The writer’s week: mice invasion, a huge new assignment, a bad fall

By Caitlin Kelly

What’s it really like to work as a full-time freelance writer in New York?

Strap in and hang on!

My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)
My story in July 2014 Cosmopolitan (U.S. edition)


My husband flies home today to New York from Texas, where he attended the memorial service for his half-brother. I meet him at Laguardia airport, a journey by car that costs more than $16 in tolls and $12 for parking. Some people wonder why I set my rates so high — costs like this are one reason.

I’ve been asked to come up with a projected budget for my expenses for an assignment in England in early January. It’s easily done, thanks to Google, but imagine life without it. We take quick, ready, free access to information totally for granted now, but I began my career long before there was an Internet or email or Google.

I call a client I last spoke to in August, and for whom I’ve set aside most of November to work on her organization’s project. That also means I am relying on the income from it. I call her — and she blithely tells me, with no prior warning, they won’t be doing it until February.

Another client referred to me who said she had almost $600 in her 2014 training budget to hire me tells me I had to have invoiced her last week. Now it’s too late.

Not a good start to the week, or month.



I read and grade the papers of my 12 freshman writing students; I teach two classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I’ve decided to mix things up and gave them a visual writing prompt, a photo of a WWI soldier and a photo of a WWI uniform. I gave them total freedom to produce 500 words, and the results are stunning: original, moving, evocative.

I confirm with my two guest speakers, one for the writing class and one for blogging, that they’ll be coming this week.

We have a mini-invasion of small brown mice. We lay traps, which I hate, but we live in a small apartment and I work at home. Co-existence is not a realistic option.


I start the day with my usual walk, with a friend who lives across the street. The fall leaves are at their glowing peak, so it’s a gorgeous way to kick off the day. I live 25 miles north of New York City, so have the best of both worlds, ready access to it, but leafy, quiet and more affordable life just beyond its borders.

More questions on one story from an editor. Sigh.

I teach my last writing class at the New York School of Interior Design, where I was a student in the 1990s when I considered leaving journalism for design. I’ve only had two students here, but have really enjoyed both of them, one of whom is working on a renovation of the Plaza Hotel and shows me some photos.

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus
Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus


It’s pouring rain so I’m in the car by 7:00 a.m. to drive to Pratt, which usually takes 60 to 75 minutes. This time it consumes 2.5 hours.

My guest speaker for the writing class fails to appear and I scramble to fill that hour by discussing the week’s reading — an excerpt from “Hella Nation” by Evan Wright.

My friend, in a neck brace (!) has traveled 90 minutes by subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but arrives just as class is ending! We pivot, and seven of my 10 students sit around a cafeteria table downstairs so they can still have a chance to hear him and ask questions. He and I catch up personally for the next hour before he heads back to Manhattan.

Another guest speaker, a friend of a friend, also arrives from Manhattan to address my blogging class. I’m so grateful for their expertise!

I’ve been negotiating a profile of a local lawyer for a major women’s magazine and scheduling time with her through her assistant; my editor and I chat by phone and email about what she needs and when I will file a first draft, December 1. It’s not much time in which to research and write 3,500 words! But I’m really excited. This is the biggest assignment I’ve had in a while.

I drive home, and arrive exhausted; as I’m walking across our driveway in the dark, I slip and fall — hard. My laptop (not in its padded case) skids across the wet cement and I bruise and scrape my bare right knee. Ouch!

I watch an extraordinary film on TCM from 1941, Meet John Doe, in black and white. The film begins with a newspaper publisher firing half his staff and bringing in cheap, new, desperate blood. Too ironic — my husband’s employer of 30 years, The New York Times, needs to have 100 employees accept their offers of a buyout by December 1.

Plus ca change…


It’s a cold, blustery day with thick gray clouds scudding over the Hudson River, which I can see from my bed, where I spend the day reading, napping, listening to the radio, drinking bright pink herbal tea and eating popcorn.

Sometimes you just need a rest!

How was your week?

12 thoughts on “The writer’s week: mice invasion, a huge new assignment, a bad fall

  1. Sorry about your knee Caitlin. I hope it’s feeling better today. I also hope the laptop didn’t suffer any damage in the fall as that’s always an unwanted expense.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    1. Thanks, Grace! 🙂

      I’ll be in London Jan. 2-7 then, if the assignment goes through, a town near there called High Wycombe. After that..? I have another 8 days and am still deciding where to go.

  2. I have just watched an intelligent and inspiring interaction on Youtube between David Letterman and ex-president Jimmy Carter. The man is over 90 years old and has just published a new book entitled “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power”. In one of your earlier blog posts, you talked about the phenomen of unreported rape on college campuses. Carter addresses this subject on the Letterman show. I mean, honestly, what man (other than Carter) would ever touch that subject and speak so eloquently about it, especially on a talk show! Here’s what Beth Kaplan in Toronto says –

    My friend Juliet sent me this link to David Letterman’s interview this year with President Jimmy Carter, who at 90 – 90! – is passionately engaged, articulate and informed. What a phenomenal man – author of a new book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.” And what he says about the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse is prescient, as this country can talk about little else these days. Inspiring.

      1. To be honest, Caitlin, I’m a little disappointed in your response to this video I sent. Did you even watch it? The only reason I sent it to you (and to your readers) is because you had blogged an earlier post specifically about the problem of unreported college campus rape, a sad subject that Jimmy Carter – over 90 years old – addresses here. Jimmy Carter is a feminist, a humanist and passionately engaged in issues that (should) concern us all. Rare! How often do you hear any man of any political stripe talk about this subject on an entertainment talk show like Letterman, or on any TV show? There are not many male feminists around. He also talks about the trafficking of young women and girls and how Atlanta seems to be the hub of sex slavery. And finally, he talks about FGM (female genital mutilation), another sordid sorry topic that should concern us all.

        I’m going to buy his new book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”

        But it seems that you’re more interested in your scraped knee and whining about your low-paid industry!

      2. Juliet, I do appreciate you sharing it and I’m sure a few followers do as well.

        Right now, I’m coping with a severe, private, sudden family crisis — that I have not made time to watch the video you sent is unfortunate and I’m sorry you feel insulted by my lack of response. Life in my family right now is a shitstorm and every ounce of my time and energy is required to deal with it. I barely have time to write this damn blog, let alone reply to anyone or act upon their suggestions and comments.

        If you want to share something here, terrific. But never make assumptions about how much time or energy I have available to respond to anyone or anything here, nor what you deem an acceptably prompt/polite reply. If you had any idea, you might back off from your disappointment.

        What I am coping with right now is much worse than a scraped knee.

  3. i’m so sorry you’ve had such rough week, caitlyn. hoping you are better sooner, rather than later. and hopeful for jose’s future with the paper. a ‘typical’ week with you, is so far from typical. look forward to your time in london in the new year –

    1. I wonder what “typical” looks like for other writers of my age or level of experience. Some, certainly, earn double — which would relieve some of the pressure. Having a husband in a dying industry, and working in the same industry, is absurd. But it’s where we are and we have to adapt to it somehow.

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