Last year Otegha Uwagba launched Women Who, a creative network for working women, and self-published a handbook to help women navigate their careers. We wrote about it here and Otegha spoke at Nicer Tuesdays, which you can watch here. Since then she’s landed a book deal with Fourth Estate, and she’s back to share her learnings from the past 365(ish) days.
I’ll be honest: when I initially wrote and self-published Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women just under a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Surrounded by DIY zine culture, and looking for a way to make Women Who – the creative community I was about to launch – stand out, playing to my strengths by writing something seemed like the obvious thing to do. So I did, creating a travel-sized career guide for working women with an initial print run of 250 copies, which to my astonishment sold out in two days. Fears of being left with piles of unsold books abated, I eventually produced another run – yet even when a kind stranger DM-ed me on Instagram saying she had a friend in publishing she thought I “ought to meet”, the penny didn’t drop that I was onto something.
Fast-forward a few months, and said friend is now my editor (Michelle Kane, publishing and PR director at 4th Estate), and I have the luxury of one of the world’s best publishing imprints in my corner. In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like testament to the power of community – and social media – that my scrappy self-published endeavour landed me a proper book deal (and a new lick of paint in the process). For version 2.0, as well as adding a few additional chapters, I decided to cast my net a little wider when it came to advice. Contributors to the book now include fellow 4th Estate authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Anna Jones, as well as The Gentlewoman’s editor-in-chief Penny Martin and artist Quentin Jones (to name a few) – essentially a wish-list of women I’ve long admired from afar, and was lucky enough to persuade to share their career insights with me.
Over the past 12 months, Women Who has gone from a one-woman machine to… well, it’s still a one-woman machine, although the generosity and warmth of the community that’s sprung up around it often makes it feel like it’s much bigger than just me. Since it’s launch last July, I’ve hosted events and workshops with the likes of Kate Moross, Camille Walala, and Pip Jamieson, where we’ve covered everything from how to set your rates as a freelancer, to how to protect your creative work. I’ve thrown huge parties, such as the 170-strong International Women’s Day social I hosted with print designer Kelly Anna, and more intimate gatherings, like a recent ten-person field trip to the V&A Museum’s new Balenciaga retrospective. Hundreds of emails, conversations, late nights, book edits, and design tweaks later, here’s what I’ve learned about work, creativity, and making your ideas happen.
Nothing will work unless you do (especially if you’re self-employed)
After a talk I gave about Women Who a while back, a woman in the audience asked me whether I’d encountered any common traits among the women I’ve met and worked with over the past year. I often think when people ask this question (or at least when I do) it’s in the vague hope of a Da Vinci-esque code that once cracked, will fast-track their careers and put them on the road to riches – but the truth is there is literally no secret route to success, besides working really bloody hard. The main trait the creative women I’ve met through Women Who have in common is simply that they’ve put in the hours – and not over a few days or weeks, but for months and years on end. Real sustained success doesn’t happen as a result of stunting on Instagram. In order to succeed, you need to do the work. Sorry about that!
No woman is an island
I’m very independent and tend to want to figure things out on my own, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Recently, I was suffering from a serious mental block on an ostensibly simple task, and it had gotten to the point where I wasn’t able to focus on anything else because I was so obsessed with this one problem. Eventually I had the good sense to email a few friends to get their opinions, and ended up exchanging a few emails with one friend in particular. She didn’t deliver the answer on a plate per se, but our conversation gave me a fresh perspective on my problem that definitely led me there. My advice? Don’t be afraid to open up your creative process to others – you don’t always have to go it alone.
Trust your instincts
Every single time I’ve gone against my gut instinct when it comes to decision-making, I’ve regretted it. Your intuition is a powerful thing – don’t ignore it, ever.
Remember your values
If you always endeavour to do the thing that you think is of genuine value to yourself and to others – whether creatively, professionally or socially – you can’t go wrong. For me, the politically explosive events of the past 18 months have highlighted just how important values are in a world that increasingly seems to be run by people who are devoid of any, and have reminded me of how indivisible wider social and political issues are from the day-to-day hustle of being a working woman.