One great way to briefly turn the conversation toward myself at a party is to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” with, “I'm a writer.” Not that most of the people I've met at parties have read my novels or short stories or feature articles; when they ask, “Have I seen any of your stuff?” I shrug and the conversation moves on. If I want attention for an hour or so, however, I'll tell them my horrible secret—for several years I made much of my freelance income writing term papers.
Writing model term papers is above-board and perfectly legal. Thanks to the First Amendment, it's protected speech, right up there with neo-Nazi rallies, tobacco company press releases, and those “9/11 Was An Inside Job” bumper stickers. It's custom-made Cliff Notes. Virtually any subject, almost any length, all levels of education—indulgent parents even buy papers for children too young for credit cards of their own. You name it, I've done it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the plurality of clients was business administration majors, but both elementary education majors and would-be social workers showed up aplenty. Even the assignments for what in my college days were the obvious gut courses crossed my desk. “Race in The Matrix” was a fashionable subject.
The secret to the gig is to amuse yourself. I have to, really, as most paper topics are deadly boring. Once, I was asked to summarize in three pages the causes of the First World War (page one), the major battles and technological innovations of the war (page two), and to explain the aftermath of the war, including how it led to the Second World War (page three). Then there was this assignment for a composition class: six pages on why “apples [the fruit] are the best.” You have to make your own fun. In business papers, I'd often cite Marxist sources. When given an open topic assignment on ethics, I'd write on the ethics of buying term papers, and even include the broker's Web site as a source. My own novels and short stories were the topic of many papers—several DUMB CLIENTS rate me as their favorite author and they've never even read me, or anyone else. Whenever papers needed to refer to a client's own life experiences, I'd give the student various sexual hang-ups.
I hated writing term papers. But perhaps that was more due to the method required to write them than the actual topics (literary term papers, which I found loathsome to begin with). We had to, in order:
- Come up with a thesis and have it approved.
- Find five sources (or more) and write down, on a 3″×5″ card the title of the book, author, publisher and copyright year. And yes, each source got its own 3″×5″ card, and it had to be a 3″×5″ card. These had to be turned in.
- Generate at least 50 (but more were always better) facts to support our thesis and record each one on a separate 4″×6″ card (as well as the source used). Again, these had to be turned in.
- Sort the 50 (or more) 4″×6″ cards into some order and generate an outline for the term paper, and it had to be of a certain length and complexity. And again, this had to be turned in.
- From the outline, we had to write a rough draft, longhand, in pencil. And yes, we had to turn this in.
- Finally, we could write our final term paper, typewritten, using a particular style (I forgot if we used Chicago or MLS—it's been awhile) and I remember it being very exacting—margins had to be exactly 1″ and the bibliography had to be formatted just so or you failed.
Is it any wonder I hated the things? Is it any wonder why I would have bought one if I had the money?