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Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

I don’t want you to ‘pick my brain’!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Money, photography, work on August 6, 2014 at 3:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Will you share your secrets with me?

Will you share your secrets with me?

Here’s an interesting issue — when (or not) to let someone seeking work-related advice to “pick your brain”. Without charging them for your time and expertise.

From the New York Post:

“When people are self-employed, you absolutely need to think of how you’re spending your time,” says executive coach Mike Woodward. “That said, charging for the occasional mentoring service is a slippery slope. It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.”

But call the concept “consulting” and all of a sudden it makes sense to charge.

It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.

 – Mike Woodward

The eponymous creator of Anne Chertoff Media, a boutique marketing agency that caters to the wedding industry, found a similar niche.

“I honestly got annoyed with people taking me to lunch and thinking that the cost of a meal could equal my contacts, expertise and advice, so I created a service called ‘Pick My Brain’ on my website. For $500, I give 90 or so minutes of whatever advice the customer needs,” she explains.

We’ve got two competing impulses — the urge to be generous and helpful to others, which reflects our better nature and realizes that other have done this for us, likely, along our own path.

But in an era of $4.05 (yes, here in NY) gallon gasoline, when my weekly grocery bill has literally doubled in the past few years — and when my industry is offering pennies on the dollar for the most skilled among us, what’s the upside?

Time is money! You take up my time, without payment in any form, you’ve cost me income.

And some skills take decades to hone and sharpen. Anyone who thinks that “picking my brain” will vault them into The New York Times is dreaming; I’ve helped one fellow writer get there because she deserved it.

So I bill my time at $150/hour for consultations and individual counseling. I’m going to raise it in 2015 to $200 an hour.

But…didn’t a lot of people help me? Frankly, not really. A few, yes.

I have mentored many other writers and am, very selectively, still happy to do so.

But when and where and to whom is my choice. In my younger and more idealistic days, I assumed that my generosity would be reciprocated, even thanked. Wrong!

Now I’m too busy funding my own basic needs, and a retirement. I can’t afford to give away hours of my time. It is what it is.

The people I choose to mentor are: bright, highly motivated, say thank you, follow through quickly, and don’t argue endlessly with my advice, (they can ignore it, but arguing feels rude to me.) They do whatever they can in return and, I trust, will share their good fortune with others as well.

Do you let people pick your brain?

Do you ask others for this?

Is being generous a smart move? (Is being a tight-fisted (^$@#*#?)

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, urban life, US, work on April 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

Is this really a question?

Apparently so…

From the cover story in this weekend’s New York Times Magzine, (for you non-journos’s, a spot so visible and prestigious some writers would {and possibly have} kill for).

It profiles Wharton professor Adam Grant, 31, whose compulsive generosity seems a little…weird…to the writer, who is, (I met her, competing on the same story), ferociously ambitious and competitive:

Grant might not seem so different from any number of accessible and devoted professors on any number of campuses, and yet when you witness over time the sheer volume of Grant’s commitments, and the way in which he is able to follow through on all of them, you start to sense that something profoundly different is at work. Helpfulness is Grant’s credo. He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year. His largess extends to people he doesn’t even know. A student at Warwick Business School in England recently wrote to express his admiration and to ask Grant how he manages to publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Grant did not think, upon reading that e-mail, I cannot possibly answer in full every such query and still publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Instead, Grant, who often returns home after a day of teaching to an in-box of 200 e-mails, responded, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!”

Grant suggests we each fall into one of three categories: takers, matchers and givers.

Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders…The most successful givers, Grant explains, are those who rate high in concern for others but also in self-interest. And they are strategic in their giving — they give to other givers and matchers, so that their work has the maximum desired effect; they are cautious about giving to takers; they give in ways that reinforce their social ties; and they consolidate their giving into chunks, so that the impact is intense enough to be gratifying.

I find this question of professional generosity interesting — and always have. I’ve been a giver for decades.

Grants

Grants (Photo credit: Steve deBurque)

Oh, I’ve seen the looks of confusion or bemusement or pity when American colleagues — big-time takers, highly skilled matchers — see me giving away my time, expertise, contacts or skills.

The idea of actually helping a potential competitor best me, at anything, marks me, in zero-sum America, as slow-witted, a rube, someone who simply doesn’t know any better.

The default position, certainly in journalism in New York City, is to stab everyone in the eye who stands in your way and suck up really hard to anyone you think could possibly advance your career.

Trick is — which one is which?

The old farts who used to rule this town journalistically are all desperately trying to re-invent themselves at 55 or 63 or 47, while the 23-year-olds are running the ship. Even A. J. Jacobs, a 38-year-old best-selling author, only half-jokingly, describes himself as “doddering.”

So I make a point of being nice to some people half my age — these days, in my industry, they’re the ones with jobs and work to hand out!

I also give away my time far less often than I used to, I admit. I’ve watched some people I once helped skyrocket to positions of power and acclaim. And, yes, it pisses me off that they’ve never once thought to reciprocate or even drop a “Thanks!” email or note or call.

But that just tells me what sort of selfish ingrates people they are.

In my view, helping someone succeed (intelligently), doesn’t mean choosing a life of ramen and homelessness. It means we both get to celebrate success, maybe not at the same time.

It does mean having the self-confidence you, too, will succeed. So, for me, being helpful is also a powerful measure of confidence in what I can do, and have done. And will still do.

I’ll still extend a helping hand whenever and wherever it feels right.

Because — it feels right. Helping others, judiciously, is the right thing to do.

Do you help others professionally?

Which one of the three are you?

When a writer writes you back…

In behavior, books, children, culture, education, life, work on March 6, 2012 at 1:03 am
English: Ray Bradbury autograph.

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever written to an author whose work leaves you a little gobsmacked?

I did — first when I was 12 and at summer camp for eight weeks in the wilds of northern Ontario. I was deeply into American science fiction author Ray Bradbury, loving his The Illustrated Man and other collected stories. I needed to tell him how great he was! So I wrote him a letter, care of his New York City publisher, Ballantine.

Imagine my shock and delight when, within a week or two, I received a pale blue personalized card (which I still treasure!) from Los Angeles, hand-signed by one of the nation’s greatest writers, author of Fahrenheit 451, among many other classics. I had begged him to “please keep writing!” and he assured me that he would.

The card had his return home address. He was real!

It is hard to over-state the effect this speedy and generous gesture had on a young girl who lived to read and, even then, was winning prizes for her writing. That someone so famous and well-respected would even bother to read mail, let alone answer it personally…

So, at 20, I did it again, writing this time to John Cheever, another national legend (much more popular in the 1980s), praising his odd but moving novel, Falconer. I loved it. (The New York Times called it “one of the most important novels of our time.”) My enthusiasm, then, was hardly unique to me, some random young woman in Toronto.

He, too, wrote back promptly on personal stationery — he lived in Ossining, New York, a suburb about 30 miles north of Manhattan.

Traveling alone through Europe, reading his collected short stories, I kept encountering a phrase I did not understand: “to shoot one’s cuffs.”

So I wrote him back to ask what it meant. (Let me explain I was: a) on the road b) alone c) in Portugal where no one spoke English d) Google had not been invented!)

He answered again.

The world is a small and odd place for writers. His daughter, Susan Cheever, another writer, praised my first book — and I met his son, Ben, another author, last fall at a local library event while promoting my second book.

I now live a 15-minute drive south of Ossining.

Last week, a 12-year-old girl living in a midwestern city wrote me a letter — first introduced by her father (both of them total strangers to me) — asking if she might interview me by email for a class project on bullying; she’d found my USA Today essay on it.

Of course, I said, replying immediately. I gave her a long, detailed and personal answer to her thoughtful questions.

Classmates now see her “as rock star”, her Dad told me, for having gotten a twice-published author to help her out.

I was 12 when I first reached out — and felt the firm hand of a fellow writer, far, far away from me in age, accomplishment and geography meet me in return.

How could I not?

Have you ever written to someone whose creative work you admire?

What happened?

The Touch of Fire

In behavior, business, journalism, work on January 13, 2012 at 5:51 am

If we’re lucky, at some point in our lives, we’ll feel the touch of fire — time spent with someone so inspiring, accomplished and genuinely interested in us and our talents, however latent — that brands us forever.

It’s happened to me twice (so far) in my life, both when I was in my mid-20s. The first was on my fellowship in Paris, founded and run by a charismatic, bossy, imperious, charming legend named Philippe Viannay. The man, even then in his 60s, dressed elegantly, laughed often and had created more social value in his lifetime than almost anyone I’ve had the privilege to meet since: he was a Resistance hero; co-founded a major newspaper; founded a home for wayward boys; founded a sailing school; ran a journalism school and, (whew) founded and ran Journalists in Europe, the program that chose me and changed my life and worldview forever.

We had an immediate rapport, and he introduced me to everyone as “le terrible Caitlin!” I was deeply offended until I realized it meant terrific. The fellowship changed everything for me: how I felt about myself as a person, as a writer, showed me I could thrive in another language and culture. I’m honored to have known him, and that he shared some of his time with me.

When I returned to my native Toronto, and got my dream job as a writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I briefly met Jill Krementz, a photographer whose work is well-known to Americans, and the widow of writer Kurt Vonnegut. She came to Toronto for a day-long photo shoot for a book called A Day in the Life of Canada and, as a reporter, I shadowed her throughout the entire day.

I’d started my career eager to become a photographer and then — in the mid 1980s — there were relatively few women working at her level in that field. The notion of meeting her, let alone spending an entire day with one of my idols? Swoon!

It was amazing to me, (even with parents working in film and television), that people of this stature would make time to talk to me, get to know me a bit, share some of their wisdom and insight. At the end of the day, back when shooters used film, Krementz sat cross-legged on her hotel bed as she counted film canisters, and I pelted her with questions about her career and how she’d achieved what she had. She was tough as nails. Is that what it would take?

(Yes!)

I have a young friend in Tucson, far from the bright lights and easy professional contacts of a New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris. Roxana is quiet, pretty, soft-spoken, Hispanic, not a culture that necessarily “gets” a young woman eager to sell her news photos for a living. In her social circles, the odds of meeting a world-famous, globe-trotting star of her industry is slim-to-none.

But she did, and her meeting with Chris Hondros — killed April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya while on assignment– touched her deeply. They spoke, emailed, stayed in touch.

With her permission, I include her account of this amazing and life-changing experience:

In 2007,  my first semester in journalism, I took an ethics course. One day we were viewing one of Chris Hondros’ famous pictures, the one with a little girl covered in blood where all you can see next to her are the boots of a soldier. Powerful, powerful image and story.

We were discussing in class about how it should be published. My opinion was front page and in color — people need to know. For the course I decided to write my report on war photography and focus on Hondros’ work. One day, I friended him on Facebook just in case. Maybe I would be able to ask him some questions personally instead of citing a book.

Five minutes later, he messaged me back. He wrote, “Perfect timing.” He was going to be in Tucson a few days working on an economy piece for Getty Images. I was so excited, I jumped from my chair, smiling ear to ear.

Minutes later we were talking on the phone and I was helping him with information about Tucson, while another of my friends, also a great photojournalist, James Gregg, teamed up to help Hondros find what he was looking for. When he arrived it was like meeting a celebrity.  He was in Tucson for four days. I went out photographing with him one afternoon and felt so lucky. I kept blushing and was nervous.

But Hondros was so down-to-earth. Every time I asked him about his work he gave short answers, very to the point. He was more interested in talking about my work.

The last night he was in town we had coffee and I brought my work for him to see it. It was my first real news portfolio, mostly pictures taken for my college paper. I was very nervous. He glanced at them very quickly closed the book and kept talking about something else — before we left I asked him about my work. “It’s a first portfolio. Mine was bad when I started.” We laughed.

But he told me that I was very passionate and he believed that I would become better. We walked to his hotel, he gave me a huge hug and told if I was ever in New York City to look him up.

I don’t have a picture of me and him, and I wish I did. I felt too embarrassed to ask.

I never knew that I wouldn’t see him again.

After that visit I was in constant contact with him through Facebook, email, sometimes Skype. We chatted online when he was sent to Baghdad, or Afghanistan on assignment and I was always picking his brains.

The last portfolio I sent him to see, he said it looked good and sharp. He once told me that when I was ready he would take me to Getty Images. I was honest with him and shared my frustrations with journalism and finding a place to publish me. He would tell me not to give up on photography because I was good at it.

The day he died was so tough for me. I had never had anyone close to me die so suddenly.  I turned on CNN and there it was Tim Hetherington, confirmed dead, but Chris was still in critical condition. At the same time I was chatting online with a photographer from Kosovo living in France. He knew Chris too, and had helped him in Kosovo.

This community of war photographers and foreign journalist is small. Most know each other, and I’m so glad to be linked to them.

I prayed for Chris all morning and I didn’t leave my house. The hardest moment was seeing the woman on CNN say, “We have confirmed that Chris Hondros has died.” My mom held me tight.

I had spoken to him a couple of weeks earlier when he was in Cairo covering the revolution. All I could think of was our last chat. I didn’t think that he would leave so soon. I miss him so much. I still feel that he’s still out there photographing the world.

He is my drive and inspiration.

Have you been touched along the way by someone like this?

What effect did it have on you or your career?

All Mentors, All The Time

In behavior, business, education, Media, men, Money, parenting, science, women, work on September 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm
"A Helping Hand". 1881 painting by E...
Image via Wikipedia

Much is made of mentors — finding one, keeping one, making sure you have the right one.

Many younger and/or less experienced writers look to me for help. I just got an email from another of the many Caitlin Kellys out there, this one a college sophomore who hopes to become a writer or editor and asked my advice.

I, too, look to my peers and colleagues for their wisdom. I turn in the final manuscript (yay!) of my second book today, and it’s much stronger for the generosity and skill of my four “first readers”, fellow professional writers who made the time to read it and offer their comments and insights.

The secret of mentoring is that we’re all doing it, all the time.

My two most helpful mentors, recently, are women both 10 to 15 years younger than I. In this economy, even the most seasoned of us have to change gears mid-career — ready or not!

Where to find wise and generous help? Maybe not from the equally dislocated people our age, but from those successfully navigating different fields or industries a few steps down the ladder.

It’s counter-intuitive to look down instead of up, but these two women have taught me a lot. One comes from the world of business and corporate life — where people use words like “value-added” and “deliverables” — helping me prepare for a speech this week to some of the nation’s largest retailers.

My other friend is a successful blogger who began her career on-line. When True/Slant, my paid blogging gig for a year, was sold and 95 percent of the contributors who had built its value to 1.5 million uniques a month were tossed away, she consoled me. Print is brutal, but editors have loyalties. Not so in the online world, she explained.

This week, my partner spent an hour on the phone with a young photographer who turned to him for his wisdom — while he, too, is being mentored by several veterans of the new niche he is moving into.

No one succeeds alone.

Who do you mentor? Who mentors you?

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Want Your Photo In The NYT Business Section? Here's One Way In

In business, education, photography on May 1, 2010 at 7:29 am
NY Times Building

Image by jebb via Flickr

It can happen.

You’re an ambitious young photographer, but still in university or a fresh grad. You read — (you do, of course) — every agate/photo credit for every major photo moved by the wires and the agencies and the major papers — wondering when it’s your turn.

For two terrific young women, Samantha Sais and Marie deJesus, their dream came true this week, Sam’s photo illustrating a story about a Tucson  man who’d successfully fought off bill collectors and Marie’s of a coffee-shop owner in San Juan, PR, unable to get a business loan. It happened because they were chosen to participate in The New York Times Student Journalism institute, open every year only to student members of the NAHJ or NABJ.

Winners get paid to spend two weeks working closely with top editors from the Times and other regional papers, so when a shooter is needed and there’s a talented student in that town, they’ve got a good shot at the assignment.

The editor who assigned to both women — my sweetie. I’m proud of his commitment to finding and nurturing the next generation of talent, regardless of age or gender. Talent — and making the right contacts — can be enough.

When Volunteering Fails: A Cautionary Tale

In behavior, US on January 10, 2010 at 9:44 am
Helping Hand

Image by Jeff Kubina via Flickr

Fellow T/Ser Michael Salmonowicz blogged recently about the need for, and the power of, volunteerism. There’s no question that choosing to offer your time, skills, intelligence and compassion to someone in need — and that someone might be, or have been, you as well — is the right choice.

It’s the moral choice. What if it doesn’t work out?

My goal is not to dissuade anyone from doing it, but my experience of being a Big Sister was sadly instructive and left me very wary of making such a commitment again. That quite likely deprives me, and others, of some good results.

We rarely hear about the ones that don’t work out because, after all, the idea is to encourage volunteerism, not scare people off.

I became a Big Sister in 1997 or so, handed into a relationship with a 13-year-old Hispanic girl I’ll call Pilar. She lived in a small, crowded, squalid house in my county, a mere 15 minute drive away but might have been in another country. Her mother had disappeared five years earlier and she and her younger brother were being raised by their grandmother, a woman of astonishing ability to lie, spin, deceive and manipulate. But it took me a while to learn this.

I liked Pilar from the first minute we met. Feisty enough to be fun but sweet enough to be likable, she said she wanted to become a writer. We spent about a year and a half together, seeing one another every three weeks or so, as mandated by our agreement.  I took her sailing with friends — her first time on the water, she learned quickly and eagerly. Same thing on the squash court. God bless her, she was game for all sorts of new WASPy adventures.

Sometimes we’d hang out at my apartment or go for drives or just talk.  I took her to her local library one day to work on homework, but she had no idea what a librarian was or how she could help.

By the end of our time together, I decided one way to help her escape the craziness of her home life — lots of shouting, a mother who’d returned suddenly a week after our match and now lived in the basement watching videos all day, junk food, nowhere quiet to read or study — might be boarding school, at a prep school near me that accepts full scholarship students. We went for the meeting, Pilar in her best clothing, her manners eager, awkward. I didn’t even think, I’m ashamed to admit, she’d need coaching for that interview.

They agreed to let her sit in on a full day of classes, to see if there was a fit. She never called, never showed up. I never got an explanation from her family or caseworkers. I had started calling her three days beforehand to help her choose her clothes and talk the day through. No one returned my calls and at 10:00 p.m. the night before, her brother casually mentioned she was at a a relative’s house.

Had she lied to me about her grades? Her eyes lit up when she saw the grounds and buildings of the prep school. “I’d love to go here,” she said that day.

I was, clearly, naive and idealistic. The more I got to know and like her and see her potential, the more I wanted to do to help her get a great education, make new friends, work with her athletic potential, get into college. My family had warned me from the start that this sort of aspirational intrusiveness was dangerous territory.

Her family wanted her as is, even if her granny made a habit of poking Pilar’s belly in front of me, barking “Are you pregnant?”

Only half-way through this increasingly challenging relationship did the caseworker finally admit: “This is one of our toughest families.” You think? Her therapist told me she thought Pilar one of the most manipulative girls she’d met.

Great — liberal, middle-class optimism/guilt/hope meets…what?

Volunteering demands humility. You have no idea, often, what effects — if any — your relationship has on this other person. Should this matter? Matter a lot?

Maybe you teach them a new skill and you can see that happen. But maybe not. If you are a goal-oriented person, this can be confusing.

I often think about Pilar and wonder who and how she is. She’s now in her 20s. Did she ever go to college? Avoid early single motherhood? Is she happy?

I wish I knew.

Here is Michael’s essay in Good magazine.

When Is Help Worth Paying For? The Creatives' Dilemma

In business on December 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm
A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

Pick it, but for a price...Image via Wikipedia

Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but I suspect that engineers or dentists or plumbers or dry-cleaners, when meeting someone socially, don’t get: “Oh, can I ask your advice?” Do you actually show a DDS your molars or point to a stubborn spot on your sleeve? I doubt it. It would be weird and rude and intrusive.

Writers do get this question. All the time. Maybe because, y’know, it’s just writing.

People email me, and perhaps also to many others, out of the blue to “pick my brain” as though that were an activity I might enjoy and find satisfying. Yes, it’s flattering that people think you have something useful to offer them. Sure, one works hard to acquire some level of visibility and credibility. But I’m not emailing random Big Name Person to ask them for their help, free. I know it took them years of hard work and experience, perhaps costly travel and education and internships and apprenticeships, to acquire the very knowledge I wish I had. Why should they just hand it over to me gratis?

I also studied interior design for a few years, planning to leave journalism for that field. One of our classes was  focused on the legal issues designers face. Like being sued. We were warned, in all seriousness, not to hand out advice on anything too substantive lest the suggested curtains catch on fire or someone slips on that sisal or their kid got caught their thumb caught in the Knole sofa and they’d come after us for it. I also liked the basic message — we were experts and would bill for that time and expertise. Clients will ask for anything they think can get away with.

I’ve spent many years mentoring, helping, advising dozens of strangers, free. Not so much any more. I plan to retire and in order to do so need to retain control of my time, which, in addition to my skills, is all I have to offer in the intellectual marketplace.

Here’s the challenge. I’ve already committed to serve on two volunteer boards, for several years, that take up a fair bit of unpaid time and attention. I enjoy giving back.

If you’re someone who really likes to help others succeed, as I genuinely do, and you like to be liked, as many of us do, yet you must carve out a decent freelance income from your well-developed, otherwise uncompensated skills, when and where do you draw that line?

Do you think, or find, that women have a harder time saying “no” to such requests? Do you feel any hesitation asking such questions?

Who's Your Ethel?

In culture, women on September 11, 2009 at 9:48 pm
Photo Exhibition in Brasilia, Brazil

Image by babasteve via Flickr

If you’re lucky, we all find someone — maybe several someones — just when you need them most. Wise, compassionate, no bullshit, they’ll listen to your woes just long enough to let you know they’ve heard, then offer some of the optimism, ideas, direction you so badly crave. They’re a hit of pure, fresh oxygen.

They’re probably not friends or neighbors or colleagues. Maybe a former teacher or a minister or rabbi you trust. Someone who’s been bruised enough to know how much that hurts, but who has successfully healed and gone on (and up) to better things, whether that’s work, marriage, friendship. They can see the silver lining when all you see is clouds. They know you and know what’s a crappy (or wonderful, unimagined – really? you think?) choice for you, no matter how sexy it looks or well-paid it is or how much your parents think you should do it or your husband or all your grad school friends.

They’re a lot easier to find when you’re 16 or 23 or maybe even 35, in and around others seeking, questioning, a little uncertain what happens next…not so much when you’re old enough to be someone’s parent or grand-parent. It’s not cool, certainly in New York City, to admit much, if any, professional doubt or fear. Then, your Ethel needs to be someone who also understands how much you trust them even asking for some of their time.

I spent an hour today, a miserably rainy day in Manhattan, with Ethel, and thank God. I hadn’t seen her in perhaps a decade, back when when I was an adult student at her school, recovering from a brief, miserable marriage and trying out a wholly new identity, a new career I might enter and wondered if it even held a place for me. I got mostly A’s there and was inordinately proud of them. I was studying interior design, a passion of mine. People laugh and scoff, but it demands some of the skills that work well in journalism — see a space, envision a finished room (see the world, imagine a book or a film or a story) — and I loved every minute of my classes there, small, supportive, so challenging we’d go home and cry with fright. Then we’d pull it off and grin with victory. I showed one of my lighting designs (a nearby cupola my inspiration, glimpsed from school’s second floor window) to a manufacturer who said he’d consider producing it. That was cool.

I didn’t go into the field then, but as journalism increasingly resembles the Titanic, I needed to talk to someone who could see past my resume and my fears about what else I might do next. We caught up with one another, brainstormed, and I took plenty of notes. Today I was anxiously awaiting the outcome of a crucial writing-related meeting, and feared the worst. She reassured me there were many other opportunities out there should this one not come to pass. I left calm, comforted, grateful.

The meeting produced the result I hoped for, which I’ll describe more when I can. It’s good. But what a blessing and a gift to know, and be able to turn to, this lovely woman who replied within an hour to my fearful, questing email after a decade’s silence.

Who’s your Ethel? What have they helped you conquer or face?

It's J-Day: Mentors, Money and Where to Find Them

In business, Media on August 13, 2009 at 8:32 am
A helping hand

Image by Eduardo Deboni via Flickr

For anyone still trying to make a living doing serious, thoughtful journalism, it’s crazy out there. Staff jobs are increasingly hard to get and keep. Freelance budgets have been slashed. Blogs pay poorly for all but the big stars. Whether you’re trying to fund a project, a book, a pitch, a series, a documentary — or the travel costs to get to a great story —  the bills keep showing up, no matter how frugal you are or, if you’re really lucky, how generous, patient and understanding your parent(s) or partner.

What happens if you just hit bottom? You’re about to become destitute, despite years of hard, recognized work? Contact the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, of which I’m a trustee. Our maximum first-time grant is $6,000 and those in desperate need can get a check within a week or two. We listen carefully, read all details of a request, check your credentials (we’ve had people try to scam us), confer, vote and respond quickly. Our trustees include magazine editors of national magazines, past and present, and several veteran freelancer writers. We don’t approve all applicants, so please read the details. But we’re here to help, and we’re able to do so as well as we can, recently, thanks to a fellow writer, Cecil Murphey, who has made several extremely generous donations. As many of us know, some writers make a lot of money, while others live check to check. Sometimes, the smartest work can’t find a ready audience.

I also want to talk about mentoring, a fancy word for help. Read the rest of this entry »

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