First Things First: awards and recognition

On hearing that The Early Hour had been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016, the editor Annie Ridout flipped out with excitement. She has since spent her mornings contemplating our need for public recognition…

Last week I received an email from the UK Blog Awards, saying: Congratulations, your blog made the UKBA16 shortlist! (I’m including the exclamation mark, where usually I’d remove it, because this really was a joyous, exclamation-mark-worthy moment).

I couldn’t believe it. Out of 2000 blogs, The Early Hour – the website I spend my every waking hour (when not attempting to make my daughter laugh or stop her having a tantrum) working on had been chosen. By the public. Which means people like it. And that’s the best recognition possible.

After phoning my husband and mum, I sat and revelled in this news. And then I started wondering why it is that we need our hard work to be acknowledged by others to make it all feel worthwhile.

As a society, we’re increasingly fixated on public approval and this is partly attributed to social media ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, which allow us to assess whether what we’re saying or doing is having the desired effect. I’m sure we’ve all put out a photo on Facebook or Instagram, envisaging great reception, only to receive one measly ‘like’ (from your mum). It’s awkward.

But while social media is relatively new, the idea that we crave positive feedback for our ideas and behaviour is rooted in childhood, and that desperate need for our parents’ approval. We move into adulthood and no longer expect a pat on the back for pooing in a potty, but it then transfers onto what we now spend our time doing: working.

And when that work is created to be displayed in the public domain – be it a blog, a painting, a live performance, a novel – it’s open to criticism, as well as praise. Some might appreciate what you’ve done whilst others will think it’s crap. (Excuse the stream of scatology – we’re about to potty train; it’s on my mind).

So you hope that your hard work pays off; that it pleases people. And from there, you might have one (or both) of these wishes:

1. That you are able to make it financially viable.

2. That you win an award of some kind.

The first wish means that you can live off your creation; it’s so good that people will pay to own it or see more of it. The second is public recognition that your service or product is worth a mention. Both make the abstract notion of ‘success’ feel more concrete.

In Lewis Hyde’s book Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership, he says: ‘claim is often made that without the near-term rewards of monopoly privilege, knowledge would not advance. This assumes a strikingly narrow notion of what motivates people to do creative work.’

In some ways, he’s right: not all creators/inventors/artists seek financial reward for their work, particularly if it means altering their practice in order to commoditise it. But if you need to earn a living and are able to continue creating in exactly the same way but receive monetary awards… well, who would turn it down?

Reading Hyde’s words and receiving that email from UKBA have both helped me to consolidate my thinking on why we seek recognition and awards. Having made the connection with infancy and a desire to please our parents – with ‘work’ replacing childhood accomplishments – it seems the people observing, consuming or monitoring our work are like our ‘parents’, who we are so keen to impress.

And so I find myself musing on the past few months, during which I’ve poured all my creativity, brainpower and newly acquired knowledge into The Early Hour. I’ve been helped and supported by so many kind people – who’ve shared articles, or left encouraging comments or who’ve generously introduced me to their contacts.

The ultimate goal is to become the next Arianna Huffington make it pay, because there are mounting bills. And so that’s what I’m working towards. But in the meantime, receiving a place in the finals of the UK Blog Awards – even if I don’t take home the ‘trophy’ – is like reverting to childhood and being told by my mum that she’s proud of me.

So thank you – to everyone who voted, and to all the lovely people who’ve supported me on this journey so far… And to Lewis Hyde: you’re right, money isn’t the only motivation for creating. But we do create to share it with others, so a public nod of approval is really quite nice.

(Followed by a big fat cheque).