A question of morale


Sometimes one is so tempted to take to drink

Sometimes one is so tempted to take to drink

Kate Flora, here: A Maine writer attending the New England Crime Bake conference a week ago observed that she appreciated what we are writing at Maine Crime Writers because there is often useful advice for other writers. Since one of the goals of the Crime Bake is to create community among crime writers, her remark reminded me of this old column I wrote about writer’s block and keeping up our spirits when our publishing goals always seem too far away and what we’re writing feels like gravel.

We’re coming into the dark season now, and when the days are short and the weather gets nasty, it’s hard to keep our spirits up. So here are some thoughts as we all embark on winter.

Everything I write lately does feel like gravel and as I’m embarking on a new Joe Burgess book, it seems like I have no new or fresh ideas. After a chat with my artist friend, Pete, about how my spirits won’t lift and I’m getting very little writing done, I decided to look up writers and morale on the internet, and see what wisdom was out there. My first hit immediately lifted my spirits. I found this, from the UVic student writing guide:

As a noun, a moral is what you get at the end of a fairy tale.

As an adjective, moral means “righteous” or “ethical.” It is an example of an abstract word which can be abused.

Morale measures the level of your spiritual happiness, usually when you are at war or playing sports.

When I stopped smiling, I started to wonder: when I am writing, and my “spiritual happiness” seems to be a low ebb, it this war or sports? Some days it sure feels like war, like a perpetual battle of the writer against the editor, the agent, the bookseller, the other writers whose books are being chosen or purchased or lauded, and the tiresome postman who keeps bringing bad news or no news and rarely a check.

Other days, it seems like a sport, especially when I’ve scored a goal, or the equivalent of a goal in the writer’s arena of worldly success. Those goals are hard won, though, and they don’t come very often. The fact is that this is a hard business. Not as hard as being a cop or an emergency room physician, but hard. To get the work done, we must be solitary for long periods of time, and we have to be our own bosses. We are the ones who have to set our own schedules, keep ourselves in our chairs, and meet our deadlines. Often, we even have to create our own deadlines.

Sometimes, the rewards seem too fleeting compared to the time we spend working toward them. And for the aspiring writer, the beginner, there is often little more than faith in their own ability to sustain them. I’ve been sitting here today thinking about some of the writers I know who have struggled for years to achieve publication. Some of them, some really talented writers, have finally gotten discouraged and given up.

When I hear that another writer is feeling despair, I always wish I had more wisdom, after thirty years at

We try to be wise, but is anyone listening?

We try to be wise, but is anyone listening?

this, to share. More time and generosity to sit and listen, to pay attention, to notice when people I care about are looking pinched and broken. And I wonder if other writers have better answers to the question: What should we be doing for each other? How can we help each other remember that we’re writers because we love words, and using our imaginations, and telling stories. And that we don’t stop being writers because someone didn’t love our latest story or we got a rejection letter in the mail, or something we thought was done needs to be rewritten.

As I’ve said all along–if you want to be a writer, you have to have the hide of an alligator. And you have to believe in yourself because no one else cares as much as you do. You have to believe in your right to write. You have to protect your writing time for everything that would steal it. You have to find your joy in the relationship between your mind and the page. In the now and now instead of what may lie ahead.

My friend Pete closed the conversation by suggesting that when it’s all discouraging, he seeks renewed inspiration by going to a museum and looking at paintings by great artists. Maybe, he suggests, I should read a really good book. And I happen to have one right here. So when my Blogging “homework” is done, I’m going to reread Roxana Robinson’s Sparta, and study her storytelling and how she reveals her characters. And tomorrow, I know, will be better.

Something else I found while I was looking up writers and morale. On a site called Geist.com, I found a writing exercise labeled: Morale Exercise: Real Writers . . .

So next time you have a discouraged day, write this down: “Real writers …” and free write from this for 10 minutes.

Question markReal writers drink bourbon, believe in rewrite, and try to use words more creative than those labeled by my mother as “ordinary swears.” This sometimes leads to some peculiar questions, as I try to improve my vocabulary. Real writers watch the world around them and wonder about it. Real writers listen in on other people’s conversations and pay attention. Real writers blow off the laundry and eat cold pizza because their characters are doing things they need to attend to. Real writers are willing to admit, even when they’re stuck in the unpublished writer’s corner, that they are writers, because on the good days, being a real writer is magical.

Well, gentle reader, who knows where this exercise will put you ten minutes later? Thanks for listening.


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8 Responses to A question of morale

  1. Brian Thiem says:

    Great post, Kate, and something I must always be reminded of. I’m just beginning putting the words on the page for the second book of my series. I had hoped it would be easier than the first book, that since I’ve got one book under my belt every time I sat at my writing desk a thousand new words would effortlessly flow through the keyboard. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to struggle through this next book because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do–write.

    • MCWriTers says:

      Thanks, Brian. The second one is hard because you have all the time in the world to shape the first, and maybe a year for the second. But even when those words don’t flow, you’ve got to stay in the chair.

    • sandy gardner says:

      Hi Kate,
      great post– thanks!
      and Brian Thiem: what’s the title of the first book in your series?

  2. Lea Wait says:

    I’m with Brian — great timing! I’m working on the beginnings of (shudder) two books right now, and neither feels the way it should. (Does anyone else “feel” rhythms and words??) Plus there are those holidays .. and, even more time-consuming, the preparations for holidays. Plus my next book will debut in early January, so there are postcards to label and stamp and guest blogs to write and a website to update. Not counting the 11 signings I’m doing in the next couple of weeks because of having a “Christmas book” out. Love that people want me … weary of the time and energy required to be wanted.
    So – yes — thanks for the thoughts, Kate!

    • MCWriTers says:

      Now, in all your spare time, you have to do the exercise, Lea…real writers…

      Today at my house, a real writer spent the day editing someone else’s work and now her eyes are crossing. Good luck with those eleven (eleven???) signings.


  3. sandy says:

    Wow, Kate this really works! Real writers eat Cheerios over the sink and wipe their mouths with the back of their hands.. Read writers—some days—ask the dog for advice: “bark once for kill her; twice for save her.” Real writers sometimes read books with envy but more often than not, sit up straight and think things like, My Gawd, every single line of To Kill A Mockingbird is harnessed to the story! How did she do that? Real writers find paper scraps in their pockets, purses, check book, and all over: throw wedding ring in river, steal back bread as she sneaks out, the sound of bed sore mattress inflating. Real writers, like Kate, are generous, generous, generous, as well as very shaaaarp. Thank you, Kate (This made me feel so much better.) Sandy ..from Crime Bake.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Sandy, I love this. It inspires me to want to do a whole blog of people’s riffs on Real writers. And boy can I relate to those little pieces of paper. Sometimes I also make notes in my phone. ANd then can’t make any sense of them later.


  5. Karla Whitney says:

    This is like finding a forgotten gift tucked under the tree skirt. I was on the road and missed your initial post. Found it just when I needed it. Thank you Kate.
    Walking in the woods in the winter is my favorite writer mood-lifter. If my cat tags along, even better.

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