Friday, 2 May 2014

What gets me up in the morning

This post was originally published on CREATING FOCUS, the web site of occupational psychologist Sarah Dale. Occupational psychology is concerned with applying the science of psychology to work and this is one of a series of informal guest posts on Sarah's blog in which people from a range of professions talk about what motivates them in their work. You can follow Sarah on twitter on @creatingfocus.

Sadly, I don't have a contraption like this to get me up in the morning; I have to rely on low-tech self-motivation

As a self-employed author who works from home, I’m often asked how I’m able to motivate myself. I’ve been a professional children’s author and pop-up designer for almost twenty years now. I love my work and consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to make a living out of it and this sense of “precarious good fortune” is the main thing that gets me out of bed and sitting at my desk every morning.

I have bad days when the story I’m working on feels clunky and awkward or I run up against what seems like an insurmountable obstacle in the plot. If this goes on for more than a few days, I usually put that story aside and work on something else for a while. Then, when I go back to it, I can often see it from a fresh angle that enables me to resolve the problem.

Pop-up design is different. If I haven’t got a pop-up working properly by the end of the day, my mind usually stays focussed on the problem and I want to keep going back to it until I’ve found a solution. Motivation is rarely an issue with pop-up design and an unproductive day often spurs me to redouble my efforts the following day.

People sometimes assume that once an author has a couple of successful books under their belt, everything they subsequently write is automatically accepted for publication. This may be the case for a few big names, but for many professional authors their tenth book can be as difficult to get published as their first. When I’m not writing, a lot of my time is spent trying to persuade publishers to take my work. Despite this effort, most of the stories I write are never published!

I often joke that being a children’s author is preferable to having a “proper job” but, while I can’t claim to have gone into the profession for anything other than selfish reasons, I think children’s authors can make a real difference to people’s lives. Good children’s literature is essential for the development of children’s literacy and good literacy is the key to wider academic achievement. If one can engage a child’s enthusiasm for literature at an early age, they’ll have a head start for life.

The problem is many young children, particularly boys, can’t find books that appeal to them as much as other children’s media currently do. The picture book industry’s current standards of age-appropriateness are more conservative than those of children’s films, TV and video games and this has resulted in many children coming to regard the former as being a lot less “cool” and appealing than the latter. I believe that this difference in standards is linked to a lack of gender balance in the world of picture books, where female gatekeepers hugely outnumber males. About eighteen months ago I decided to devote some of my time to raising awareness of the issue and set up a site called to try to start a debate. It’s a contentious campaign and – as well as being a reason for me getting up in the morning – it’s also been a reason for me losing sleep in the night.

I’m not a natural campaigner, but in the last few years I’ve found myself taking a more proactive approach to change and, instead of waiting for someone else to highlight an issue or organise something, I’ve become more inclined to do it myself.

Another side project I’ve recently embarked on is, a web directory of children’s authors and illustrators available for free Skype visits to UK schools. Skype visits are a great way for authors to connect with young readers and are already very popular in the US. I’m hoping that will help to make Skype visits equally popular in the UK.

So right now I have no shortage of things that make it worth getting up in the morning – and I haven’t even mentioned my family! Long may it continue.

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