What do you have in your hands?

Nothing? That is no news. You are definitely not alone in thinking so. A couple of weeks back, under the auspices of our Africa Enterprise, we organised the Enterprise Development Talk with the same theme – What do you have in your hands? I didn’t get to speak, but it definitely took me down memory lane to a time when all I had in my hands was pen and paper. In fact, it has been a life of writing myself out of many sticky situations, circumstances and life have thrown my way.

So, it can’t be that you do not have anything in your hands? That pen or phone in your hands might be all you need to write yourself out of tough times. I don’t do biographies – not keen on sharing personal stories on this platform, but sometimes….

I recently stumbled on a 1991 copy of the magazine – Business and Financial Analyst, then published by Prince Aderemi. I remember I had been introduced to him by my Oga, Adekunle Oloke, who inspired me to monetise my writing talent. He also got me writing for another newspaper published by another friend of his. I did write then – features, analysis, did some stories on the stock market and all that. I can’t remember if I ever got paid anything worth the sacrifice. Yet, even at that time, I had a full-time job with a TV house.

These days, I meet some young men pretending to be writers/journalists – they think the job is all about brown envelopes. You try to share with them project ideas and opportunities to explore, they are not interested. All they think about is now. Many cannot even write a news story to save their own lives, yet they are so high on their own gas to seek knowledge or improve their skills. They do not know the history of the press, who is who or where we are coming from. They think Femi Adesina just got lucky. They do not care to know his journey so to learn or be inspired by it. They are easily taken by fame and glamour. There are perks to the job. But that is not what the trade is primarily about.

As tough as the times are, a good writer can still think/write himself into relevance or live by his legitimate earnings from it. Some find it difficult to believe it, when we tell them how difficult things were when we started out. I was a teenager when I took to writing. Was 16 when I had my first publication in a newspaper. Yet, then, we had to write long-hand, pay a typist to use his typewriter, correct errors with the white ink, re-type and all that before sending unsolicited articles via the post-office to newspaper houses.

Many ended up in their waste baskets or published without us getting to know, as part of the drill was making friends with vendors to go through publications on daily basis in search of elusive by-lines. Imagine the joy when that letter to the Editor or that poem made it to print. But that was how we started out. My Oga, Dili Ezughah published my poems in Quality magazine at a time I was only an undergraduate who travelled all the way from school to hand poems over to him. No one paid us. In fact, we would have sold our shoes for money so we could get published. Dad was shocked to find a short story I had written, spread across half page in his favorite Sunday Tribune. I wasn’t even 18 at the time.

Our company does a bit of books publishing, so we receive enquiries from a number of Authors. Some only send a text message, seeking for a publishing contract. I chuckle. Back in the day, it was all about typing hundreds of pages (manuscript) and blindly sending by post to publishing houses. You will be lucky to even receive the almighty ‘rejection letter’. We had to deprive ourselves to get those scripts typed and sent to far-flung places. In some cases, we got our break just like that. In this age of the internet, some cannot even be bothered to send an e-mail or make a phone call.

I meet with many of the young writers/journalists and all I see is this feeling of entitlement. It is all about now. They are not ready to humble themselves, take advantage of youth, time and lack to start small. Many top journalists today paid hefty dues, starting out. Many started out as ‘freelance’ journalists for years, exploited, harassed, with little or no pay, but stuck at it. Opportunities were limited. There was no internet then. In lack, there are many opportunities – I wrote my award-winning poetry book on Lagos in the stuffy chambers of danfos and other rickety buses – stuck in traffic for hours, I wrote poems. The Lagos I cannot see now, I saw then. I wrote – doors opened.

So, you think you can write? You will be shocked that you can actually make something of it – that talent can be exploited in its pure and applied form – opportunities in copy writing and ghost-writing are there, if you are ready to put in the shift to get good training. Job openings might not be there immediately, but what about Volunteering? Nobody wants to volunteer today. But some of us started out as slaves and volunteers, as that was the only way we could access the industry (Edi Lawani has something to say about how he broke through in an industry where he is today the Don), learn the trade or get recognised.

A few years ago, I was invited to write a 10-minute speech for this big man. All done, it got to the issue of the fee. I asked for 250k. The man did some calculation and said -1,000 pounds? Exchange rate was 250:1 then. I said YES. Some guy at the meeting thought it necessary to negotiate on behalf of his Principal when the man stepped out for a few minutes. He priced me for 50k. I laughed. 10 minutes speech? He could not believe it. I did not blame him, had no business with him, anyway. He didn’t get it. His Oga was not paying for the 10 minutes speech. He was paying only a token to tap into knowledge and expertise gained from my many years of preparation to be able to write a speech good enough for presentation before the high and mighty expected at that event. The Principal had a better appreciation of value. Reason he was the client and not the other guy. He was even happier after he saw the speech.

But it has taken time to get here. Point is, even as tough as the times might be – there is something in your hands which you can deploy to good use to re-write your story, if you really want to. For some of us, it is the pen. For many more, it is the phone. What do you have in your hands? What use are you putting it?

* 08. 05. 2016

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