The pleasures of writing

By Caitlin Kelly

saying

I’ve been slinging words for a living, since my sophomore year of university.

I’ve never formally studied writing, except for a degree from a demanding faculty in English lit.

I originally wanted to be a radio DJ, but knew I wanted to write for a living from a very early age, maybe 12 or so. Over my career, I’ve worked as an editor for three magazines and a reporter for three major daily newspapers, all of which has helped me think more clearly and write (I hope!) better; my website, if you’re interested, has some of my work.

In 1998, I won a National Magazine Award in Canada for a humor essay about, (what else?) my divorce.

I’ve derived so many pleasures from writing, for decades, including:

You!

As Broadside heads into its eighth year, I’m grateful for everyone who makes the time to come by, to read, to comment, and to return, some year after year. I know you’ve got many other ways to spend your time and attention, so thank you!

I first posted here on July 1, 2009, terrified. I write for a living, but thought no one would ever bother to read my own private thoughts. But we’re now at 16,635 followers.

Broadside has also been chosen for Freshly Pressed six times, a real honor.

Civil, lively conversation

One of the main reasons I write this blog, and continue to enjoy producing it. While I do wish more people “liked” and commented, I really value those who make time to speak up.

The Internet is so full of verbal violence. Not here!

BLOWN AWAY COVER
My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions
malled cover HIGH
My second book, published in 2011

Ongoing readership for my two books

I grew up in Canada, which runs something called the Public Lending Rights program, essentially royalty payments made by Canadian libraries to books registered through their program. Every year they send me a check, usually about $450, based on how often my books are borrowed and read, which tells me readers are still reaching for my work and still finding value in it.

That’s why writers write: to find readers!

Here’s a link to Blown Away; and one to Malled if you have a book club that would like to read and discuss either of them (i.e. buying at least a dozen), I’ll Skype in for a Q and A.

IMG_20160617_102113083 (2)

Friendships

I recently went out for lunch in Manhattan with a friend who’s 20 years my junior, a woman who now lives in London but who was working in Bahrain when I first spoke to her, as a source for a New York Times business story.

She seems to live in an airplane, but we share unlikely passions, like fragrance. It’s a rare thing, but sometimes a source becomes a pal, as have some fellow bloggers, as have many of my colleagues throughout the years, whether staff or freelance.

IMG_20150111_134324002_HDR
The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015.

Learning about the world

I get paid to learn.

It’s a real privilege to meet or speak to such a range of people, from a British female bank CEO to a female Admiral to Olympic athletes to convicted felons to a Prime Minister to a neurosurgeon to an FBI firearms instructor.

Journalism is no way to become wealthy, but the joy of encountering so many different people and hearing and sharing their stories is worth a lot to me.

KELLY COVER-LOW
Me, a cover girl?!

Being of service

It’s not waitressing or working retail, but journalism really is in many ways a service industry — if what we produce isn’t useful or meaningful to our readers, viewers and listeners, it’s time to hang up those skates!

I’m delighted when I hear from readers that they’ve learned something new and useful from my work; one Canadian woman said a story of mine had saved her life, as I covered a weird side effect of a medication that doctors kept dismissing when patients complained. Her mother read my story and shared it with her daughter who pushed back harder on her physician.

Telling great stories

The world is simply brimming with hundreds of amazing, untold stories.

Some are deeply unsettling, and it’s our role as reporters to bear fearless and intimate witness to war, crime, natural disaster, social injustice, racism.

Others are lying inside people who have simply never before been asked to talk to a reporter. Their untold tales are powerful, bursting with the energy of something finally unleashed.

It’s a huge responsibility to try to carve story from the raw material of reality — choosing the right characters, setting scenes, evoking emotion, choosing just the right words, in the right order, at the right length.

It is never easy.

It never should be.

malled china cover
Malled’s Chinese edition

Adventure!

Not every journalist can count on a life of adventure, but it’s there for the taking if you choose your jobs and assignments carefully.

For work, I’ve been to the Arctic circle, to visit a tiny Inuit village, spent eight days in a truck with a French trucker going from Perpignan to Istanbul, taken class with the Royal Danish Ballet, have climbed the rigging 100 feet up and worked on a foot-rope aboard a Tall Ship, taken the helm of a multi-million America’s Cup contender.

I’m grateful for all these paid adventures and hope to have a few more before I’m done.

30 thoughts on “The pleasures of writing

  1. Funny you should come out with this post at this very moment. I actually just took a short break from writing just to check and see if there’s anything interesting in my inbox. You’re right, even if we do write different things. There are all sorts of stories out there worth telling, and all sorts of rewards for doing so. I’m really happy that I’m able to write and have an audience of my own, even if it’s still relatively small. πŸ™‚

  2. I do enjoy your ballsy, no BS posts about the writer’s life. Especially the lack of pretense – journalism as a service industry – and openness about the (sometimes harsh) economic realities. Keep ’em coming!

    1. Thanks!

      I have no patience with the fantasy “anyone can be a writer” and “it’s soooooo fun!” I still enjoy much of my work, but it’s hard work produced for demanding people — many of whom now, realistically, fear the loss of their job, publication and industry and are often bitchy and insecure as a result. We’re all running faster, more scared and, often, for a lot less money then we made pre-2008.

  3. you live what i see as a very good life and i’m happy to have met you through your blog and your words. the human connections are what make blogging, and life in general, all worthwhile. here’s to many more years of your words and perhaps we’ll even cross paths in person one day –

    1. Thanks!

      I’ve so enjoyed your blog and your tremendous optimism and pleasure in life. It’s really inspirational — and I see that in your blogging community.

      For sure, we’ll meet someday. It’s been a great pleasure to meet readers, as I did in 2015 in Paris, (and in Minneapolis and elsewhere), where I met with three women, one of them tout en francais. Journalism, occasionally, allows for that intimacy, but blogging — at its best — creates it over time.

  4. Caitlin, you have had some very unique experiences and you share them in your writing. It opens our eyes to what other people have to contend with and how they deal with certain issues. In your writing, we can live through those experience vicariously.
    Leslie

    1. Indeed…:-)

      Many of them I’ve sought out, glad that journalism allows me entree to others’ lives and experiences. I know of few other jobs with that — chaplaincy/ministry/medicine…most of the caring professions.

  5. Jann Jasper

    Caitlin,
    I read each of your blog entries with great interest and, often, admiration. I’m sorry I don’t comment more often. I have learned a lot from your writing and I thank you for your authenticity, which I think is in short supply.

    1. Thanks! It’s a feat these days to attract people’s interest — and admiration is a lovely adjunct to that. πŸ™‚

      I’m certainly authentic. Don’t know who or how else to be.

  6. Somehow this post is such a timely motivation as I find myself questioning why I dared to start a blog while balancing life with a new baby and teenagers. I’ve always enjoyed seeing my thoughts on paper but never sought out a pleasurable outlet other than the countless papers I wrote in my Poli Sci degree. And reading this reminds me why I should continue to cherish writing as my personal retreat of clarifying my experiences. After my husband successfully persuaded me to sign up for a word press account, it felt like such an intimidating universe that I still only navigate in my small spurts away from babydom. You were the first blogger that I followed and I’m always amazed by what draws me to people but I remember sensing an empowered tone to your bio. It felt like the energy I derived from discussing with my colleagues in my feminism courses during my first degree and I’ve been thrilled by how much I enjoy your posts. Your writing is dynamic, entertaining and interesting and I always take away a little inspiration on how to broaden my platform. I remember thinking “wow I can’t believe she takes the time to write for us here on wordpress” so yes thanks for writing and posting πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks so much for making the time to comment in such detail!

      I’m honored to have you, a (BUSY) mom and public health nurse here — it’s really important work!!!

      “why I should continue to cherish writing as my personal retreat of clarifying my experiences”

      Boy, you said it well.

      The challenge of blogging is making that “personal retreat” something of consistently larger value and meaning to strangers. That’s a hump some bloggers never overcome. It takes time and practice — and the whole thing is (oddly) performative, which is the inverse of “personal retreat.”

      The best writing, in any medium, combines the personal and universal; I teach that in my blogging webinar, which another follower here recently took and found valuable.

      My pro writing friends sometimes find it odd I still blog (what, no $$$!?) but it’s such an enjoyable activity for me to connect with readers and to take thoughts and feelings out for a spin without (sigh) having to SELL them to someone first. It’s deeply restorative to NOT have to retail everything I think.

      I’ve been writing for an audience for decades, so I’m used to it. What surprises me is that I still so enjoy it. Blogging helps me re-connect with why…and this post was a useful reminder to myself what some of the many pleasures still are.

      1. Thank you Caitlin! There is so much great advice in this. I have been sensing that I need to bring along some common pleasures and attractions to my writing retreat so others would wish to stay on my island too. It is a big hump to make writing more universal and become performative as a blogger as it demands courage to fear less and step out of one’s comfort zone. So I reckon it’s time for me to start being “more” bold πŸ™‚

    1. Madame blabla. πŸ™‚ I love love love music in many genres and listen to radio every day. Check out our fave station, TSF Jazz, from Paris, on the Internet. Ooooh, lala. We love it.

    1. What else is there to do? The louse cheated on me, walked out on me, remarried within a year.

      Of course it hurt like hell.

      That’s what writers do — take pain and use it as material. πŸ™‚ My essay about it was a dark/bitter humor, not a laff riot of giggles.

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