The pen is mightier than the sword. That is all well and good in philosophy and we can rant about the social revolutions brought on by the mighty pen. However, this cannot be said to be true when it comes to making a decent living. Art is considered a calling and to be an artist is to somewhat set yourself apart from the society. This generally means to be considered ‘strange’ by friends and family and to be constantly hounded with questions of when you will get yourself a ‘real’ job. As though there is such a thing as a fake job.

A writer is a loaded title. Everyone expects you to be a certain way. Ideally, this should include a whimsical nature and a general lack of an ability to adhere to social norms. On top of this ‘strangeness’ that is required of you, is the whiling of time spent on questionable substances and tumultuous relationships. The writing of course is considered a phase and everyone hopes you will one day snap out of it. If you however, continue to persist with said symptoms they may get worried but eventually will accept your chosen career path with a sigh and a comment like, “That’s how they are.”

Family and friends aren’t the ones to ‘fear’ if you’re a writer though. It’s those that grant you the ability to put food on the table. Granted, not all writers will publish a book, let alone go on to sell millions of copies of said book or even win awards. This honour befalls few writers. The rest have to contend with other ways to make a living. These include writing for newspapers and magazines, script writing, copy writing and pretty much anything that has to do with putting down words on a page. This requires a boat load of work for little pay.

It’s always hilarious to be a writer and to try and negotiate pay for a project. You receive incredulous looks from potential clients and employers when you ask for more than you’re getting. This ‘how dare you ask for more when I’m already doing you a favour by giving you this much’ look stays plastered on their face until you part ways. The questions asked during this exchange should win awards. A great example I love to share is, “Why that much? Did you write on some special paper with a special pen?” This exchange usually ends with how they can get someone else to do the same job for cheaper pay.

I believe this looking down on the writing profession has contributed immensely to its decline in recent years. We hardly have new published contemporary writers, our scripts for television and film leave a lot to be desired and our ads are mostly copy pasted. Some writers aren’t even given recognition for their work as it’s passed off as someone else’s. Being literate doesn’t make one a writer and neither does studying literature. Writing is requires creativity, discipline and dedication and should be rewarded accordingly.

First published in the Nairobian – Issue No. 9: April 26-May 2, 2013