How to Actually Stay Inspired and Energized AFTER Your Conference

First, I have to apologize for last week’s lack of posts. Our regional SCBWI fall conference (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators, for the uninitiated) was this past weekend, and somehow my normal blogging time disappeared in printing, packing, checking lists…You get the picture!

But the conference went off with nary a hitch. IMHO, this was the best lineup of authors, editors, and agents our conference has hosted in years–and I have permission from several speakers to share my sketchnotes from their sessions! Expect to see them in the coming weeks.*

Now it’s 6:22 PM Sunday night and I’ve only been home for an hour or so. I’m simultaneously

  • exhausted from a weekend of being “on” (always an energy drain for an introvert!) and
  • energized by the connections with new and existing writer friends and
  • exhilarated by all the fantabulous new ideas for stories, articles, characters, and rewrites bouncing around in my head.

Oh yeah–I’m also a little overwhelmed, because where the heck do I start with all of that?

From experience, that feeling of overwhelm will increase. Also from experience, that feeling of exhilaration and the sense of being full-to-bursting with fantastic ideas will also fade.

From speaking with other writers, I know I’m not the only one to go through this disheartening progression. Don’t worry, though–I’m not writing to discourage you! Au contraire, I’m writing to share with you my tried-and-true, step-by-step plan for How to Actually Stay Energized and Inspired After Your Conference forward through the coming weeks and months. In other words, I want to share how you can get the most from your conference experience over the long term!

During the Conference

Already finished with your conference? Read this section anyway. These steps can still be implemented after you return home.

Step 1. Reflect on each day

I’ve found it helpful to set aside a few minutes at the end of each day–or during an afternoon break–to review the day’s notes. This is when you can start adding items to your master Inspiration List (below) or To-Do list. You might jot down things you found especially meaningful, things you want to make sure you remember.

It’s also helpful to glance over your notes from presentations, critiques, and other conference sessions. Check to see if someone would understand their meaning if they hadn’t attended the same session. No? Then you probably won’t understand your notes, either, after a month or so has passed. Take time to clarify what you’ve written. If you come up with questions, you still have time to track down the speaker and ask!

Step 2. Keep a master “Inspiration List”.

Conferences tend to be highly inspirational. I came home with several ideas for new picture books plus renewed vision for some old manuscripts currently sitting on my shelf. However, those ideas ended up as jotted notes in the margins of various pages of my notebook. After the first day, I created a “Master Inspiration List” and collected the various tidbits of creativity in one location. That way, I’m far more likely to remember them and put them to use.

Step 3. Keep track of names and contact info for new writer, editor, and agent connections.

After last year’s conference, I had a list of names and emails for people I wanted to keep in touch with. People I was sure I would remember…but then I didn’t do anything with that list for weeks. By the time I pulled it out and dusted it off again, I couldn’t recall where I’d met some of those people or what we’d had in common.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson before the conference I attended this past June. I collected names and addresses, but didn’t let them languish unattended until I forgot about them. This time, I consolidated them on a single notebook page, which I stored with my conference notes. I sent emails to remind people of how we’d connected and saved their responses to a special “Personal Connections” folder.

It’s up to you to decide what information you want to save and where. Perhaps you want to stay connected to a fabulous author you heard speak–then send a quick email message to let them know how much you enjoyed their presentation, or simply to say “thanks” for the opportunity to get to know them. Save your messages in a folder dedicated to writing related friends and contacts. Or maybe you want to remember a particular editor you think might be a good fit for your work someday–you could create a spreadsheet, Word document, or Evernote notebook to store that editor’s name, house, where you met, and a few notes about them.

The key here? Keep it simple! Make sure that you create a system that’s

  1. easy enough to use that you’ll actually use it, and
  2. intuitive enough that you won’t forget how it works when the next conference rolls around.

After the Conference

Step 1. Review Your Notes

  • Make sure your notes make sense. In your rush to copy down information, did you leave out any key words? Essential transitions? Try to reread your notes with a fresh eye to make sure they will make sense later, when you’ve forgotten the context. (If you went through step 3 of “During the Conference,” you’ve got a head start on this process!
  • Highlight or star key information. What ideas did you find especially helpful? What information do you want to be able to find easily 6 months down the road? Judicious use of colored pens or highlighters can make your notes easy to scan–helping you create a fabulous source of future inspiration.
  • Record your insights. Any insights into your writing projects? These might arise from writing exercises you did during a workshop, or from a speaker’s words that really hit home, or from a critique. Don’t let those flashes of insight go to waste. Definitely don’t trust yourself to “just remember” them! Instead, record the key information someplace where you’ll see it the next time you work on that project.

Step 2. Get Organized

This step is easier if you start during the conference. Even if you did get a head start, though, it’s important to spend some time organizing your stuff after your return home. I guarantee you’ll find things you missed!

  • Record deadlines. Do you plan to submit to any of those wonderful industry professionals you met during the conference? Many editors and agents allow attendees to submit to them post-conference, even if they normally accept submissions only from agents or by referral. However, some only do so during a limited window available of time–in which case, you need to get their deadlines on your calendar and get to work.
  • Add items to your to-do list. What action did the conference inspire you to take? What deadlines do you need to remember? Put them on your calendar, your to-list, your wall–whatever you use to stay inspired and focused day-to-day.

Step 3. Add to Your Inspiration List

The evening or day after the conference is a great time to review your notes and ideas and use them to help you brainstorm more ideas. The truth is that you probably didn’t have time to pursue every idea sparked by every session while you were at the conference. Take time to follow up on those stray thoughts before their trail grows cold!

Step 4. Track Your Peeps

Did you meet any amazing authors or illustrators you want to remember or keep in touch with? Any agents or editors you think might be perfect for your work–even if you don’t plan to submit to them right away? Create a single place where you can record names and information to help you to remember

  1. WHO these cool people are and
  2. WHY you want to remember them.

Sales reps use CRM (customer relations management) software to help them track contacts, but you probably don’t need expensive software. Consider using an email folder, MS Word document, Evernote notebook, or whatever else feels most comfortable.

Step 5. Follow Up

Did any authors offer to email their slides to attendees–like the fabulous Jen Halligan did after her 2014 presentation on book promotion? Or did a speaker volunteer to create a handout of key points–like the illustrious author/speaker Erin Dealey, at this year’s conference? Make sure you send your follow-up email ASAP!

I've put together a handy checklist that sums up these steps for you--sign up now to access, and prepare to be inspired!

*Unfamiliar with the concept of sketch notes? Then go IMMEDIATELY and read about how sketchnotes can “level up” your creative process. And read about practical ways writers can use sketchnotes. Go on, shoo! Sketchnotes will help you pay attention, organize your notes in a way that’s meaningful to you, create notes that are easy to scan for information after the fact–plus they’re plain old fun! You get to use pretty colored pens and everything :D.

Powerful Ways to Counter Perfection’s 7 Most Common Lies

With the holiday weekend, I’m taking a break from blogging this week…but don’t worry! I’ve got a great post that will probably be new to most of you. Check out this post over at the Wild Writers, where I blog with my critique group.Use What Talent1

There should be a support group…

…for perfectionist writers. We’d all start off by introducing ourselves: “My name is Cheryl, and I’m a perfectionist” and then go on to share our stories of identifying, struggling against, and, perhaps, overcoming perfectionism.

I like this idea because perfectionists have a surprising number of traits in common with addicts.

  • We’re good at denying we have a problem
  • We often misdiagnose the problem (eg, thinking we’re lazy or disorganized)

Perhaps most important, perfectionists and addicts share many of the same cognitive distortions.
Head on over to the Wild Writers blog to learn more about perfectionism–and how to keep it from holding you back as a writer!

5 Weird Ways to Delight Your Readers with Interactivity

want to engage readers_When you hear the word “interactivity,” what pops into your mind? Probably ebooks with linked content or apps with built-in games and personalization features. Your mind probably turns to digital solutions and transmedia storytelling–which are great, but might not be your cup of tea.

But did you know that you can make your writing interactive without adding digital bells and whistles? This post takes a look at five weird and wonderful ways that you can bring interactivity to your writing. Enjoy!

Technique #1: Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm

brown bearAs any parent of small children knows, little kids love to listen to the same story over and over and over. Many picture book authors use elements such as rhyme and repetition to connect with their young audience. Little kids love the opportunity to recognize patterns and join in on the “chorus”.

Bill Martin‘s classic children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, provides a great example. The question “Brown bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” is repeated throughout the story, with modifications for each new animal and each new color. The repetition encourages young readers to join in for each question and answer.

2. Provide an Activity

ActivityAuthors can encourage readers to interact with the story by including activities that complement the text. That’s what Steve (the Dirtmeister) Tomecek does with several  “Try This!” sidebars in his new title Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth. The simple experiments demonstrate key concepts in the book. They’re also lots of fun, like the “Layers of Time” experiment–in which readers create a science experiment they can eat!

Author/illustrator Roxie Munro invites younger readers to help delivery vehicles find their way through eleven intricately drawn mazes in her picture book Market Maze. Each illustrated spread also includes hidden objects for readers to find.

3. Talk Directly to the Reader

PigeonBustMo Willems’ classic Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus begins with the bus driver speaking directly to readers.

“Hi! I’m the bus driver. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”.

In the next spread, the pigeon arrives on the scene… and proceeds to try to talk the reader into letting him (of course!) drive the bus.

What better way to delight young readers than to invite them to tell a story character “no!”

B. J. Novak similarly invites reader participation in his hilarious read-aloud, The Book with No Pictures. It begins:

BookWithNoPictures_3D-300x423“You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .


“Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.”

As the text becomes more and more ridiculous, the author encourages the child–who’s presumably listening to the story–to make sure the adult reader is actually saying all those crazy words!

4. Provide a Puzzle.

WildDiscoveriesFrontCoverKids love to figure things out for themselves, so you can practically guarantee reader engagement by giving them a puzzle to solve. That’s what Heather L. Montgomery does when writing about the wildly striped psychedelic frogfish in her book Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals.

Just like you are the only person with your FINGERPRINT pattern, each frogfish has its own set of stripes. If the fish to the left committed a crime… Could you pick it out of this lineup?”

She doesn’t underestimate her readers, either. This is no easy puzzle to solve!

5. Ask Questions.

101questionsAlice Jablonsky’s 101 Questions About Desert Life is written as a list of questions and answers. Its format encourages the reader to page through and find her own question rather than reading the book from start to finish—especially because many of the questions sound like they arose directly from a school classroom!

Heather Montgomery also invites readers to think like a scientist by sharing unanswered questions with them. For example, when she introduces the giant stick insect known as Chan’s Megastick, she asks readers,

Are these facts true for Chan’s megastick? Since ONLY THREE have been found so far, we’ll have to wait to find out!”

Interactivity Encourages Readers to Engage

You can use interactive elements to help illustrate a tricky concept; to spark questions and discussion; or simply invite kids to play in your story world. Whatever type of interactivity you bring to your writing, though, it can help you get–and keep!–your readers’ attention.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a try!

5 Best Resources for Fabulous iPhone Photos & Videos

Best CameraI own a digital SLR camera–and, although it pains me to admit this, I rarely use it anymore.

That’s because my iPhone is smaller, almost always charged (and easy to recharge on the go), and almost always with me. Its size means it’s much easier to haul my iPhone with me hiking or backpacking than a full-size camera. On top of that, I can stow it easily in a pocket for quick access; the digital SLR usually takes me at least a few extra seconds to get out and ready to shoot photos, longer if I’ve stowed it in my camera bag.

Those extra seconds often mean the difference between getting that great shot and missing it.

Since my iPhone is almost always with me and powered up, I take far more pictures with it than I would with the full-size camera–and for a non-professional photographer like me, quantity is usually the key to getting a few great shots!

Of course, it’s not always easy getting great photos and videos with an iPhone. I’ve put together this list of the best links and resources to help you take better shots with your smart phone. It may not be a digital SLR, but it may still be the best camera for you.

The best camera is the one you have with you!


The iPhone Photography School

The iPhone Photography School offers lots of great posts and tutorials on how to take effective photos with your iPhone. Some of my favorite posts for writers (and others who *aren’t* professional photographers) include:

FiLMiC Pro Website

filmic_logoOne of my go-to iPhone apps for shooting video is FiLMiC Pro. This little app offers a ton more flexibility than the native iPhone video function, including options to shoot stop-motion or slow-motion footage. This app isn’t free, but at $7.99, it won’t break the bank, either.

Best of all, you’ll find a TON of great–and free!–tutorials on the FiLMiC Pro website. It’s a great resource for learning everything from basic composition principles to how to harness the full functionality of the FiLMiC Pro app.


If you’re familiar with Canva, it’s probably as a (free) tool for creating graphics for social media, flyers, book covers, and so on. It provides an intuitive interface for non-graphic designers to create professional-looking graphics.

Canva’s real strength, though, is their focus on teaching non-experts the basic principles of graphic design. Here are a few posts to check out that will help you think about color choices, composition, and what to do with those photos back at your computer:

Canva also offers tutorials that teach both design principles and how to use their software:

Learn PhotographyThis subscription website offers tutorials in a wide range of software and apps. Although they aren’t cheap ($24.99/month for month-to-month billing or $19.99/month for yearly billing), they consistently offer the best online instruction I’ve found for business and design software. You can check out these courses during a 10-day free trial:

(If you do decide to sign up with, you can help support my learning habit by doing so through my affiliate link:

Get 10 days of free unlimited access to

Olloclip Mobile Phone Photo Lenses

I’ve tried several different iPhone lenses to try to improve my cell phone photography. The 4-IN-1 olloclip lens system for iPhone 5/5S (fisheye, wide-angle, and 2 macro lenses) is far and away the best. The fisheye and wide-angle lenses are just fun, but the macro lenses let me take close-up shots of insects, flowers, wood grain–anything that I think might interest my readers. These shots would be impossible without using some sort of macro lens.)

I’ve also tried out the olloclip telephoto lens for iPhone. It only gives you 2x magnification, which might not be worth it for most writers.  I’m happy with it, because it let me get several shots of the speedy lizards that hang out in Zion National Park that may possibly be high enough resolution to use in my current work-in-progress. I’m sure real wildlife photographers are having heart attacks at my words :), but it’s a great “intro” telephoto lens for the amateur iPhone photographer.

Note that I’ve linked to the iPhone 5/5S lenses (yes, I’m still an iPhone 5 holdout!) If you have an iPhone 6, you’ll want the olloclip telephoto lens for iPhone 6/6 Plus and the olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus.

(Disclosure: the olloclip links are Amazon affiliate links, which means purchasing through them will help support a young person’s college fund<grin>).

Kelly Purkey

If you’re counting, you might notice that this is #6 in the list. That’s because I have only a single link to recommend on designer Kelly Purkey’s website. Purkey’s tutorial on photo editing is so fabulous, though, that I had to add it to this list. In the linked post, she explains exactly how she edits photos on her phone using only 2 apps, VSCOcam and Snapseed…neither of which I’ve used. I guess I’ve got some homework!

Have I inspired you to try some smart phone photography on your next outing? If so, you’ll want to check out this month’s free download: 3 Super Simple Tricks to Make Your Writing Portable. It’s only available to newsletter subscribers, so sign up now! You’ll get immediate access to subscriber-only resources as well as monthly updates.

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