Curtain Call on Page 33….

… and hello Page 34!

I’m starting to think of my life as an early draft of a great story being written.

With so many chapters and so many adventures, not all of them have happy endings but they all have lessons to teach. All those pages so far make me the man I am today, and I’m just so happy.

I already wrote about some good things that happened to me last year here. Keep reading if you’ve already read that.

I got to tick more boxes off my bucket list. Finally had my first air flight which wasn’t as scary as I feared. It was excruciating though – I ‘ve been living with this hole in my tooth for seven years and when the plane reached a certain height (that point where your ears pop), the hole in my tooth began banging  hard, and my head started to spin.

So it ended up being a memorable experience, even though for the wrong reason!

 

Had my first creative burnout.

So last year was the most intense year I’ve ever had professionally. I worked my butt off without taking a break or a leave. By December, I had nothing left to give – my writing sucked, my ideas sucked, even I sucked, I hated Mondays and started tuning out at work. Things that would usually take me an hour or two to write, started taking me days. I just didn’t have the drive anymore.

Luckily, my awesome boss picked up on it, had a sit down with me, and once she realised what was going on, gave me the rest of the year off (see why she’s awesome?). Had a long Christmas / New year holiday and stayed away from writing long enough to start missing it. And only then did I start writing again. Like the experts say, time off from work helps to refill your creative juices.

33 was also the year I got mugged for the first time, ever. It was equal parts scary and bizarre. Like I couldn’t believe it was happening even while it was happening.

So it was just me facing off 3 guys. It happened so fast! Like one minute I was strolling to my house, the next I was surrounded by 3 dudes. It was dark, threats were made, and they were all over me in the space of 5 seconds. I was right there in their middle forming Captain America and fighting them off when I realised, “Dude, you could die right now, shey you know?” I quickly looked for an opening and ran for dear life.

I’m really grateful I escaped, (wallet and my phone intact!), with only bruises and a deep wound on my wrist, (which I got treated at the hospital the following day), to show for it. Phew! Close call. Thank you Jesus!

I’m still not the patient, understanding, accommodating, meek and wise human being I desire to be. In my heart of hearts, I want to have a heart just like Jesus, I really do. I want to show people His love, wisdom, and incredibly large and warm heart. But there were days I failed so bad and ended up so far from the mark, that goal of Jesus’ heart felt like a cruel joke. But, for the first time, in the course of this page 33, I also had good days, not a few, where I came close. Like, really close to the mark. Those days I’d go to bed, feeling like I rode on clouds all day.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m an early draft that is very much being written. There’s a lot about me that needs to be reworked and even more that needs to be edited out. But at this point, the general gist of my life is evident and I like what it is turning out to be.

Each day, I wake up to the joy all around me. Aware of the beautiful story being written within me and through me.

I’m grateful for so much. I feel like I’ve lived a full life already. So many homes and families fixed, kids back in school, teenagers set on the right track in life, healings and an incredible mentoring program I’m currently a part of.

And to think that there’s still so much ahead.

I’m humbled by this.

I’m excited also.

Here’s hoping Page 34 is more beautiful, inspiring and captivating than all the pages before. As always, there will be dancing, food and lots of cake.

Thanks for reading.

 

Photo Credit: Brandivate

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10 Important Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Writing Career

I started out as a freelance writer in 2013 but eventually got what I’d call a big break in 2015. After four incredibly hard yet fun years, and with the scars to show for it, here are lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Grab a coffee. This go’n take a while…

 

  1. Writing professionally means way more than just writing.

Diversify your skillset.

A career in the creative arts is never exclusively about being creative. When you’re not writing, the life of a professional writer includes other activities, many of them tedious including sales and marketing, networking, publishing, distribution, and accounting.

Yup!

If writing is the flashy frontend that draws us in, these “boring” activities are the gears in the backend that will make sure you have a writing career at all.

Creative people tend to shy away from these other activities, claiming they are either too boring, or too depressing. Yes it can sometimes feel like grunt work but guess what? Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’ll just have to suck it up and get with it.

Thankfully, there are tons of resources online to help anyone’s who is looking to learn.

 

  1. When you’re starting out, it’s okay to work for free.

Note I said, when you’re starting out.

For me, this lasted for 6 months. I did pro bono work for friends, classmates, my local church, and even an NGO.

At this stage, I lacked enough confidence to ask for money in good conscience cos I didn’t even think I could deliver something worth paying for. My biggest fear during this period was producing writing that would ruin my client’s chances of making money or some other unreasonable disaster.

While this helped me work harder than I’ve ever worked before, it also prevented me from asking for money in exchange for my services. I basically worked for “exposure” but more importantly, I gained invaluable experience and built a reasonable portfolio.

 

  1. Pricing your services is a tricky science.

And it’s okay to be nervous about putting a price tag on your work. The anxiety comes from the possibility of pricing your services either too high or too low.

When you’re just starting out, I believe it’s okay to underprice yourself.

When I started earning money for writing, I used to get paid N3,000 per article. Sometime later, I was able to raise my prices to N5,000.

As my skills got better, and my portfolio increased, I raised my rates again, this time to N10,000.

I know people who charge a whole lot more than that.

It all depends on what you can live with at the end of the day. My rule of thumb is, charge whatever will not make you grumble during the job but try to be considerate of the client as well.

  1. Still on pricing…

For big projects, always collect at least 40 percent of the total cost upfront.

That 40 percent upfront does two things for you:

a. It helps you weigh the client’s commitment. I learned the hard way how fickle human beings can be. Committing funds to a projects helps us make up our minds. So think of it as helping your clients make up their minds.

b. It gives you some much needed runway. Big projects are long projects and usually involve rigorous research, interviews and sometimes, travel. The last thing you need is not being able to complete a project because you ran out of cash.

Make it a precondition to taking on big projects. It could be 50 percent or 60 percent upfront. But 40 is the minimum.

 

  1. On marketing and promotion.

As a fresh writer, nobody really knows (nor cares) what you do. You have to be up in people’s faces in subtle (and not so subtle) ways.

To put it bluntly, you have to be shameless about trumping your own horn. That shyness? Bury it and attend the funeral.

The goal is to ensure that with your family and friends, your name should be the first one that comes to mind when they see writing opportunities.

I got my first full time writing gig through a referral. The Editor in Chief of TechCabal had been on the hunt for good writers for months and ran into a good friend of mine at a mixer. She didnt hesitate to recommend me immediately. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

  1. The client is always right.

This one requires some humility.

Regardless of what you think, your client is never wrong.

There’s sometimes the proverbial client from hell (and experience will teach you to spot them over time), but most clients just want someone competent enough to deliver what they want. The challenge sometimes is they need help expressing their desires.

Part of the customer relationship process is educating clients on the nature of services you provide, what is possible within certain timeframes and when it is not.

If you are being asked to do something you know is not possible, let them know you don’t think it is possible. If they insist it is, don’t get into a back and forth match. Politely decline.

Every client is unique and hiring a writer over the internet has many quirks. So be courteous, be respectful, and be patient with everyone.

Another thing to take note of: You’re a hired hand. You’re being paid to deliver a service. You can offer advice, you can make suggestions or recommendations, but at no point should you become too attached to YOUR own ideas. The client has the final say on what stays or what goes in their commissioned writing.

If the client says they want their work done a certain way, do it that way. Don’t try to push your own ideas on them. Sure, your way may turn out better but let’s face it, you’re not being paid to push your own ideas. You’re paid to help actualise theirs.

Remember that.

Expect this to happen, a lot!

  1. Write wide, Read wider.

Pulitzer winning author, Jennifer Egan, once said, “Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do.” In other words, the quality of your writing is directly influenced by the quality of your reading.

It’s not just quantity but also quality. Reading helps you get accustomed with different styles, rhythms, ideas and concepts. Find the time to settle down with great books by great authors, subscribe to excellent newsletters, avoid drivel, social media fluff and whatnots.

As you read, write. Put down your ideas. Try different genres. Do satire, do fiction, do non-fiction, do interviews, do listicles, do it all. Have fun with your craft.

Writing is a job but it’s also fun. Exploring genres widens your audience, stretches you out of your comfort zone and forces you to try new things.

 

  1. If you want to be taken seriously, be professional.

This is the last thing you wanna hear from a client

Arrive on time for meetings. Send reminders on deliverables. Above all, meet your deadlines. I cannot stress how important this is. I once had to relocate to an aunt’s home on the other side of town, for 3 days, just to meet up with a killer deadline.

Excuses are a forbidden thing. If there’s a complication and your ability to meet the deadline is compromised, inform the client way ahead of time.

Call, explain the situation and then humbly request an extension. Follow up with a thank you email which also doubles as documentation about the extension of deadline.   

 

  1. On taking advice, stick to people who know what they are talking about.

This one is harsh but it needs to be said. Unless your mom is an ardent reader and knows how to critique a book, her feedback doesn’t really count. Ditto for your friends and families who also don’t really read.

These days, people are very careful with coming off as offensive so we pull our punches when we give feedback. But as a young writer, you need objective feedback. And it has to come from people who are mindful about good writing. Who can see flaws in your work and know how to fix it.

I wrote something about objective feedback some years ago.

These people don’t have to be writers (though they are usually your best bet) but they have to have “the eye” for good writing.

 

  1. It gets lonely.

Extremely lonely. Especially when you’re working on a piece that is kicking your ass. You will lose hours in your own mind, thinking, planning and rewriting entire chapters.

This is inevitable but please, don’t stay too long in there. Get out of your own head, talk to people often, make phone calls, leave the house, enjoy the company of others.

I’ve discovered that ideas flow easier when you have a healthy social life. The writing recluse caricature is a cliche and a harmful one at that.

Like Stephen King once wrote: “[Writing] starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Write, then go ahead and live a good life.

 

I’d like to know if this helped.

[Photo Credit: Brad Neathery on Unsplash ]

8 Remixes that were Way Better than the Original

This list is not even up for debate, thank you very much

 

I did a lot of “corporate writing” last year and not enough fun pieces where I penned down random thoughts bumping around in my head.

As I’ve heard, the trick to a healthy, long term career is to enjoy the work. To do that, you have to sperse things you have to do with things you love to do.

Hence, this article.

This time I’m talking about remixes. You know, that trick where musicians release the same track twice and expect us to pay for both. Daylight robbery aside, once in a while, a remix can be justified, especially when it is better than the original in every way. Here are my favorites (It’s about to become obvious just how old I am 😂).

Gorillaz – 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)

Let me give some free advice: you should never go back to listen to the original version of a song after you’ve heard a popular remix because, it will usually be a big letdown. That’s exactly what happened with the original version of “19-2000.” Where the original is lazy, tired and almost depressing, Soulchild’s remix storms out of the gate with a driving piano riff that keeps things springy.

Tell me you don’t bop your head when that chorus comes on!

“Get the cool, get the cool shoeshine.”

 

Britney Spears, “Overprotected” (Darkchild Remix)

It may be hard to believe today, but there was a time when all we had on our iPods were Britney songs. Such was the intensity of her status as pop goddess. In late 90s / early 2000s, she was setting fire to Number #1 charts across the world, and inadvertently reviving the teen-pop genre. 

With fame, came critics (lots of them!). Overprotected was her eff-you to them all.

The original was okay but Rodney B. Jenkins aka Darkchild (who you’ll be hearing a lot of in this article) did a remix, infusing it with a more energetic beat and loads of drums.

During the bridge when Britney goes, “I don’t need nobody tellin’ me what I wanna…” you know you’re listening to pure teen gold.

 

Joe Featuring Mystikal, “Stutter” (Double Take Remix)

The original Stutter featured on the My Name Is Joe album with gentle guitar licks and the singer’s sweet croon. But then someone had the brilliant idea that what this mellow track needed was some aggression (after all, it’s a song about a man who catches his girlfriend cheating).

Enter the remix, with Mystikal who was at the pinnacle of his (short) career, delivering one of his typically visceral, unhinged verses. The song was better for it. The emotion was more intense and with Mystikal bringing his unique manic energy, the song told a more hard hitting story.

 

Craig David, “7 Days” (DJ Premier Remix)

 

Craig David’s Born To Do It is possibly the greatest debut album in the 21st century. Quote me! Every single track was a hit.

(Side note: this is the first album I ever bought with my money and got played non-stop for almost 4 months before listener fatigue set in).

7 Days was the second song from the album to hit #1. It was a crazy, big hit and ended up having a bunch of remixes but nothing could touch the DJ Premier version. It layered the track on a banging hip hop beat, changed the chorus, changed the intro and ultimately converted the song into gold with Mos Def churning out rap lyrics and vocal samples from Nate Dogg’s chorus in “Oh No” (You know how Nate Dogg’s voice makes everything sound better, right?).

You can’t help but bob your head when Mos Def goes, “Put your thumping back to it / It’s that music to set it off and get the mass movin”

 

Brandy – On Top of the World (Darkchild Remix)

Darkchild is a genius producer like no other. If you’re ever in doubt go listen to

– Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough”,

– Brandy’s “U Dont Know Me”,

– MJ’s “You Rock My World”,

– and this remix.

It’s almost impossible to listen to this track and not move something – your head, your feet, your booty, something’s gotta move. Darkchild brought the groove and Brandy upped her already killer game.

And while Ma$e’s rap on the original was phenomenal (by 90s standards of course), Fat Joe and Big Pun delivered their A-game too.

Darkchild starts the remix with “I don’t think you’re ready for this one.”

Yes papi. But hit us nevertheless!

 

Numb / Encore

A literal example of two great parts combining to make an even greater whole (sort of like the lions combining to form Voltron or the planeteers summoning Captain planet).

Rock and Hip Hop don’t always mesh well, but when they do, you get gems like Numb/Encore.

Taken from the aptly named genre mashing album, Collision Course, Numb / Encore witnessed a wicked blend of LinkIn park’s famous hit track Numb with the Jigga-man’s Encore. The result is an ear-wormy track.

I mean, the original Numb was a great song but I cant hear that opening tune – “tun tun tun tun tun tun tun tun tun” without immediately replying, “thank thank you, you’re far too kind”.

 

Brandy, “U Dont Know Me Remix” (ft Shaunta & Da Brat)

There was something about working with Brandy that brought out the best in Darkchild. This remix is proof.

The original was already a banging, chart busting track with Brandy belting out some crazy tones. But Jenkins thought he could do it even better. So he gave it the now legendary, Darkchild Remix do-over. The result was a totally different track by all accounts (with a beat that goes in hard). The words were mostly the same but the chorus, the bridge, the oh so glorious beat!, even the video, was different. And better.

 

Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner” (DNA Remix)

Time for a quick confession – this is the real reason why I wrote this list.

Another textbook example of the remix overshadowing the original. In the case of Tom’s Diner, I didn’t even know it was a remix I had been hearing for almost two decades until late last year!

The original track is a completely a-capella piece from the early 80s which peaked somewhere around #23 on folk music charts. The remix however, is by British DJ group, DNA, who envisioned something else and ended up creating, arguably, the most famous remix ever. They achieved this by pairing Vega’s conversational vocals with a thunderous rhythm section and bursts of brass while looping the simple ad-libbed outro – “da da da duh, doo da-doo doo” which became the song’s driving hook.

This resulted in a hit that shredded charts across the world, holding the #1 spot for weeks.

The weird thing is, DNA did not obtain permission to do this remix but eventually, and thankfully, the remix grew on Ms Vega and she reached an agreement with the team. These days, Ms Vega seems to prefer performing it to the original.

Fun note: The original has a legacy all its own. It was the track used to develop the MP3 compression algorithm, (earning Vega the informal title of Mother of the MP3). According to the inventor, Karlheinz Brandenburg, “I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm…somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing ‘Tom’s Diner.’ I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a-cappella voice.

Here’s the original. You should give it a listen. 

Got any favorite remixes?

 

Photo Credit: myfreewallpapers.net

The 2 Attributes that will Ensure You Have a Kickass 2019

A few days ago, while having a fun conversation with a childhood friend, something interesting happened.

This conversation is an annual ritual where we catch up at the beginning of the year (sometimes during birthdays) just to discuss anything and everything that’s happened since the previous conversation.

Now, there’s always a portion of the convo devoted to how much we hoped to achieve at the onset of the year and how off we were in our attempts to meet those targets. This particular year however, in the course of our discussion, I realised two things – we’d both been having the same failed projects / missed targets for nearly a decade.

Secondly, this particular year, I had fewer missed targets on that list than he did.

Surprised, I pointed it out to him and he asked how I was able to do it. I said playfully, I guess my new year resolutions worked.

I’ve had time to think about what exactly I did different and I want to document it here.

We all know new year resolutions don’t work (right?). Because, let’s face it, if you were going to start, you would have already done so last year. So this is NOT a checklist of things you need to do to succeed in 2019. The internet has enough of those already.

In fact, if I’m being honest, listicles exhaust me.

I’ve read so many listicles, at some point, they all began to meld into one another. I mean, it becomes very confusing when you’re reading the 10th article on “19 ways to have a highly productive 2019”.

 

If I take point #3 from article 2, combine it with point #7 from article 4 and double down on those 3 principles from article #1…

 

I figured out something in 2017, tested it throughout 2018 and it worked. Here it is:

At the core of every productivity hack are two fundamental virtues - diligence and curiosity.

We can explore a thousand and one ways to achieve more, to do more, to look, feel, think, speak and perform better but regardless of how you intend to go about it, these two virtues will determine just how successful you will be.

Diligence and Curiosity.

Diligence is basically hardwork. Despite the millions of apps available today, cutting edge tech and productivity hacks, there is no skipping the hard work requirement. Personal improvement takes time, commitment, resolve and focus.

Curiosity on the other hand is the continual desire to learn, to know more about a particular subject (not to be confused with that itch you have to keep scrolling on social media).

Diligence will help you master the right skills. Curiosity will lead you to the right information.

Skills + Information = Development.

On these two things, you can build a career and build it well.

In fact, on these two pillars, you can peg every personal development goal and experience impressive improvement across board be it in your relationships, health, finances, spiritual well being and so on.

Like I wrote days ago, I had a fabulous 2018.

One of the things I really wanted to do last year was pray more.

The thought kept bugging me all through the year but I kept procrastinating. It was in October that the realisation that, “Dude, you have just 3 months left this year. When are you going to pray?”

And that’s when I took a halt and revisited these principles – diligence and curiosity.

Curiosity – I (finally) began reading up on prayer, about people who did great things through prayer, about the significance of prayer in a believer’s life. I spent two weeks in really intense study and mediation. The activity fed with me with the right amount of inspiration and motivation to jumpstart my prayer project.

Diligence – Now that I was all fired up, I needed to plan my time. I sat down and looked at my day. I realised that in order to find the extra 2-3 hours needed for prayer, I needed to cut out social media. So I did. That provided me with the extra hours and (more importantly) mental and emotional energy I needed for my prayer target.

Then I got up and started to run with it.

The results have been outstanding.

This is a process that works. To be honest, I’m dazed at how effective it is.

I’ve used the same process to improve my writing, digital marketing and public speaking skills.

I’m using the same process to learn a new language and another new skill (this one is long overdue).

It’s really not complex.

If you’re a listicle kinda person, go ahead and pen down your goals for 2019. But remember, these two attributes will determine how successful you will be.

Photo Credit: Inc

2018 in Review: Hit Me Baby One More Time

I’m writing this on the eve of 2019, the final day of the awesome year that was 2018 and I must confess, I’m reluctant to see this year end. Reason: it has been my best year ever.

In fact, I considered not doing a review this year cos of the probability of writing an article  that would end up more or less a humble-brag.

But if I get to share and review the awful years, it’s only fair for me to review the awesome years as well, right?

Career Testimonies

Got a raise at work!

Piggybacking on that, this also became the first year since 2013 (when I began freelancing) I did not have to do side gigs to make ends meet each month. In fact, I started turning down jobs!

I thought I was crazy the first time I turned one down. Like, why would you turn down money, Ibukun? But then I wanted my weekends back. For 5 years, since I began freelancing, I have rarely had my weekends to myself. However, this year, I took it back!

Now I have more time to read, study, visit people, attend programs and events, or just literally have a lazy day and sleep in.

I. Love. My. Job!

Have I said how much I love my job? Ok, I reeeeaaally love my job. My boss, my colleagues (who are fast becoming like family), getting paid to write, seeing my name in national newspapers etc. But at the top of the list is the fact that what we’re doing at SIDFS matters in really practical ways to millions of people. I also like the fact that I get to work on really diverse and interesting projects.

Speaking of projects, this year, our team organised and hosted an art exhibition at the Lagos Business School. It was a classic “fish out of water” moment for me. I was responsible for PR and ensuring people attended the event.

No Pressure

But thanks to that awesome team I work with everyday, we pulled it off and it was a blast.

Adulting 201

Got my own apartment!

Lessons Learned

I learned quite a few lessons in 2018.

First and perhaps most important on the list, is the difference between guilt and responsibility.

I’ve always felt that when my friends made bad decisions, it’s a reflection on me – that I’m a bad leader and friend. Like, why would my friends or students make bad decisions when they have me?

I’ve held onto this mindset for years so it’s a blindspot. But then one day, God flashed a question across my mind.

Who do you blame for your own bad decisions?

The question stopped me in my tracks.

I replied, “I dont blame anybody for my bad decisions. It’s all on me.”

The voice went, “Exactly”.

Basically, my stance meant people make bad decisions because their friends allowed them to. And as a person who has a library of bad decisions, that means I should blame people (aka my friends) for my own bad decisions.

That’s not true. And since we’re supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated, it means I had to let go of that belief. It’s not only wrong but harmful.

Secondly, spending less time on social media gives you so much time for other things. I drastically reduced my social media usage in November and, well… I had even more time to read (my first love), study, pray, and genuinely connect with people. That last part, connecting with people, means practicing mindfulness which was a really healthy exercise for me last year which I plan to continue next year.

Chasing God

In 2005, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life. I committed myself to Jesus and resolved I’d spend the remaining years of my life chasing Him. Trying to become like Him.

I knew it would involve a lot of sacrifice but I had no idea just how much it would demand.

However, I’ve traded a life of fear, selfish pursuits and ego for a life of beauty, peace and contentment. It’s the best deal I’ve ever made.

Except for 2005, every year I usually spend more time down spiritually than up. This year, that trend was reversed. I spent more time up than down! And while there’s still a lot of room for improvement, I’m really happy about 2018.

Love: Pending

2018 was supposed to be the “I do” year. But in what is becoming a yearly trend, 2018 had its fair share of disappointments and heartaches.

I obviously still have a lot of growing up to do. So I’m grateful for a new year, another 365 days to become more selfless, generous, kind, patient and wise.

I’m still growing. I may know how to talk a big game but I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out. So is everyone else. So please give me (and everyone you know) some margin for error. We’ll need it to excel in the next 365.

Hope you’re ready do it all over again, this time, even better?