Friday, January 29, 2016


We make the commitment to write or draw something every day purely by profession. But, what happens when a manuscript or illustration is just not working?  Do you switch gears – pursue ideas for a new story or drawing and leave your wordy/scribbly quandary for another day? Maybe you polish queries, browse upcoming conferences or… eat some chocolate?

For some, this sticking “point” can be paralyzing. When that unresolved story problem makes moving forward too difficult, writing or drawing could come to a screeching halt. If you haven’t been formally published, this momentary block could brew discouraging havoc on your thoughts. But for those seasoned in story making, this is -  THE PROCESS.  Keeping busy at writing and drawing (no matter what!) will unstick you. Discipline is key and below are 3 ways to ensure you write and draw yourself out of sticky stories or scenes and never lose momentum (or consume extra calories) again.


Stuck? Take a break and try this. Grab a piece of paper and pen. Now find a container of some sort.
          If you are an illustrator:
  • List 10 things you never draw/or avoid drawing (i.e. vehicles, architecture, hands, bugs)    
  • List 10 things you would like to know more about(Steampunk? Scandinavian architecture?  Butterfly wing patterns?)
  • List 10 favorite memories

          If you are a writer:
  • List 10 people that fascinate you (inventors, zoologists, playwrights, etc.)
  • List 10 questions an interested editor/agent might ask you (i.e. Why did you query me?  Who are some of your favorite authors and why? What are your career goals and expectations? Google FAQ pages for ideas if you need to)
  • List 10 favorite memories

          If you are a writer and illustrator:
  • Do all of the above!

Cut your list up so each topic is on one slip of paper. Now fill the jar with your curiosities and memories.  Over time, you may come up with your own lists. Perhaps you even throw actual objects from vacations or special moments that murmured “I am a story nugget” to you when first found. The goal is to grow your collection so you always have material that inspires you to write or draw.

Plant this vessel on your desktop or studio sill.

Whenever you need a reboot, pull a slip from the jar. Set your timer for 15/30mts (you decide). Reflect and research for 5 minutes then… write or draw! If you pulled a slip that listed a fascinating person, prepare an interview. What would you ask them? Create your own answers.

Thoughts should start stirring and hopefully synapses are launching into fireworks. Your mind is taking a break from a problem…but in the form of writing and drawing something else. You are still practicing craft, building your writing/illustrating muscles but most importantly, staying in the game.


I read a book called THE HEALING POWER OF HUMOR by Allen Klein a few years ago, and bits and pieces have stuck with me.  One particular quote was “A humorous approach frequently also reveals new insights and possible solutions to our problems.”

Chances are at a random point during the day, we laugh, smile or gaze in some kind of amazement at something specifically. Why not document that moment daily?

As an author/illustrator, I do my best to create a cartoon for myself on slow days. Are they perfect?  No way. Are there times when I can’t come up with…something? Sure. But, a moment is reserved and I do my best to honor that. A quick doodle serves as a nice mental warm up and sets the mood for work ahead. One advantage to creating a cartoon is…it’s sharable! If you are an illustrator - use social media to open up. Let others get to know you and what makes you laugh. Chances are they’ll grin as well. Here’s one I did quickly, then later turned into my FB profile.  

If you are a writer, give the cartoon a go or just describe the scene. A slightly different option is to write an exaggerated letter as Allen Klein suggests in his book. “When we are blinded by our upsets, when they are all we can see, sometimes describing them in highly dramatic or overinflated terms can allow us to see the ludicrousness of our situation." If something is bothering you (rejections, bills, complaints, etc.), relieve yourself from the stress and put a humorous spin on it.    


When I needed a reboot after multiple rejections and agent roller coasters in 2014, I decided to make affirmations via my computer folder names. Before my website launched and my book was published, I created a folder called I WILL BE AN AUTHOR ILLUSTRATOR. This was where all work from that point forward would be stored.

It was a mighty name at the time because I was still fighting doubtful inner gremlins but, it was the boost I needed. I had to open it multiple times during the day which meant - I read it, multiple times a day. And, I kind of liked it. Then, really liked it. Within a few months of creating that folder my picture book, THE LADYBUG RACE, was selected as a Silent Book Contest finalist, which then led to my publishing contract.

I currently have a folder called 1000 WORDS A DAY. In an effort to build my daily word count, this teeny twist on folder nomenclature has fueled more consistent word filled pages. Content varies but the goal remains the same. When picture book dummies are not consuming my time, I add to this folder.  Some entries document my day, others may piece together story ideas that aren’t quite flushed out yet. Eventually, I began to see a pattern based on my file names. Here is what the last few days look like:

How does this work for illustrators? Still use words! As an artist, this practice is an excellent opportunity to build a better business. Beyond illustrations there are contracts, interviews, school visits, marketing and website pages to write. Use your 1000 WORDS A DAY to track your goals for the year. Write down all you want to accomplish and each day measure where you are and what you did to get closer to that goal. Pick what word count works best for you and jump in!

If writing or drawing everyday was a 2016 resolution, congratulations on making the commitment to push your creativity! I hope you find these suggestions helpful along the way.  

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”

Amy Nielander is a picture book author and illustrator residing in Royal Oak, Michigan. Her first picture book, THE LADYBUG RACE (PomegranateKids) was released in 2015 and earned her a spot as a finalist in the 2014 Silent Book Contest. Artwork debuted at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair that year.  

Her weekly blog, THE BLOB BLOG, documents her + her kids adventures in character creating where 796 characters have been birthed collectively! Additional posts can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Patti Richards is preparing another Writer Spotlight. Who will it be? Come back next Friday to see.

Until then, surely you've heard about this little conference happening? 

Registration begins in 3 days on Feb 1st! For details about the 40 presenters and sessions (yes, 40!) and 8 intensives, go here.

Presenters such as:

Last year on the Mitten blog, Angie Kidd reviewed Lisa Cron's WIRED FOR STORY. Read the review here.

And start planning your conference carpool because how awesome is this?

Have a great weekend!


  1. Fabulous suggestions, Amy! I love the Ladybug Race cover.
    Also, I love that image that shows sketch next to final piece -- nice reminder of the value of revision.

    1. Thank you Ruth! The best part about the cover was it was a complete collaboration! Loved every minute of working with the Pomegranate team.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Angela! Hope to meet at a future SCBWI conference!

  3. Your idea of renaming folders as affirmations just changed my life. Seriously. It is such a small detail that shifted my thinking. Thank you! Can't wait to see more of your work out there in the world, Amy.

    1. Yay Carrie! So glad the name idea connected with you!

  4. I love #2 Documenting the Funny. What a great idea! I'm looking forward to checking out your blog, Amy.

  5. Excellent suggestions! I could use a little discipline!