Friday, November 20, 2009

For his next project: Eight articles about tissue paper

Coming up with original freelance story ideas can be difficult. Sometimes writers answer calls for work, farming out their stories to those in need of their literary talent.

Then there's this ad.
"I am looking for someone to write content for me on an ongoing basis. I need someone with great English skills that can provide quality work on time. I need 5 400+ word articles on Napkins, they must be well-researched and factual."

Starving artists and writers have been known to do just about anything for a paycheck. They'll have two part-time jobs as a waiter. They'll work at Starbucks. They'll dress up as a dog in Union Square and sell tickets to a pet convention. They'll donate blood, plasma, and other fluids. They'll steal from friends.

But napkins?

Is there an undiscovered world out there clamoring for 2,000 total words on napkins? Are sidebars about the rivalry between napkins and paper towels allowed? And if you research one 400-word article on napkins, are you going to have much left over for four more stories? Maybe you leave out absorption theories in the first two articles and save them for the third.

Here's Wikipedia on napkins. Wikipedia, which can produce 25,000 words on nearly any object, has little to say.
"A napkin (also in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia: serviette) is a rectangle of cloth or paper used at the table for wiping the mouth while eating."

So maybe for the fourth story you examine why the Canadians, Brits and Aussies call it a serviette. Should be able to crank out 400 words on that history.

The ad continues, the poster requesting the final product within 4 days. Timeliness is always key in journalism, more so today than ever before. Yet it seems that an article on napkins can be submitted tomorrow, or in six years and the end result won't be much different. Four days. Why the rush?

"It is recommended that you search for the particular keyword phrase listed above at each of the top search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo) and then look through the top 10 links on the first page of search engine results. This will give you an idea of what's ranking well and can help you in writing your own articles."

I assume there's some advertising pitch intertwined in this whole posting, something that helps some unknown company make money and as a non-advertising person I'm simply too dense to understand that. There's probably an inside joke here I'm just too slow to catch. I get that. But I still don't get what a search of napkin is supposed to unearth. There are some interesting stories I've heard of pseudo contracts being written on napkins, or someone sketches out a brilliant idea on a napkin while at a restaurant and later turns it into a hit movie. But how do you tell those stories in 400 words? And will the napkin be the centerpiece of the story, or is it more about the people involved and their ideas? The napkin would seem like a bit player. So then we're back to talking about how well it cleans your face after a bite of pizza.

A search uncovers tips on folding arrangements. Discount party supplies. Linen services. It's all there, the excitement of the napkin universe. Even as someone who could write 1,000 words in 45 minutes on the career of Chuck Nevitt, I don't know if I'd be able to come up with five stories of 400 words each on napkins.

"I DO check every article I receive for plagiarism and refuse to pay for plagiarized content."

And now we know the only thing more depressing than having to write about napkins to earn a check: Plagiarizing a story about napkins.


John Brewer said...

Here's one of five for you:
When you need napkins that perform beautifully and look great, all Napkins are a perfect fit. From elegant events to casual get-togethers, this family of napkin products makes for a clean finish.

Shawn Fury said...

The ultimate issue is I'd feel like a sellout if I preached the virtue of napkins in a published piece. I'm a paper towel guy; Louise loves napkins. We've had issues with this.