Monday, 8 July 2013

Being Your Own Boss

This is quite a patronising article, but an interesting one. In particular, note the fifth claim on the list, that creative people should not be paid extravagantly. Cruel as it sounds, the science on this point seems to be moving towards a consensus: perceiving the value of your own work and being financially rewarded for it are not wholly compatible. To put it more simply, beyond a certain point, the more you're paid to do something, the less likely you are to feel that it is rewarding in itself.

Now, I've argued before that it's a dangerous game to measure the worth of your creative output in money, for all sorts of reasons, and I think this particular point supports that argument (or at least a very similar conclusion). But that's not the point I want to discuss today - I've harped on it enough that I doubt repeating myself again will convince anyone new.

What I want to discuss here is this article, linked by the first one, which ends by making the claim that "In fact, the biggest organizational cause of disengagement [in an employee] is incompetent leadership." The claim - and in this case, no clear scientific reference is provided, though the author has the relevant expertise, so may just have forgotten to put a link in - is that the thing that will really keep you both productive and feeling like your productivity is worthwhile is good management.

Most of us who are self-publishing authors (indeed, most freelance creatives in all fields) are our own managers. The reason I bring all this up is because I think the same lessons apply to managing yourself as to managing others. As such, the keys to your happiness are your own to command - and further, if you believe as I do (though this isn't uncontroversial) that you're more creatively and artistically successful when enjoying your work, the keys to your best work are also within your control.

I'm generalising from a single case here, but all this fits my own experiences rather neatly. When I try to place on myself an obligation to write, and force myself to write every day, my enjoyment of my writing suffers, and it feels as if I am writing less well. Before Easter, for example, I was struggling to finish an episode of The Second Realm and trying to 'power on through' it, forcing myself to sit down for an hour every evening and write at least 500 words, and I hated it. I hated it enough that I began to question whether I really had the determination to pursue this career.

Eventually, I gave up and let myself take a break. My creative energy is taking a long time to come back, but in the interim, I've realised I was thinking about 'determination' - the willpower to keep going - wrong. I was trying to force myself, and self-flagellating when I fell short; I was allowing myself to fall into the pattern of thinking of myself as a failure.

But willpower is not a rod that you beat yourself with, and thinking of it, or trying to use it, as such is poor management just as much as trying to manage a workforce of other people by beating them would be. Good management is about conjuring and nuturing internal motivation - making people care about what they do. If you stop caring about your own creative output, or you find your motivation slipping, sometimes you just need to allow yourself a break, or a change of project.

All of us, as writers, face situations where we're told our writing isn't important, particularly during the early stages of a career where there's no money and lots of expenses. But to write successfully, you must be able to treat your writing as important - and this means being able to feel that it is important. Your self-management needs to factor this in.

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