7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Susan Stockdale

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Susan Stockdale, author of the picture book STRIPES OF ALL TYPES) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: Susan is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: missnelso04 won.)


bring-on-the-birds  susan-stockdale-author-illustrator  stripes-of-all-types-book

Susan Stockdale is an author and illustrator of children’s picture
books that celebrate nature. Her 2013 book, STRIPES OF ALL TYPES,
brings to life a patterned parade of striped animals, showing young
readers some of the many reasons stripes are found so often in
nature. Her last picture book, BRING ON THE BIRDS
, was an
ALA Notable Children’s Book and won a Parents’ Choice Award.
Stockdale’s bright, bold animal imagery is featured on puzzles,
notecards and other products sold worldwide. She is currently
working on a picture book about spotted animals.

1. Write down every book idea you have as soon as you have it. Otherwise, you’ll forget what might have resulted in your (first) Caldecott, Newbery, or National Book Award. Keep a pencil and paper nearby – in your purse, your briefcase, your car. Transfer your ideas to a “book idea” folder in your computer or journal. Then when you’re searching for your next book topic, you’ll have many choices at hand.

2. Save every draft you write, no matter how pitiful. Better yet, scan drafts into your computer and organize them in a folder. These will come in handy when you put together presentations about your creative process. Your most pathetic manuscripts will provide the best demonstration of how you transform your work.

(Why you should only query 6-8 agents at a time.)

3. Dance between drafts. Have you read the reports on how bad it is for your health to sit for long periods of time? Apparently, it shaves years off your life. Stop writing, crank up the music and move, or take a quick walk around the block or your house. It’s good for the body and soul.

4. Thank those that help you. I consult regularly with science experts to vet my nonfiction manuscripts and illustrations for factual accuracy. I acknowledge them in my books, of course, but I also send them a personal thank you note along with a copy of my book. Many of these experts have told me that this demonstration of thanks is rare. One said that in his 30+ years of helping authors like me, he’d never received a formal thank you letter like the one I sent him. Your thanks will be appreciated and will make the experts happy to continue working with you.

5. Write a letter to the boss of those that help you. Let that person know about the wonderful assistance that was provided to you and copy the expert on your letter. Wouldn’t it be great if you helped this expert get a pat on the back from his/her boss – or even a raise?

(Why writers should put their e-mail online for all to see.)

6. Keep your promotional material updated. Before each new book comes out, I prepare an updated bio and summaries of the book of different lengths (50 words, 100 words, etc.). I also have a high-resolution headshot taken. It’s so helpful to have these items ready for any promotional requests. It also might help prompt you to think of marketing ideas.

7. Keep your website updated, too. Add any new book review excerpts, awards and appearances as soon as they appear.

GIVEAWAY: Susan is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: missnelso04 won.)



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15 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Susan Stockdale

  1. LaEsha

    Wonderful advice. I especially want to comment about the dancing advice. I have often found that dancing helps me understand my character more. Whenever I’m struggling to know a character inside and out, I find a sing that reflects that character in some way. Then I dance to that song until I see my character in a new light. Plus the exercise is great too.

  2. jlhuspek

    I love the idea of scanning. It takes much less space on the hard drive. Plus if it’s saved as Manuscript_Final.pdf, you can’t confuse it with your working document. That is my problem; too many Word documents with slightly different names.

  3. Marie Rogers

    This is such good advice. Some things I already do, such as saving everything. I have revisited old short stories after they’ve yellowed in my filing cabinet for years and have been able to transform them into something worth while. I will take your other advice to heart, especially showing gratitude. Thanks.

  4. antijen

    I need to be more diligent about writing down my ideas as they come to me. Too often, they arrive at the worst times – while I’m driving, mostly – and I can’t easily get them down on paper. Does anyone have a voice recorder they can recommend? I installed a recording app on my phone but it’s not safe to access while I’m driving.

  5. ragdolltb

    Great advice. Especially the one about keeping old drafts. I’m always tempted to throw out the “rubbish.” Good advice on organization that I really do need to put into practice. 🙂 Thank you so much!

  6. DanielJayBerg

    Thanks for sharing these lessons.

    With respect to #3 above, I personally dance to Boston’s “Party” after completing the first draft of anything. It’s celebratory and aerobic!

  7. Danielle

    Thanks for the article. Once I let my creative floodgates open, I decided to keep a small, portable pen and pad available at all times. Whenever an idea or reminder about a project I’m working on pops into my head, I can just quickly jot it down and refer back to it later. Also, I’ve sent myself e-mails from work with ideas.

    I like keeping drafts of my stuff and it’s crazy looking back at how many variations of a story I’ve worked on.

    It’s amazing to me that people don’t send at least a thank you e-mail to someone who’s helped them. I’ve e-mailed some people for help in research, complete strangers, and have been touched by how fast and how willing they were to get back to me. The least you can do is say thank you.

  8. vrundell

    Great ideas Susan! I especially love the ‘gratitude’ parts–letting people know how important their help was adds immeasurable goodwill, but going a step farther and letting a boss know how a worker is doing great stuff–well, that’s real karmic gold.

    Best of luck with Stripes and Spots!

  9. tracilla6872

    I am so thankful to have found your article on WD. As an unpublished newbie in the writing world, I have found your advice to be quite motivating and humbling. Thank you for your words of encouragement paticularly in the area of the pathetic manuscripts. You made me giggle this morning and have inspired me to go back and better organize the tough stuff. THANK YOU!


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