Tuesday 23 April 2019

Confessions of a Goal Orientated Writer

by Paula Harrison

Cover art of my first published book by a very talented fan

I've been wondering for a while what makes me happy as a writer.

It's clear to me that my approach to work satisfaction has changed quite a bit over the past seven years since I was first published. I know - I know - if you're reading this as a pre-published writer you are probably yelling at the screen: WHAT WOULD MAKE ME HAPPY IS TO BE PUBLISHED, SO STOP TALKING RIGHT NOW! And you'd be right of course, but whether you're published yet or not, there are decisions we all make about what to write, how much time to spend writing, how much to listen to professional and peer opinions about our work and how much attention we pay to what publishers and agents are looking for right now, and I'm here to tell you that those decisions and compromises don't alter once you become published. They become even more multi-layered.


Well, yes. Clearly if you loathe and despise reading detective fiction you shouldn't go there as a writer either, but most children's authors have a range of age groups that they could write in and a number of different interests so you're still making a decision about where to start. This can be influenced by what you like reading, what your children (if you have them) like reading or just what you think might prove popular.


I've seen this advice on so many writing blogs and in so many writing books that I'm not even sure which source to credit. The reasoning is that if, by some chance, you notice that books about handsome vampires are very popular in teen fiction right now, then by the time you've written your own and submitted it and it's ready for publication, the trend will have moved on to something else. This can be true. Except that it's more complicated than that. I HAVE seen people make a success of writing in an area that is selling well by entering that genre or age group with their own unique idea.


You may be laughing at this point. So, do children's authors ever achieve good money and fame unless they are part of the tiny handful of household names? Well, maybe not fame. But it is possible to earn good money if you are lucky and your books sell well overseas, for example, but the authors who achieve this aren't necessarily the same ones getting great reviews in the Sunday Times. So would you rather earn well or have people praising your book? If you had to choose what would you do?
Interestingly, I recently began reading The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett, in which he talks about how important it is to us to have the approval of other human beings. I'm paraphrasing here, but he talks of peer approval having a similar effect on the brain as earning money. So we see approval as a very real gain. I think that's relevant to us as writers. Part of the reason we want to be published, to have the big book launch, the great reviews, the praise on twitter, is because we're wired to want it. We all do it. But is that what writing's really about?


Here's the crux of my change in attitudes over the last seven years as a published writer. Writing became my bread and butter, and with that came the realisation of what is actually possible. As a goal orientated person I probably started off with ALL the possible goals: money, reviews and recognition. Yes, please - that would be great!! But being an author can be a difficult and uncertain business and that reality sets in quite quickly for most people.


Don't worry - I haven't lost it! I often write a book that I'm passionate about in between something that will give me a more guaranteed chance at a contract and writing income. This way I can try to balance personal satisfaction with things that will enable me to buy groceries. Sometimes a safer, more commercial project will become the project of passion - taking a turn that brings fan letters from all around the world.
When this happens the readers become the goal. If we're helping children to learn to read, to discover the power of their imaginations, to see themselves in books, then isn't that the best goal of all?

Paula's new series KITTY, featuring a superhero-in-training with cat-like superpowers will be published by OUP in September and is illustrated by Jenny Lovelie.  https://paulaharrison.jimdo.com/kitty-s-midnight-adventures/

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