He lives on the second floor of a cheap apartment in the low-priced side of the town. Rejected manuscripts mountain at the corner of his sitting room, close to the door. Unfinished ones are amassed in a bin that he never seems to empty. Crumpled papers of pieces he wrote with nowhere to take. This is his life; hoards of rejected manuscripts: others that he is not confident about and thus has been unable to finish. Like an old lonely spinster, his 35 cats are his crumpled pieces of penned paper that he has nowhere to take. That is the life of a writer who does nothing else but write in a country where people are busy not buying books. How unfortunate. How insanely tenuous a profession.
When I grow up, I do not want to be a writer. I wish I could say that for I have already grown up, and writing is part of me. Also, when I grow up, I want to be able to introduce myself as a writer, without a falter of indignity in it. Because I realise now that people introduce themselves as ‘ Ndinda, a model….(then a muffled up writer is swallowed somewhere in at the end). If it is going to be said loudly, then it is ‘a freelance writer’. Why? You ask. Because someone is going to ask ‘oh so you are a writer? Who do you write for?”.’ Who’ here has to be a topflight media house. If not, a book with your name on it has to be a bestseller on the counters of a bookshop. If none of these are ‘whom’ you write for, then you aren’t a writer. The picture thus being that writers are a failed profession. Those that do not make it to these topflight media houses cannot make money good enough to buy them a car. They live by the rare pennies that some writing drops in on their beggar’s bowl.
If you ask me, I think we are a little too lenient with our writing… we do not value it as much. There is writing for fun, but that is not all there is in writing. I believe writing is supposed to bring someone money. These are days when people of other artistic professions: photographers and painters are making millions of shillings. These arts are no longer being taken as hobbies; gap fillers to certain voids after the white collar 9-5pm. It is no longer a thing to be done for fun. I have a friend who was approached by a big corporate to help them compose their mission and vision statement. She never charged them a penny. We teach people that it is ok to ask for poems and pieces from us for free. The first time I asked a friend for money for a piece I had written for her, she said ‘Si you love writing? It is not like you are spending money to buy raw materials or anything. I’ll buy you lunch next week’. The second time I did a piece for a friend who had to have a feature published in the paper as part of his exams, he too bought me lunch. Well, I was ok with it until it hit me; I should be making money out of all that writing.
Do not get me wrong here. I am just being realistic. Writing uses up brain cells. Or maybe not. It really does not matter. It takes up a writer’s time. If I decide to do it for fun, well and good. However, people need to appreciate this art not just by reading it but also by considering that someone somewhere took time to piece it all together. I know there is a danger of watering down your writing once the money issue comes in. There is also a danger of watering down the writing and eventually not writing at all if there is no reward that comes after just an individual’s satisfaction of having written.
I will give you a good example of poets who have taken writing and performing as part of a lifetime’s career. One is Wanjiku Mwaurah, the other one is Kevin Waithaka. You are a doctor. You will make money out of it. They are writers and poets; they should make money out of it. Writing is not as ‘hobbily’ as lying on the sand at the beach waiting for the sun to set. It should not be a poor man’s profession either. Sometimes I do think that it can stand on its own without a back up profession.
Well…I do hope that I am not the only one who hopes to make good money out of writing.