In my rather long and uneasy career as a freelance content writer(on-off, for about 3 years), I had to write my fair share of How-To articles. It is perfectly understandable, for the internet is peppered with them. Or should I say, littered. They are a contagion that is unlikely to ever decrease or die out because, let’s face it, we do our own share of Search-Engine-searching of various How-To’s quite regularly. From How to look like Kim Kardashian to How to build the Death Star, there are very few things that can possibly exist and not exist, that you will not find a How-To on. A How-To ain’t the problem. It is the one who writes it.
Here is a smattering of the subjects that I wrote my articles on:
1) Mainly pesticides, but often farm equipment. This was my first work as a freelancer. I should also mention that till date, I have never been to a farm.
2) Fitness. I have already written here on my history with fitness. To summarize, I ain’t fit, never have been fit, never have been too interested in knowing about getting fit.
3) Office furniture. I had been, perhaps, a maximum of 10 minutes in a modern, corporate outfit, when I wrote these.
4) 10 Annoying Things About Justin Bieber. I knew Justin Bieber existed, but I did not have an opinion about him. So, my knowledge began with why people found him annoying and ended with finishing the article.
5) A penis-enlargement device. The low point of my content writing career which was not a how-to but a press release. Let me just say, it took me to corners of the internet I would never like to visit again.
If you have been reading my posts for a while, you would know that I have NO IDEA how any of these things work. Let alone be a person who can tell you any kind of How-to about them. How How-To’s for freelance content writing works is, you are given a topic, a bunch of keywords, a word limit of either 200/500/800 words and about 10-24 hours to get it written. Also, your client always insists on it being original, which they threaten to check through CopyScape. And then, idiotically tell you you have plagiarised when what matches are mainly the insane number of keywords.
And apart from this mind-numbing degeneracy of writing for money, there were two aspects of it that finally made me give up. My clients would never oblige me with a link to my published articles. At first, I would search for it. Search Engine Optimization(SEO) was the universal rule of course. And despite looking through a million how-to’s on my subject(for my client’s client always changed the heading), I could still never find words that were my own. The other aspect, which is the reason to quit any job you hate, was the money. Because I worked for intermediaries, and never for the websites themselves, I was paid peanuts. I wrote for money, and there was no money.
Thus, a HUGE number of how-to’s and other such articles on the internet, instead of being useful, are CRAP. For a long time, despite an MA in literature, this was all I wrote. Of course, there are such clients who hire people with degrees to write college essays for others. Which, to morally fussy me, is a greater sin.
There are few freelancers who have better experiences than me. If you seriously want to be a writer, there is no way that this won’t affect you. I know of somebody who wrote such articles in his office, while simultaneously working on his day job. He copied existing articles and then simply replaced synonymous words and phrases using a thesaurus to pass the plagiarism test. He made a half of his day time job salary in this way.
I’m sure things get better as you gain more experience and can demand your rates as well as have a solid clientele. Maybe you can even specialize in your content. But my question is, despite creating job opportunities, is it creating value? As the internet celebrates its 25th birth year, have we taken too much of an advantage of its seemingly endless space? Are these articles making the internet unhealthy? Are they, perhaps, causing its quarter-life crisis?
There may, perhaps, be a means of “optimizing” content, based on relevance and presentation. But, there is no filter for quality. I see so many blogs here everyday that have all the elements of what The Daily Post provides as a check-list for a good blog. And yet, these blogs don’t get read nearly enough. Whereas, people in the manic business of generating content(who, sometimes, ask for good “writting” and “writters” when looking for the likes of us to work for them) get a lot of traffic and money, by owning the content they paid a pittance for. And this content isn’t usually even that good.
I wish there was a How-To on writing How-To’s. I am sure there must be one. Or a hundred. Or probably a hundred-thousand, at least. There’s no doubting that they do get read. My only How-To here, Of How To Be Happy, got the maximum number of ‘likes’ among all my posts. Though it was in the spirit of questioning like all my blogging(and thus, disobeying the authoritativeness that a How-To presumes), it looked smaller than my other posts because it was in numerical points, had an easy title, and a cute graphic. I played all the rules(except the plagiarizing, for if you haven’t noticed by now, I like to have my own opinions) and it worked.
I might attempt How-To’s again in the future, though I am still a little scarred by all that I had to write. Writing this blog, however, has tremendously helped in making writing fun again.