I’ve been writing this column thing for more than 10 years now, and it occurred to me that I’ve never explained how the process works. And that just doesn’t seem fair.
Secret recipes, it seems, are a popular way for certain entities to sound mysterious and highly successful, when in fact they simply don’t want to share.
Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dr. Pepper, for instance, make a big deal out of not sharing their respective “11 herbs and spices” and “23 flavors.” It’s like standing on a deck chair on the Titanic and yelling, “Hey, guess what everybody! I have a sure-fire way to turn your second-class bedding into a floatation device! But I’m not telling how!”
Not to be rude, but it’s pretty hard to screw up fried chicken, so I’d imagine no matter what 11 items are in KFC’s recipe, it’s going to taste good.
And as for Dr. Pepper—stop reading if like having corporate-controlled information withheld from you—the 23 flavors are allspice, amaretto, anise, apricot, birch beer, blackberry, burdock, caramel, cherry, clove, coriander, dandelion, ginger, juniper, molasses, plum, raspberry, sasparilla, sassafras, spikenard, vanilla, wintergreen.
Now that we’ve got that out in the open, back to the original topic, which was how to write a column.
If you follow these directions closely, you too will be able to compose an expertly written, captivating and award-winning column. So without further ado, I will place my tongue firmly in my cheek and reveal the entire process.
The first thing a columnist must do is open up his digital word processor—preferably an old or free variation of Microsoft Word so that it is both unreliable and inconvenient—and stare blankly at the empty page.
This step should look something like this:
The columnist should do this for about an hour, or however much longer it takes to think up a topic that does not completely stink.
Slightly odorous subjects are allowable, but wreaking ones must be discarded. The discard pile should accumulate to about 2 feet next to the columnist’s desk before an allowable topic has been selected.
Next, the columnist must think of a witty, funny, punny or bizarre first paragraph to catch the readers’ combined attentions. (Serves 2,000-3,000.)
An example of this might be to make the entire county population think that the columnist is expecting his firstborn, when in fact he got a cat.
Third, the columnist must think up several hundred more words to fill up the body of the column.
Keep in mind that these words do not necessarily have to do with the actual subject that he or she has selected. Revealing a highly valued, closely guarded list of soda ingredients can be one way of doing this.
While writing, the columnist should be certain to follow the tightly kept punctuation and grammar rules that have been set by a panel of robed English majors in a dark room at some expensive university in New England.
Some examples: use “one” instead of “you,” “whom” instead of “who,” “may” instead of “can,” “such as” instead of “like,” “upchuck” instead of “barf,” etc.
Also, the columnist should never use the abbreviated form of “et cetera” while listing things, because it communications to his readers that he simply could not come up with anything else clever to say.
Finally, once the body of the column has been written, the columnist should carefully craft a closing sentence that will leave his readers feeling satisfied, but wanting more. (This is a long-standing paradox in the writing industry.)
And, it should be added, the columnist should be very careful never to turn in his column late, especially when his newspaper has an early deadline due to a patriotic holiday that falls on that newspaper’s typical distribution day.