Caitlin Kelly Dishes on the Reality of the Life of a Full Time Writer

Caitlin Kelly is a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, Business Week, Town & Country, Family Circle and Penthouse to name a few. She is also the author of two non-fiction books: Blown Away: American Women and Gunsand her latest Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

In this, the second part of our two-part series, I asked Caitlin to expose the reality of the writer’s life as I know many of us would like to make a livelihood from our writing passions and quit our day jobs.

Here’s her thoughtful response to my query:

Describe the “writer’s life.”

Now there’s an impossible assignment!

The simple truth is this: we’re all on a ladder. Some of us feel like we’re (perpetually) at the bottom, some stuck in the middle, all of us driven types – yes, that would be me – gazing at the top and wondering if or when we’ll ever get there.

What’s the top?

Best-sellerdom, rave reviews, prizes, fellowships, grants, movies with Julia Roberts or Anne Hathaway playing you. Very few of us will achieve those elusive, lucrative, Olympian heights, so the “writer’s life” is often wherever we are right now, and how much we’re able to enjoy it.

I started writing for a living while a college sophomore, was a reporter for three major newspapers and an editor for three national magazines. I’ve written two non-fiction books, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004) and “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, 2011.)

I hope to write many more.

Here’s some of what being a writer means to me:

Being a writer means:

never feeling satisfied

being part of a large and honored nation – but one with hostile tribes

worrying about money almost all the time, no matter how many Big Name Publications are on my resume

knowing your work has made strangers laugh and cry, ditch their boyfriends and quit lousy jobs

never knowing how your work is going to be received, whether by your editor, agent, publisher or readers

feeling the fear — of rejection, of being asked to revise the manuscript again, of lousy reviews, of disappointing sales, of not winning the grant or the fellowship – and doing it anyway

finding out that two of your favorite fellow writers have all applied for the same fellowship as you – and then, when none of you win, feeling a little relieved

watching work you find execrable crap dominate the best-seller list for months

seeing people like Jon-Jon Gulian win a $750,000 advance and three mentions in The New York Times. No, I’ve never heard of him either.

shrugging it off and getting on with your own work anyway

speaking on NPR in front of a huge national audience and having a caller sneer: “Why should I read your book? It’s just….entertainment.

spending more than the mortgage payment to buy liability insurance in case someone you write about decides to sue you

having your non-writer neighbors think you’re a celebrity

wondering who’s actually buying your books – and wanting to meet a few of them face to face and say “Thanks!”

bursting into tears of joy and relief when your very first copy of the finished book arrives

suddenly having people ask you to speak and lecture and give webinars – all without payment or even travel expenses — because they’re offering you “exposure”

learning to tell these people hoping to take unpaid advantage of your time, skill and energy — to piss off

getting extraordinarily moving emails from total strangers telling you that your work has changed, even saved, their life

that total strangers who have no idea how to write pull you, and your work, to bloody shreds on amazon.com because…they can

that libraries worldwide are acquiring your books

going into Barnes & Noble and seeing a pile of your books on the front tables – and taking a photo just to prove it really happened

spending thousands of dollars of your own money to keep your book visible, audible and in demand

putting your faith, trust and career in your agent’s hands – who may or may not deserve it

cheering for your friends who get on the “Today” show when you don’t

driving hours to give a bookstore reading and only one person shows up – and giving it your best anyway

finding people who understand and can explain the words “modified gross” in your Hollywood contract

reading other writers’ work and feeling, gnawed with awe and envy and admiration, you’ll never, ever, ever be that good

reading other writers’ work and wondering how on earth they ever got a book deal, let alone huge advances and their own imprint

your writer friends sometimes have more faith in you than you do yourself

everything, everywhere is material

having the guts and skill to actually use it in your work

having stacks of your own books on the bookshelf beside your bed

needing friends whose own creative work – whether dance, art, photography or writing – means they truly understand the financial, intellectual and emotional rollercoaster of this sort of life

means taking chances month after month, year after year: choosing your agent(s), selecting your ideas, deciding with whom and when you choose to share them (be careful!)

The writer’s life is filled with rejection, joy, panic, fatigue. It’s not easy or simple. Success is rarely quick or lucrative.

Only you can decide if it’s worth it. For me, still, it is.

Read Caitlin Kelly’s take on disclosure in Part One of this series.

The Meaning of OC2Seattle

When I created this blog, the intent was to name it Sarah in Seattle and to write my Alice experience in this Wonderland. The Twitter handle was open and I took it. Then I discovered the web address Sarah in Seattle was already taken. These days this is an all too common phenomenon and it poses the question, now what?

Hmmm.  The spin I bring to the Seattle scene is the perspective of an outsider, a Southern California outsider to be specific. That So. Cal. girl in my head still thinks of Seattle as “crunchy.” Is dismayed by the lack of effort people put into their appearance and when spotting an ok looking woman with not a stitch of makeup and a greasy ponytail chides  “that girl could be pretty if she wore a little make-up and washed and brushed her hair.  What is it with these women!” If I see a friend or acquaintance with an uncovered blemish, I cringe. My husband calls this shallow.  I call it caring about yourself and putting your best foot forward. In reality it is the Seattle/Orange County collide.

So, when searching for blog titles OC 2 Seattle made sense and I thought, was self-evident. I moved from Orange County – the OC – to Seattle. Simple enough. Or not as it turns out.

Perhaps if The O.C. was still in its heyday or if I had called the blog The OC 2 Seattle people would have gotten it. But I didn’t and they don’t. I’ve come to dislike blogger get togethers where you inevitably have to introduce yourself by twitter handle or blog name because people look at me like my handle is some sort of Druid code.  “Och 2 Seattle?”

Someone thought the OC stood for Obsessive Compulsive. It doesn’t, but I admit starting a blog about obsessive compulsive disorder for obsessive compulsives is a genius way to generate regular readership if you could figure out how to make reading the blog something they obsessively feel compelled to do.  Hmmm. No, too cruel, too cruel.

That interpretation and most people’s bafflement, does make me curious though . . . . what did you think OC 2 Seattle meant? And given the randomness of this blog, what do you think would be a more apt title?

Why Read Food Blogs?


Last night, while hanging out with friends, one of them commented on how much she liked my post Alektorophobia. I was basking in her praise – “your writing has really developed . . . your posts are much funnier…” – when she did a 180. “I didn’t like your post on apricot bread.”

She said something about recipes being boring while I – never one to take constructive criticism or any other kind well – childishly thought “I don’t recall asking for your opinion.” As my mind wandered, she said “I don’t read your blog to read about food, I read your blog to read about your life.” Huh?

Naturally, her comment sent my mind wandering down one of its Romanesque winding alleyways. Why exactly do we read food blogs?

Sites like foodgawker and TasteSpotting imply that we like to look at arty pictures of food – food we want to eat, but can’t find, can’t afford, or can’t live with on our hips.

The popularity of healthy living blogs paints a picture of people looking for advice on how to eat, exercise and become or stay healthy and/or thin. Hundreds of thousands of such people apparently really enjoy looking at daily photos of oatmeal, unappealing green smoothie “Monsters” or mushy SIAMs (“Smoothies in a Bowl”). Don’t even get me started on the freaks making crackers out of pulp a.k.a. waste from their juicers or the constant comments from readers bemoaning the fact that money is always so tight while exclaiming that they just can’t live without their $20 nut butters.

I don’t know why others read these blogs, but I know why I do. Like my friend, it’s not for the recipes. While I often find great recipes, print them out and sometimes even make them, if I’m looking for something in particular, I head over to Cooking Light or Food Network; places where I can type in “chicken” and find 350 ways to disguise it. And if a blog is recipes, recipes, recipes, I don’t read it – unless there’s something more.

Voice.

I don’t care how amazing the photos or recipes are, the thing that brings me back to a blog week after week is the blogger’s voice. It’s that glimpse of the blogger that shines through. Salty Seattle is the sassy girlfriend you can rely on getting into a bit of trouble with. Anecdotes and Apple Cores is the genuinely sweet, nice, caring sister or friend you wish you could be – if only your cynicism and smart-ass tendencies would go on vacation. David Lebovitz helps you dream of what your life in Paris could be like – if you could speak French, quit your job and move there.

I’ll read posts about restaurants in states I have no intention of visiting, at least not in the forseeable future. I’ll read about recipes I’ll never make. I’ll even look at your daily photos of oatmeal, if in the midst, you seem like someone I might like if we met in real life. To me, it’s not what you write about, it’s how you write it.

But that’s just me.

Why do you read food blogs? And, why in the hell are you reading mine?

Guest Bloggers? Hell-to-the-yes!

It was brought to my attention Monday, that guest blog posts may not be a bad thing for those periods of time when I am MIA, uninspired or to just plain shake things up. On Thursday, Cajun Chef Ryan posted his shout out for guest bloggers and I saw it as a sign.

While guest posts are not entirely new here – remember Jen’s fab guest posts while I was in Paris? – they haven’t been as regular a feature as I would like.

So I’m putting the official call out. If you would like to guest post here drop me an email at oc2seattle@gmail.com.

To make things a bit more orderly, here are a few ground rules:

1. Please follow the Dos and Don’ts – especially the Dont’s – set forth here.

2. Topics: The scope is wide due to my lack of discipline. Dazzle us with your take and tips on food, wine, cocktails, exercise, writing, beauty tips, Seattle or a combo of any of these topics.

3. The post must be original and – although it goes without saying – yours.

4. Give me a lead! A brief description of yourself and – if applicable – your blog.

5. Pics are lovely but not necessary unless you’re submitting a recipe or cocktail – then we need a visual, please.

6. Finally, if your guest post is accepted, post a link to it on your blog, facebook, and/or Tweet about it. Let’s maximize your exposure 😉

I would love to make guest blogs a regular feature so inundate me, baby!

Uninspired

As you may have noticed my posts have been – um – not quite as regular as usual. Ok, ok. They’ve been few and far between. It’s not like I don’t have things to post about – Viva Las Vegas – it’s just that I’ve been completely lacking in inspiration.

I’ve repeatedly heard and read that if you have a blog you have the opportunity to write every day and that you shouldn’t let that opportunity pass you by. But I already write every day for work.

For example, yesterday I wrote a letter to opposing counsel, a supplemental discovery response and an opposition to a motion to compel. You may think this doesn’t qualify as creative writing but let me tell you, you get pretty creative coming up with ways to convey to the Court that opposing counsel are bumbling buffoons who couldn’t find an intelligible discovery request with both hands and a map without actually using those words or any words even slightly as colorful. Subtlety is a creative art form.

The truth of the matter, however, is that I’m a lazy writer. If it doesn’t flow I procrastinate until it does or until a deadline makes me and with this blog there are no deadlines in sight. So, I need to either put my nose to the grindstone and pound something out or wait for inspiration to strike or . . . .

Help me out here: What do you do to get yourself inspired or make yourself just start writing? Tips and entertaining stories welcome 😉

Food Bloggers Changing the World: Ancient Fire Wines

Jason Phelps was only 29 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer.

He recovered. But many friends he made during his treatment and recovery and in the years since, didn’t. Believing not enough resources were being directed at cancer, he decided to do something about it and started fundraising.

In 2004, Jason made 120 apple pies by hand and sold them to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. He sold out and raised $2,400. In 2005, he had to impose a limit on the number of pie orders he could take because the demand was just too much for a solo baker.

Jason also directed his fund-raising efforts toward the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life. In only a few years, Jason and his New Hampshire Relay for Life Team have raised $72,000. They are the team to beat in fundraising dollars year in and year out – a fact that inspires plenty of friendly competition yielding more and more dollars to fund the fight against cancer.

Jason fundraises both through traditional ask and you shall receive means and nontraditional means. He utilizes his culinary and wine making passions through events such as chocolate parties and wine tasting fundraisers. He raises awareness by recounting these events on his blog Ancient Fire Wine Blog.

Jason’s commitment to the fight against cancer is impressive. His enthusiasm is just plain contagious. But it’s his motivation that really put things in perspective for me when I talked to him. When I asked him what motivated him, he said simply “I’m living in the bonus round.” Enough said.

Please help Jason in his fight against cancer by donating to his Relay for Life Team.  Just click here.

Project Food Blog: Some of My Favs from the Video Challenge

Voting for Project Food Blog “The Next Food Blog Star” Round 7 is now over.  46 contestants will get whittled down to 24 and then 12 and then 3 and then one will emerge victorious.  As voting of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers – a populace unto itself – is heavily weighted we could end up with a Brandy/Bristol situation . . .  or not.  Who knows?  I guess we’ll have to keep reading and watching to find out. 

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite videos from Round 7 – results are released today at noon so let’s see if my favs matched up with the popular vote (Warning: I voted for Brandy so I don’t have a good track record):

For a killer dessert and because I love the red dress moment – so sassy:

An Awesome App and because Greg is so fun to watch:

For an easy and delicious weeknight dinner and to learn how to tell if your ginger is fresh check out the entry by You Fed A Baby Chili?

And last, but not least, mozzarella balloon balls, because Salty Seattle’s video is straight up crazy and I’m pretty sure the music is made with a toilet paper kazoo:

Happy Friday everyone!  If you’re in Seattle don’t forget to come out to Will Bake For Food tomorrow from 10 am – 2 pm at 4515 16th Ave E, Seattle.

Update: It turns out I picked 3 out of 4. Very sad to see the Salty one eliminated – click here and give her some love.
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