Work, Worth & Wages: My Transition to Professional

At the beginning of 2015, I coined a word: “lexivism.” It’s a noun, which has several definitions, all of which hold the essential meaning of “lexical/literary activism.” If one advocates for literary arts, one is a lexivist. If one believes in the power of words, whether written or spoken, one is a lexivist. If one has a great love for reading, or books, or poetry, or if one uses these as means, forms or avenues for activism, one is a lexivist.

I coined this term as an offensive and defensive response to the negativity I was continuously met with from people who disapproved of my career aspirations: namely, my desire to write for a living. Aside what I believe are the effects of very unfortunate social conditioning that teaches people to devalue the arts as career options, many people’s problem with my aspiration was that this career wouldn’t make me money—or at least, not sufficient amounts of it.

As a young lexivist, my method of combating the negativity essentially amounted to writing regardless, and figuratively plugging my fingers into my ears and screaming, “Lalalalala…!” (Oh, also, lots and lots of tears.) What I didn’t do, however, was immediately start looking for ways to make money by writing, just to spite people. It’s not like I wasn’t constantly anxious about finances and how to grow into a self-sustaining adult. The truth of the matter is that, despite my theoretical labelling of myself as a lexivist, I firmly believed I, in particular, had no marketable talents or skills worth paying for. And yes, I am fully aware of how absurd this sounds, but insecurity is very difficult to shake.

Last year, a friend recommended me for a freelance writing gig, which I ended up carrying out to completion. Not only was this my first ever freelance gig, it was my first time earning money specifically and exclusively through the use use of my writing and editing skills, which I’ve already been practicing for several years without being paid for it.

Fixing my rates was a remarkably stressful experience. From having worked other jobs before, I knew what a low rate was and conceived that I shouldn’t accept less than my usual minimum. But every time I thought about increasing the rate, I would panic, thinking through the description of the task I had not yet started. All I could think about was how technically simple it was, and thus I told myself repeatedly that anybody could do it; I wasn’t special. Hadn’t we all (in this case, Anglophones) learnt English grammar in school? Wouldn’t I consider it totally ridiculous if I outsourced a task like this and received the kind of price rates I was thinking of asking for? Heck, I might never even consider outsourcing a task like this; I’d be able to do it my damn self!

WorkWorthWages1

I convinced myself that my employers’ lines of thinking mirrored my own. The rate I set at the end was very low—right at my base, possibly even lower—but the rate had also been set based on how easily I thought the assignment would go and how long I thought it would take.

Surprise: it was way more intense and time-consuming than I assumed it would be. I exhausted myself thoroughly in trying to complete completing it, between academic and domestic life in an unfamiliar country. I realized what I’d done, essentially, was undersell myself.

  • Fact #1: Writing is hard.
  • Fact #2: The skill of good writing is one I possess to a reasonable degree.
  • Fact #3: The second fact in no way negates the first.
  • Fact #4: The skill of good writing is not one that every classroom-educated person automatically possesses. (Now that’s the real brain-borster.)

Number four, I found out the difficult way, in the midst of completing the assignment. As baffling, occasionally frustrating and often amusing as the experience was, I appreciate how enlightening my first freelance job was. This, more than anything, had finally helped me realize, through experience and not just through lexivist theory, that this lyrical skill that I had was indeed worth paying for. I saw properly, for the first time, how necessary professional writing/editing skills truly were, especially to professionals who are not necessarily proficient in it.

This assignment was the first to make me realize how much anti-lexivist rhetoric I had internalized, despite everything I’d been telling myself for approximately three years. Without this assignment, who knows how long I would have taken to finally dare to set foot in the professional world of writing, in recognition of it as a literary profession that I am capable of?

At the end of the day, though, that particular assignment was far more technical than creative. It’s all the work opportunities I’ve had since then that have really thrown me off-guard. The idea that I could be and have been and am being paid for my creative skills, to produce a creative work (albeit according to someone else’s guidelines) or simply to talk about creative work which I have previously put out or performed for free, has been blowing my mind, thoroughly. It feels like only over the past handful of months have I really started being a lexivist in practice instead of solely in theory—and all not even by my own efforts. Literally every single time I have earned money for a lexi-related thing, it has been by virtue of referral from others who clearly believe in my skills more than I do.

I really just want to take time to acknowledge this, and to be able to express my immense gratitude to everyone who supports me as actively as all my referrers so far have done. That’s bona fide lexivism, whether you know it or not. And, especially as a person who has difficulty recognizing my worth, putting myself out there, or promoting my work, heaven knows how much I need such help.

Now that I have, to some degree, conquered the hurdle of believing that my talents are indeed worth wages, there’s another huge obstacle course ahead of me; the summation of it all is “balance.” I have previously written on the unique, low-capacity configuration of my body and the consequent necessity of learning how to adequately care for myself as I go through daily life. To many, unfortunately, “fast” and “efficient” are synonymous in a non-negotiable way; but “slow” is currently the only style of work that honors my mind and body. I’m inclined to believe, also, that “slow” may be the style of work that adequately honors the work itself. I have no desire or intention to compromise on the creative and technical quality of work, or to dishonor the creative process an assignment demands, simply because I am being employed to create it. The tricky part, now, is figuring out how to honor my body and the work, and my employer(s). (Woefully idealist of me, as usual. I expect to get over it eventually, don’t worry. Life has a way of being uniquely rude to idealists.) As with many important things, I don’t expect it to be easy. But then I remind myself once again that I never have to navigate something difficult alone. God dey—always. ❤

-Akotowaa

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