Abigail Arunga used to be the Digital Editor for Zuqka.com before she subscribed to the ideal of happiness at work and quit her job for more sleep and less money. Before that and other subsequent mutinies, she worked as a contributor for several local Kenyan magazines such as Home and Living East Africa, DRUM and Saturday Magazine (Nation).
Now, Abigail is a 28-year-old (yeah, she can’t believe it either) writer, blogger, scriptwriter and committed lover of sleep. She is the author of Akello and a side of raunch, both (only slightly) sensual poetry collections, is trying to avoid questions about when the next volume is coming.
Abigail was also a scriptwriter for the award-winning soap opera “Lies that Bind” and continues to write for TV with shows such as “How to Find A Husband” and “Majaribu”. She began her writing career as an intern for Storymoja Publishers and is a 2011 honours graduate of USIU (don’t forget that. She thinks it is very important, mostly because she was surprised). Oh, and duh, she’s a feminist –who isn’t?
Here, Abigail shares her expert advice on surviving the struggle of being a freelance writer.
Did you always set out to be a freelance writer?
That was not the plan! Employment was kind of the plan. Until I got employed and realized I was not only a terrible employee, but I also hated having to be employed. Not because of the sweet salary, but because I hated having to answer to something outside of myself —no matter how nice that something was to me.
Small decisions, by the way, like not being able to stay home on my period, or having to ask to not come to work? It felt like a cage.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Wake up at about 10 or 11 am, noon or 1 pm if I have been working past 3 am. I will get up, work on my social media for about an hour or two, then get up and have breakfast (brunch!), watch something, read something, probably leave the house —if not, I will start working.
If I leave and come back, probably late, from whatever —an event I am covering, a film I am reviewing, whatever it is— then I will start working when I get home. If I have eaten out, I’ll start immediately —if not, I’ll cook.
Then TV, then sleep. The only thing that is constant though, in that list, is what time I wake up, hehe.To be a successful freelance writer you have to be willing to do the work required Click To Tweet
What will you say to people who say one can’t make money as a freelance writer?
I haven’t lived at home for five years, so that’s a lie. You just have to be willing to do the large amount of work required to sustain yourself and have a hard-line stance on when people pay you —because self-motivation and chasing cheques are probably the hardest parts.
Can you talk about rates? How did you go about setting rates for your work?
Rates depend, for me, on who is buying. Every time. I have my constant contracts that I have been working for about four years —those don’t change much. Friends shouldn’t get different rates, I know, but they do.
Everyone else? My minimum is about 5 bob a word. Or I charge per piece of work —for example, per script, as opposed to the number of words. For my television scripts, I ask for about KES15000 per script. Which I am told is below industry rate…hmmm…new year, new rates?
The reason why sometimes rates are so fluid with me is, honestly, sometimes, you are broke as hell and have to take what you get. Then you get on a little bit, and you’re like no, I deserve more! Which is all fine and dandy, until you hit a patch and you go back to cheap. Especially at the beginning of a freelance career.
It can be very hard to not only know your worth but stick to your guns. I would say start with what you want and stick to what you want, without having to go back –and with a backup plan. Savings, or Mshwari, hehe. If your work is good, they will pay. If they don’t, you will get better, or pivot. You will do what you have to do.Abigail Arunga: At the beginning of a freelance career, it can be very hard to know your worth Click To Tweet
Would you say freelance writing is a sustainable career choice?
Of course. Especially if you are thinking out of the box. You do realize that everything needs writers? All businesses need stuff written. They need newsletters. Copy for brochures. Memos.
Who writes this stuff? Articles. Magazines. Menus…everything. So sometimes they have in-house writers. Many don’t. Figure out what you want to write and write. Write hard. It is sustainable because everyone needs writers.
What should anyone looking to become a freelance writer know before embarking on this path?
Ask for half of the money before you do any work for anyone. People are not nice in this town —in this world.
Don’t feel bad if the jobs take a while to get there —they’ll get there. Just keep going. You want to be a writer? Then write.
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