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Tips on Surviving the Long Haul—Writing for Life by Author Shutta Crum

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have author Shutta Crum here. She is a talented picture book and middle grade author as well as a poet. I’ve known Shutta for decades. She was also a librarian at my library, and I used to take my daughter to her story time events. She’s also been a member of the Michigan SCBWI for decades and is always willing to help aspiring writers and authors. Her most recent book releases are two picture books, Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven.

Shutta is here today to share tips on surviving the long haul of a writing career.

Here’s a blurb of Grandma Heaven from Goodreads:

Heaven is a place where one can have fun. Or so thinks award-winning author Shutta Crum. When asked about death by one of her grandchildren, she imagined the perfect heaven. A place where grandmothers play hockey, have iguanas as pets, jump rope, find treasures at jumble sales, and keep a loving eye on grandchildren. Grandma Heaven, and its companion book, Grandpa Heaven, provide reassurance to young worriers that heaven is a happy place and that love never dies.

Follower News

Before I get to Shutta's guest post, I have Follower News to share. Sandra Cox recently released Sheriff
Tyree, book 2 in her Keeper Series. Here's a tagline: There's a new sheriff in town. And here's a buy link:

Now here's Shutta!

Tips on Surviving the Long Haul—Writing for Life

A friend of mine recently sent me a compiled list of writing tip lists. It’s here. (Do check it out, there’re some really good ones.) That got me thinking. I’ve been in this game for a long time—traditionally published for about forty-eight years with over 160 poems in print and 20 books out. And, of course, I’ve been writing for much longer than that. Which means that I, too, have a handy list that might supply the fuel for some of you when things feel like they’re dragging, or you just can’t get your butt back in the chair another day. And since we traditionally reflect upon where we’ve been and where we’re going at the start of each new year, here’s my list of eleven things to do to keep you writing for a lifetime. Why eleven and not ten? Because I’m a fan of that hilarious rock-mockumentary This is Spinal Tap. Besides, why not?

1.     Love—be open to it.

Let your guard down. Live your life to the fullest with all its ups and downs. To write is to create something that will be held up to the light. That creation will come from a place of caring—even if your life is tough. Love is the propellant that will empower your writing—love of reading, love of conversation, love of creating, love of simply being. 

2.     Experience—walk about.

A writer needs an ocean to draw from. Get out and about. Wade in the ocean. Do things. Do not coop yourself up in a stuffy room or dark corner staring at a blank screen or piece of paper. Walk out. Walk widely. Walk with an open heart. Breathe in that salt-filled air. Fill your ocean with wonderful adventures. 

3.     Stand back—and use your senses.

Telling you to stand back may seem like an odd admonition, especially as I’ve just advised loving and living widely. But in order to create you have to take a step back and examine your life and the adventures you’re having in that walk-about, and in those relationships. Stand at a little distance and touch, taste, smell, hear, and look at what/who interests you. Touch an emotion you felt as you walked about. Can you put your hand around it? What is its heft? Does it sing to you when you put it to your ear? 

4.     Scribble—let your inner toddler out.

Jot things down. Record your thoughts. Slap chocolate covered hands against walls. It doesn’t matter how you do it, or how messy you are. Just get it in writing, or get it recorded. Collect your thoughts. I have a friend who wrote occasional lines on scraps of paper and tossed them into a laundry basket. When he wanted to write a poem, he’d pull a handful out and see what came of it. Yes, it can be that disorganized. In fact, I believe it’s preferable to be unorganized! Don’t slow down to critique yourself or be so concerned with orderliness that you can’t fling open the gates and let your imagination run free—while hitching a ride on it. 

5.     Revise—play with the mess.

Are you sensing a theme here? The joy of just living, loving, creating? Revision is a critical component. Sure, some writers grumble about revision, but it can be fun as well. Pull out a few notes that seem to connect to each other and, like a tangram puzzle, move things around. See what kind of shape(s) you can form from a variety of prompts, emotions, ideas, scenarios, characters. Whether you write poems, short stories, novels, non-fiction, plays, gaming scripts, whatever—grab hold of the bits and pieces, play, shake them up and see what begins to clump together. Can you breathe life into it? 

   6.     Plan—start adulting.

You always knew there’d be a time to grow up. Well, at least, to put that toddler down for a nap. Okay—now is the time to ask yourself, what is my intention regarding my writing? Try to get clear about this—knowing that it might change later.  Are you writing for strictly personal reasons and have no desire to share with the world. Fine. Do it. Do you want to share/publish? If so, figure out how you’re going to go about it. Now is the time to get organized and get help. Join a critique group, and a professional organization like SCBWI or other writing groups, like the Poetry Soc. of America, Mystery Writers of America, etc. 

7.  Submit—go for it!

If your plan is to publish, really go for it. That old saying is correct, “You can’t jump a chasm in two leaps.” (Variously attributed to Twain, Churchill, or Chesterton.) Research and get yourself an agent. And/or start submitting to publishers/journals/media outlets yourself. There are many printed and online sites that will provide instructions on how to prepare a submission, who to submit to, and what those publication agencies are looking for. (Duotrope and Submittable are helpful. As are many of the writer’s market guides put out by Writer’s Digest Books.)  Do your homework. Most writer organizations can help with research and recommendations, as well. 

It’s good to get your family on board at this point. They need to understand that this writing business will take some of your time, your energy, your attention, and your money. And it really helps to have a couple of cheerleaders amongst your near and dears. Their hopes and good wishes for you can buoy you up when you need it. 

8.  Scribble & Revise again—play while you wait.

Don’t ignore the fun part of all this. Continue to scribble, take notes, journal, and draft as you wait to hear from agents or publishers. Feed that creative half of your brain with new projects. Artwork of any kind helps to fuel the writing. Love mosaics? Collage? Car restoration? Keep your creativity on a sugar/caffeine high. Now is a good time to learn to juggle. You want to continue to play messily while also being well-organized with your submission record keeping. You can do it! 

9.  Scribble, scribble, scribble . . .

Don’t stop! And keep living large and reading widely to find new ideas and ways of seeing/feeling that you are going to take note of. Sure, there will be down days—days you get yet another rejection. But without the lows how could we feel the joys of the high days? Just steady yourself and remember that you are a creative person. Your words, your art matters. The good you put out into the world can have ramifications beyond your wildest imaginings, and that may start with a single soul who adores what you’ve done. 

10.  Revise, revise, revise . . .

Love revision. Invite it into your boudoir with a copy of the Kama Sutra. Enjoy yourself. 

11.  Love your path.

Love the path you’ve decided upon. You can always change your mind about publishing/or not. And love the people you’ll meet along the way—most will be helpful. Contribute to the zeitgeist of the book world. Support your fellow writers. Here’s an article I wrote about writers supporting writers: Effective Ways to Help Us All Succeed.  Check out the ways you can help. 

And, if you meet those who belittle your efforts or try to discourage you, recognize that there are some unresolved issues in their lives. The fault does not lie in you.  Give them space but continue onward according to your plans for your writing. It’s your gift, don’t let anyone spit on it. 

12.*  Celebrate—as much as possible!

Don’t skimp. Don’t be shy. A neighbor comments on a piece you wrote for a neighborhood flyer—have an extra sip of wine in its honor! If a book, an illustration, a poem, or a story gets accepted be proud. Let folks know. And join the celebrations of your fellow writers. We’re all in this together. Celebration is the butter and cream that’s baked into a rich life. 

*(I know, I only said there’d be eleven. But there’s twelve. What can I say? I turned my sound system up two notches above 10! Take that, Spinal Tap!)


45 Writers Rules for Writing



Writer’s Market

Society of Childen’s Book Writers & Illustrators

Shutta’s Links:



Twitter: @ Shutta

Instagram: @Shuttacrum

Thanks for all your advice, Shutta!

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Wednesday, January 31st I have an agent spotlight interview with Laura Gruszka and a query critique giveaway

Thursday, February 1st I’m participating in the Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, February 7th I have an interview with debut author Marc Gregson and a giveaway of his YA dystopian Sky’s End

Monday, February 12th I have a guest post by author Sherry Ellis as part of her blog tour and a blog-tour giveaway

Friday, February 16th I’m participating in the Wish Big Giveaway Hop

Monday, February 26th I have an interview with debut author Megan Brennan and a giveaway of her MG graphic novel Kira and the (Maybe) Space Princess

I hope to see you on Wednesday!





Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips here for keeping the fun in the writing process! Burnout is a real thing, and these ideas will help. :)

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous cover, Shutta. Your books sound like a lot of fun. Natalie--Bravo to Sandra and her Tyree book. Love that one and hope she turns it into a series.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great tips and you are one up on Spinal Tap! (Awesome movie.)

Shutta said...

Thanks, All! I just have to add that Grandma and Grandpa Heaven were both illustrated by the incomparable Michigan illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw. What a joy it was to work with her!

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks Natalie and Shutta! I've appreciated your guidance and cheerleading for many years!

Liz A. said...

Many of those are great tips for living life as well.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Shutta. As always, Natalie, this website rocks.

suetwiggsbooks said...

Your tips are a keeper. I want to go the long haul. Thanks for sharing your wisdom garnered from years of experience.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Very good tips! Love the Grandma and Grandpa books. What a great gift for grieving children.

Greg Pattridge said...

What an upbeat set of useful tips! I'm glad you added #12. We often don't take the time to celebrate.

Mirka Breen said...

A true testament to the enrichment the writing life offers from one who knows.

Lauri Meyers said...

Thank you Shutta. This was wonderful. The first point of "let your guard down" really spoke to me. There is value in the lows as well as the highs, and I could do with remembering that when fear is lurking nearby. (I'll have to think about meeting revision in the boudoir... sometimes that feels more like a dark figure stalking me in the alley!)

Sandra Cox said...

How nice to feature someone you are so well acquainted with. Wishing Shutta much success. Thanks for the shoutout.

Valinora Troy said...

Great tips! I think keeping the joy in writing (and in life) is really important to remember. Thanks for sharing!

Nancy said...

Excellent timeless advice, Shutta.

Janet Alcorn said...

That was such a great interview! FYI, I live in Tucson, work at the University of Arizona, and will be at the Tucson Festival of Books. If I can be of any help to Marc as he plans his trip out here, feel free to pass on my contact info (my Gmail is authorjanetalcorn). If nothing else, I can recommend excellent Mexican food!