What a week it was…
As I write this, our windows are piled high with snow from a huge storm. I was to have driven 90 minutes each way to do an interview at Yale University, but decided to do it by phone instead. I’d planned to do it next week — and had filled my day with other tasks accordingly, but the source will be in South Korea during the time I have to do the piece.
These sudden shifts are becoming routine. I find them exhausting. The story is about a new method for de-salination and he is an award-winning professor of engineering. I’m an English major who has never studied physics, chemistry or engineering. I take a deep breath and give it my best, asking him to review it for accuracy later. He’s a sweetheart, and agrees.
I finish up a story for a design magazine, for which I’ve interviewed several architects and interior designers. This one had to wait a month until we found more interesting and up-to-date sources, thereby delaying the income I’d expected to have earned and paid by the time I finish this now. The editor is one of the nicest I’ve ever worked with, and we spend some time on the phone just getting to know one another — where we grew up, her kids and their ages. This sort of conversation is now so rare! Few editors have the time or interest to create and nurture work relationships with the freelancers they so rely on.
I visit The New York Times to meet the new editor taking over the section I’ve produced five stories for since April 2012. It’s been a great run: high visibility, decent pay, fun stories to produce and extremely well-read, often third or fourth of the entire day’s paper. I also just really like my outgoing editor enormously. Sigh.
It’s a tough meeting — every editor is so different in their style, manners, expectations. We go over a copy of my story and she wants major changes, which is rare for me. I’ll have to carve out time already allotted to competing clients. Juggling my time is perhaps my greatest ongoing challenge: finding new client, learning their needs, pitching them and producing.
While there, I catch up with friends in the business section, editors I’ve worked for, a few staff colleagues who have become good friends — and my husband. It’s odd to hug my sweetie in the middle of the newsroom, but he’s OK with it and so are his two male bosses. Bless them!
I meet another editor, a veteran of our industry working on-line of late, for the first time, over lunch. She has just (!) quit her job, almost unimaginable in this awful economy and our troubled industry. “Were they making it stupid?” I ask. Yes, they were. I admire her guts and her principles, and tell her so. We agree to connect on LinkedIn and hope to stay in touch.
We both wonder aloud how long we’ll be able to stay in this industry. We’ve established our reputations, both love writing and are both passionate about the same issues. But passion and desire won’t cut it, we know.
I’d planned to spend the next three days doing nothing but work on my two book proposals. So much for that idea.
I decide to follow up with “Malled”, my retail memoir that almost became a CBS sitcom. But it didn’t go to pilot and I need to find out if, when or how I can revive it. I call a New York agent and email the script-writer in Hollywood. He has to speak to his agent. The number of people one works with in this business is amazing to me sometimes; we all have different timetables and agendas, yet without cooperation, trust and goodwill, we’re toast.
I’m still chasing an $800 payment for a rush job I did weeks ago. I loathe chasing money — and lying assholes who change their tune after making an agreement and getting people to work unpaid until they deign to send out a check. If they ever do.
I write another business story for the Times, this one for the automotive section, that I initially researched about two months ago.
I email my editor at Portfolio to get the details on my book’s publication this month in China — and the email bounces back. Has he left the company? I call the PR rep instead.
Half an hour is spent on a phone meeting with a Canadian patent attorney, a friend and colleague of my brother, who is super helpful and blessedly free of charge, advising me of next steps to protect my intellectual property on a new idea I’m discussing with several potential partners. It’s a whole new world, and safeguarding my IP is essential.
I finally find three hours to spend on my book proposal, emailing the agent to reassure her I’m neither dead nor a flake — but scrambling to fit unpaid proposals into an income-producing schedule. She sends a friendly note in reply.
I catch up with my assistant, C., by phone, starting our meeting at 8:45 p.m. I hate working after 5pm, but there’s a time zone difference and we had dinner first. We spend 45 minutes trying to set priorities and strategies. It helps to have someone smart and cheerful to brainstorm with. Working alone at home for almost seven years gets lonely and isolating.
A phone interview with a scientist. I hope for the best and try to not sound stupid.
An email arrives from someone I haven’t spoken to in a few years, asking me to judge entries for a journalism award. I say yes, and now have work to do on the weekend and a Tuesday night meeting in the city to judge the finalists; it’ll give me a chance to meet two new-to-me writers.
More work on the book proposal.
My latest editor has left Portfolio, I discover. I email the new editor to introduce myself and find out the scoop on my book. Gotta keep an eye on my baby!