Like all students at the end of the semester, and particularly as an Erasmus student living in Paris with a strong penchant for a glass/carafe/bottle of wine at the end of a hard day's work, I have begun (read: continued) to feel the pinch with rather more voracity than usual recently. In an effort to be resourceful, I decided to look for a job that would not only reduce my overdraft (and by virtue of that my blood pressure which rises dramatically every time HSBC sends a letter home) but also help me improve my skills as a writer.
Paid blogging jobs are not unheard of, although finding a good company to work for can be hard - even the best known sites offering well-paid work, still necessitate having to Google each and every advertiser to know what sort of thing I'd be asked to contribute. Now, obviously, I am but a lowly student writer and wouldn't expect The Guardian or the New Statesman to be hammering on my door (on the other hand, if a journalist from either of the above happens to stumble across this article, North London is just a stone's throw away from you both...) but I do want to know where my work is ending up before I start blindly tapping away.
Writing is an activity I enjoy doing in my spare time and therefore I am reluctant to turn it into a chore. In the same way that chefs often prefer their significant others to do the cooking at home, I don't think it would take much for me to look at writing for this blog, for example, as a busman's holiday if I end up churning out articles to the tune of £6 an hour. With that in mind, I was intrigued to come across a rather more innocuous looking advert for students with proven editing skills to get involved in writing and editing essays during the academic holidays because, as a university student myself, that doesn't sound like a busman's holiday, right?
A spot of Googling led me very quickly to the (really rather obvious) conclusion that the company in question was one of those which offers dissertation and academic writing for others at a hefty price and with a quick turnaround. Of course my initial reaction was to slam my laptop shut and stalk off to complain to my roommate about the immorality clogging up my history filter, but after thinking for a while I surprised myself with the fact that I can fully empathise with why someone might turn to such a service.
I have long maintained to my lecturers, friends and family that I "cannot write essays," but at some point in the last, ooh, 16 years of formal education I have been involved in I have come to realise that is not entirely true. No, I won't have JK Rowling trembling in her bed at night with my widely known literary brilliance, nor are the country's academic journals likely to add my mobile number to their speed dials any time soon, but, with actual planning, forethought and research (you know, those things we're actually meant to learn about at university!) I can usually knock out 2,500 words a semester which do not send my lecturers screaming for the hills.
Planning, forethought and research, for those of you who, like me, have only very recently become familiar with the ideas are just three little words written here but actually take copious amounts of time to make happen. My degree - French and Italian languages - is essay-light in comparison to most, with between two and four academic essays necessary each year. My writing at university comes in the form of reports, translations, presentations and grammar exercises, but when it comes to analysing the work of French authors or the role of feminism in Italian film, I admit that my skills, and as my mother has so kindly pointed out, my enthusiasm, leave something to be desired.
The last two academic essays I wrote took me almost a month of solid research to put together. Not the odd hour here or there, a flick through a book with a pencil at the ready, but hours per day of the Christmas holidays spent reading, drafting, editing and cutting back to reach the word limit. The exams that followed in January without doubt suffered from rather more rushed revision than I would have liked to have given them, and I literally didn't turn my hand to anything - jobs, internships or writing - for the duration of the period. So, lesson learnt - start earlier, do less each day and manage your time better. Easy on paper, again, yes? Except for the extra-curricular activities during term time, the writing I do in my free time, the time I'd like to spend with my family and school friends after three months away from home. What I'm getting at in the fairly long-winded way that writers are wont to do is that I can understand how an mental block such as essay-writing, which requires so much work, can really get in the way and drag you down.
Having sat SATs, the 11+, more SATs, GCSEs, AS-levels, A-levels and assessments and exams for three+ years of university, graduates are now being told that top grades aren't good enough. It's experience that counts. Graduate employers are so inundated with responses for job applications that they have to weed people out. They don't want intelligent graduates nor graduates whose extra-curricular activities would put a bi-lingual all-singing dance troupe to shame, but graduates who've done both whilst holding down a full time job (showing dedication) and have found relevant work experience placements (showing foresight) without having even the merest academic blip along the way (showing, presumably, the superhuman and perhaps extraterrestrial strength that we all need at a graduate level). Can you really blame a student if something's gotta give, or if they feel they have to take a shortcut along the way?
So, to these companies that could write me an essay in less than a day for the cost of a couple of weeks of nights out. They promise a plagiarism-free service (copyright passed to the student, with payment to the company) to their clients and a flexible arrangement with their writers. Even better, your lecturers are sure not to catch on, because you can specify what level you're hoping to achieve with the essay - from a 1st to a 3rd - and writers are picked accordingly. Sounds like a win-win situation for all parties involved, if a little demoralising to get such a call: "Abbie, this student wants a third - you'll be just the ticket..."
The weeks I spent on just two essays - for which I received good, but not remarkable, grades - I could spend this year, my final one, preparing my application for the host of graduate training schemes that open in the New Year. I could prepare for the oral, listening and grammar exams that will hopefully secure me the degree classification I'm after. I could work to be able to afford to intern for free after university - a path that I'm pretty sure that I, and a lot of other interns interested in some form of media, will be taking. I hope to be able to do so by churning out the 5,000 requisite words as early as possible in the semester, with the aid of a reading list, Google Scholar and copious note-taking. Yes, I'm going to have to add to the essay throughout the semester as I fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge during lectures, and yes, I may end up doing a 3am rewrite the night before my deadline. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
I'm not going to become a writer for a company that provides a service like this, not least because I can wax lyrical about how students are under a lot of pressure but names like RushEssay and CheatHouse (seriously) do not sound like glowing recommendations with which to add shine to my CV. I'm not going to use a company like this because despite my struggles with getting coherent thoughts onto paper at times, I have begrudgingly come to enjoy the process of seeing my work come together along with the satisfaction when I receive something more than the 30 marks out of a hundred that I wailed to my friends that I was so sure I'd be getting, because "guys, I just can't write essays!"
However, if I come across anyone who has taken advantage of a healthier bank account than mine and shifted a task or two onto someone paid to do it, I will absolutely be keeping an open mind. Partly because, let's face it, they're bound to only be telling me after that bottle of wine I mentioned one thousand words back...