeout. They have carved out a niche with unsupported gossip, salacious subject matter, and celebrity shaming. Plus, their articles have snappy titles like, “HMMMMMM . . . SOMETHING LOOK A BIT OFF ABOUT BEYONCE'S FACE . . . COULD IT BE THE WEIGHT LOSS . . OR DID SHE HAVE CHIN SURGERY!!!” and “IT'S GOING DOWN!!! Rihanna Starts YELLING . . . Threatens To BEAT UP SOME LATINA CHICK . . Inside A NYC CLUB . . . And We GOT IT ON TAPE!!! (Rih Is ABOUT DAT LIFE)”
The latter title tells you all you need to know about this story. Pop star Rihanna wanted to assault a woman of Hispanic descent, and there's a video of it that you can watch. Also, Rihanna is “about dat life,” which some readers might not have been aware of prior to checking out the article.
I took my lessons from MTO, and crafted this headline: “OH SNAP. PHIL ROBERTSON, THE BEARDED GUY FROM DUCK DYNASTY, IS HIDING A HUGE SECRET!!!!!! HE'S ACTUALLY IN THE CLOSET AND DATING MARIO LOPEZ!!!! WE HAVE THE PICS TO PROVE IT. PHIL BE ABOUT DAT (GAY) LIFE.”
Now that I had my headline, I was ready to post the story. Unfortunately, a friend told me that the Phil Robertson story was already too old to get a lot of traffic. After about a week, outrage tends to wane and attention moves toward other topics. I had missed my window for success. That ended up being the greatest lesson of all:
STEP SIX: BE FIRST
Don't worry about your work being good. Just get it out there, guys. Now, all I can do is wait for the next ignorant celebrity to essentially do my job for me. I have my Alec Baldwin Google Alert set up, so I think I'm done for the day.
There may or may not be think pieces in Dave Schilling's new book of humor essays, Letters from My Therapist. There's only one way to find out, which is to buy the book from Amazon or iBookstore. It makes a great Christmas present for people who like to be outraged and also people who don't like to be outraged. Really, it'd be an outrage if you didn't read this book.