Staying Motivated

The holidays have ended. The excitement and inspired New Year’s declarations seem very far away. The regular, daily grind has set in. And it’s only the middle of January. So how do we recapture that New Year’s intention and keep going strong? Here are a few things I’m doing to keep myself inspired.


Bingo Cards? That’s right, bingo cards! I saw a writer’s encouragement bingo card and it was amazing. It had boxes that said “Get a Rejection Letter”, “Query 5 Agents”, “Start a New Manuscript”, “Set Up a Dedicated Writing Space” and, of course you could win prizes. By now you all know how I feel about prizes. I’ve modified this bingo card idea so that it is custom tailored to you and you will absolutely win the prize because the only one you are competing against is yourself!

My challenge to you is to create your own bingo card by clicking HERE. Pull out that somewhat dusty New Year’s resolutions list and put it on your card.

What do you want to do? Query 2 agents a week? Write 1 draft a month? Put it on the card!

What support do you need? - Join a critique group? Read 1 craft book? Find an online writing community? Put it on the card!

How can you better market yourself? Order new business cards? Create an author website? Put it on the card!

What will be disheartening or depressing? Getting no response from a query? Getting a poor critique? Put that on the card too!

Give your clouds a silver lining by working hard toward your reward and your ultimate goal of moving forward as a writer. Remember, rejections just mean that you are actually putting yourself out there!

The most important part of the Bingo Card? Prizes! What will make your heart sing? Maybe a 1-hour massage to relieve all of those sore writing muscles, a ridiculous no- calories-counted, table-sized chocolate dessert, or that beautiful new pen you’ve been eyeing (mine is snakewood with an old-fashioned bronzed mechanism to open that I found at the Renaissance Faire but yours may be different). Give yourself a joyful goal to work toward. That way, opening up a rejection letter just gets you that much closer to winning your prize!


Wow I love contests! The allure of winning something, no matter how small, and having a shiny new line to add to my query letters and website is absolutely addictive. Plus, they come with their own, built-in deadlines. For me, those deadlines act as little alarm bells reminding me to focus on my writing.

Where can you find out about contests? The first place to check is the SCBWI Awards and Grants page. They offer national contests every year (like the Sue Alexander Grant), and your regional chapter also has their own annual contests and opportunities.

Another great opportunity is the KidLit 411. And don’t forget to run a Google search for Twitter Picture Book Pitch Parties. There are several that happen throughout the year specifically for picture book authors like #PBPitch. These are great opportunities to fine-tune your own pitches and read through other people’s pitches to see what works and what doesn’t.


You may be asking yourself, “Cheryl, how on earth could tracking my submissions and possibly staring a long list of rejections possibly keep me inspired?!” I hear you, I absolutely do, just give me a chance to explain.

I created a simple excel spreadsheet listing the date, person/house I queried or contest I entered, manuscript name, expected response time and response. (Keep reading, I promise this explanation is going somewhere good!) When I hear back or get the dreaded “no response” I put the line in gray italics. (Trust me, just get to the next paragraph.)

BUT, if I get something, anything, then that line lights up the sheet in bold color!

A form letter that has been even one vaguely personalized line? BOLD BLUE LINE!!

A “Like” on a Twitter Pitch Party post? BOLD GREEN LINE!!

Win a contest? BOLD PURPLE LINE!!

Have an editor or agent indicate interest in a manuscript? BOLD ORANGE LINE!!

That agent or editor then never responds to my manuscript in any way? Hey, that line still earned its bold orange status. And let me tell you, even though there may only be a few lines of color, maybe only one line of color for a bit, that one is going to shine out over the rest and remind you that you are still making strides down this long, twisty path of being a writer. Because you ARE a writer, and a damn good one, I have no doubt.


There are two free ones, in particular, that I am particularly excited about. The first is StoryStorm, which challenges you to come up with 30 picture book ideas during the 31 days of January. Signing up is free and incentivizes you to keep thinking of new ideas. But it also sends you daily blog posts each written by a different featured author, agent or editor. They are short, easy to read, full of inspiration…….and they each have a contest at the bottom where you can win an author’s book, illustration, or in some cases a manuscript critique. These contests are easy, all you have to do is post a comment on the blog post to be entered! Did I mention how much I love contests?

The second is the Writers Happiness Challenge. This is a 30-day challenge to cultivate more creativity and happiness in your life. You get an e-mail with a challenge that will, quite literally, take you only 5 minutes. 5 minutes a day. I know you can find 5 minutes a day!


Lastly, the best way to stay encouraged and inspired is to belong to a community of people who share your goals and passion. My PenUltimate Critique Group is an unending source of support. They are my fellow cheerleaders, friends and confidants. They help me revisit my manuscripts with fresh ideas and perspectives, and make me a better writer. Joining or forming a critique group is one of the best things you can do to take your work to the next level.

How did I find my group? I went to an SCBWI manuscript party. I sat down at a table with 4 other women, we introduced ourselves and began critiquing each others work.

It was gut-wrenchingly nerve-wracking. We were all strangers and fairly new to being critiqued. In fact, we were so nervous that each person ended up going for a walk while the others wrote their comments down.

But the conversation was amazing! Everyone offered positive but thoughtful criticisms. We all came from different backgrounds and those diverse perspectives were incredibly helpful. At the end of our time together I kicked the ground and shyly asked if anyone was interested in forming a critique group. Everyone laughed and The PenUltimates were born! It’s really that simple. Meet other writers, and ask them out on a critique date!

"You Got This" Photo supplied by Sydney Rae on Unsplash.