The writing life, this week…

malled cover LOW

Still hoping to sell a third book proposal…


By Caitlin Kelly


My livelihood, like that of many full-time freelancers, is intellectual piecework. Instead of sewing pockets on jeans in a factory, I chase assignments, negotiate fees and conditions (some now paying 60 days after invoice), read, sign and amend contracts, fill out the paperwork to get paid.

I also…oh thatwrite.

The past week has been a really exhausting roller-coaster.

After agreeing to a shitty fee of $750 for 1,400 words, (ironically for an outlet focused on journalism), I turned in my story, which required six interviews and reading a new book on the subject of the piece. Endless email mis-communication ensued until the very young female editor called me — at 4:55 on Friday afternoon — to find out what was going on.

Thanks to texting and emojis and a life lived only screen-mediated, many young editors and writers now exhibit a bizarre and pronounced fear of speaking by phone. Some simply don’t know how to react, civilly, in real time.

This did not go well.

She was rude, condescending, dismissive, constantly interrupting me. Two hours later she killed the story, costing me the entire fee.

Since that shitshow, I successfully pitched another idea, an essay, to a website, got a quick rejection for a New York Times op-ed, accepted three more assignments from a specialty magazine and — to my amazement — got a green light on a story that had been widely rejected for months.

I also pitched the Financial Times,, another NYT editor and Real Simple (no go) — and wrote that time-sensitive essay in 2 days.

Losing $750 I expected means postponing a dental visit, getting a new pair of glasses, paying down credit card debt. It’s not a joke. This is not a hobby.

One of the greatest challenges, for me, is just moving on after a really bad experience. That baby editor’s behavior was appalling — but it’s not my issue.

I know the excellent skills I offer. I know the people who value them.

Whatever happens, the bills keep showing up, every month, thousands of dollars needed to pay them all, in full, on time.

Like regular people.


This is not a life for the fragile.

18 thoughts on “The writing life, this week…

      1. I liked On Writing by Stephen King and there’s always Elements of Style by Strunk and White. That one’s pretty old, but even young bakers make bread from flour.

  1. Amen. I’m having a heck of a time sitting down and beginning the rough draft of my second book. I’ve email folks, gotten great replies, organized a folder, taken care of current bills with some money I got for my writing and my next project is in the works for next year. But I am having doubts about my ability to do this next book justice, so it is easier to go shopping for a new bedspread (bright red). Tomorrow I’ll take out that folder and open it and, hopefully my rough draft will begin.

  2. (oops, pressed send) anyway, she has been losing contracts at a steady pace and the reason is her clients can do their own ads and annual reports etc with all the easy design programs available to everyone. Throw in the new grads who will work for 1/4 of what she charges and it has been (as you say) a shit show. I told my husband I feel like we are all sputtering along in boats with a holes in them… trying to reach the shores of “retirement island” before we sink..

    1. This is too grim…and I get it. We have had to spend some of our retirement savings to get out from under $1700/month health insurance. It is a truly crippling cost burden. We have nowhere to cut expenses and no way to save now.

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