A freelance journalist’s week

By Caitlin Kelly

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The New York Times newsroom

If you’ve never tried working freelance — i.e. no job, no salary, no paid sick or vacation days — it can look cool.

Freedom!

I’ve been doing it since 2006 (and for periods before then as well), and enjoy it.

It’s rarely dull.

 

Here’s some of what this week has been like:

 

I pitched a story to The New York Times, realizing, two weeks after returning from an overheated, often non air conditioned Europe, that it’s an uncomfortable, even dangerous, situation for travelers and hotel owners.

And one only likely to worsen with climate change.

I’ve been writing for the Times since 1990, and had previously written for that specific editor, so he quickly replied to my emailed pitch — but I had barely four days in which to find all my sources, interview them and write the story.

Thanks to my active life on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, I soon found what I needed.

Here’s the story.

I’m working on a big (3,000 words) story for a local university about their school. Have been doing interviews for weeks, some by phone, some in person. It’s a challenging assignment and one I’m enjoying, but it has a lot of moving parts. Did seven interviews, in person, in one day on campus — pooped! Slept 10 hours and took the next day off entirely to recover.

During one of the interviews, heard a deeply distressing story of murder in someone’s life. I didn’t react much, which — to those who don’t know any journalists personally — can make us look cold and unfeeling. Not so! One of the keys to success as a journalist is being able to manage and control the most powerful of emotions, even in the moment, and stay focused on your goal — reporting the story. It can, and does, lead to some trauma later as you process it eventually, or don’t.

 

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I speak fluent French,ย  so I was asked to interpret between an editor in Alabama and a French-speaking farmer in Quebec to determine if there was enough to produce a story. There is, so I’ll be heading north to Quebec soon to report and write it.

A former client in Chicago sent me an assignment they needed done right away —- and had to turn it down because they needed it fast and, for once, I’m too busy at the moment.

I emailed editors in New York City and London to follow up on personal meetings to see if there’s work I can produce for them — no answer, so far. It’s normal for even people who know me and my work to take a while to respond. You can’t freak out or take it personally.

Pitched another idea to a new client who loved it — have to constantly be pitching ideas or the income stream dries up fast! Bills never stop arriving, funny thing.

Jose and I took a day off to explore the North Shore of Long Island, about a 2.5 hour drive from our home. In our years together, we’ve been to Paris together a few times — but never there.

Found this astonishing Spanish chest — 17th century? — in a local antique shop.

 

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This area is gorgeous and we loved it, including this amazing general store, built in 1857, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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32 thoughts on “A freelance journalist’s week

  1. Eat, drink and be Kerry

    The life of a freelance writer is never dull, particularly those heart-stopping moments when I consider my bank balance, but the journey is worth it. How else could I travel the world bite by bite?

  2. wow, the nyt story came together really quickly and gave a strong feel for the challenges of travel with the extreme heat. your busy weeks always amaze me, but i know you have to strike when the iron is hot, even as you continue to pitch things for the future. glad you were able to fit in a day off and relaxing trip away.

    1. Thanks! I actually enjoy the challenge of a quick turnaround — and the NYT is now MUCH faster because it’s digital first. The story is for the Travel section, which appears in print on Sunday — but was up on the web by Wed. morning.

  3. I have been a freelancer since 2004, 2,000 stories later, I am still trudging along. It is a life my wife and agreed upon. Fortunately, she has a good job – and she knew she was marrying an artist and a writer… I do not have to eat at soup kitchens, but I keep a list at the ready. In the end, I would not have it any other way. I love my life. I love to write. Thanks for writing this story. The glass is always half-full and every sentence ends with a semi-colon at the ready.

  4. Pingback: A freelance journalistโ€™s week โ€” Broadside | Kevin Dayhoff Time Flies

  5. I always enjoy your posts about freelance life. Sounds like a lot of work and hustling is required, but at least you’re never bored!

    I’m planning to do some freelance proofreading โ€“ currently doing an accredited proofreading course which is recognised by the publishing industry. Proofreading is already a part of my day job, but most publishers understandably want people with an official qualification.

    “have to constantly be pitching ideas or the income stream dries up fast!”
    Yes! I’m prepared for a lot of effort sending out emails and letters to publishers and other contacts. Good marketing/business skills, as you know, are a must when soliciting freelance work. I’m working on my business plan. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Yes, I’d much rather spend my time focusing on proofreading than developing a marketing strategy, setting up a website, hunting for potential clients etc. But I guess that’s all part of the freelancer’s job description. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Amazing how we tend to travel farther afield and often skip visiting the places that are nearby. I’m heading to Montauk — for the first time — in October. Looking forward to it, especially in the off season.

    1. So true! We’ve been talking for YEARS about going to Montauk — and have not yet made the trip. Your trip will be lovely…we keep heading back north to Toronto instead to visit friends.

  7. Caitlin I’m so lucky to have found your post when I did!
    I’m getting ready to embark upon a freelance writer’s life… and hopefully make it a career of sorts.
    I’d like to combine it with a grant writing practice that I also plan to develop along side the freelance writing career. I want to try many diverse writing tasks to determine which works best for me.
    I’ve toyed with this idea for a few years now, but was afraid of losing the security of my regular job with benefits. However, the call to report/write has grown even stronger than any of my fears.
    I’m also very independent, so I love spending most of my time alone, but feel I’d also enjoy the limited periods of interaction with sources as well.
    Your post has given me the encouragement and reassurance to press on boldly ahead, yet being realistic & prepared financially. I keep hearing the same advice about the constant need to pitch, pitch and then pitch some more. I’m worried about the income, but feel I must give it a good try!

  8. Pingback: A freelance journalistโ€™s week โ€” Broadside | Keyboards-and-Headphones

  9. viaestatu

    “And one only likely to worsen with climate change.”

    When so many of us have flown to exotic foreign locales, yet never visited the local delights…yes things are likely to worsen with climate change. Spend your (our) carbon wisely.

  10. Congrats on succeeding in freelancing! That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing as you’re giving us all inspiration to try it for ourselves! By the way, how cool that you speak fluent French!

    1. Thanks…It’s work, but so are jobs. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I started studying French in Canada in 4th grade and went to 3rd year university, but my fellowship year in Paris, at 25, living and working in French, made a huge difference.

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