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 ]

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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?

It’s been almost 5 years, Time to Pay it Forward

When I first started the blog, I wanted to achieve 3 things:

Make money 

I won’t lie. When I opened this blog, I had money on my mind. Money from traffic, money from ads, money money money. In fact, I really did believe I would just punch out a few articles and boom! Watch the dollars roll in.

LMAO!

Yeah I know, it makes me laugh as well.

Fortunately, and in spite of my misconceived expectations, the blog still happened to bring me some value, monetary and otherwise.  I’ve gotten writing gigs and referrals based on someone reading something I wrote and deciding they wanted to work with me.

So things still worked out great in the end….

Get better as a writer

Writing for an audience rather than writing purely for myself, I assumed would help me write better. And help also with discipline.

I also needed a place to display my written work, as I wasn’t employed at the time.

Needless to say, this was/is the most realistic and most successful goal on this list.

Help others write better

This was not a priority for me back then, cos I was just getting into the groove of things myself.

It’s been almost four years now. And even though there’s a universe of things out there I still do not know, I feel there’s some value to be had in paying it forward.

I learned how to write exclusively from the internet.

Every tip, every video, every PDF and ePub I have consumed was from the internet and after thousands of hours learning and practising, I’m making a decent living off these skills.

I figured I owe the internet some payback.

Within the past 4 months, I’ve had several people buzz me asking for advice on how to get started with a career in writing. Or asking for tips on improving their writing.

It was becoming cumbersome to dig up articles, resources etc. And the fact that everyone is unique and we retain our individuality, hence it’s hard to find a one-size fits all approach to teaching an elusive skill like writing.

And so, starting from today, I’m going to be doing writing tutorials (if you can call it that).

There will still be the occasional rant, but for the most part, I’ll be focusing my time and mental energy on the art of writing and how to get better at it.

I’m currently compiling a list of topics to begin with so if there’s anything you would be interested in learning, please leave a comment.

Until then…

How I Crushed My Biggest Writing Project to Date


So I began this ghostwriting project for a client early January this year. It was a real growing experience for me. For one, it was the first time I would handle a book of that magnitude, both in terms of subject matter as well as calibre of client.

The client was a part of the previous political regime and the book focused on policy, youth development and the African narrative. It was a big picture book, with a lot of new terms and concepts, a lot of history, a lot of case studies.

I began talks with his team in early January. A week or so after I had taken the job and contracts had been signed, the man dropped a big bomb on me:

He told me he’s been trying to write this book since 2012. And somehow the project always falls apart.

Yeah, that did wonders for my self confidence. 

Anyways, I prayed asking God to make me a solution to this man’s problem. Rather than become another statistic, another failed attempt to write this book, let me be the one to take the project across the finish line.

It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I’d glance at the interview logs I had done, the notes I had taken (enough to fill 2 notepads), and then the blank pages in front of me waiting to be filled.

It often felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew.

After several false starts and four sleepless months, several back and forths with the editors, FINALLY, the book launched on October 2, 2017!

It was a really emotional experience for me seeing the book in my client’s hand.

I felt like a surrogate mom and a midwife at the same time.

I guess ghostwriting is a bit of both.

I’m still reeling from the euphoria! And I’m eager for even bigger challenges .

The last thing I’ll say is, my writing tutors were right – there’s no project that can’t be crushed. It may take time, but Goliaths will fall if you keep lobbing stones at them.

I guess I’m writing this as a reminder to myself, and to all of us who face frequent episodes of self doubt – Keep going.

5 Things I’m Grateful for at 32

This will probably be one of those long ass articles I’m prone to write once in 5 months. So you know the drill

Introvert. I spend a lot of time thinking, reflecting, having conversations with myself and replaying conversations with others. During my trips down memory lane, I rarely venture beyond a few weeks out.

It’s my birthday in a few hours though. And so, the “reflect on the past 5-10 years of your life” elves have been visiting.

This year, I looked back and saw so many reasons to be grateful. I crossed the big 3-0 a while ago and since I’m not in the “Have I achieved all I set out to achieve by 30?” camp because let’s face it, all I thought about before age 30 were comic books, videogames, Jesus and girls. Come to think of it, not much has changed. Anyways…

So this week, I made a few trips back in time. I recalled a lot of conversations I had with myself that were inspired by articles I had read. These were the years before I became a writer.

Let me give that some context.

It was 2011, and yours truly was studying web design and AutoCAD at NIIT in Ikeja. I was pretty enamored with the writing life as at then and would stalk my favorite authors online – reading not just their books but their op-eds, their blogs, their interviews, everything. I guess I was looking for the secret to the successful writing life (there’s none, stop believing those bullshit articles cos many of us worked hard and got lucky).

Anyways, so I spend an inordinate amount of time, especially on my trips to and from NIIT, reading tons of materials online. Then I came across an article by Stephen King, a particular statement in it would touch my heart till today.

Talent is getting published and getting paid. Did you write something for someone? Did they send you a check? If you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

I wrote that quote straight from memory (I think it’s 90% accurate). The statement meant the world to me back then. It still does. Here’s the most recent version of the article I could find, if you’re interested.

I’m grateful today that, despite being told repeatedly by a former boss to abandon my desire to be a writer cos I’d starve, despite several false starts, after years of doing pro bono work for NGOs, today, I’m a writer who pays the light bill.

Second thing I’m grateful for. I recently discovered a truth about myself. A sad one.

Somehow I’d come under the illusion that everyone else’s happiness supercedes mine.  I’m grateful for my good friend, Chi, who confronted me and helped me realise this.I don’t know how it got there but there it was, staring me in the face.

Some symptoms were: When people are horrible to me, I rarely confront them. I’d prefer to just withdraw and simmer in pain. Pain passes, wounds heal, better not to cause a fuss over hurt feelings or bruised egos. On the off-chance I do confront the perpetrator, I end up feeling guilty when they apologise. I feel bad I’ve made someone feel bad for something they did so I end up making an excuse right there for them and telling them it was all my fault. Toxic, I know.

I dont share my personal issues with the important people in my life. I can write an epistle about sweet nothings but when it comes to sharing the important stuffs – struggles, fears, hopes, desires, pains – nah, lock up! This has been a problem in many of my relationships and friendships. The reason is the same, guilt follows talking about that kind of stuff. In my head somehow, to rant is to be weak. And to be weak is to be a crappy partner or friend.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here.

So, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be finally self aware about these things and to begin the journey to recovery. Having been stuck in the horrible loop for three decades, it’s not going to be easy to fix but it will be done.

Which brings me to my next point. It’s 2-in-1.

I haven’t talked or written about my depression for a long time, either on the blog or in real life. For good reason, I’ve been doing really well, especially with avoiding triggers and embracing routines that curb the loop. But late last year, something happened that nearly dragged me back under.

Prior to this, my last bout of depression was in 2014. Since then, life’s been pretty awesome, (cos let’s face it, a day without depressive clouds is an awesome day, for those who know). But last year, a shitty boss and a broken heart nearly brought the clouds back in my life. I’m glad to say they never fully formed. I, Ibukun, looked the dragon in the face, flipped it the finger and walked away.

No more depression!

And so, I’m grateful for my support system. My amazing family – supportive, patient, my number one cheerleading squad, every win for me is celebrated with dancing and prayers and lots of food. They’re the best support system every writer should have (seriously fam, I’m considering packaging you and putting you up on Amazon :)).

Also grateful for my friends  – Gosh! I have the weirdest, nerdiest, craziest, funniest and loving collection of friends ever. They call, they visit, some actually write letters (imagine that!), they send memes, tweet random silly things at me, or even randomly plan mini vacations with me.

Honestly, God blessed me with friends and I know it.

Finally, I’m grateful to be punching in another year on the calendar tomorrow. There might be no party, but there will definitely be dancing and cake. Loads of it.

Here’s a random picture of me looking (and being) happy. That’s Olumo Rock in the background

Before you go, remember to send cake.

Thanks for reading!