Martha Beck, author of “Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny”, recently ascended Mount Oprah, was dazzled by revelations, and returned with stone tablets upon which were emblazoned profound instructions for experiencing bliss, magic, hope, and, for the daring, Winnipeg.
“Maybe you, too, feel stranded in your life, awash in a turbulent sea, or lured by the Siren song of a terrifying love,” writes Beck at Oprah.com. “Fortunately, you have your own internal ‘blind seer.’ It can feel its way into the future and draw you a map. I mean literally.”
She does not mean literally, of course, because nobody who uses the word “literally” ever means “literally.” At any rate, that eye-rollingly purple prose introduces an article called “Seven steps to living the life you want,” which uses Homer’s Odyssey as a metaphor for how you should live your life. (Curiously, she doesn’t mention the part at the end where Odysseus comes home and murders a bunch of people, but whatever.)
That’s not to say there’s not any good advice in here (“Step 3: Map your Islands of Enhancement,” “Step 6: Incorporate new information into the island of experience and your ideal island”), but there’s not any good advice in here. But it does provide a good template for writing a completely meaningless motivational piece that doesn’t say anything at all. Try it yourself! Here are seven steps to get you started:
Step 1: Find a flimsy framework. This can be literally (and this time, I literally mean literally) anything at all. A masterpiece of Greek literature? Sure. The Matrix Reloaded? You bet. The television series James at 15? Neil Diamond’s “Thank the Lord for the Night Time“? The 1986-86 L.A. Clippers? Of course. Why the hell not? It doesn’t matter what you use; it’s not like you’re doing any deep analysis anyway. You’re just using it as a peg to hang your tired, pop-psychology bromides on.
Step 2: Fill the article with every cliché you can think of. This is pretty easy. You can find cheap platitudes pretty much anywhere: in self-help books, on talk radio, on the bumpers of sad people’s cars. Or just turn on the Oprah network, if that still exists. Does that still exist?
Step 3: Remember, you know better than everyone else. Never forget that you are uniquely qualified to give life and career advice to other people. After all, you’re a freelance writer! Freelance writers know everything! That’s why they’re freelance writers! If you didn’t know everything, you’d be something useless like a teacher, doctor, or lawyer.
Step 4: Stretch your metaphors to the breaking point. Remember, none of this actually has to make sense. If you’re writing something like “Seven ways ‘Seinfeld’ reruns can change your life,” feel free to throw in crap like “Find your own personal Soup Nazi, and put him out of business.” It doesn’t mean anything, of course, but it doesn’t have to.
Step 5: Don’t forget to blame the victim. One of the most annoying tropes of the motivational industry is the assertion that you’re the master of your fate, and if anything goes wrong in your life, it’s your fault. (See The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. If you can handle it.) Insulate yourself from any criticism by saying that if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you didn’t want it enough. It’s the same trick “psychics” use — if they’re wrong about something, they say it’s because of “negative energy” in the room. Oh! Also, use the phrase “negative energy” as much as possible.
Step 6: If you can’t think of enough steps, just use filler.
Step 7: End with something stupid like “Repeat.” That’s actually the last step in the Oprah.com article. “Repeat.” Because telling someone how to live their life should be exactly as sophisticated as the instructions on a bottle of shampoo.