I was barely eight years old when I developed an interest in writing. As I type these words, the picture of how the young, naïve, and diminutive Jerry took a pen and A4 paper to write his life plan. There were several dreams included on my list. Although these dreams were a little bit impractical, what did the little Jerry know? I wrote them anyway. I grew up reading a lot of self-help books (thanks to my dad). So, it should come as no surprise that my dream was to become a best-selling author and an Emmy-winning screenwriter before I was 25 years old.
I am not yet 25, but I don’t see myself achieving those dreams soon. Instead of being a writer with drafts ready for publication, I have lots of unfinished stories. Yeah, instead of living my childhood dream, I am simply an average freelance writer in Nigeria trying to fight the common enemy – poverty.
For decades of my life, I did not know what freelancing, let alone freelance writing was, until I enrolled in the university. It was when I became an undergraduate that I met a friend who introduced me to the freelance writing world. Seeing the potential earning that a freelance writer could make, I was elated, no…. overexcited. I started anticipating earning good money in a matter of months. I believed that I would make six-figures at the end of my first year as a freelance writer.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been two years since I started writing. Trust me, the journey has not been comfortable. It has been a bitter-sweet experience for me. I think I exaggerated the benefits of freelance writing and I got hurt in the long run. There are many things I wished someone told me I was going to experience as a freelance writer, especially a Nigerian one. Here are some of these facts:
My status as a Nigerian was going to be a significant obstacle
Until I started freelancing, I did not realise how fraudulent other countries stereotyped Nigerians to be. I did not know that foreigners saw us as criminals and people gifted at fraudulent acts. When I started as a writer, I created accounts on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr with the hope that I would have the opportunity to showcase my skills to an international market.
Unfortunately, my Nigerian identity denied me this opportunity. I remember I opened a Fiverr account for three months, and no client accepted my proposal. The clients who did, cut the conversation short the moment I told them that I was Nigerian. The same thing happened on Upwork too.
It was then I realised that many Nigerians who worked on such platforms used fake locations like the United States and the United Kingdom. I learned quite late that using the nationality of any other country other than Nigeria is a coping mechanism for many Nigerian freelancers.
I was going to get rejected
My dad recognised my writing skills at age 10. I disturbed all my friends back in high school to read the stories I wrote. I badly wanted an audience for my writing wherever I went. Fortunately for the little me, I was never disappointed. I received compliments back and forth like “Jerry, you are good,” “Jerry, I think you should pursue writing as a career.” These are some of the compliments that I received often. So, I approached freelance writing with the mentality that I am a good writer, the next Stephen King.
No one told me that my work would be rejected. No one told me that I would be called a bad writer. At a low point, I felt like giving up because I was not mentally prepared for the challenges that I was facing. I mean, I had been told my entire life I was a good writer.
Receiving a different reception by people who were paying for the work I wrote was devastating.
Clients were going to exploit me
I entered freelancing with a little or no knowledge about the industry. After my failure to get foreign clients, I resigned to writing for Nigerian outsourcers.
For those that know nothing about the freelance industry, outsourcers are writers (mostly) that receive work from foreign clients and give it to ghostwriters to do the job. I thought I was going to earn the right amount from these guys, but my first payment came as a rude shock. My first client paid me 1 naira per word. If you do the math, this means, he paid me 2000 naira for 2000 words. If that is not the highest form of exploitation, I don’t know what is.
I worked with a client who blocked me shortly after I submitted his work. I lost about 20,000 naira in total to dubious outsourcers. No one told me I needed to protect myself from exploitation by having signed agreements and background-checking these outsourcers.
I was going to experience the imposter syndrome
Growing up, I solely focused on creative writing.
Although I created a blog after I graduated from high school, I was new to writing blog posts, eBooks, and ad copy. My inexperience made me have imposter syndrome.
A guy who believed he was good at writing started having doubts about his ability. At a point, I started feeling I was not a writer. “Maybe they all lied to me, after all,” I once thought on a depressed Friday afternoon. No one told me that it was reasonable to experience imposter syndrome.
I thought I was the black sheep in the writing industry for feeling like an imposter. It was much recently I discovered that even exceptional professionals experience imposter syndrome. Experiencing imposter syndrome means your inner critic is at work, and more often than not, when this happens, this means you are writing good stuff.
I have to develop myself if I want to become a great writer
For a long time, I believed that talent in writing was the secret to success as a writer. But my experience as a freelance writer, copywriter and content marketer has erased such misconception.
Along my journey, I have discovered that you have to invest in yourself to be a good writer. Whenever I remember how I started, I’m forever grateful for the growth I have undergone. I started as a young writer who loved writing stories. However, I have transitioned into a copywriter, content marketer and SEO consultant.
Being naturally good at writing is not enough; you have to build yourself continuously. Ordinarily, no one gives two cents about your writing talent. But if you develop yourself to a valuable figure that people cannot ignore, clients will rush you to tap from your pool of value. This is something I wished someone had told me much earlier.
No one gives two cents about your writing talent. But if you develop yourself to a valuable figure that people cannot ignore, clients will rush you to tap from your pool of value. This is something I wished someone had told me much earlier.
I can write endlessly about what I wish people told me about being a freelance writer. But it is better to thrive in the present than whine about the past. I hope my lessons help freelance writers who are just starting out or feel the same way.
If you know anyone who wants to start a writing career, share this to prepare them for what is ahead. I am not earning six-figures but I have become a better version of myself. And to me, that matters most.
What do you wish someone had told you earlier before starting your career?