What I Learned From Reading 400,000 Medium Guides On How To Be A Better Writer: A No-BS Guide To Writing BS

Aaron Boyd
6 min readSep 21, 2020
Source: Google Image Search “BUSINESS VICTORY”. Look at all the success they’re having!

Howdy friend! Have you ever been sitting at home by yourself, browsin’ the Web, and bellowed aloud “Wow, lovin’ it so far, but there’s just not enough #Content! If only I had the qualifications to post my opinions on the Internet!”?

No worries, mi amigo. We’ve all been there. Believe it or not, even I have experienced moments of self-doubt, which is why the first thing I did after setting up my Medium account was Google “how to get traffic medium desperate sweating”. And boy, am I ever glad I did!

Now my inbox is nothing but a merciless torrent of unsolicited writing advice from people with the easy charisma of Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glenn Ross trying to sell Bitcoins to a Girl Scout troop. I’m learning how to find my voice, make some moolah, and maybe, just maybe, leave my mark on this great big world of ours.

But what if you don’t have time to read all 1.8 billion completely interchangeable tutorials on how to write a listicle like a pro? Feel left out? Worried God has abandoned you? Well slow your roll there, cowpoke, because I’m here to share my hard-earned wisdom with you, even though I put in all the work and you didn’t. But whatever. It’s fine. Really.

Let’s get started!

1. Put “This Is Not A Scam” In The Title

Nothing erodes trust faster than lying, and good writers know this. They also know first impressions count, which is why seasoned pros use the subtle trick of calling their article a “No-BS guide” that “really works(!)”.

Not only does this reassure the reader you’re not an unqualified nobody wasting their time with a bunch of lazy, vague suggestions barely applicable to writing, it also tells them you respect their business savvy enough to not BS them. Win-win!

2. Open With A Long, Rambling Personal Anecdote

Unless you’re a veteran blogger with an established following, you should always assume you’re just now introducing yourself to the reader for the first time, and what better way to do that than with a bait-and-switch?

Say your blog post is entitled “A No-Frills Guide On How To Perform The Heimlich On Yourself”. What better place to tell us about that time you had an authentic Neapolitan pizza at a train station in Naples? Not only is it a strong hook that establishes your authority as a cool dude that travels, but readers will be glued to the screen as you keep them in suspense over what this has to do with the Heimlich!

3. Encourage The Reader To Have Positive Traits

This is a big one. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes: They’re trying to decide if they should quit the rat race and chase their childhood dream of opening a boutique in Prague that specializes in hauntingly realistic marionettes that eerily resemble children who drowned in a nearby river 300 years ago and decide to do some research. After some clicking around, they find your article “74 Things All Successful Czech Puppetmasters Have To Do.”

Perfect, right? Not if your list is just a bunch of boring labor statistics and links to resources for small-business government grants! Because while you were compiling your snooze-o-rama list that anybody with a couple hundred spare hours could’ve made on their own, you totally left out what vaguely positive qualities the job requires.

Should I be passionate, motivated, and creative? Do I need to be a hard worker? I’ll never know because Professor Dweebenstein over here was too busy updating his economic forecast models to account for the recent downturn caused by the pandemic! Thanks jerk!

4. At Least 20% Of Any Respectable Guide Should Be Motivational Slogans

You know how some jobs are so existentially harrowing that a lot of your first-day training sounds suspiciously like thinly veiled cognitive-behavioral coping techniques used to treat crippling depression? That’s how all good writing should make you feel. Like you’ll never smile again.

One of the most common mistakes newbie writers make is skimming over the paragraphs telling you to believe in yourself because they’re “just filler” that “waste my time” by “treating me like a child” and “don’t even apply to writing specifically.” Fuck you. Those are the hardest parts to write. You think they’re only including them because the author ran out of advice 1.5 entries in? I mean, yeah, that’s definitely part of it, but still, you don’t have to be such a dick about it.

5. To Get More Readers, Consider Having Spectacular Success In An Unrelated Field First

This is a true story: The day I created my Medium account and read the aforementioned 400,000 writing guides that inspired me to make my own (best day of my life btw), one of the most common pieces of advice was to look at the top-read story of the past 24 hours and see what I could learn from it. Fair enough, let’s see what’s trending…


If you’ve made it this far and still believe in anything, you may think “PROTIP: Serve two terms as President to really make your byline pop!” is just a funny coincidence and nobody would seriously put “Step 1: Be fabulously wealthy and successful” in a guide intended for publication.

Nope! (NOTE: I tried to link to all of the articles that do this but the Internet caught fire so I had to stop.)

This is a beloved trope in those “I Made [Suspiciously Specific Amount Of Money X] in [Suspiciously Specific Timeframe Y]” pieces. It comes in a lot of variants, and all of them seemed like they’re targeted specifically at Tobias Funke. “Oh, you were the head of the Johns Hopkins pediatric ward for 27 years? Have you considered writing about that?”

6. Know Your Audience

I mean…sure, why not? Can’t hurt. Takes up a slot. Not like anyone’s gonna say “No, don’t know your audience” or “You know who else knew his audience? Goebbels.”

7. LIFEHACK: Restating The Headline Can Count As An Entry

Watch and learn, young padawan:

Top Seven Ways SEOs Can Turbocharge YOUR Reader Base!

#3: Use SEOs

Not only is this technically true, but since you’re not charging the reader, they can’t sue you for false advertisement!

A happy, fulfilled man at peace with himself.
Source: Some guy named TJSmith on a website called Tenor.com. Good for him.

7. Pointlessly Describing A Late Night Host’s Monologue Isn’t Copyright Theft If You Link To The Routine You Just Completely Ruined, So Knock Yourself Out

This is a bit of an advanced technique aimed at longtime veteran journalists: You’ve just watched a Seth Meyers monologue and thought to yourself “I really don’t want to work right now. Can’t I just report on myself watching TV?” Of course you can!

There’s an old bit of showbiz wisdom whose origins trace back to the days of vaudeville: “Timing has no bearing whatsoever on comedy because it all goes down the same hole anyway.” There are zero professional repercussions to submitting a god damn description of you watching god damn Youtube videos to the god damn Washington Post so long as you follow these key guidelines:

  1. Always use this formula when drafting your title: “(Name of Host)+{SLAMS/EVISCERATES/EATS GUTS OF} Donald Trump!!!!!”
  2. You can’t just write down the entire monologue word-for-word. This is going on the Huffington Post, you mad fucker! Have some self-respect! Direct quotes should be reserved for the punchlines and your own words should broadly summarize the comedian’s setup and body language like you’re Edmund Kemper narrating an art history audiobook for the visually impaired.
  3. Always link to the video after your description, not before, because watching a comedy routine and then reading a courtroom transcript of it afterwards is how Edmund Kemper treats himself on Christmas morning.

9. It’s Still Okay To Use An Image Of Heath Ledger’s Joker As Your Article’s Thumbnail To Drive Up Clicks, but Thanos is Highly Preferred

Self-explanatory. Even Obama’s George Floyd piece used a clickbait Thanos thumbnail, so don’t worry about this being “beneath you.”


10. Just Remember: It’s All About Having A Unique Voice That Reflects Your Individuality and Value As A Human Being

Now shut the fuck up and follow this formula or you’ll never be popular.

Source: An unusually smug Thanos