4 Reasons YOU Don’t Want to be a Freelance Writer

So you attended the 2012 Storymoja Hay Festival and met Giles Fodden, Lola Shoneyin, Precious Williams and totally fell in love with Lemn Sissay. Now you’ve decided to make a massive career change and stop being a sales clerk or pharmacist and be a writer.


In the interests of being free, independent and totally non-conformist, you’ve decided to be your own boss. So you’ve picked the plaque that read FREELANCE WRITER for your home office. Your home office is basically a corner of your living room with a desk, a computer and a bunch of books you picked up from the book street vendors that line up Nairobi streets at 5pm. Mixed in nicely with your collection are past issues of Kwani?, a few Storymoja titles and all Chimamandah Ngozi Adichie titles to remind you that you want to be a published author in 2 years time.


As a freelance writer, you will be ready and willing to write for pay as you work on your novel which is going to be the next great thing in African Literature. The best thing about it is that you are going to be YOUR OWN BOSS!

I’m not saying that’s the dumbest career move in the history of ever. Okay, I am. That’s the most stupid mistake you could ever make. When you are a freelance writer:

  1. I can guarantee there will be times when you will be so broke the roaches and rats in your house will move out. If you are lucky, you might immediately land a steady stream of paying writing projects. That generally needs you to be incredibly proactive and absolutely inexpendable. Sooner or later, there will be a slump, which means a gap in income. If you are like me, this will happen immediately after you decide to use whatever you’ve saved up when income was steady to do something VERY important, like buy a collection of shoes. At this juncture, you will have two choices. Get a job while you wait for new projects to come up. Or start raising geese.
  2. When the projects are steady, time becomes fluid. Half the time you will be working late into the night or early morning. You will find yourself grabbing naps at odd times of the day usually when everyone else is up and about. If you are sharing living space, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself that everyone else is asleep, otherwise you’ll piss them all off when you yell out in joy because you finished that project 2 minutes before deadline.More importantly, it will be totally possible for you to spend days at a time in your jammies.
  3. Your friends – if you have any left after a while – will begin to think you are insane. Because you’ll be busy juggling projects, trying to put in as much work as possible while its available, you will miss social engagements. If you make it at all, you’ll be late, or too early (remember time is a messed up concept for a freelance writer). You’ll also be hungry, and quite possibly in your jammies, lagging along your laptop/tablet so you don’t miss the prospective client’s email confirming a contract. That combination does not allow for acceptable social behaviour.
  4. Because of No.3 above, the tendency to seek alternative companionship from non-judgemental creatures that totally ‘understand’ you begins to manifest itself. That translates to about 5 cats, 2 dogs, several chicken, geese, basically whatever animal that will have you.

I can totally hear you. “It’s not about money. I’ll be organised. I’ll make time for a social life. I hate cats anyway.”  Yeah, yeah, yeah – let’s see what your life looks like in a year’s time. P.S. There will be more writers to fall in love with at this year’s Storymoja Hay Festival [September 19 – 22, 2013]. I am personally looking forward to meeting Children’s Author Atinuke. Here’s a hilarious little video I found of Atinuke reading from No. 1 Car Spotter.


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