My writer’s life — mid-pandemic



From my last group experience, attending and speaking March 8 in Fairfax, VA at the NSC 2020


By Caitlin Kelly


We haven’t yet received our badly-needed $1200 per person from the Federal government, nor even tried to apply for unemployment payments (which freelancers are entitled to) , nor pandemic payments of $600/week….all of which we could use!

A lot of outlets have cut back on their freelance budgets, so it’s easy to panic, but panic never paid the bills.

Work, thankfully, continues to show up.

This past week offered three fantastic windfalls — all of them totally unexpected — and for which, even more now, I am so grateful:

— A woman writer who follows me on Twitter booked me for a coaching session from across the country for this weekend.

— A doctor I helped a few weeks ago (months?), discussing his amazing Twitter story-telling and whether it’s book material, suddenly dropped some very real cash into my PayPal account.

— I posted a question in one of the private writers’ groups I belong to on Facebook, asking for peers’ advice on where to place an unusual personal essay. An editor saw it and commissioned it.

And, always, the usual searching for more work…

A few months ago, I began working with an intern, (now home from college in Brooklyn at her parents upstate), and she and I are still, slooooowly, plugging away on a potential book proposal. I keep kidding around on Twitter with a few agents and book editors, hoping to get it to them if/when we ever get back to a more thriving economy.

I applied April 8 for a Canada Council grant, asking for the maximum of $25,000 (Canadian) to research another stalled book proposal. Only 20 percent of applicants win one and it might not be the full amount and I won’t know til August….but at least I tried. It’s open to Canadian citizens, not only residents.




I’ve pitched a number of COVID-related ideas, but others have beaten me to it, or they failed to find favor.

My latest assignment — of all things! — is for Mechanical Engineering magazine, and required me to interview the nation’s top experts in their fields. PANIC! “You have a knees-quaking English major who has never studied physics or chemistry”, I wrote the editor, when he made the assignment.

But it went well and I learned a lot and the scientists were all fantastic to talk to — warm and down-to-earth. I ended up talking turkey hunting with one of them, a female legend who hunts on her Texas ranch on weekends. Of course! Turned out I had two very unlikely things in common with another scientist — we’d flown the minuscule domestic aircraft of Nicaragua and eaten at the same Indian restaurant in Montreal, across from the McGill campus.

It’s these moments of shared humanity that make all the learning implicit in journalism — even a very steep curve sometimes! — still so enjoyable.

I caught up by phone with a pal in California who I met more than 20 years ago when, having never met before, we shared a room at a Boston writing conference to save money. She’s now doing a podcast on education and invited me to talk to her about my last story for Mechanical Engineering (out in June) on STEM.




Having read a pal’s story in a magazine I get, I asked her for the favor of an introduction to her editor — which she very generously made and which elicited an immediate and enthusiastic reply to my email and resume. Writing LOIs (letters of introduction to potential clients) is often a total waste of time, and one I avoid for that reason. Hoping for work!

I wrote to two editors of the FT’s glossy magazine How To Spend It. No reply. Will chase further; same for their House & Home editor, who follows me on Twitter.

Advised a Georgia MD up in NYC volunteering at a local hospital, who I follow on Twitter, about gathering details if he hopes to write a book about this pandemic.

I’m always months and months behind on my own reading, so have used some downtime to reduce the piles (three of them!) of Financial Times, NYT magazine, Architectural Digest, Vogue and the now-defunct Photo District News.

10 thoughts on “My writer’s life — mid-pandemic

  1. Jan Jasper

    I did not know that freelancers, AKA 1099s, are entitled to unemployment payments. Does that depend on the state you live in? In any case, it sounds like things are hopping, and I’m glad to hear that paying work is coming your way.

  2. Wow and congrats on the work! Your energy and address aways have impressed and intimidated me. Still do….
    I’m capable of good ideas and I’ve had self-made ops to approach editors in person, but then in the follow-through I often fail – confidence deficit. Yet, I once took a flyer in introducing myself as an expert editor to a boutique fiction publisher and a year later, I got an assignment from him and his wife who’d written a book together. Later, his wife hired me to edit 3 of her own novels. (In her last acknowledgments, she called me her editor.)
    In 2018 (in Paris) I had a crazy idea for a kids’ book (have never done any such) but I’ve wanted to do a sample not the whole book! Rare move if ever for kids’ publishing.
    In my copywriter past, I always collaborated with art directors. Can’t imagine doing a visual project without a collaborator. Several efforts to find an illustrator failed. BUT in the current climate, I found one — in SEATTLE (?!) and WITH kids’ book poublishing contacts. Also, two good illustrators in Paris. One of those has strong interest in the project — no pub contacts, but lots of moxie for eventual editorial approaches…
    This week, I polished sample ms and sent it to Seattle. Best week in 2020.

  3. it sounds as though you’ve had a good run of luck, in spite of everything. you work hard and sometimes it pays off, makes it worthwhile. you are an expert at recognizing and optimizing every opportunity that comes your way. might be a good book in itself.

  4. I know how you feel! I just became a full-time Freelancer two weeks (!) before the pandemic hit. I was very worried at first but I’m also lucky that work keeps coming. I have it a little easier because I also work as a designer, but it was interesting to read how you as a full-time writer are doing.

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