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  • Manju Howard

How to Stay (Mostly) Sane While Working Towards Publication

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

Happy Earth Day! Please welcome Sandra Sutter, author of THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL. Her active read aloud is matched with energetic illustrations to ramp up the fun. Sandra has kindly offered to critique one fictional picture book (no rhyming or poetry) up to 750 words. To win this special prize, follow the directions below Sandra's post.

Here’s Sandra -

The truth is I don’t know how to stay sane as a writer. I don’t even like using the term since the concept of sanity is a social construct and entirely relative, in my humble opinion. But in this case, it conveys the overarching theme of my post: how do we hold it together in this business full of rejection and long stretches of silence? What can we do as we work towards that first publication, then the second, and third, and so on?

Here is my “Top 10 List” of things I have found helpful on my writing journey

1. Write

It’s true that writing on a consistent basis will make us better writers. However, it does more than that. It focuses our attention on the here-and-now. When I write, I am not obsessing about recent submissions, a critique, or why I haven’t finished that project I wanted to have done yesterday. Writing is a “safe zone” from self-induced worry and stress.

2. Learn

There are many opportunities to learn and improve your craft: on-line courses, critiques, a rejection letter, or helpful blog posts. When I’m busy learning (and applying new skills and knowledge), my writing improves. Improvement means progress, even if small and unmeasurable to anyone but myself. It is something within my control!

3. Get Help

Don’t go it alone. Find critique partners who are helpful and supportive. They can empathize, champion, and share ideas and resources. I am in contact with at least one of my critique partners daily. They keep me focused, accountable, and motivated. And thankfully, they don’t put up with much whining or self-pity.

4. Be Open

I got my first picture book contract after signing up for an illustration course. Although I am not an illustrator, I thought it might help me think like one and learn how to “show not tell”. Setting my pride aside, I sent thumbnail sketches for a manuscript I was working on to the instructor for a critique. She loved the story and pitched it to her publisher. That story became my debut! If I hadn’t been willing to go outside my comfort zone, I would have missed an opportunity. THE opportunity.

5. Get involved

Join organizations like SCBWI or writing programs like 12 x 12 and Storystorm. Look for Facebook groups that deal with everything from the submission process to researching new picture book texts. There are also blogs, podcasts, yearly contests, and Twitter pitch parties. I know I can’t do them all, but I do what I can. And I share links or congratulations to others on my social media accounts to spread the word. Staying connected and involved also normalizes my experience and makes the rough patches a little less rough.


6. Be a Friend

This goes beyond being involved or in a critique group. The focus is on you helping others. Be a good critique partner. Give support, lend an ear, help a newcomer. You have something to offer because you have another day of writing under your belt. You are another day wiser and stronger. Now pay it forward. When I do this, I’m not thinking about my writing journey and what is happening to me. I feel useful, which also makes me happy.

7. Take Care of You

I suspect many of us struggle with self-care, but that does not diminish its importance. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I have to do or should have done that I do not get around to things like exercise, returning emails, or eating a meal. That’s when stress takes over and interferes with my creativity and productivity. Laughing, playing, spending time with others, and physical activity are the keys to fulfilling my self-care needs. Time spent on those activities brings me one step closer to reaching my goals and becoming a better writer. It is something else within my control!

8. Laugh

I mentioned laughing under self-care, but it deserves its own category. If I take my writing too seriously, I forget to laugh. And I need to laugh, even at myself. Laughing = Happy = More Writing = Better Writing = Progress!

9. Be Realistic (Patience!)

What are realistic expectations in the children’s book publishing world? I don’t know exactly, but I am fairly certain it has something to do with one’s tolerance for speed. Or really, the lack of it. I routinely tell myself to wait. . . to not expect anything. Fortunately, the other items on this list help me along the way. So does wine.

10. Persist!

Have a good cry when you need to, but pick yourself up when it is over. I often say the only way to get a definite “no” answer is to never ask or try at all. The only way to have a “yes” pile is to take a risk. Fortunately, I keep at it and now have two in the “yes” pile. That keeps me a little saner.

Thank you, Manju, for having me on your blog today! It has been a pleasure.


Sandra has worn many hats, including counselor, attorney, and now children’s book author. Originally from the beautiful Front Range of Northern Colorado, she now lives in the heart of Kentucky’s horse country with her husband and two adorable, spunky kids. When she's not busy writing stories, you might find her hiking the Red River Gorge with her family or on a local mountain bike trail. THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL is Sandra's debut picture book. A second, STAN'S FRIGHTFULLY CLUMSY HALLOWEEN, is set to arrive later this year. Both books are with Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.


For a chance to win Sandra's critique of one picture book (no rhyming or poetry) up to 750 words: * Leave a comment on this blog or Sub Six member page. * Let us know how you stay sane. Bonus point if you share this post on Twitter or Facebook.


For those not familiar with Sub Six, we are a Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Support Group. Members support each other through encouraging comments, submission tally sheet and monthly prizes.

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