Sample Advice Column: How to Write an Advice Column

Dan Savage wants an intern.  Actually, from his blog post, it doesn’t really sound like he wants one at all; his boss is making him get one.  Whatever.  I am so inordinately excited about this I’ve probably peed in three pairs of pants writing this post… now four.

I figure that Mr. Savage has an ungodly number of people applying for this internship. My internal dialog went like so: “How can I differentiate myself from the hordes of skinny-jean-bedecked-hipsters and more-qualified-than-me-journalism-folk that are bound to apply to this position.”  “I know,” I replied, “I’ll write a sample advice column on how to write an advice column.  Either it will be so good that Mr. Savage will be forced to hire me, or it will be so bad that he will take me under his wing.”  “That’s stupid”, I responded.  “Yeah, but you don’t have any other ideas, so we’re going with this one.”

I had sure shown me; a plan of action was formed.  (Authors note: arguing with yourself is exhausting.  The bruises may fade, but the true damage done to your psyche, not to mention to the seats of the 49, will never go away.)

With that, I give to you, my reader(s) (I really am hoping there is more than one of you), my advice on how to write an advice column.

1. Be knowledgeable

This tidbit may seem like a “gimme”.  I assure, it is not.  After years or assiduously avoiding the Seattle Times’ editorials and opinion pages (eff you Blethlens), I can tell you that many columnists are not, in fact, knowledgeable.  At best, they seem capable of stringing together some moralistic drivel with republican talking points for distribution to their reader base.  Carolyn Hax at the now defunct Seattle P-I was not much, if at all, better.  Bottom line: know your shit.

2. If you can’t be knowledgeable, lie well

It may seem as though I was against this in the above rant about the Seattle Times.  Not so!  If they had faked having a knowledge-baseeffectively, my issues with them would be fewer.  Google is your friend people.  Don’t know what Blaschko Stripe Disease is, but you have a letter asking about it?  Google it!  Fake it till you make it.  Try and learn a little while you’re at it, too.

3. Don’t read other advice columns

Pretend you are a turtle.  Stick your metaphorical head in your shell and assume that the world only exists as far as you do.  Write the same way.  If you are paying attention to other authors’ columns, you are not spending enough time and energy delivering your own personal brand of advice.  Never mind if someone else has answered the question competently, if an established answer to a problem was desired, the person asking the question would have looked it up on the internet instead of asking for your help.  Be original and as it says above, lie if you have to.

4. Have a “thing”

Any schmo can give obvious advice.  Have a style or verve.  Be yourself.  Or at least, a version of yourself that is interesting and gives advice to strangers on the internet.  Make sure that this aspect of you is unique; if you are channeling some other advice columnist, no one will read you… they will keep on reading them.  This does not mean you should read other columnists.  Quite the opposite; reading other columnists will only put their shtick into your impressionable little head.  Create a voice that is all your own.

If you follow these guidelines I can personally guarantee that you will either be, or not be, a successful advice columnist.  Since those are the only two options, I can safely say that by following my advice you’ve got a 50% chance of succeeding.  That’s almost certainly better odds than you thought you had before this.  Good luck.


Sample Advice Column: How to Write an Advice Column

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