I’m an ink-stained notebook fiend, most of my pens get chewed like a rabid terrier, I write poems, post copious amounts of blog posts, churn out news reports, provide opinion pieces for several publications, proofread anything that crosses in front of my eyes, heck I even accuse nonreaders of treachery against humans (spoiler: writers hate non-readers). However, is that enough to call myself writer? Sefiso Hlongwane tells his story.
Look, there’s no denying that I’ve got an ink-spattered destiny that lurks like a worm at the heart of an apple – but am I a really truly honestly pinky-swear bona fide writer?
Forging my way into writing…
I’ve always judged any sort of text on its merit as a written story – menus, cereal boxes, ‘in case of emergency’ signs in the elevator, classified ads where I’ve often picked up poor word choice. My mom thought that would make me an outstanding lawyer. She said I’d be able to read every legal case interminably, deeply, thoroughly, precisely, thoughtfully and meticulously before understanding the core points and projecting them convincingly to the court. Perfect career for me? Not if my brain – tuned to some mad, intrusive frequency – and itching hands had anything to do with it. No offence mom, but Law would not do justice to the constant stream of ideas and inspiration that fire like protons at my mind-cores. And how do I know this? All it took was six months of law school to figure out that for me, it would be nothing more than a four-year legal training programme to deepen my pockets.
So yes, that’s when I called it quits and went on to forge my way into writing. Without formal education, that basically meant lots of stress, nervous breakdowns, editors who don’t believe you deserve to get paid, living on the edge…yet you still continue. Passion!
[writer (n): undoubtedly passionate]
First a blogger…
I knew the easiest way to tap into full-time writing was through blogging. However, there was no way I’d start my own blog. I was afraid. I neurotically doubted my own potential and besides, “who the heck is Sefiso and why would we be interested in his blog?” So I opted to contribute to one of the most popular entertainment blogs in the country, regularly weighing in on Kim Kardashian’s nose job, Lauryn Hill’s tax evasion or Lindsay Lohan’s pastime activities. It was not a paying gig. I was technically still unemployed. I got frustrated.
Nonetheless I continued to hammer away at my keyboard all day long.
[writer (n): someone who realises that writing is a thing-you-do rather than a thing-you-really-want-to-do.]
Two years is a long time to not know what you’re doing as a blogger. That’s exactly how long it took me to figure out how to get serious and treat blogging as a business, because it turns out bacon and mushrooms won’t pay themselves. It was at this point when I realised that although I’d spent significant time developing my craft as a writer, I was not taking charge of my writing…blogging destiny. I had to get clients (and ideally, drown in work).
To cut a long story short, I managed to attract a few clients and became a regular (paid) contributor on other blogs. From entertainment to current affairs, I did it all.
After a while, I figured all those hours spent slaving away on content and honing my writing skills would, in fact, put me in a position to compete with the big boys and girls to write for magazines and newspapers.
Would this be the next logical step in my so-called ‘career’?
A journalist (without a degree)
Though I was doing fairly well as a blogger, I was often ashamed to admit I blog for a living. One of my best friends was completing her accounting degree while the other one would go on to be a doctor after a couple more years. And me? A blogger.
Can you imagine the pressure? Worst of all, I felt that I had to reserve 15 minutes to explain that blogging is no longer just a part-time hobby for over sharers, each time someone would suggest I get a ‘real job’ or go back to school. So I figured if I started writing for magazines and newspapers, I’d automatically become a journalist – which would save me the trouble of trying to explain what it is that I do.
Luckily, as a blogger, I was one step ahead of the game, because just as you can use magazine articles as samples to get blogging gigs, I could use blog posts as samples to land article assignments.
[writer (n): writes]
As a result, I managed to break into print media. A weekly magazine. Besides living in my pyjamas (which has started wearing off pretty swiftly), my job basically entailed what I had done previously as a blogger: research, reporting on the latest news, writing opinion pieces and features. So was I still just a blogger – office bound and out of pyjamas?
[writer (n): produces written content on any type of platform.]
This led me to an anticlimactic conclusion. Being a journalist vs. being a blogger is not all that different, as all skills turned out to be 100% transferable.
Frankly, the perceived canyon between journalism and blogging is really more like a three-foot gap you can hop across. If you ask me, it’s with good reason that the lines between blogging and journalism are blurring.
However, the pressing issue here is that I suffered a few years of shamefully admitting that I’m a blogger when I could’ve easily passed myself off as an online journalist. Sigh!
Perhaps, what I am is a writer.
[writer (n): lances his/her brain blisters over and over again so that multiple personalities have a place to go.]
Can I write? Without a shred a doubt. Not physically. Not technically. Not literally. Anyone can do that.
Have I studied literature or journalism? No.
Am I a novelist? Well, not yet.
Why does this even matter?
It turns out what people call themselves matters because it sets the tone for how the value of what they do is perceived.
So what do writers do anyway?
They jolly well write, right? Maybe not everyday, but often enough where it’s a dominant activity. They move electrons around on a screen and arrange words and phrases. Slide pen on paper. Some opt to a drive a narrative in which the audience goes away with a clearer understanding, both in context and in relation to themselves, while others simply prefer tongue-in-cheek reporting on celebrity and pop culture.
Which brings me back to my initial question: am I a writer?
Well, was Shakespeare a playwright or a poet? Picasso, a painter or an artist? Is Beyonce a singer or a creative genius?
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