Keep Calm and Carry On

by Jeff Abbott on February 8, 2009

With the world economy in tatters (and yesterday I read in the US, highest unemployment in 16 years, 660,000 jobs shed in a single month) and publishing on the ropes, it’s easy to freak. But a poster from the early days of World War II is getting new life in Britain and offering encouragement in troubling times. I love this poster: the unexpected red of the design (red to encourage calm is not the obvious choice, but it works here), the symbol of the crown suggestive of a long history and permanence even in the most daunting crisis, and the terrific font. The BBC asks if this is the greatest motivational poster ever.

I have always admired the British for a lot of reasons, and I feel a special gratitude to them for the success my books have had there. But I have always been deeply impressed by the fortitude and resilience shown by the British in the face of World War II, and in other times of crisis. The danger we are facing now is not nearly as bad in its scope: so everyone, take a deep breath. While there is certainly reason to be concerned (even fearful), the best response is resolve. We will get through this.
This is good advice for facing both life’s big challenges (unemployment, financial difficulty, serious illness) and for the smaller dramas (hitting a writer’s block, feeling overwhelmed by too much to do in too little time, a computer crashing.)
Keep calm and carry on. Set an example for your kids, your family, your friends, and yourself. In times of serious trouble, resilience and a sense of perspective is our best hope.
Remember that the generations that came before us endured much we find difficult to imagine: no refrigeration, no cars, no running water, limited education, and much much worse. Their lives were not easy in the way that ours are; and yet they prospered and advanced. The generations that came before gave us an amazing foundation to build upon. We will survive this.
And for the writers who read this: if you have at least a pencil and a paper, and a desire to write: keep calm and carry on. Put your emotion into your work. Keep writing. Keep creating. Know that your desire to write is a gift that you can never lose. Write every day. Whatever publishing evolves into, people will always need and want stories.
As noted in the BBC article, a reproduction of this poster is sold by Barter Books in the UK. Barter Books is known as the “British Library of secondhand bookshops” and it was here that one of the surviving posters was found. Barter sells a whole range of items–posters, T-shirts, mugs, and so on–with the Keep Calm image. I’m pretty sure they will ship to the US since the online catalog lists prices in both UK pounds and US dollars.
UPDATE: A friend alerts me to a more modern take on the same idea, which is clever and less retro.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ann Victor February 8, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Great post Jeff! It’s all about keeping our perspective and keeping our centre.

    Kristan February 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Oh yeah, I’ve seen this poster, it’s totally “in” and making the rounds right now. Seems like every other home featured on design*sponge ( has it. I agree it’s a good thought for the current times.

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