Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lessons from a Freelance Writer...

Or let's call it letter from a freelance writer. This piece was first published on Jobberman, a career website. There sure are tips for everyone to pick from it. Enjoy! Do you have any more tips? Feel free to share!

How can I ever forget that look on my mother’s face when I told her I wanted to be a writer—a you-are-joking-aint-you kind of look. Her fears were in two folds: why don’t you do something good, well, professional with your life? And the other one: how can you quit your 9-5 job for such uncertainty? I asked myself those questions before making my decision. I’d gotten to that stage where every ‘job’ that tried to reduce my ‘madness’ made me worse. Follow your passion passionately. Forgive the tautology!

I still wonder why it is hard for people to take you seriously when you tell them you are a writer. Maybe it’s because of their opinion of work—work is rising as early as 4:30 to beat the Lagos traffic; wearing that power suit; getting to the office as early as 6am to catch up on sleep. It’s 5pm, work is over. Rather than leave, they wait till the ‘traffic devil’ is placated. So, there’s time for more facebooking. Facebook isn’t bad but we all know it has the power to be your god and you its supplicant! That’s work, serious work or better still, an illusion of work. This is not absolute, there are people who love their jobs and work very hard. But why do people literally sneer at you when you tell them you work as a writer? Take whatever you do seriously even if others don’t.

Seriously, writing is hard work. That you face a blank piece of paper and have to transfer the thoughts in your head into words is hard enough, let alone thinking of your ‘target’ audience which influences your style, and not forgetting drafting and re-drafting. Writing, like every other business, has to meet a need: either for the writer, the editor or the reader. There’s a value chain. The writer is the producer/manufacturer/MD CEO (just may not be as rich); the editor is the primary market/consumer and the readers, the secondary market. God bless you, the editor does not like your story, there’s no money, shikena! Then you write loads of pitch emails most of them unsolicited, few may hit an acceptance. 

One editor told me: “the first lesson every writer should learn is bombarding. You have to know how to bombard editors for them to get your attention.” Maybe I should let Willa Carther say it all: “Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand—a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods—or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.” In my case, it’s ‘arty’ business. That for you my young professional is good knowledge of the dynamics of your profession.

Some editors also want you to write for free. Phew! They forget that like every other job a writer has capital which could be as tangible as a laptop connected to the internet or as immeasurable as the time spent harnessing creative energy in each word to mean exactly what’s intended. They go like: shebi it’s just a review, just write something. Sorry it’s not just a review—I have to buy the book; spend my invaluable time reading it and write what I think about it. As good old dramatist Moliere said “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” We may do it for free because we are anxious to see our name in print—little bouts of excitement but happiness won’t put food on the table. What value do you place on yourself?

Every paid worker has one fear: the end. This end comes either as a sack letter; a retirement letter, downsizing (thanks to the global crisis), or the EFCC hounding you down to present your financial history. You know what I mean. A writer also has fears—it’s not the rejections slips. It’s not even writer’s block; we succeed in slipping in and out of those. Our constant fear is that maybe someday, we won’t be able to do the magic again. We would lose that ‘talisman’ that we wound around our fingers when we write those stories. Maybe someday something will happen and we will lose our minds and the ability to write. Lurking in every writer’s head is the fear that they’ll move to the world beyond with many untold stories, unrealized potential. Most times, that fear drives us! Don’t let your fear kill you; use it instead for your own good.

My dear friend, that’s the little I can advice from my little writer’s corner. I hope it makes sense. Remember that professionalism is not in the sharp suit, neither is it in the 9-5 boredom many endure. It is in the value that you bring to your job. Call me a vanity writer if you like but I know I just added value.

1 comment:

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