I work as a teacher, and in my free time I do freelance writing. About a year ago a relative recommended me to her friend, Karen, for a writing project. Tragically, Karen lost a child to Tay-Sachs, and she and her husband decided they wanted a book written to chronicle their experiences and memorialize their child.
With trepidation, I set about writing the story. This involved countless hours. I interviewed Karen and her husband. I interviewed therapists and teachers who worked with their little girl. I then transcribed these many conversations. It was a tremendous investment of time, taxing my physical and emotional energy.
Karen and I agreed on a price based on the final word count. Even though we still had a few revisions to make, I would receive $4,500 to compensate me for my time and effort.
And then, after receiving the money, our project came to an abrupt hiatus. I tried calling, emailing and texting so that we could complete the manuscript. This continued for six months, yet she was never available. First it was the child’s yahrzeit. Then came Pesach and Shavuos. After that, summertime rolled in, and the kids needed her attention …
I decided to call Karen once more and lay my feelings on the line.
“I get the feeling you’re not really up to this project,” I ventured. “Is that true?”
“Not at all,” Karen said. “It’s just that, well, we had a different vision in mind. So many things that you wrote are out of order. And there is a lot of information that you didn’t include.”
“I’m happy to fix it,” I offered.
“And, by the way,” she added, “do you remember I had asked you to send me the first few chapters so I could see how it was going? You never did that.”
Whump! Oh, my … I forgot all about that.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “I’m sorry! I got so involved in the writing and interviews that I totally forgot!”
And then, my stomach turned over. Had I taken money that didn’t belong to me? If our initial agreement had been for me to show her those beginning chapters and I didn’t deliver on my part of the deal, then maybe I was in possession of stolen money!
“Are you feeling like you lost out on your investment? Like I took your money, and you’re not satisfied with what I delivered?”
“There is a little of that,” Karen replied.
I felt sick.
We wound up our conversation with an agreement. We would go through the manuscript together, reviewing the story until her daughter’s third year. I would insert any corrections and elaborations that Karen requested. Upon completion of this section, I would send it to her. If she liked it, we would move forward. And if not, the project would come to naught.
At this point, I’m feeling extremely disheartened and unappreciated. I have two questions bouncing around in my mind: 1. Do I persevere and try to make Karen happy? Or should I just call it quits before I get hurt anymore? 2. If I can’t satisfy her vision, do I owe her the money she paid my daughter’s school?
I look forward to hearing from you!
A Frustrated Writer
I’m so sorry to hear about your predicament! Writing, like any art, is not just an investment of time. It’s an investment of your heart, your thoughts, your emotions. So, the pain of rejection cuts deeply.
As a writer, I believe you’ll feel better, especially since you already invested so heavily in this project, by trying your best to meet Karen’s expectations.
Regarding your second question of whether you need to give back Karen’s money, I turned that over to a wise rabbi I know. He responded, “She does not have to pay back the money. If Karen had wanted to see those initial chapters before paying,” he continued, “she should have asked for them before she paid the writer.”
And now, my friend, I have one word for you: RESILIENCE! This is a challenge, like so many others that life throws our way. Ultimately, when you tackle this hurdle, you will rejoice upon its successful completion!
And if, despite your best efforts, Karen is not satisfied, then you will know that you gave it your all – and who can do more than that? There will be other projects awaiting you, and with the passage of time, this painful experience will fade.
In addition, you will have flexed and strengthened muscles you never knew you had, and you will undoubtably be able to incorporate valuable lessons from this experience into a different life encounter.
Wishing you strength and success as you re-write,