I'm a freelance writer, reporter, ghostwriter, editor and American expat, currently based in Toronto, Ontario.
I have a B.A. in Liberal Arts, with concentrations in literature, history and writing, from Sarah Lawrence College (class of 2007).
In addition, I have participated in or audited a number of postgraduate classes in creative writing (through Catapult, Creative Nonfiction, Firefly Creative Writing and American Short Fiction), introductory design (through the Ontario College of Art and Design's Continuing Studies program) and multimedia storytelling (through the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies).
Get in touch: You can contact me at kmdilworth at gmail dot com or send me a DM @kellydilworth.
How I got here
It took awhile.
My first real “job” in journalism was an unpaid internship at The New Yorker. I was 20-years-old and living on peanut butter sandwiches in an overpriced Manhattan dorm.
At the time, borrowing money to finance my ambitions didn’t seem so reckless. The Great Recession was still several years away and I’d become used to pretending I had more resources than I did.
During my downtime at The New Yorker, I’d thumb through galley pages from the 1990s (mockups of magazine articles before they went to print) that I found stacked like afterthoughts in my desk.
I forgot most of the articles that I read that summer as soon as I went back to school; but one — Meghan Daum’s classic essay, "My Misspent Youth" — stuck with me.
Every once in a while, I’ll still google it.
Daum’s essay about the thousands of dollars in student loan and credit card debt that she racked up in her early 20s after moving to New York City and enrolling in a high-end MFA program at Columbia influenced me for years. To this day, I still credit it with helping keep me financially solvent, several years later, when I struggled with some of the same choices after college.
“I’ve always been somebody who exerts a great deal of energy trying to get my realities to match my fantasies,” wrote Daum. “Even if the fantasies are made from materials that are no longer manufactured, even if some governmental agency has assessed my aspirations and pronounced them a health hazard.”
After college and another brief internship, this time paid, at The Atlantic, I moved into a crowded apartment with three other girls in Washington, D.C. and tried my best to squeeze a literary life out of a $27K salary.
My first permanent job was as a literary assistant at a boutique literary agency that represented some of the best journalists in Washington.
Working at a small firm meant that I got to do more than just proofread manuscripts and read the slush pile. I edited and critiqued book proposals by experts at the top of their fields and helped narrow their ideas into sellable proposals.
I learned what editors at some of the top New York publishing houses were looking for in a book proposal and witnessed first-hand the process it took to sell an idea to discriminating publishers. It was a lot like getting a graduate degree in book publishing — only I didn’t have to pay for it.
In 2008, I moved to Brooklyn, buoyed by a short-term gig as a collaborator on a book proposal about social entrepreneurship, and attempted (and failed) to support myself as a freelancer. In the meantime, I applied to journalism school, still determined to somehow become a full-time writer.
A few weeks after receiving my acceptance letter to Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, I flew home to Corpus Christi, Texas, to visit family and figure out my next step.
My lease on the sublet I was staying in was up, and I couldn’t afford another month’s rent somewhere else.
I planned to move back to New York after I saved up enough money. But I didn’t.
A passage from Meghan Daum’s 1999 New Yorker article, in which she writes about the debt she took on to attend an MFA program at Columbia, haunted me.
“Even though I was having a great time and becoming a better writer, the truth was that the year I entered graduate school was the year I stopped making decisions that were appropriate for my situation and began making a rich person’s decisions,” wrote Daum.
“Entering this particular graduate program was a rich person’s decision.”
I would have had to take on more than $60K in student loans to finance a master’s degree from Columbia.
This was in the spring of 2009, when the economy was shedding a huge number of jobs per month and newsrooms were rapidly shrinking.
Access and prestige had lost their sheen.
Instead, I moved to Austin and got a job at a small publishing company that specialized in educational materials for gifted and special needs students.
There, I edited activity books for math and science educators and copy edited scholarly books on gifted education.
In late 2010, I returned to journalism, this time working in the Austin editorial department of a financial publishing company that was staffed, in part, by ex-newspaper reporters who made the switch to online journalism.
By then, the journalism industry had shifted dramatically from when I was an intern.
Print publications were still struggling to make up for lost ad revenue and laying off large numbers of experienced journalists.
Meanwhile, a variety of online news sites were popping up and filling the void left by newspapers and magazines that had either died off or substantially contracted.
Even for-profit companies, such as the financial comparison site that I had begun working for, CreditCards.com (then, a division of Bankrate, Inc.), were becoming publishers and using high-quality content to help drive traffic to their sites.
For a year, I worked as the editorial coordinator (Web editor) for an international group of websites owned by Bankrate.
I managed a small team of freelance writers and commissioned, edited and posted copy onto the sites.
About 11 months into the job, a full-time reporting position opened up and I went for it.
As a staff reporter at CreditCards.com, I regularly interviewed economists, academics, consumer protection lawyers, industry insiders and consumer advocates and wrote dozens of widely syndicated articles about credit, debt and the economy.
For the first time in my career, I was being paid to report and write all day. It was glorious — and I would have kept doing it. But then I got married.
A month before our wedding, my husband, a Canadian scientist with a newly minted Ph.D., was offered a research job at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
The job was a perfect fit for my husband who, at the time, was an astroparticle physicist using math and experimental results to try to better understand dark matter.
It took me six months, but I finally followed him to Columbus in the spring of 2013 and launched my writing and editing business.
As I packed my bags for the Midwest, I thought about Daum’s essay.
It not only helped warn me about the heavy toll that large amounts of debt can take.
It also introduced me to a subject matter — consumer loans and the treacherous mix of money and ambition — that, as a writer, I hope to cover for a long time to come.
Kelly Dilworth Campbell