I’ve just been nominated for the SCBWI British Isles Outstanding Contribution Award for the second year running, a turn of events that I found even more surprising this year than the last. The nomination text is also hilarious, so thank you to whoever wrote that. It’s a great feeling, to be recognised by your peers, and it led me to thinking about how important recognition (and the lack of it) is to the life of a writer.
In recent years, as writers’ incomes have plunged and publishing deals have become ever scarcer, the value systems for authors have begun to shift. For the sake of our sanity, we are no longer allowed to dream about getting a six-figure deal or winning the Carnegie Prize. Instead, the love of writing has to become its own reward. This is good advice in theory, but harder to apply in practice, except in our most objective and sanguine moments. Sure, we can’t keep writing unless we enjoy it, but who would begrudge a little recognition into the bargain?
When you work in a business environment with other people every day, your chances for recognition are much higher. People are constantly asking you to do things and generally say thank you once you do them. You may be mentioned in weekly status reports, given special credit for a job well done or rewarded in structured yearly appraisal and pay reviews. In many companies, recognising staff performance is an important part of employee retention.
Compare that to the novice author, working alone at home. Day in, day out, they are expected to turn up and write, often with no outside input or support. When they submit their work to agents, the response is often that gesture of supreme indifference - the form rejection. Some will be unlucky enough to have family and friends who openly ridicule their career choice, refusing to believe that anyone who isn’t published could describe themselves as a writer. When someone is learning their craft, this state of existence can go on for years and all without a penny to show for it.
So perhaps the "write for the love of it" camp have a point. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t be doing more to recognise the work of upcoming authors and making them feel valued. SCBWI is, of course, working hard to fill this gap – with competitions like the Slushpile and Chalkface challenges and of course Undiscovered Voices. Being in a critique group is a great confidence boost too, even if they may sometimes give you tough love when you only wanted reassurance! I’ve recently started going to the monthly goal-setting London brunch as well – this is a good way to track your own progress and recognise your achievements.
But could we be doing more? Those amongst us who are teachers will know the value that a kind word and a bit of encouragement can have for raising self-esteem and performance. I wonder about some sort of appraisal scheme for writers, perhaps a pair of writers meeting on a three-monthly basis to discuss each other’s achievements over that period? It’s really hard to look back sometimes when you’re constantly pushing forward. We do have the Celebrations column on Words & Pictures, but what about a celebrations forum for lesser achievements – finishing a book say, or even a particularly difficult chapter? Let me know your ideas in the comments section.
Personally, I know I’m in a good position – I am recognised for what I do and I don’t get too many form rejections. But even though I love getting feedback on my writing, I also fear it, because it often seems to be conditional – ‘that chapter was good, but this one needs some work’. Sometimes, I just need someone to pat me on the back and say: "Well done, you’re doing a great job."
P.S. Feel free to cut out that last quote and paste it into the comments box ;-)
P.P.S I’m taking a week off from the blog to go on holiday – the next post will be on Friday 9th August.