Challenge Cécile: The Café Correspondent Crisis

A few weeks ago, I saw that Ron Orp, a website about Zürich, was looking for people to write about their life in Zürich for the site. I wrote to them offering my services and they wrote back sugesting I become their Café Correspondent. I eagerly accepted as I saw it as a good opportunity to publicise my blog and have a first experience in writing for a website. It was also a good excuse to hang out in cafés and take photos of my cappuccinos.

I didn’t want to just write a café review, I wanted to find a good concept that would allow me to tell little stories in each article. So I decided I’d check out new places with a different person every week and ask them their impressions about life in Zürich. I thought it was going to be super easy.

I didn’t realise that I had never written such a thing until then. There is usually something weird, fun, sad, crazy or annoying happening in my life that inspires me to write. But this time, I had to review a café and report a conversation. I chose an easy-going place (Cakefriends) that anyone would like and went there with my American friend Dani. Collecting her impressions on Zürich would be interesting as she had just arrived. I thought that writing the piece wouldn’t take me longer than 2 hours…

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However, my first draft was more painful to read than the pregnancy scenes in Twilight 4. I showed it to Nick and he diplomatically suggested it needed “much more work to be on the internet”. He gave me a few helpful ideas but I was still stuck. I felt like maybe I had been too ambitious and should just give up on it. I sent the draft to Andrew but he was too busy playing with his Xbox to check his email. I knew he could help me so I harrassed him until he finally deigned to come online:

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Me: Androoo! Are you there? Stop playing Xbox. I need your help with my Cakefriends draft! Please!
[eight minutes later]
Andrew: I’m here. I just saved the princess and she gave me a magic hat so I can take a break now.
Me: Tell me how to improve my article!
Andrew: Fortunately your first draft was so appalling and ghastly that it sparked several good ideas in my brain. I wish you were here so I could mock you properly.
Me: Sigh :(
Andrew: Just try to imagine an hour of ruthless, brutal teasing. I have a good one where I go “I went to Cakefriends and I ate a cake and Dani ate a cake and we were friends” in a little girl’s voice AKA your voice.
Me: Just tell me your ideas!
Andrew: Okay, so some points:
1. We want to know about YOU a bit. Your character only comes out twice – once to complain about Starbucks and once to complain about Americans. Which is incredibly unattractive. You could write: “It always surprises me when I’m out with an American. Their reactions to things are so unlike the French, something something something…”
Me: Yes, good idea.
Andrew:
2. Tell us how you and Dani were feeling BEFORE you went in there to show how CF affected your mood.
3. You begin to describe what you ate and drank but you could be a lot more descriptive: “It reminded me of a hilltop in the ancien regime, with plague-ridden children prancing about making daisy chains in the minutes before their agonising deaths”
4. Compare what Dani says about Zurich with Cakefriends or something. Use metaphors, have a theme.
Me: Yeah, I could say how CF is typically the Swiss place, clean, etc. With good things as well like the quality of its products.
Andrew: Yep.
Me:  When Dani complained about Zurich being “clean, safe and organised” I actually thought I should have taken her to a more alternative place , so I could say that.
Andrew: Yes, that’s good; it almost makes you sound human instead of a machine that eats muffins and writes about it.
Me: lol
Andrew: You should rewrite it from scratch in my opinion. It’ll be much better that way.
Me: Thanks! Really I was having the worst time ever writing this.
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I rewrote the whole thing and checked it again with Andrew. We both agreed it was much better but there was still a troublesome paragraph left. To introduce Dani, I had written:
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I decided to check out the place with a fresh set of eyes last week for a morning break with Dani, a 22 year old assistant/model/writer from Chicago. She moved to Zürich two months ago and is eager to discover the city.
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Sometimes, I can’t see what is wrong with a sentence, I can’t think of something better and I am stuck. That’s when I just shamelessly use Andrew or Nick’s words without even changing them.
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Me: I am really stuck with this line I don’t know what else to write.
Andrew: It is hard to read. Just frikking rewrite it or be FIRED as cafe correspondent. Sheesh.
Me: I don’t know how to, the sentence seems ok to me.
Andrew: Tell us about Dani! Why do you hang out with her? WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE. How does Dani make you feel?
Me: Are you joking now? Seriously? Now that I’m almost finished and about to send the piece to Ron Orp you want me to tell more about Dani?
Andrew: Just add something like: “Dani, a 22 year old hispter chick with a penchant for thrift stores.” CHRIST.
Me: Yes!
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I just copied and paste Andrew’s sentence and it was much better. Writing is not something I do alone. Of course, the ideas are mostly mine and I’ll always be utterly alone writing a first draft but I learn so much reviewing it with Nick and Andrew. And I do the same for Andrew when he is not sure about one of his pieces. This is what makes blogging fun.
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I finally submitted the troublesome article to Ron Orp and it was published last Thursday. Check it out here! It even appeared on the website’s weekly newsletter. Unfortunately, something went wrong and the link to my article in the newsletter didn’t work. But it will be on next week’s newsletter again, which gives me more time to write the second article. Hopefully it will be easier for the next ones.
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16 thoughts on “Challenge Cécile: The Café Correspondent Crisis

  1. Pingback: Just Sit Down And Write (2) | Trying to be Conscious

  2. Pingback: Next Stop: Journalism School | Trying to be Conscious

    • It’d be great to meet up, Caroline. I just met 3 other French blogger from Zurich last week, too bad I didn’t realise in time that you were also in Zurich at the moment! Next time you’ll be invited :-)

  3. Isn’t it SO amazing the difference a fresh set of eyes make! I am constantly using my fiance to help me with my posts…after staring at something for hours or re-reading it a million times you just can’t see it anymore!

    Congrats on your new gig!

    • Exactly! I also use my fiancé which can lead to arguments but mostly he’s been great support. And a fellow blogger will always understand better what you’re trying to communicate so I’m glad I can share my writing with Andrew as well. Before I started writing, I was convinced it was an activity you always did on your own; I’m happy it can be different (:

  4. I love this post. It gave me such a good laugh. Good luck with the new challenge. Can I recommend Starbucks or what about the hot chocolate at Sprungli cafe on Bahnhofstr? It’s to die for.

    • Thanks Tam! What about we meet at Sprungli next month or so with Andrew (if he deigns showing up)? Then I could write another article for Ron Orp about it :)

      • Sounds great! I am never going to mss out on a Sprungli hot chocolate opportunity. Good luck in getting Andrew away from his X-Box :-)

  5. Awesome and hilarious post, great review as well. Congrats on the new position. Do you get to pick your own cafe? If so, I recommend Cafe Henrici in Niederdorf. ( Niederdorfstrasse 1). Cozy and hip, great Java, and live music on Thursday (?) nights. (http://www.cafe-henrici.ch/uberuns.html). p.s. plz excuse us Americans for being polite, pleasant, and for properly waiting in ques ;-)

    • Yes the link to Ron Orp does work but the link they put in the weekly newsletter didn’t… There was the title of my article, a short text, a photo and then the link to read more which didn’t work… Most people like me only visit the website after clicking on links from the newsletter or if they want to put an ad, that’s why it is important. But the link will be on next week’s newsletter again so it is okay :-).

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