A Day in the Life: Rachel Kaufman, Freelance Writer and Editor

9:00 a.m.: I wake up ridiculously late. Normally I'm up early enough to make breakfast and work out before sitting at my desk, but my alarm clock failed me today. Thank goodness my commute is about 10 feet—from my bedroom to my charming little home office.

9:10 a.m.: They say you’re not supposed to check e-mail or social media first thing in the morning, but for me it’s essential. Not only do I find it relaxing to clear out an overstuffed inbox, but I manage two social media accounts for clients, and if anything unusual had happened overnight (a post going viral, a complaint, etc.) I’d want to take care of it first thing.

10:00 a.m.: I switch gears and put on my copy editor and producer hat. I have a standing morning gig doing basic Web production for a client that makes e-mail newsletters. It is not terribly demanding work, which makes it perfect for this not-quite-awake part of the day. Also, the client really appreciates my help, and that goes a long way. (It’s no fun working with a client who yells, or is never satisfied, or micro-manages. I try to fire those clients if I accidentally end up with them.) We communicate over e-mail and instant messenger. As a freelancer who works from home, most of my communication is done over e-mail. There’s also plenty of phone calls when I’m interviewing sources (e-mail interviews read terribly) and the occasional in-person meeting. Some people might find this terribly isolating, go crazy, and start talking to their potted plants, but when I worked in an office, I acted basically the same as I do now. Even in an office, I mostly kept my head down and focused on my work, so being able to work from a place where there are almost no distractions is heaven to me.

11:00 a.m.: I have a mountain of e-mail to wade through, which is not unusual. Focusing on that for a while.

11:30 a.m.: An e-mail comes in—do I want to take on a new assignment, due early next week? Sure, why not. In my business, it pays to say yes to everything—even if you don’t yet know how you’ll make it work. It hasn’t failed me yet. I’ve definitely had a few late nights due to this philosophy, but I like that I have a reputation for being available for high-quality work when a client needs it.

11:45 a.m.: I have a quota of stories to fill before the week’s up, in addition to the new assignment I just landed, so I send some e-mails and make a few phone calls. Sometimes getting a person to just pick up their damn phone is the toughest part of this job, especially when I am on deadline.

12:30 p.m.: A quick lunch.

12:45 p.m.: I outline, then begin writing, a story I’m planning to file next week. This one is pretty easy. I don’t have to do any interviews, just cite reliable sources with links. It’s fun, though, and before I know it an hour has gone by.

2:00 p.m.: I run a regular feature for a local newspaper that involves interviewing a lot of “regular” people (as in, not experts or celebrities used to being in the paper). A lot of this particular gig is cat-herding—making sure everyone responds to the questions on time, following up with them to coordinate photography, etc. This takes up more time than I’d like, but thankfully I have a lot of spreadsheets to keep everything organized.

3:00 p.m.: I pack my laptop into a bag and head out. Today I have a big meeting with a big client. My mission is to convince the client to pay me more next year. In freelance, there's no such thing as the annual review. Typically we freelance journalists increase our pay by replacing lower paying clients with higher paying ones. Negotiation, quite honestly, is rare. I’m told that in other freelance writing niches—technical writing, for example, or copy writing—it’s much more common for the freelancer to name her price. However, the sad truth about freelance journalism is that 90 percent of the time, you’re handed a contract and told, “This is what we pay. Any questions?” I like to try to ask for more—what’s the worst that can happen—but typically I do it over e-mail or the phone. This is a face-to-face meeting because I feel like it’s just that important.

This meeting is also especially tricky because parts of the company—but not the part I work for—are in financial trouble, but I’ve prepared a presentation that lays out the case for why I deserve more anyway. Even though I’ve been practicing each day for a week, I’m still nervous. I don’t think I’m the only freelancer who gets anxious talking about money, but it’s a necessary part of the job.

4:00 p.m.: Arrive at the meeting point with the client. Pull out my laptop and go through a short PowerPoint. My hands are shaking the tiniest bit, but it seems to have gone well.

4:45 p.m.: Mission accomplished. In a normal day, I’d work for another hour (or two), but I feel like celebrating, so I call it a day.