How I’m Getting By: Life As A Freelance Writer

My name is Tseliso Monaheng. I pawn words and pimp phrases for a living.

I have been selling off ideas to potential, moneyed baes since 2007.

I did this throughout my university education, until I had to find employment some 6 years later. I had amassed enough contacts by that time to attempt the rigour and anxiety-riddled existence of freelance living, but not enough to ensure that I would survive month-in, month-out.

But getting a job using my IT: Information Systems and Computer Science degree was never an option, and this I knew well before graduating. For one, fuck being around people. For two, fuck the information technology broederbond that keeps black and brown people in their place in that industry. Number 3, I’m from Lesotho. Put simply: No one was going to employ an alien.

So, freelance writer I became.

I used to rap and pawn CDs to age-mates (and some grown-ups) with no disposable income. I came fully-formed;  knew what to expect in most situations.

I knew that no one ever pays an invoice on time; knew that publishing has to do with bias; knew that people with e-mails to the people you need to access in order to get money, will ignore your request that they link you up with that provider.

And I promised myself to never become those people.

From the jump, the importance of never writing without getting paid was impressed upon me. Don’t undersell yourself. Advice, unsolicited. Fuck that, I thought, and wrote for everyone who’d publish me. I was on blogs of all sorts, pimpin’ sentences into articles, articulating the merits of whatever was giving me joy during those moments. I learnt how to deal with people, became a writer, and got to build a community of people around me, some of whom decided to start paying me.

In 2020, I’ve written stuff for myself, for newspapers, for on-line publications, for magazines. I have by-lines in Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, City Press, Chimurenga, The Fader, Guardian (UK), Africasacountry, Okayafrica…yeah, issa lot!

And then I do commercial work, too. I’ve done stuff for Hunter’s Dry, Axe, Windhoek, Apple Music, Red Bull, etc. I’ve written official artist bios and press releases for Stogie T, Mr Eazi, Santi, Kwesi Arthur, Jackie Queens, etc.

I’ve also indulged in bits of television work, and will pen the odd short story once in a while.

That part about pimpin’ words?! I ain’t no fuckin’ joke!

There’s a lot I’ve skipped with regards to my path thus far. The point isn’t to gloat, but to say: If you are freelancing at the moment, set your own terms. Decide how much you want to get paid, what work you want to get involved with (well, assuming you have enough space to maneuver).

To end it off, pointers:

* Decide on your worth, and stick to it: I didn’t become a freelancer so that someone  can tell me about industry standards when we talk money.  Fuck the industry standard, give me the amount of money I want.

* Invoice early: This is helpful, especially when one is starting out. If, at a point, you manage to make enough income to not worry about the next cheque, then invoice at odd times. So, if you’ve 3 clients this month, invoice them on different days of the week, assuming each one of them pay on arbitrary days.

* Smile a lot, but never let em fuck with you: Make it clear what your values and principles are from the jump. They’ll take chances at every turn; don’t let em.

* Be curious, always: It’s the only way I know of that’ll ensure that you don’t find yourself stuck and feeling bitter. Study trends, vary your interests, etc.

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