Blazing the trail, one story at a time
For many people, a career trajectory is fairly simple and straightforward; go to school, get good grades, pursue a good course at the university, get a good job and work your way to the top. For others, the career journey involves creating their own paths, crafting their own dreams and then pursuing whatever it is they set out to do with passion. Such is the case for Magunga Williams, one of Kenya’s most successful bloggers, lover of art, and budding entrepreneur.
At only 26 years of age, Magunga has managed to grow and monetize his blog, magunga.com, start a successful online bookstore, The Magunga Bookstore, and is the Artist Manager at this year’s 10th anniversary of the annual Storymoja Festival.
But, where did it all start?
Magunga attended Maranda School for his high school and scored an impressive A-. From there, he did basic computer training at Maseno Institute of Technology and then proceeded to Strathmore University to pursue CPA. After completing CPA 2, he was admitted to the University of Nairobi to study Law. However, he did not go to Kenya School of Law after obtaining his law degree. Instead, he chose to become a professional writer.
All the same, Magunga always had a passion for writing. He has always loved writing from a young age. “I have been writing throughout my life and I always had better compositions than most of the other students,” says Magunga. English was always his strongest subject and it came easily for him. “I used to write but not serious writing, just scribbling in my notebook,” he adds.
After joining campus, he took his writing with him. He would write articles in a notebook and pass the written work around; first amongst his friends, then the notebook started being passed around in his class. At this point, his friend introduced him to blogging, even though he had no idea what blogging was all about. In true Magunga fashion, and backed up by a desire to write, he started his blog without any background knowledge in blogging. “It is until I got on that campus that I started blogging. At that point, I did not know about blogging and I did not know anyone who was blogging. My classmate had seen some of my writing on paper and told me that I can open an online platform and post the stories there and people will read. So, I started my blog and just kept posting things there,” he stated. Through his blog, his writing grew and he built an online community first within his school and he has since slowly built a community of faithful readers.
In the first year, second semester, he and a friend of his started a campus magazine called Parklander Weekly which gave birth to Campus Chronicles. While working as an editor at Campus Weekly, he applied to be a writer for Crazy Monday. He reached out to Oyunga Pala, who he had always looked up to and asked him to look at the Campus Weekly magazine. Oyunga Pala hooked him up with the editor who gave him his first column called Campus Rover, which he contributed content to until he left campus. It is clear that he built his name in professional writing through sheer passion and persistence as well as the desire to reach new heights.
For most people the course they pursue in campus determines what careers they pursue. However, despite Magunga’s educational background, it is clear that he had other interests. Passion is one of the main ingredients for success and from Magunga’s success, it is clear that with passion and enough determination, success is inevitable. Basing on his current success, it is also clear that mentors play a big role in one’s journey. Says Magunga, “As much as I had started blogging, what got me into serious blogging was meeting Bikozulu in 2011. I was on long holiday and someone sent me a link to his blog and I read his stories back to back until I got to the first story and then I started looking forward to his weekly articles. At this point, I got in touch with him and asked for pointers on how I could improve the campus magazine.” The fact that Bikozulu and Oyunga Pala have been important in the growth of Magunga, goes to show that mentorship is an important aspect of one’s professional growth.
Getting into professional writing
Becoming a professional writer was not easy for Magunga. Apart from the fact that he had no academic background in writing and he had to find his own space, he had to contend with the fact that his family wanted him to pursue law as a career after graduating with a degree in law. However, his passion for writing has seen him get to greater heights in his career as he was able to commercialise his blog in 2015 through sponsored posts and banner ads.
“First comes the hard work and then the money follows.”
The defining moments for Magunga’s writing was 2015 and 2016, where he wrote more, constantly improved his writing and put in a lot of hard work. His razor-sharp focus on becoming a good writer was the wind beneath his wings as through hard work and consistency, he has been able to shape his writing, although he says that he is not yet where he has always wanted to be.
With increased professionalism and sheer hard work comes increased responsibilities and demands. According to Magunga, the demand for his time has become a lot and he has since not had enough time to explore all his abilities as writing fiction has become hard. As such, he has mainly focused on writing creative nonfiction, which comes easier for him. Due to the inability to find time for exclusive writing, he has settled to writing consistently and avoiding burnout and he is comfortably able to pay his bills. It is, therefore, clear that success comes through sheer hard work and consistency. In his own words, “First comes the hard work and then the money follows.”
On being employed vs being self-employed
Many people dream of being self-employed and to such people, Magunga may be living his dream. So, how did he know that he wanted to be self-employed? According to him, he has always wanted to do something that is fulfilling and he knew from a young age, that he would not be comfortable in employment. He says, “I have never thought of myself as doing an 8-5 job. The way we grew up looking at our fathers, they would wake up and got to work in the morning, break for lunch and then come back in the evening. That kind of life was rigid and I knew I did not want that for myself. I have always wanted to do something more fulfilling and for me, I don’t see any fulfilment in an 8-5 job even though it is totally appealing for some people. I always wanted something that would engage me and fulfil my aspirations. I discovered that I always wanted to do writing and it helped that I met Bikozulu and Oyunga Pala, people who have been able to live off writing. It also helped that I have always wanted my work to be recognised and be someone whose name will be remembered.”
Due to his appreciation for writing and passion, he also started an online bookstore, The Magunga Bookstore which complemented his writing. And his persistence has seen him being recognised internationally, with the New Yorker writing an article about his bookstore. He wanted to make a difference in the African literary scene which he feels is not appreciated enough. So, being an entrepreneur takes passion and the goals should be bigger than just money.
Therefore, Magunga is of the opinion that whether one wants to be employed or self-employed, it all boils down to what works for a person. There are people like him, for whom employment does not work, but there are those who find happiness in being employed. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work. So, for those who want to be self-employed, then, by all means, go ahead and if you want to be employed, then get a job that you love and enjoy your work. All that matters is for you to find happiness in your career by simply finding what works for you and living your life.
Getting to where he is has not been easy. There are many challenges facing the art and craft of writing as well as the business of writing. At the level of the art of writing, Magunga faces the challenge of feeling like he is stagnating. He struggles with self-doubt, whether he is good enough and growing artistically takes a lot of hard work. Additionally, he thinks too much about issues like grammar and readability of his content as he would not want his work to be mediocre.
On the business side, the biggest challenge is that most people have not yet embraced the monetary value of creative works like writing. In Magunga’s experience, writing is one of the least appreciated kinds of art. People tend to think that writing is an easy form of art and are, therefore, not willing to pay enough for content.
The challenge is even harder when it comes to books. In his experience while running the Magunga Bookstore, he has learnt that people do not appreciate the work that goes into the writing process. Most people claim that books are very expensive yet books take years to put out and the author just gets a fraction of the royalties.
In blogging, the biggest challenge is that he has not had enough time to grow his blog. For example, his bookstore has taken a lot of his time. This year in particular, he is the Festival Artist Manager for the annual Storymoja Festival which will take part between 27th of September and 1st of October. With an expanding list of things to do, his writing has taken a hit, but all these things contribute to his fulfilment as they help him work towards achieving his goals. The other challenge is that there are people joining the blogosphere but they spoil the business by lowering the rates paid to bloggers. To this end, he would love to see bloggers organising themselves so that they can have better bargaining power in the market and learn to say no. Moreover, he and many other writers have been victims of plagiarism which is a huge problem in Kenya because people simply do not appreciate the written art. The written form is abused.
The other challenge is that there are people joining the blogosphere but they spoil the business by lowering the rates paid to bloggers. To this end, he would love to see bloggers organising themselves so that they can have better bargaining power in the market and learn to say no.Moreover, he and many other writers have been victims of plagiarism which is a huge problem in Kenya because people simply do not appreciate the written art. The written form is abused.
Moreover, he and many other writers have been victims of plagiarism which is a huge problem in Kenya because people simply do not appreciate the written art. The written form is abused.
Being one of the people who have learned and grown by simply learning on his own, Magunga is a big advocate of skills over certificates. He says, “People cheat in exams and so, you cannot gauge someone’s abilities primarily on their grades. Someone does not become worthless because they did not get an A. Getting a C or D does not define you.”
From Magunga’s experience, it is possible for one to scale the height of success with persistence. Be willing to learn, take risks and simply exploiting your potential. His mantra is, concentrate on building your skill and everything else will follow.
To crown his success, he has been nominated in the annual Bloggers’ Association of Kenya Awards (BAKE Awards) for 3 years in a row. This year, he has been nominated for the Best Creative Blog and the Kenyan Blog of the Year categories.
Having successfully completed his law degree but chosen to be a writer and entrepreneur, Magunga has this to say to those who would like to pursue their interests, away from what they studied, “Today, you can be anything you want to be. What you do in school is supposed to empower you and not hold you down. Human beings were not born to be just one thing. I always try to learn something new and right now I am trying to teach myself photography. There are certain things that I did not get from 8-4-4 that I would prefer to learn. So I am in the process of re-educating myself.”