This writer’s week

By Caitlin Kelly


It seems obvious that writers write, certainly when every word adds income — and our health insurance alone (God bless America!!) is $1,500.00

The truth, as every freelancer knows, is that before I write a word about anything, I also spend a lot of time, probably 80 percent, just finding and getting the work and negotiating payment and conditions. For one recent story, I had to read and sign a nine-page single-space contract.

This week involved no writing, but lots of meetings:

— My web designer, now living in Asia and who I’ve been working with since 1995, suggested my writing skills to a client of his, a physician in Virginia, to help refresh the copy on his website. I spent half an hour speaking to the doctor, a specialist, to find out if we might be a good fit. I was a little nervous, as he might have been as well. These initial conversations are something of a mutual audition. Do we speak the same language? Do we each have a sense of humor? Did we enjoy it? I also had to name an hourly fee and rough estimate of how much time I thought it would take, not knowing if this would be acceptable. It went great, so onward!

— A former coaching client who’s become a friend needs new freelance writers so we skedded a call to discuss.

— A new design website needs copy focused on antiques, something I know well and have studied many times, hence a call to talk about some ideas.

— I’m working on a very cool story for The New York Times, (I’ve written more than 100 for them), but it’s moving very slowly. My key source lost his mother very suddenly, so I stayed away for a while. This is a story where I think personal introductions to sources will prove more fruitful. There are different ways to find and approach people, some better for some stories than others, and some just take a lot more time to pull together. None of this time is paid for, just built into the one fee we get per story.

— A calm and civil conversation with the editor I had walked away from mid-story. I’ll get a kill fee, 25 percent of the original, instead.

— Emailed an editor in England I’d hoped to be working with on a story in July, but she warned me of changes at the company.

I recently did a Zoom webinar with Jose and counted up the number of clients I worked with in 2020 — 19.

This year, already, 19!

I enjoy this variety, but I admit it’s tiring adapting to 19 different people and their needs and their individual style.

I’ve had one boss before in many staff jobs. It’s a bit easier!

16 thoughts on “This writer’s week

  1. Holy cow-what a ton of work! Reminds me of the time we were watching some law show on TV and my daughter announced she wanted to be a lawyer..I had to let her know that before you put on the fancy suit and appear before the judge there’s a TON of prior, non-glam work that leads to that moment..a TON.

    1. It is! The writing, sorry to say, is much much less than many assume it to be. It also means i have to write FAST (and well) to make any sort of profit from my time and labor.

      1. I get that!! I imagine when you calculate the “hourly rate” adding in all that prep it’s a bit of a cold water bath.. But I’m glad things are picking up- let’s hope this is a trend! 👍

  2. Only the self-employed know how difficult it is to make a living! I find it funny that a great many people think that self-employed folk earn lots and lots. And, over the years, I’ve lost count of how much of my time ends up to being wasted because the client doesn’t come through (despite endless promises). I also wonder about my carbon footprint when I’ve driven miles to see a client only to be ‘knocked back.’ The other major irritant are the time wasters who verbalise and articulate their ideas but they are just that, ideas – mostly going nowhere. Although probably not relevant to your work, I stopped tendering for jobs because that really is a lottery or, more likely, a rigged poker game. And, if trying to make a living isn’t difficult enough, we’re also at the back of the queue when it comes to the tax-man and any government grants which might be given out. The best bit of advice I was given was charge more for your goods and services and accept that you will have fewer clients. That’s my rant over for the day!!!

    1. Agreed with all of this!

      Luckily, I don’t have too many people wasting my time, nor will I let them. I do 90% of my meetings by phone or Zoom — it’s an hour into NYC for me and not a chance unless it’s a very very good opportunity.

      I quoted a quite high hourly rate on one of these jobs and they didn’t blink. If you know what they are charging for THEIR services (i.e. an MD or PR firm), I subtract a zero,

  3. sthrendyle

    Good recap. I’m not anal about pitches created, time spent researching (AKA ‘faffing about’ as the Brits call it) etc, but I DO like emailing a short, chatty email with query to ppl I have never met. One sobering way to find out how productive you’ve been in any particular week is to see how many e-mails you sent out that were, like, directly related to making money. It’s a fine line between lassitude and motivation some days.

  4. Jan Jasper

    I doubt that anyone who doesn’t work for themselves has even a vague idea of how much time spent working is not compensated. It’s indirectly compensated if the fee the client pays is high enough. Adding insult to injury is when friends (who have staff jobs) say, “Wow, you got XXX dollars for that – that’s a ton of money!” But freelancers spend countless hours on marketing (broadly defined) and administrative tasks, not to mention maintaining their own computers, buying their own health insurance, etc. Also the self-employed pay both the employee and employer’s portion of Social Security payments. So it’s annoying if a friend says “And you don’t pay any taxes!!” That’s why it’s essential to have interesting work, so much of the other stuff your business requires is rewarding in some way if not financially.

    1. Exactly!

      The greatest skill is time management — if you can’t get stuff done quickly AND well, it’s hopeless. Because otherwise it’s working on volume, and I don’t have that kind of energy.

  5. it must be such an ongoing balancing act – time spent vs. money earned. especially while much of it is spent prospecting, pitching, connecting, negotiating, etc., but all necessary parts of the job. having worked in advertising, I understand this well, though it wasn’t my own money at stake, but in know the feeling well of putting a lot in with a potential new client, only to have no guaranteed return in the end, oftentimes for obscure reasons, whim, or timing. I applaud you, all the freelancers out there, for not giving up, and continuing to find new sources who are willing to pay for your fine work.

  6. You mentioned in passing: time management. Ha! I never was that good at it, but better than now. Not a skill that improves with age, at least not chez moi. Procrastination, born of
    confidence deficit — tough as *that* is to commit to virtual paper — does consume the hours. Time managment tips | inspiration ALWAYS welcome!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s