“Comparisons are a waste of time,” an interview with Ellen Birkett Morris

Award-winning author Ellen Birkett Morris, whose titles include Lost Girls, Abide, and Surrender, shares here her philosophy on writing and the ways in which her career has continued to change and evolve, always coming back to words and their power. Find out more about Ellen, see her list of publications, and check out other interviews at ellenbirketmorris.ink.

Q: One thing I often remind myself and cheer on other writers with is this idea of determination and resilience–belief in one’s work, stubbornness even. Your own publications and projects are impressive in both their number and variety–you write and teach and publish in so many genres. How have you developed persistence? What can you share with others on the topic? 

A: My work is fueled by the fact that I really love to write.  Before I pursued creative writing seriously I worked my way into jobs in journalism and freelance writing that allowed me to write. Once I started to write creatively I learned how hard it is to get published and how much rejection was involved. I started by taking classes and working with a writing group. I made my work the best it could be. Then I reminded myself that each writer brings a different style and level of talent to the work so comparisons are a waste of time. I focus on what I do best. When it comes to rejection I realize that different editors like different things. It isn’t a reflection of my worth as a writer. If I get a no then I revise the work and send it elsewhere. No one is going to work harder than me to get my voice in the world, so I believe deeply in my work.

Q: Do you have a “home genre,” one you are more comfortable with than others? If so, which is it, and what about it appeals to you? 

A: I love the short story form the most and think I am good at it, but poetry is where I began as a writer. Poetry is my home. I love how crystalized poems are, how they capture experience through just the right image and in so few words. As a writer you have to bring the camera in very close in poems so you reflect both an outer world and an inner existence. Each poem is a beautiful puzzle. I have a new chapbook out called Abide from Seven Kitchens Press.

Q: What are your current projects or undertakings, and why are they energizing you right now? 

A: I am currently working on a collection of stories centered on the theme of home. Home is something we can all relate to and it can be looked at through so many different viewpoints.

I am also working on revising novel-length work. I just hired a developmental editor and I can’t wait to learn a lot from him about how to make my novel work better.

Q: If developing and writing and revising are one side of a coin, the other side is submitting and querying and promoting. That second side is the one many of us struggle with–either because we don’t have the skills or the inclination. How have you found a balance between the two over the years, or at least the tools and time needed to market and publicize your work? Do you have any advice for the rest of us? 

A: I had the advantage of working in journalism and getting used to seeing my work in print. I brought that same drive to my creative writing. As a reporter, I was on the receiving end of pitches and got to learn a bit about marketing. I’ve spent over 15 years doing contract public relations for a women’s foundation so that has helped build my promotion skills. I remind myself that my work won’t get published unless I put it in front of an editor. Once it is published it won’t catch reader’s eyes unless I promote it. That keeps me going. It is hard to find the time, but worth it. There are great resources on social media, especially The Writer’s Bridge run by Allison K. Williams and Ashleigh Renard. I also love “Before and After the Book Deal” by Courtney Maum.

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