Career Building is a new series where we ask industry writers and creatives what it takes to succeed.

Currently based in Tunisia, Amina Kaabi is a Tunisian-American writer and editor. While working as the Global Copywriter at RIMOWA, Amina was a founding member of MILLE World, a digital platform and 360-degree creative agency celebrating youth culture throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Besides her work as Deputy Editor at MILLE, Amina has written for The Face, Brownbook, Mr Porter, Arab News, and Sole.Digital.

Here’s how she did it.

١. Were there any pivotal moments that guided your writing career?

I’d say that the most pivotal was moving to Dubai for a study abroad semester in 2014 and realizing that there was a gap in media where Arabs weren’t accurately represented even within our own spaces. That was definitely a guiding force to pursue writing and tell stories that I felt deserved to be told. This feeling only grew as I travelled to more countries in the region and eventually settled in Tunis, home to an incredible creative scene that still doesn’t get enough attention. 

٢. Could you share your early steps into the world of writing? How did you start building your portfolio?

My first gig was through a cold email to a publication across the world from me (I lived in Virginia at the time). Through that, I ended up interning at what was then Style.com Arabia. That’s where I first got a glance at the world of publishing, and it’s also what later led me to MILLE WORLD four or five years later, which was founded by the editor-in-chief I worked with during the internship. That’s the journey. But within it, I always liked letting my work speak for itself, so I honed in on finding my voice initially. I knew that I was passionate about culture in the Arab world, so I wrote about anything from the region that I found interesting and luckily, I had the platform to do it. That work eventually led to other gigs with other platforms looking to highlight the region. 

٣. Aspiring writers often struggle with finding their niche. What would you advise on that? How can they hone their voice?

I always say that anyone can be a writer. If you’re passionate enough about a subject, you’ll find a way to talk about it. That’s what it was for me. Friends around me were doing many amazing creative things and I wanted to tell the world about it. 

Sometimes, though, it comes with time and practice. I’ve always enjoyed writing about identity, and over time, I found myself writing more and more about the music scene in the Arab world. My advice would be to just write constantly about everything. Eventually, your niche will be whatever you are most excited to write about. 

٤. Building a network is crucial in any career. How did you connect with mentors, peers, and industry professionals in the writing world?

When I started writing, there were far and few Arab mentors for me to look up to. A decade ago, the industry was totally dominated by non-Arabs, so we had to carve out a lane of our own and prove that our stories were worthy of being told. That’s not to say that I didn’t network, still. But rather than mentors, I was very lucky to be surrounded by like-minded peers who were just as motivated to shift perspectives. I still don’t have very many writer friends, it’s kind of a lonely space in the region.

٥. Would you ever recommend freelancing?

I’m a full-time gig kind of person. I like the stability and security. If you’re from a privileged background that can afford you a sense of security as a freelancer, I think it’s wonderful to have that kind of freedom! For everyone else, I’d say it’s more feasible once you’ve established yourself. 

٦. The writing industry can be tough. What would you say is a sustainable approach to setting short-term and long-term career goals?

It’s great to set long-term goals, like envisioning what kind of stories you want to be known for telling, your ultimate interview, and maybe what dream platforms you want to write for. But I think a career in writing is only sustainable if you continuously find ways to enrich yourself, whether that’s by reading a lot, or researching the subjects that interest you. I guess that all happens in the short term. 

٧. Rejection and setbacks are inevitable in any creative field. How did you maintain the confidence during such moments?

When I was 18 or 19, someone told me that success is based on three things: talent, luck, and timing. I guess it resonated. Talent is about the only controllable variable in that equation, so I focus on that. Any rejection or setback I’ll associate with bad luck or bad timing. And if I ever receive negative feedback, then I go back to hone in on my writing. 

٨. What’s your approach to self-improvement as a writer? Are there specific resources or practices that you find valuable?

Reading! Getting inspired by other writers and the way they tell stories. But the most important thing is your openness to criticism. I love my work, but I also learned to disassociate from it in a way, and that allows me to accept criticism. That includes criticism towards the subjects you choose to talk about, because maybe a reader disagrees with a point you make, and the writing itself too because you’re going to work with editors who will make changes that you might not initially be open to. You have to find a balance where you can fight for what you find to be important but also be able to let go of some things. 

٩. The digital sphere has assisted the way writers share their work – What do you suggest writers do to market themselves online?

I think it’s important to share your work and be proud of it. I wish I did more of it, actually. I know that a lot of writers are their own worst critics, and that can sometimes deter us from sharing it on public platforms—but we should get over that. I think writers should market themselves like everyone else, and also by connecting with and sharing clips with editors. I’ve met many on Instagram and Twitter and that led to commissions. 

١٠. Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into the writing field? Any essential skills or qualities should they focus on?

Of course, the first thing would be to find your voice. Figure out what you want to write about, and do it. Publish it in a newsletter if you can’t place it on a platform. Second, I’d say connecting with other writers and editors. It’s not yet a very saturated industry in the Arab world, so it’s not too difficult to identify who exactly to speak with and pitch to. And lastly, pitch again if you get rejected the first time. 

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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