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Allow Me to Introduce Myself. This Is How I Got Here!

Updated: Oct 22, 2023


When a career in journalism didn’t work out, I decided to throw the whole pursuit away, but thirteen years later I find myself at my laptop in my writer’s posture. I’m making yet another attempt to put together the perfect blog piece and I’m not frustrated yet. This is good for me; it doesn’t take much to blow my frustration horn and I still haven’t reached that very low threshold after months of trying to find the words. But I am ready to share with the world just how I got here. Let’s just hope someone cares.

At the end of my senior year at William Paterson University, I decided journalism in music (concentration in hip hop) wasn’t for me after doing a few voluntary gigs in the industry. Upon graduating, I had a promising internship set up at a magazine that is no longer in print. But there were too many changes circling the genre of rap from my viewpoint at that time. I was stuck in fan mode–thought it was all perfect lyrics and cool music videos–and my perspective was romanticizing the industry. I didn’t have a realistic handle on entertainment affairs and its nuances. This was a serious case of meeting your favorite celebrity only to be disappointed by the encounter. My hopes were as high as the Empire State Building but came plunging down just as fast as a meteor on its way to ruin the lives of unsuspecting innocents on any given Thursday. Blame the dramatics of that statement on my overreacting virgoism. So, when my internship came to an end, I knew it was time to let go of those aspirations of writing my heart away after stimulating interviews with artists I respected and adored.

Around two years after I folded up my dreams of becoming a music journalist and putting it in my never again box; I was approached by now successful independent romance author and powerhouse, Love Belvin, to be a beta reader on her first project. I immediately fell in love with the novel and asked if I could edit it for her. My perception was I have this degree let’s put it to use. Her perception was, “Uhhh… Baby steps, youngin’. Yes, you have the degree but no experience. Let’s just start with beta reading for now.” And you know what? That was plenty for me. I was so in love with the project I just knew there had to be a space for me on her team for future assignments. So, I jumped at the chance and became a fixture in her editorial crew, and in time my title evolved into developmental editor due to my sharp eye along with my meticulousness for consistency. I was happy

with the work I was doing with her. Still, there was absolutely no interest in doing more or taking another stab in the mainstream editorial world.

Full time work was another story. I’d been doing odd jobs for years and in 2013 decided to head back into serving—my college money maker—when nothing else worked out. After a year and a half of serving, I landed a position at a pharmaceutical company as a business analyst. I was ecstatic. This is what I’d been waiting for; a regular 9-5 with a company to work my way up that corporate ladder. I thought I was happy, and for a good while, I really was, I even gladly did a few other editorial gigs here and there but nothing permanent came around and I was cool with just doing those small gigs. Complacency and I were good friends. I was completely fine ignoring the constant pull to do more in the literary world. I’d hear a voice—that we’ll call the story voice—say, “You could definitely wear at least two more hats here,” whenever I’d come to the end of editing a book. I’d quickly nixed the idea and carry on with my day; until one morning I received an email to possibly become a hot topics writer for a talk show host that was broadening their brand with a new app. Initially, I was skeptical during the interview process but overjoyed when I landed it after submitting writing pieces. My love for journalism instantly revived, and the story voice advising putting on more hats in the literary world was becoming louder.

I got attached all over again and it showed. My lose penning routine consisted of strongly committing to my writing assignments, researching as quickly as I could while at my 9-5 desk so I could meet the 12-hour deadline, and acting a complete fool on weekday mornings to see how my work came out after editing and posting. I was in literary heaven once again. But then there was a shift in management for the app. Stories were being edited differently and I felt like I was only reading fragments of my actual work. As time progressed it became worse. There were even meetings I had with the other writers who also took notice.

Weeks into these changes, I was assigned to cover the very high-profiled Usher herpes piece and I was indeed dreading it. In the months I’d been covering these stories I’d managed to only get pieces that made artists look good. One of the reasons I’d also changed my mind on my literary career was due to the gossip blog explosion taking place in journalism and across social media. It was an additive in writing I couldn’t bring myself to be a part of.

When journalism in music was the goal—I wanted to discuss the art musicians were delivering—I wasn’t interested in writing salacious or juicy blurbs to get me clicks. When I realized my writing passions wouldn’t fly, it was added to my list of reasons to check out of journalism. After reading the outcome of the Usher piece I was assigned, I’m pretty sure anyone who walked into my office at the pharmaceutical company, could see the steam rapidly exiting my ears. Saying I was angry is an understatement. I was more along the lines of livid or irate. My only saving grace was the app as a whole being shut down shortly after that last release from me. While in the midst of my anger pool regarding that last round of hot topics, I heard the story voice in my head at the loudest volume I’d ever heard it say, “You’re supposed to tell stories!”

I immediately calmed. My breathing slowed and the whistling from the steam pouring out of my ears stopped. There was a reason I decided not to go into journalism in music, and that was because of what my words are supposed to do which is (1) be my own and (2) tell a different story. I pondered on this moment for weeks until one evening I just decided to look into the audible app. I opened it on my phone and listened to the first purchase I made two maybe three years prior. Something moved me that evening to finally use it. I listened to one of my favorite books, Ms. Wahida Clark’s “Thugs and the Women Who Love Them.” While enjoying the app, I found myself simultaneously speaking the lines with the narrator—as I’d previously read this particular book on several occasions. I would have complete moments where I acted out the dialogue.

Days later still indulging in my new amusement, I received a text from Love Belvin saying the first round of chapters for a project was coming through soon. And that’s when the real light bulb went off! This is what I need to be doing, I can totally and completely tell these stories. Her stories! I asked myself, so what’s next? And that’s when the real research began. I dug deep into audiobooks and audiobook narrators, and that’s where I discovered the voiceover industry. Voiceover is a production style that narrators use to bring books and stories to life audibly. I’d heard the word/phrase—voiceover/voice overs/VO—but never had a clear definition of it.

My research consisted of how to get started, where it could take you, if there was actual money in it, information on the union, and anything else I could find. I researched it all. I dove so much into it because I needed to have my ducks in a row when I approached Love Belvin about narrating one of her books.

When I finally worked up the nerve to have the conversation with her after all of my research, I did not expect her to go for it. I was confidently wrong to say the least. She’d already been discussing with her business partner the first step in getting her books in the audio world. Not only that, but she was completely supportive of my decision to take this on. That news put a serious halt in my steps because I didn’t think she’d actually take me seriously, but she did. So, I had to really pull it together and put my voiceover plan into action.

Months later after getting over the astonishment of Love Belvin’s receptiveness; I started acting on my research. I took the steps my findings directed me to. And for a while, the story voice lowered itself to a mere whisper. I hooked up with a great voiceover coach and was all in. I was at it with coaching for about two years before I received my first request to audition for narrating an audiobook, Eugenia Jefferson's Confessions of a Frustrated Millennial. I was over the moon and totally surprised that someone actually liked my voice enough to bring their book to life.

Once I got started with the book, I thought uh oh, my research didn’t prepare me for this. It was absolutely one of the toughest experiences I ever had, encompassing everything from being afraid my voice didn’t really fit to the technical process of getting the book uploaded. Again, I was ready to throw the whole pursuit away. After speaking with a patient more experienced VO artist, I finally got a handle on the technical part and was able to upload the book. Once completed, I thought is it worth it? And I have to say it was a resounding 'yes'! This had to be one of the most difficult tasks I ever tackled and toiled through. There were tears and actual blood—I hurt myself during a meltdown—but I was so ready for the next project.

The sense of accomplishment I felt superseded all of the negativities I previously mentioned. I was ready for my next voiceover venture and came up with what I thought was a cute way of begging, via reaching out to other independent authors on social media and letting them know I’m available for narration. While on this marketing endeavor, I was moved by all of the authors I’d been looking up, and then the friendly and obnoxious story voice returned. You remember, the one that calmed me down after my hot topics post was destroyed. The voice said, “Your storytelling/writing hat is waiting for you anytime you’re ready to put it back on.” That’s what marked my return to creative writing.

So, you may ask, "Zakiya, what are you here for?” I say very proudly, “Storytelling!” No matter what it is, I’m here for the craft of literature and that includes writing it, voicing it, assisting others with getting what they have to say out, and wherever else the tiny story voice leads me. I’m here for it all. I’ll close by quoting the great music executive, Clearance Avant, “I’m here to move the culture forward.”

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