Old Dog. New Tricks.

I’m slowly setting up a new writing schedule. Because I’m juggling lots of home chores, I need predictability. Ideally, my plan is one day for research, one day for writing, half a day for editing. But it never really works out that way.  I often spend five days on those tasks. I also need time to figure out the next article topic. Ugh. That’s six days. If I waste time looking at social media conversations about my articles, I’m really sunk.

Last week, I spent five days on an article that sort of sucked. I didn’t know it was going to suck when I started it, but after five days, I still didn’t have what the editor wanted. So, five days of work went down the tubes. Now, I’m hustling to hit my writing quota for the month.  I’m nearly done with one piece that will show up later in the week. But I’m going to have to work today with the kids in the background to get a jump on next week’s work.

I’ve thought about outsourcing some tasks. I’m still doing everything that I used to do, plus working nearly full-time at a new job. Maybe I should hire someone to drive the kids around to their after-school activities or bring in someone to make dinner and tidy the house. But I don’t really want to give up those jobs. Well, the house tidying I could pass on, but I don’t want to give up driving and cooking for the kids. Jonah is going off to college in two years, and there’s that countdown clock in the background. Only two years left of my kid.

For the time being, I’m managing. It’s all fun and interesting. And I’ve lost five pounds from stress! So that’s cool.

23 thoughts on “Old Dog. New Tricks.

  1. Do your editors always want a news/time hook for the stories? Because that’s definitely trickier, and not necessarily the strength of The Atlantic or the interest of their audience.

    Are you getting good guidance from your editor? Do the folks on their side know what they want? Because if they’re uncertain, it will be tough for you to deliver.

    Have you sent in a long list of potential articles? Like, at least a couple dozen. Then you can advance several in parallel, you can build themes over longer terms for your regular readers, you can get material for more than one article from the same interview, etc. etc.


  2. I’m working on the parallel piece trick. Finally. Wasn’t doing that until last week. Can’t comment on the other questions. Let’s just say “shoe string budget.”


  3. Seems like the mostly good stress, when your life is full, but with things that lit you up. Yes to the outsourcing. But, unfortunately, the management burden for some of these things (cooking, for example), can be significant. Tidying can be difficult to manage, too, though cleaning tasks can be outsourced, you need to think about what your standards are.

    If you can find someone reliable, driving can be outsourced, but it does mean you miss out on the drive time with the kids. I abhor driving, so this is a sacrifice I’m willing to make, especially since even with carpools/other outsourcing, I still end up doing a fair amount of driving.

    We have a number of food services in our area (restaurant delivery, which is iffy for nutrition and also what they call “chef prepared” meals which seem a bit healthier). They can help, but, I also hate to cook. I think outsourcing is harder for people who enjoy at least some of the care taking tasks. I like talking with my kids and doing things I enjoy with them — so don’t want to outsource those, but cooking, cleaning, driving, I can let go.


    1. I so agree! Outsourcing can seem like a timesaver but someone still needs to be the point person to figure it all out, provide direction, arrange delivery times, pick-up times, etc. In other words, it depends upon the task. Grocery delivery is a fairly easy one, for example.

      I also like doing the driving/walking because I enjoy the conversations we have.

      It’s a challenge being the primary parent during the work week when Steve isn’t able to be flexible for unpaid work (i.e. I’ll pick up Jonah and do my mountain of emails tonight. Or take the conference call via iPhone while we are driving. Or review the client proposal after hours, etc.).

      All is not lost! You’ll find your rhythm with both the paid and unpaid work. Maybe even one day a week where you don’t have to do pick up after school/ferry to activities could make a big difference.


    2. Other people have mentioned this, but big kids are often very chatty in the car. I’ve been very pleased this year at how communicative our 8th grader is–she’s practically busting with anecdotes right after school.

      We have yard help twice a month, cleaners twice a month, we mostly eat in the cafeteria (very inexpensive for us), and I have Baby T (now 3!) in parents’ day out two days a week, which will probably continue for the next 2 years and then it’s probably going to be 3-day pre-K.

      We’re also working on bringing the big kids online. We have them (sporadically) unloading the dishwasher, they are in charge of their rooms and bathrooms, the 8th grader has started cooking occasionally (and she’s starting to do cake decorating–a frill, but a nice frill). They did a large window washing project for us for pay this summer. No laundry or heavy cleaning yet, but there’s time. I also have a policy where I occasionally ask each one to take charge of Baby T for 15 minutes at a time. That’s normally not necessary, but it’s very handy when my husband is travelling and I need to sneak a shower and some basic hygiene. The big kids are pretty good sports about it.


      1. bj said:

        “I can’t believe Baby T is 3! And that J is a junior! I’m having a lot of those moments recently.”

        Oh, I know!

        The big one for me is that my younger sister’s son (the one that was born about a year after my husband and I got married 17 years ago) is turning 16.

        That and that our oldest is going to be of babysitting age in a year or two. She’s 13 now, as tall as me, and her hands are way bigger. She just did a lovely frosted Nemo for a pan of brownies I made for a party for Baby T.


      2. MH said:

        “That’s got to be pretty tricky to draw Nemo in frosting.”

        The orange and white one is surprisingly tricky, too.

        It’s easy to wind up with a “sad dead fish on cake” effect:


      3. I also can’t believe Baby T is three. It’s disorienting enough how quickly my friends’ kids in real life grow up, but I honestly feel like AmyP was pregnant about six months ago.


  4. Lively — and not idiotic! — commenters Over There, too.

    Drop me a line off-blog if you would like to talk shop about freelancing. Happy to see your byline; now there are three Atlantic authors I will read regularly.


    1. Thanks, Doug. I just can’t write much on the blog about work stuff.

      I’m going to have an article come out in a couple of hours regarding public colleges. They’ve changed a lot in recent years in several ways. One way is that they are increasing their percentages of out-of-state students, which make it harder for smart kids to get an affordable education. Those kids have to go elsewhere (and pay more!) to get the same education in another state.

      The editor cut out several paragraphs at the end which basically said — THIS IS CRAZY. It’s fine. I’ll take the editorial paragraphs to another place. Because it is crazy.

      I did a ton of work for that article, which was honed down to a lean 650 words. All that information was buried in all the state newspapers and hadn’t been pulled together in one news article that looked at the trend across the country. The topic needed more love than I had time. I’m a little frustrated.


      1. Good article – it does seem strange that it was so short, with so much to say. (Why do they limit word length online? It seems like one of the real advantages over print media, where we always had to cut to fit it all in.)

        International students are the real cash cow. That’s where my non-flagship state-funding-starved university is looking for salvation. Special programs, orientations over the summer, ESL support, whatever it takes. We’d love the smart in-state kids (or kids from border states who pay in-state tuition) but the ones who know how to work the system are already getting enough money one way or another, and usually go elsewhere. It’s the hardworking B students I worry about. There’s not enough money for them.


      2. “I just can’t write much on the blog about work stuff.”

        Understood. I’ve been working in slightly different markets, of course, but I have freelanced in some form or fashion for about a dozen years, so if you want to talk shop, door’s open.

        I liked the article, and I’m sorry you got some idiot commenters on that one. Shows how much work it took for TNC’s comment section to get as good as it was.

        Do they let you write the headlines and the subheads? Because I’m not sure that the promise of the subhead is answered in the story, and that would make me a bit cross as an author.

        I also can’t think of why they cut it down to 650 words, unless they are paying by the word. These days, I’m happier with a flat fee per article, sometimes accompanied by not-fewer-than/not-more-than guidance on the length. Or they may have fancy-schmancy metrics purporting to tell them how much readers care about size. One of my corporate clients just did that with their intranet stuff. Standard story is now half of what it was, but they are open to multi-part things. Editors’ preferences sometimes seem to change randomly, and that’s not counting changes in editorial personnel.

        Lots of good crunchy data in the story. Left me wanting more, but someone will have to pay to get that work done!


      3. Yes, edited down from 1200 to 650 words. I had too much politics in the end for my editor. It was chopped. It’s fine. I’ll reuse and recycle elsewhere.

        The comments at the Atlantic are awful. Nobody reads them at the magazine. I don’t even skim them anymore.

        I decided to pull back a bit from my responsibiities at the Atlantic. I’m only going to do 2 articles per month, instead of 4. I couldn’t swing it with all the other craziness around here. I’ll do more in less crazy months, but I can’t have that 4 article quota hanging over my head. My life is too chaotic for quotas. (And there really is no financial incentive to work more. This is largely a volunteer job.)


  5. But, if you pay someone to cook dinner for you, who gets to drink the wine?

    I’ve hired a college student to pick up S 2 days a week because of the schedule from hell. 38 more days of this….


  6. Baked chicken. Chicken thighs in Trader Joe’s Simmer Sauce. Frozen Pizza. Five minute prep times, all of them. Just saying.


  7. In spite of repeated warnings issued by a fellow commenter, the headline made me read this. It strikes me as remarkably accurate given the batting average of the source, but I note that it completely lacks any mention of obvious methods of correction.


    1. Brad De Long offers a summary of that column: “I’ve been helping the Republicans run a con game on America and on conservatives for my entire career, and now that it looks like the game has run out, I’m going to say I’m sorry and change sides”


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