Back in a previous life I was asked to help design a school's reward system. How might we celebrate and champion students' efforts and endeavours? There was a lot of BS talked in the room that day; nonsense about trading 'behaviour points' for prizes. Or handing out school 'dollars' that could be used to buy cinema trips or get free pizza; trips to theme parks for kids with good reports, all that blah.
Thankfully I was deputising to a headteacher with her head screwed on. At one point, she suggested leadership roles. The ones who'd put in a shift, she explained, get to coach others, run school events, lead sports teams or clubs. "I dunno..." shrugged one member of staff. "Sounds like it could be hard work for them." The headteacher thought for a moment. "Well," she said. "Perhaps the reward for hard work should be more hard work."
I remembered her words listening to a superb speech given by poet and playwright Jack Nicholls at a recent award ceremony for young writers. Jack's on the left in the picture above, the dude with the remarkable pants; the other judges pictured are Paul Morris - another impressive and accomplished speaker and writer - in the centre, and me. (Shout-out to the wonderful Jake Hope and Danielle Jawando who judged, but couldn't be there at the event.) I won't attempt to reproduce Jack's words from memory here. You could ask him yourself on Twitter. The gist was this:
Congratulations, he began, addressing the shortlisted writers. It's official, you're all writers! We've loved reading your work! Now take a moment. It will never get any better than this. (There was an uneasy pause here, some nervous laughter. Jack grinned and resumed.) This is a career in which virtually no-one will ever tell you if you're doing it right.
So true. There are a vanishingly small number of reward systems for writers. Sure, there are regional and national prizes but the shortlists tend to have six books on them. Your book is one of several hundred published in any year. You ain't going to get on many shortlists. No-one's going to stop by to praise a WIP chapter or clap you on the back for drafting a superb poem. Most days you'll sit in a caff somewhere, like I am now, and just hammer the words out.
No-one will notice.
No-one will visit your site or thumbs-up your vlog.
No-one will say well done or offer up a high five.
No-one will provide a detailed report of recent sales or collate a list of glowing remarks.
That particular headteacher had it right, and the lesson is clear.
In this game, the reward for hard work is more hard work. It's up to us to Just. Keep. Going.