Balancing Pacific Storytelling, and Getting Paid

I love telling stories. It’s at the heart of my best and most fulfilling work. But as rewarding as storytelling is, I regularly face the challenges that come with being paid for it. If you do work that you love, you might relate to this – putting your heart into your work can come at a frustrating price. You often lose control of the final result, at times have to detach from the process, and if you’re like me – you’re constantly looking for ways to combat those challenges. Here’s what I’ve experienced and learnt so far.

Choosing quality over quantity

When I first started sharing Pacific stories, my goal was exposure – I wanted to express how diverse Pacific people are, directly challenging negative and incorrect perceptions. It didn’t take long for me to see that mass exposure wasn’t the right strategy. I’d often submit a written piece only for it to be edited numerous times, published without my final approval, and subsequently credited to me, often with my name misspelt or being quoted as a Samoan (I’m a Fijian, Tongan).

At first, it completely put me off writing Pacific stories. I became protective, and retreated to my safe space — here on the Talanoa website. For a time, I completely stopped writing stories for media outlets, magazines and digital platforms.

As you can imagine, I missed it, and soon realised that stopping altogether wasn’t the right answer. Deep down, I knew how important it was for our Pacific stories to continue to be told. I just had to be careful with who I shared them with. There are always early warning signs of a bad working relationship — poor communication, lack of transparency, a negative track record, the absence of written and signed agreements, and of course, the unwillingness to pay. I’ve since learnt to become more aware of these signs. Often, I also try to meet people in person after researching their business, which helps identify these signs. If all goes well, it’s also a great way to build relationships within the industry.

Detaching can also mean devaluing

Throughout my career as a writer, I’ve learnt to detach from certain projects. It hasn’t always been easy – I’ve always connected so naturally with expressing a message through writing. But at times I’ve had grit my teeth and do it, just to get a job done. This is especially true for when a client’s asked me to write straightforward copy without any storytelling elements.

Here’s the catch when it comes to writing a story — or any work that you love — fully detaching from the process inevitably devalues the end result.

The most powerful stories are ones that connect us with human emotion – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. And to express these emotions through writing, or any other kind of work, you need to involve yourself – not partially – but fully, deeply and completely, in order to really connect with the reader, or the consumer. You can’t do that when you detach from your work.

In the long run, detaching also presents the danger of leading you down the path of no longer caring about your work – it can become boring, much less fulfilling and definitely less rewarding.

Storytelling is serious business

I may not have it all figured out, but I have learnt this – I must take my storytelling work seriously and respectfully, if I expect anyone else to do the same. This rings true for whatever work you do. There will always be challenges and barriers, but overcoming them can be the most rewarding aspect of your work. When I really feel like giving up, I often find myself asking similar questions to the Rabbi Hillei, “If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?”

A few pratical tactics of mine, which you also may find useful:

  1. Thoroughly research an employer or contractor before accepting work
  2. Draw and discuss clear boundaries between you both, including an action plan should they be crossed
  3. Don’t be afraid to take action if those boundaries are crossed – that’s why you discuss them in the first place
  4. Accept that at times you must cut your losses and walk away
  5. Never give up! Learn from your lessons, and put them into practice moving forward.

Getting paid to do work you love is truly a blessing. As I’ve said, it does come with it’s own unique challenges – only few of which I’ve mentioned here. But don’t let that scare you off. Set your own terms, be assertive about who work with, and continue putting your heart and hard work into everything you do. Ask for help, walk away when you need to, and always be open to learning something new. It’s the only way to produce work that truly makes a difference – especially when it comes to Pacific storytelling.

talanoa

Arieta Tora Rika is a Tongan-Fijian Freelance Writer, Digital Communications Specialist, and Talanoa’s Founder and Creative Director. Born in Darlinghurst in the late 80s, she spent most of her childhood in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and all of her teen years in Tonga. She now lives in Western Sydney with her husband Josese.