I just had my business cards made. For the first time in my history of possessing business cards, they say that I am a writer. This is not because I only started writing yesterday, but, for the first time, I am finally acknowledging that I am a writer and I want others to know me as one, too.
If you are a ridiculously funny writer you will say you knew you wanted to write from the first time you held a pencil. Others will say that the urge or need to tell stories bubbled inside them from when they were little, but unlike wanting to be a doctor or engineer, wanting to be a writer was never that dream you said out loud.
And so you turned to diaries and wrote your little heart out and got lost in other worlds that those who had been braver had created for you, but still, it was not that dream that you said out loud.
And if you were born in Uganda like I was, there was no school to go to to perfect this storytelling skill of yours. There were medical schools, law schools, institutes of technology, schools of education, and fortunately a mass communication class that came close to what you wanted to do, but writing remained that dream you could not quite say out loud. And if your President, like mine, believes that the arts are useless, writing remains that dream you cannot say out loud.
Then there was life, common sense, duty and obligations that convinced you that you had to get a real job in order to make it. And life, common sense, duty and obligations are all right! This is why wiser fulltime writers invest in passive income projects so that they can concentrate on writing without worrying about what they will have for dinner.
So, it remains that thing you do on the side like a hobby, never thinking of it as the passion that could pay your bills and it certainly could never be the dream you speak of while mentioning money in the same breath. So you take on low-paying jobs “to promote your name and your brand” and even though you know that you have invested time and sweated blood to get half a page filled with words, you tell yourself that at least now, finally, you can say it out loud, even though you are not paid for it well.
Writing is still not taken seriously in Uganda because most of us writers do not think of it as serious work. We stay up late into the night, we invest in books to get better at our craft, we become vulnerable by putting out what is in our heads for everyone to see, and yet we do not consider it serious work. We are PR people, copy writers, communication specialists, etc. but never just writers. As long as writing remains “just a thing I do on the side” it will never be taken seriously.
So, for starters, own it. Shut out that voice that says you do not count because you have no book to speak of. Doing it on the side might actually not be an issue, as long as you own it and deliberately work towards building the income it brings in to a point that that income offsets (or equals) what you currently make. Shut out that voice that says you are not a real writer because you have no book to speak of.
You are a writer. It is a real thing.
What then after owning it, you ask? Invest in yourself. Read. Research. Observe what is around you. Keep writing, because as clichéd as it may sound, practice does make perfect. Find honest critics. Stop being your only audience. Want more. Write even when your muse takes off and leaves you hanging. Life isn’t always inspiring, so do not sit around and wait for inspiring moments. Make it good that writing of yours, so good people will want to reward you for it.
The fact that you should not do it for the money is true wisdom, but it is only half the truth. You shouldn’t do it just for the money, but it should and can earn you money; if not directly, then indirectly. It should be able to sustain you.
After all the investing you will have done, a time will come when you will realise that paying you is not a favour to you but something that you deserve.
How then do you make the money? Newspapers are still hiring. You can be a content creator/manager for blogs, you can write for broadcast media (TV and radio), you can further hone your skill to become an editor, you can submit your work for competitions that have prize money attached to them and of course, start working on that book that you have been dreaming of writing since you were little. Do not limit yourself to fiction. There are so many topics and interesting lives out there that could make for great non-fiction. Explore them. If you are lucky, your book could earn you money long after you have written it. Do whatever else you can do as long it will also give you some time to do the writing you need to do. If you cannot lose that job to devote all your time to writing, set aside time to write and stick to it.
Look out for people that can partner with you and people that just want to use you in the name of “giving you exposure”. Before you leap at the chance of getting your work out there, ask yourself what this organisation that is asking you to write for them can do for you. Can they promote your projects? Would that promotion be more useful than money in the long run? What kind of organisation are they? Are they the kind of organisation you would like to work with? Are they large or run by a few individuals?
I haven’t figured all these issues out for myself either, yet. In fact, one of my biggest questions at the moment is setting the price for your work seeing as there is no standard payment structure.
Are you making money from your writing? How do you do it and how do you charge for your work?