By Caitlin Kelly
Last year was really rough.
This year, for reasons I can’t discern, things have been much better and much busier. For which I am so grateful!
In the past few weeks:
— I’ve pitched three editors at The New York Times (science, At Home, Well) and sold two ideas to them.
— Pitched a fun idea I found (by reading the production notes of a recent documentary) to a Canadian magazine I admire, and was initially excited to write for, until they refused to push the pay rate into American currency, cutting a low rate ($500) to $380. Then their contract arrived and it was Biblical in length and demands. I did something very rare and backed out of the assignment. Then I had to manage the legitimately disappointed feelings of the person I was going to profile. But, when I discussed this on my Facebook page, several fellow Canadians suggested alternate editors.
— Negotiated with a physician about possible coaching.
— Did a bunch of Zoom classes with high school and college journalism students.
— Got back in touch with a few editors to try and start lining up assignments for January 2021. I always have to think at least two months ahead!
— Got some good news on a potential book project for which I need to speak to some very senior journalists.
— Connected two writers I admire, one in Nashville, one in London, to help one another on a project. I love connecting people!
— Wrote more blog posts for the Lustgarten Foundation, which funds research into pancreatic cancer. The topic is challenging, as so many people don’t survive it, but it’s also been an honor to speak directly to the researchers working on so many different ways to detect and manage it.
— Enjoyed an unusual two-hour phone chat with one of my editors, who’s been buying a lot of my work for The Conversationalist. Only after two hours did we actually discuss work!
— Managed money! I work so hard to earn what I do, it’s easy to forget that what savings we do have need to be properly managed. We expected the stock market to soar after Biden was elected, and it did. I jumped and pulled some of that windfall into cash. I’m damn grateful to have savings and investments, without which I’d live in monthly fear of not being able to meet all our bills. I tell every would-be freelancer this — if you don’t have at least two to three months’ worth of expenses in the bank, you’ll never be able to turn down work or walk away (as I describe above) from a lousy deal.
— Swimming three times a week, at 12:30 p.m. at our local YMCA. They allow only four people at a time, one per lane. It’s bliss. I get some exercise, some social interaction, some relief from sitting alone at home all day. I even found the perfect source for my NYT radio story swimming in the next lane. He connected me, after we chatted as we left, to a great source in Miami.
— Participated in multiple Twitterchats: #TRLT (travel), #CultureTrav (travel) #RemoteChat and #FreelanceChat. I really enjoy these lively global online/real-time conversations and have met some great people through them, like an Australian woman living in France or a Dutch woman in New York. Each session is about an hour and focused on discussing a specific topic. I always learn something new and — especially with the terrible loss of social life due to COVID — they help keep me going nuts from loneliness and isolation.
— Kept up with my normal media consumption. I read the Financial Times and New York Times every day in print. I may scan others, like The Guardian, online. I listen to CBC and NPR radio, for news and pleasure. I also read books (slowly!) and some magazines, although many fewer than we used to. I’m not loving Vogue these days but enjoy reading even old copies of Smithsonian.
I really miss working in our gorgeous local library, with its soaring ceilings and tall windows and enormous tables.
I miss seeing other people face to face!
But we’ve spruced up our apartment, thanks to a good year, and that’s helped: new sofa, new rug, framing some art.
Here’s another writer’s description of her writing life — she lives alone in Brooklyn with her cat and does a lot of science writing.
Our writing lives are all, in some ways quite different and in many ways, very similar.