How Not To Reach A Word Limit

Writing freelance for a living can be tough at times.

Deadlines are made to seem like the most important things in the world, until you actually submit the finished copy and, mysteriously, the dates on which you were supposed to receive payment start to slip by unnoticed…

Juggling the huge number of deadlines and clients you have is not just important, it’s also really difficult. You have to be completely on top of everything, because if one thing slips then all your work is affected.

I understand that it’s difficult, and the temptation to bullshit is huge, but the thing is, your client will notice. Even if the client doesn’t notice, they will have proof readers who are much better at everything than you are.

Still, even knowing that, people will attempt to slip drivel past the radar. Here are the most egregious ways copywriters attempt to reach word limits.

Belgian Waffle

On an unrelated note, here is some waffle. Image by ralph and jenny, some rights reserved.

1. Discussing your own interests.

It’s tough to write a thousand words on the topic of soffits, I know, I get that. I’d find it tough too. That’s still no reason to start an article like this:

The Dead Kennedy’s song Holiday in Cambodia mentions a world in which “people dress in black”. In the real world, by contrast, the current trend is for white. White gutters, white fascias and white soffits are all attractive options for your house…

Now, here’s the mistake you’ve made, anonymous copywriter. Ready?

You are not a journalist.

Yes, it is unfair that some people get to write about their favourite songs and how little Caspian got into a horrible fracas at school and get paid for it, while others are forced to write about the technical specifications of uPVC products, but that’s the way it is. You can’t get round that by just writing the same drivel they do.

Come on. Journalists aren’t writers, they’re professional personalities. You are a professional writer. Act like one.

2. Phrasing everything as a question and answer.

I’m interested in just who you think you’re fooling with this one. Example:

You might be wondering, what kind of gutter is best for most houses?

Well, it is the case that most houses will benefit from a professionally installed gutter.

Man with question mark head.

Dude, that's like, so deep, and stuff? Like, all our life, is like, a question? You know? Image by Marco Bellucci, some rights reserved.

It’s not just that it’s dishonest, it’s that there’s nothing being said. Readers pick up on this stuff, it looks unprofessional, desperate and leading. The awkward, laboured set-up also gives an “English-as-a-second-language” feel, which makes sites feel, rightly or wrongly, as though they’ve been done on the cheap.

In most cases this can be easily avoided by simply picking one aspect of the previous sentence and explaining it, or expanding on it, whichever is more appropriate. Or, you know, you could actually do some original research.

3. Rephrasing everything three times.

This is just dumb.

Soffits are an excellent way to make your house attractive. Using fascias is a great way to give your house more beauty. To make your house more aesthetically good be sure to use lots of guttering.

Yes, people write like that.

People write worse than that, and get paid good money to do so. This is because writing is not seen as a skill in itself, but that’s an entirely different subject.

This gets spotted, and gets one of two reactions, either the world-weary sigh and a “Fuck it, it’s nearly the end of the day,” or an instant rejection. Sadly, the first reaction is more common, so many copywriters just, well, carry on doing this shit.

Please stop. It makes me feel very sad.

4. Including your own batshit insane opinions.

Umbrellas are a magical forcefield that protect from all forms of assault.

If your woman isn’t either cooking or learning to improve her cooking, you are in a failed relationship.

The communists are winning, and they want people to be poor so that they steal from you.

I have read all of these opinions taking up space inside articles, and they generally appear to warrant at least a paragraph or two. These are all genuine examples, albeit paraphrased from memory.

In the case of the notorious umbrella article, my colleague Dan can attest to its existence. This was a true masterpiece that managed to combine victim-blaming, arrant sexism, and veiled threats to murder you and your family if you didn’t buy the product in question (bizarrely, this was not an umbrella).

I Am Not Making This Up.

Although the umbrella article was relatively anomalous, it definitely merits a mention due to the author sticking to his theme throughout the entire article, skilfully weaving in references to the life-saving qualities of umbrellas willy-nilly.

Haha, willy. Sorry.

Hang on a moment.

Threats of murder unless you pay out for protection?

An obsession with umbrellas?

Repugnant sexism and a distinct hint of thwarted sexual aggression?

Picture of The Penguin.

Image by Vancouver Film School, some rights reserved.

My God! The Penguin?! Is that you?

Other Batman villains who have apparently become copywriters include Harley Quinn (who tends to become terrifyingly infatuated with the products she is writing about) and The Riddler (whose impenetrable enigma(s?) hint at, but never wholly reveal, exactly what they are trying to talk about). The elegant and sophisticated Catwoman never makes an appearance for some reason, although given her recent portrayals I guess she’s probably gone underground for a while.

Listen to dat intro without letting the words “John Shaft” come into your mind. It can’t be done. IT CANNOT BE DONE.

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