Creative Lives — Exploring the world of storytelling with writer, researcher and strategist, Aniefiok ‘Neef’ Ekpoudom
It’s a powerful thing, being able to put pen to paper and earn a viable living from it. For Aniefiok ‘Neef’ Ekpoudom, his journey began as a law student, writing articles for various music blogs on the side of his degree. Then in 2017 he took the plunge to become a freelance writer, researcher and strategist, and six years later, he’s well on the road to writing his own book, whilst juggling clients like Nike, adidas, Youtube and Netflix. We caught up with the man himself to find out about his process, the importance of having a mentor and the various avenues available to freelance writers today.
Aniefiok ‘Neef’ Ekpoudom
Freelance Storyteller (2017-Present)
The Guardian, adidas, Netflix UK, Nike, Apple Music, ON ROAD, We Are Social, McCann, TMS
SBTV, MOBO Awards, TMS
LLB Law, University of East Anglia (2010-2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance storyteller who documents and explores culture in Britain. I predominantly work across three fields: writing, research and strategy. Freelancing is such a mixed bag that within that, I’ve worked on documentaries, video essays and even consulting. What tends to tie it altogether is that I’m usually tapping into communities and cultures across the country, and then fashioning those thoughts into stories. I could be working on a long-form piece about music and culture for a newspaper, conducting an ethnographic piece for a research agency or completing a creative campaign for an ad agency.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
With freelancing there tends to be no typical day. It all depends on what kind of project I’m working on. Writing has two extremes – I’m either out interviewing musicians, which is great because if you do it properly, you get to have the most interesting conversations! The other side of the coin is the actual writing, which is quite solitary, and probably my favourite part.
I really like the spontaneity of it all, but I think I can struggle with a lack of structure to my days sometimes. I’m generally quite good at getting going in the mornings, it’s the evenings and ‘shutting down’ that I’m still learning to do. I learnt the hard way in 2019 when I burnt out and my body forced me to chill out.
“I’m usually tapping into communities and cultures across the country, and then fashioning those thoughts into stories.”
How collaborative is your role?
It’s definitely collaborative, but in stages. Regardless of the project or field, there is always a degree of going off by myself for a matter of days or weeks and ‘figuring it out’ or shaping a narrative. With the writing side of things, the first drafts usually start by discussing the idea with the editor. After that I go away and write the draft, then I regroup with editors and redraft till everyone is happy. I’ve found that tends to be the case no matter the medium. I worked with Netflix UK recently on a video essay about Top Boy and that was the same. I think part of the reason I’m freelance is because I really enjoy working independently.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Having the opportunity to see and experience life from the perspective of others is something I’ll never tire of. Through the writing, journalism and research I have the opportunity to have really intimate and revealing conversations with people who live in a reality completely different to mine.
The least enjoyable has to be the lack of camaraderie in the freelancing world. I like working independently but it’s nice to have a team sometimes – I do miss that.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I worked on a research project with an agency called ON ROAD. It was for their Nike account and we spent a fortnight travelling the country talking to young people about their lives. We ended up having these really revealing conversations and I learnt so much about my craft but also about a lot of the frustrations and fears that the younger generation in Britain have. It’s one thing hearing about budget cuts and closing youth clubs on the news, but seeing it up front really struck me.
A article written by Neef on Bugzy Malone for VICE
Editorial work completed by Neef for Youtube’s Open The World Of Music
Research work undertaken by Neef for Adidas Creator Lab
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
I’m working on my first book at the moment. It can be tough to manage when things are really busy. But you have to remind yourself that your personal projects are just as important.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
Yes! I’ve got a mentor and her support has been so valuable! I’d recommend it to anyone. She really helps me add a lot of structure to my work and is super enthusiastic, which is such a blessing. Having someone in your field who is invested in your progress is great fuel.
How I Got Here
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My parents were born and raised in West Africa. When they came to England, they were very focused on making a stable living, and so didn’t have the luxury of pursuing passion projects. But, it meant that they were keen for us to have careers that came with a lot of security, more traditional roles like accountancy, medicine and law. I followed that path initially and decided to study Law at university. But about two months in, I could tell I’d made a mistake.
But way before any of that, I remember my mum would always give me books to read when I was growing up. That instilled a real love for reading in me. That’s the most important aspect of becoming a writer, you need to love reading.
Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I didn’t. I don’t think you need a degree in order to write or to become a strategist or researcher. A lot of it you can teach yourself or you can learn through experience.
After graduating what were your initial steps?
In my final few days at university, I booked a session with the career advisor. We spoke for about an hour. During the end of the session, she told me that the only time I had smiled was when I mentioned blogging for a few music websites. That encouraged me to get involved in the music industry. As soon as I moved back to London, I started sending speculative cover letters to music PR firms. I got a call back from one who offered me an internship and that’s when it all began.
“I followed that path initially and decided to study Law at university. But about two months in, I could tell I’d made a mistake.”
Article written by Neef on Kano for Brick Magazine
Article written by Neef on Kano for Brick Magazine
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break? Or has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
I worked at SBTV, which had a huge impact on my development. It was the first full-time job I had where the remit was just to create editorial content. The editor who’s now actually a really good friend gave me the freedom to play with and push my craft. My writing really developed as a result and it’s where I really found my voice and style.
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance, and how do you deal with these?
Saying ‘no’ to work. Being freelance can be unpredictable, so it’s tempting to say yes to every opportunity that comes along. Figuring out what kind of work you will and won’t take on cuts out a lot of deliberating.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
I’ve picked up so much work through Twitter. It’s like a social media CV. A lot of my writing commissions come off the back of editors seeing my work on there. I think you’ve got to be persistent when it comes to self-promotion. I know it’s something that some people don’t like to do and in Britain we can be a bit shy when it comes to celebrating our achievements. But when you’ve poured so much effort and energy into something, you shouldn’t feel any kind of way about sharing it – especially as it can and often does lead to more work.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Find a topic you’re genuinely passionate about and then go for it. Your knowledge and passion for a particular subject makes you invaluable.