Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's That Time

This, for me, is the hardest stage of the writing process.

I pitched the story, and it was accepted. The editor and I agreed on a word count and a due date. I started interviewing, and started researching, and submitted a broad outline. I interviewed some more, and researched some more, and then some more.

Now I have 40 pages of notes -- a Word document of 15,237 words, and a long PDF file with a statistical report -- to whittle down into an engaging, comprehensive, informative and tightly-written article of 3 pages (1,500 - 2,000 words).

I know what I will do. I will make up 4-5 section heads and put them in a new document, to be minimized to the bottom of my screen, and go through my notes (minimized at the top of my screen), cutting and pasting salient quotations and statistics and references under the correct subject headings. I will decide which of the interviews I've conducted makes for the most compelling "lede" (introduction) and put that interview up top.

I'll go through all those notes and re-order information in each section, paying attention to stories and quotations and ideas that transition well from one to another, or to the following section. I'll make decisions about whom to quote and where -- highlighting terrific quotations in pink or purple-- minding the fact that I need to quote each person I interviewed at least once, to show off how many interviews I did and thereby establish expertise. Boring quotations and extraneous or repetitive information will be highlighted in grey, to be essentially ignored from now on.

I'll close my 40 pages of notes and move my new outline to the top of the screen. At this point I feel more confident and the process gets easier. On yet another fresh new page, I'll start writing the story, weaving together concepts and facts and quotations in a way that must, because of the nature of my client's publication, be accessible to laypeople but interesting to readers who are already experts on this subject. When I'm done, I'll probably discover that I've gone over my word limit by about a third, and I will go back to cut, cut, cut. By then I'll feel happy and proud and I'll work eagerly, looking forward to hitting the "send" button.

But right now, I'm neither happy nor proud.

Forty pages of notes.
Eeyore the Editor

I have a book called Writer's Market, which lists thousands of magazines published in the United States; it's an essential desk reference for freelance writers. In it, I discovered a magazine which I'll call, for the purpose of maintaining its privacy (for reasons you'll soon see), Widget Collectors of America.

Now, it just so happens that I know someone who --for purposes of this blog post--collects widgets, and in fact I have written about this person ("Mr. Hobbyist") for a newspaper in the past. I've got lots of extra interview material that has never been published, and photos for which I have the publishing rights, so like anyone does who has taken Freelancing 101, I attempted to make more money out of the material I already have, and pitched a story to Widget Collectors of America. I made it clear that I've already written about Mr. Hobbyist but would create a new story with different interview material and updated information (so as to avoid copyright issues).

The following is the exact email I got back:

What you propose would indeed likely be a good fit for our magazine, but I probably have to pass because our freelance budget has been so severely constrained over the past two-plus years that I am certain that whatever I could pay would be inadequate/insulting. We were never lavish in our author payments, but now the tough times have pushed us to levels such that we only handle a fraction of the number of freelance pieces that we used to feature. And this is not me playing hardball in a shameless attempt to elicit an agreement to a niggardly figure; I truly am embarrassed by what we could pay and so merely decline without making my chagrin official.

My response:

That was the saddest-in-the-funniest-way response I've ever gotten!

OK, since you were honest with me, I'll be honest with you: I've already got so much material from when I did the [previously published] interview, that didn't make it into [that] story -- plus a few updates from when I visited [Mr. Hobbyist] recently to take photos [of his widget collection] -- that I could write up a new story in under 2 hours, tops, without even talking to [Mr. Hobbyist]. If I have to talk to him, or visit again, add MAYBE another hour or two, depending on if I walk there or take the bus.

When I charge by the hour, I charge $xx per hour. You do the math.

Game back on?


Mr. Editor replies:

Sarah ... I wasn’t going for sad and funny, but I think I often get there without really trying. It’s probably the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves these days. Everything we accept has to be based on a finished manuscript, but given your credentials I doubt there’s much chance I would be disappointed in what you provide. I’d be happy to look at something and would make every effort not to embarrass myself with a proposed payment, taking into account the parameters of your e-mail below. I am actually horrible at math, but not so much to be left out in the cold on this one. I would have to hit you up for two or three pictures of your choosing as well.

I appreciate your not actually calling me any unflattering names.

Sarah writes:

It's OK. I won't bite.

If I were writing on a new topic I'd be walking away, but I've got all this material already, so I may as well make a little more money off it, instead of no money.

So, with the understanding that you can't officially guarantee to buy my story, how many words do you think would work best for a submitted draft?

Pictures are no problem.


At this point he called me, even though I'd said in my email to please always call before x pm his time, because of the time difference. I told him it's OK, I obviously am not asleep because I'd just sent him an email. He said "Oh, my God, I would have felt so bad! I'm so sorry. Etc." I said "really, I'm not a scary person. Have other writers actually called you names?" He mumbled something that suggested to me that he's getting flak from readers because the publication is getting smaller and smaller.

Anyway, we agreed on a word count, and I'm planning to spend no more than 2 hours on it because he can't officially promise to publish it, and I have no idea if he plans to pay more than 2 x [my hourly rate]. I am confident I can get away with this because, frankly, I'm a good writer. And I may as well risk the 2 hours because, frankly, with the economy as it is, I don't have enough other work.

The crazy part was when he told me that Widget Collectors of America is a weekly publication. How is this man supposed to find enough material about Widget collecting to fill a magazine about it every week?

Sarah: Really? Given your focus, I'd have thought that a monthly would be --

Editor [resignedly]: Just peachy. That is correct. But I can't convince the higher-ups of that.


Sarah: I'm sorry for your plight.

Editor: It's OK, I've elicited enough sympathy from you.

Geez, Louise! If ever there was a candidate for non-prescription drugs, it is this guy! He and his situation are so sad!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Impressive Women Bloggers

I'm writing a story for my college Alumnae magazine, about fellow graduates (and current students) who blog.

Reading a variety of blogs by other Barnard women made me realize just how lame-o my blog has become. I'd suspected it; now I know.

If you want some good readin', I recommend the following (in addition to the blogs on my blogroll, at right):

Living in Invisible Cities (blog about raising a baby with Costello Syndrome)

Sarah's Cucina Bella (food blog)

Not Derby Pie (food blog) (I met this writer in person and she is delightful.)

What Would Krissie Wear
(young writer working in corporate world shares ideas of how to dress stylishly for work, on a low budget)

Sasha Soreff Dance Theater
(choreographer blogs about the creative process, and the rehearsal process)

Six Figure Start (blogs about the job search process, from the recruiter's perspective; she's a career coach and life coach)

Fatherland (subtitle: There's No Place Like Home, or, How and Why a Nice Jewish Girl Asked Germany To Take Her Back)

There's lots more, but that's a start. Have fun surfing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Could you resist this face?

The following conversation happens every night while I'm working at my computer (that's my denim skirt in the picture):

Artemis parks herself next to me and squeaks.

"Please play mouse-on-a-stick with me?"

Sarah: Hi, Artemis. I'm working.

Artemis meows pitifully.

"Seriously. Please? With a cherry on top?"

Well, what would YOU do?

Monday, December 21, 2009

My What Big Ears You Have

Today, Artemis is 8 months old. She's such a big girl! (Yes, I'm insane.)

Waking up is hard to do

Artemis doesn't know how to cover her mouth when she's yawning. Notice how white her teeth are? That's because I brush them regularly. (Yes, I'm insane. Though, to be fair, dental hygiene is an important part of responsible pet ownership.)

Her Royal Catness

This is Artemis saying "Please make that mousy on a stick move. Please? You know you want to. You know I will keep meowing until you make the mouse move. Meow. Meow. Meow.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Pre-Shabbat Post

Thanks to the many, many people who responded to my previous post, either in the comments or by email, to say either that a) they think I'm simply reacting strongly to the long, dark winter nights and would benefit from a sunlamp, which sounds like a good idea and/or b) they, too, have had friendships fizzle out for no discernible reason and it's not about me. The biggest ego-booster came from a former roommate who said "You are still the fun, clever, talented person you have always been."

I appreciate the concern and support.

In other news, I've lovingly developed a penchant for chocolate-covered sufganiyot with sprinkles on top, and Artemis has learned to drink from the faucet without getting her nose wet, and I've finished watching Season 5 of House. (Without giving away TOO many details, I CANNOT BELIEVE they killed off the character they killed off. I loved that character! I deeply related to that character! So what if the person who played that actor got a job in the White House? They could have, like, just transferred the character to another hospital or whatever. Sucks.) And, I recently realized that Felicia Day and Co. have finished production of Season 3 of The Guild and I haven't been keeping up! So now I have almost the whole season to watch, yay.

Also I'm still bone tired, and anxious about my work (which I currently have TOO MUCH of, all at once, but in about a week I'll have TOO LITTLE). I'm so tired that even though Shabbat starts in an hour and my house is a mess and I've barely cooked anything, and I have a friend coming tonight for dinner, I can't get myself to stand up and start doing stuff. I just want to get back into bed and hide for the next 2 months. Urgh.

Oh, also, I decided that I have to join JDate before Shabbat starts, while it's still Chanukah, because, you know, I need a Chanukah miracle! Is that corny or what?

Whatever. I gotta go cook and clean. Blah.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sad on Chanukah

Although I'm not really aware of being sad, and during the day I'm very productive, I think I might be getting depressed because lately I've been sleeping for about 11 hours a night with no logical explanation.

I can think of a few things worrying me: Money issues, dating issues ... having those issues on Chanukah... but there's nothing in particular going on, and in fact I've been doing really well lately in other areas (exercising more, getting more work done, getting more errands done), so I don't know what's up.

Anyway there is one thing I want to get off my chest, and I hope this blog post will help me get some "closure" on it.

In college I had an incredibly close friend I'll call Yaffa, because that was NOT her name. We met in the middle of Freshman year and talked or spent time together almost every day after that. In Junior and Senior years we shared an apartment with some other friends. We had one of those intensely loyal relationships that women have; we were like close sisters.

In Junior year it transpired that she wished to date a mutual friend I'll call Jonah (because that is NOT his name), someone I'd gone to high school with and was, also, a very close friend. I was instrumental in getting them together, and when they got married I flew out to the West Coast to be a bridesmaid at their wedding.

Meanwhile we all graduated and pretty soon Yaffa and Jonah moved to the West Coast and started having children, while I stayed in New York. I spoke with Yaffa sometimes, but it turned out that she's terrible at keeping in touch. It wasn't just me, it was all her New York friends. Her reasons were always a combination of being busy and not remembering to call until night-time, when it was too late out East to call. Still, we did talk on the phone intermittently, and I saw them once or twice a year when we were all in Boston for Jewish holidays. I'd walk over to Jonah's parents' house to see them for a few hours. Also, a couple of times, when I visited my sister in California, I flew or rented a car and drove several hours (each way) to see my old college friends.

Then I made Aliyah, and basically never heard from them again, except for formal birth announcements they mailed out. I do remember that shortly after I moved to Israel, Yaffa was here to visit family, and I was disappointed that she didn't make time to see me. After that, I tried calling them, leaving messages on their machine every few weeks... and then every few months ... and then about once a year...and never got a response. Emails to Jonah's various addresses either bounced back or got no answer, and I'd never had an email for Yaffa because I'd never needed one; she'd used her husband's.

I had the feeling it wasn't anything to take personally -- if the time difference had been an issue before, it was worse now; and if they'd been busy before, they were much busier now with more kids and more job and graduate school obligations -- but it hurt and it was disappointing that people I'd been so close with had just disappeared completely from my life. I was especially hurt about Yaffa because, as close as Jonah and I had been in high school and college, the friendship between women is just different and more intense. Certainly I understand being in touch less, since I'm in touch less with MOST of my friends who are still in America. But to never hear from them at all? It's so sad, and I do wonder whether maybe I'd said something wrong.

About a year ago I was at some sort of social function -- a wedding? I don't remember -- and ran into Esther (NOT her name), who I know because she, too, had been a bridesmaid at Yaffa and Jonah's wedding. We caught up a little, and it turned out that Yaffa has effectively dropped out of Esther's life as well, something she feels sore and confused about, also.

Through Facebook, I sent an email to Jonah's sister a few weeks ago, who put me in touch with Jonah, who connected me to Yaffa. We exchanged a few polite emails and she caught me up on her life, but the exchange fizzled. The thread is lost and she's not picking it up again... and if she won't, or can't, then I won't either.

I worry about them sometimes. During the years after graduation, I know they were having a hard time financially for a while, and sometimes wondered, when I saw them together, how their marriage was going. (For the record I do *not* suspect that Jonah is isolating Yaffa in any way; if anything, she's the one with more power in their relationship). But based on their Facebook pictures and what they emailed me, it seems they are doing better now and have a good, stable life. Their kids are beautiful and they are active in their community. I would have liked to be in touch with them, as I'm in touch with several of my friends in the States, to one extent or another (rarely to the extent I'd like, but that's life as far-flung, busy grownups).

So now I'm just sad. Although I've known deep down for a long time that my friendship with Yaffa is over, I'm just now really confronting that idea and mourning. I realize now that for years after we graduated it was mostly me keeping things up. It was I who walked over to see them, I who travelled to see them, though to be fair every once in a long while she would call me out of the blue. Once I moved out of the country, it was totally over.

Intellectually I realize that maybe she just wanted to start a new life out west, or really is terrible at maintaining contact. But as someone who is intensely loyal to old friends, I have a hard time relating to that.

And that's just how it is. End of post. Closure . . . maybe.