So after six months as an Amplify fellow, I can finally call myself a writer with conviction. I can claim the profession not because I wrote fiction prior to the fellowship or that I published regularly on my blog and wrote opinion pieces for other online media outlets, but because in the past six months I was in the midst of other writers who, unbeknownst to them, validated my aspirations. In this community of twenty-five creatives hailing from Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, I felt safe and in communion with other exploratory souls forging their path in the amorphous world of writing, photography and videography.
I speak of validation and aspirations because three years ago, after the company I worked for went under—thanks to the steep plunge in global oil prices—I made a conscious decision to take a year off from corporate life to indulge a latent desire. With fervour, I sank my teeth into the Journalism and Newswriting course I had enrolled in three months prior, began drafting a business plan for an online media platform, became a contributor for a local radio station, started writing my debut novel and continued blogging.
It would take a year and six months to complete my 70,000-word novel, inclusive of the rewriting, editing and breaks in between. But even at that, I couldn’t quite view myself as a writer. Blogger yes, but writer? Not even my newly acquired diploma in Journalism and Newswriting or the publication by-lines could assuage the feeling that I was a poseur. Of course, logically I knew external recognition or validation weren’t required for one to be considered a writer, but that awareness didn’t stop me from cringing whenever I called myself one.
In the meantime, I dived into the job boards again, this time focusing on jobs in media and communications. Shortly afterwards, I scored an interview with one of Nigeria’s leading lifestyle websites for the position of an editor. It should have been my big, legitimate entrance into the world of writing but something was lacking. I didn’t think it would push me beyond my comfort zone and thus decided not to attend the interview.
As for my plans of building an online media platform, it was coming together. I had bought a domain name, registered the business with the Corporate Affairs Commission, contacted potential contributors, and was working with a website developer to bringing the site to life. Everything was moving smoothly, but one nagging question loomed large: How does one sustain an online media platform at a time banner adverts are approaching extinction?
While grappling with the headache of financing, another problem cropped up with the website designers. They had repeatedly failed to follow instructions, building their own version of what they thought was good for me. A glorious disaster.
I would go through three mediocre web designers and a delusional fourth, who charged a million naira to design the website of my dream. With the progress of the site on hold, I was at a crossroads. Doubt and despair soon came flooding in. Does Africa really need another ‘African’ website? Do I have the expertise to run an online media business? Maybe it was time I put my university degree to use. What’s more, my novel manuscript was being rejected by publishing agents. My one-and-half years of experimenting with media weren't delivering the goods and the prospect of returning to another soulless job as an office drone started to look like a viable option.
It was in this abyss of uncertainty that I came across an advert for the Amplify fellowship targeted at African content creators. The program’s biggest draw for me was the opportunity to parley with writers and other creatives, learn from the instructors and observe how a relatively new online media platform, one with an affinity for African stories, navigated the waters and sustained itself.
And of course, Amplify being the brainchild of CNN alumni, Zain Verjee and Chidi Afulezi, I suspected the fellowship was going to be challenging and worth my while.
The application process was straightforward and within a month I received a congratulatory email, marking the start of new discoveries.
For six months, Amplify fellows were contractually obligated to publish at least one story per week and attend online training sessions in videography, photography and writing once a week. The former obligation was tricky to uphold when you also had to write for other publications. But the pressure to produce weekly stories was what drove me into writing my first book review and even dabble in poetry, a literary form I would never have associated myself with because, beyond nursery rhymes and songs, I lacked interest in the art of rhythmical composition.
I would also attend my first Social Media Week in Lagos—an event I normally wouldn’t have paid any mind to—partly because of the Amplify fellowship, and blithely discover I could write Social Media Week stories without the words ‘technology’ or ‘algorithms’ featuring in them.
The final three months of the fellowship saw me collaborating with scribes, photographers and videographers on a multimedia sponsored content for GE, which was to be presented as a final project. That exercise, along with the works published by my fellow colleagues during the course of the program, gave me a whole new appreciation for videography, photography, written content… and even animation. What struck me most about the fellows was the fact that many, like myself, had stumbled on their craft and shunned the jobs their engineering and law degrees offered for a chance to create art. Further, their pulsating energy and passion were inspiring to witness.
Being a part of this team for six months justified my decision to pursue writing as a legitimate career. And after six months as an Amplify fellow, I can finally call myself a writer with conviction.
As for that novel and website I mentioned earlier? Watch this space.
Lead Photo: aKoma