Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mary Reaves Uhles - Time Management at it's Best - Plus a Prize!

Mary Reaves Uhles is an excellent illustrator. Her characters are whimsical and fun. It's no wonder why she's won both the Grand Prize for Illustration at the SCBWI Midsouth Conference and her illustration "Eat" was a Finalist at the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery. Her new book "The Little Kid's Table" has been born. Get the book here! Mary has great information for us today on Time Management. I hope this is a great help to you in your Dummy making journey!

When Dani asked me to write for Smart Dummies I spent several weeks mulling over what kind of wisdom I could possibly impart. I mean I am an expert on high level negotiations about who's turn it is to empty the dishwasher or feed the pets. I'm also pretty close to expert level at driving a minivan with one hand on the wheel while the other hand dispenses snacks, Kleenex and justice. But somehow I just wasn't sure this was the kind of expertise that Smart Dummies called for.

Or maybe it was.

Because the one thing I am an expert on is time management. Many of us are trying to create new books around jobs, families, and even the final production and promotion of other books. My average day during the school year begins at 6am and often doesn't end until past midnight. While I'm fortunate to work for myself I still have to balance multiple projects with demanding deadlines that require me to work the same number of hours as a typical 9 to 5-er. Many times I sandwich personal story-creating time into the early morning and late night hours or into 15 minute bursts of downtime.

Anyone nodding along in agreement? Unless you can lock yourself on a private island with a bathroom and a self-stocking fridge within arm's reach, birthing a well-executed, 32 page dummy in 30 days is daunting. Daunting but do-able. Here are my Do's and Don'ts for making the most of your time this month:

DO determine when your most productive time is and DON'T schedule anything into that time. I had just shy of 12 months to complete the illustrations for my first trade book, The Little Kids' Table. During that year I trained myself to work on it just about every day from 9-11am. The first two hours of my day after getting my kids to school were my most productive time. I didn't check email. I didn't read texts. I didn't answer the phone. If the house had caught on fire I probably would have stood at the studio door with a paint brush in one hand, a garden hose in the other, and one eye on the clock holding back the flames until my two hours were done. During those two hours my brain and eye were fresh and I was making the best decisions for the illustrations. Find your most productive time and insert your dream project into it.

DO make lists - but only by the day or week. I'm a HUGE believer in to-do lists. It's incredibly rewarding to check off items. The mere act of writing down what you need to do helps you remember. But don't make them too long. I have a weekly list. At the end of the week whatever is not checked off moves to the top of next week's list. Sometimes the same things move forward week after week. But that's ok, the moment you have time to jump on a creative task look at your list. The point is not having to waste time remembering what you meant to do.

(picture: todolist.jpeg caption: My to-do list for the week I left to attend the SCBWI LA conference. Short but effective.)
My to-do list for the week I left to attend the
SCBWI LA conference. Short but effective.

DO plan to work anywhere, everywhere, and all the time. I once heard Steven Malk, agent extraordinaire at Writer's House, say to a roomful of hopefuls that "you have to eat, sleep, and breathe children's books." Now I keep pencils and sketchbooks in multiple places in my car and house. If I'm at a doctors appointment I take work with me. Stuck in the school pick-up line? Pull out your sketch book or story journal. Need to call your long winded great aunt and wish her a happy birthday? Chat and paginate your dummy. DON'T do any non art/writing related task without asking yourself "can I work on my story while I do this?"

 I keep these plastic job jackets filled pencils, erasers and a pencil sharpener for ANY project I'm working on. Along with being easy to sort through they make it easy to grab work on the go.

DON'T let the siren song of social media steal your day. Facebook and Twitter are the bane of my existence. There, I said it. At the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference I spent some time with David Small and Sarah Stewart. During their workshop, David warned against letting Facebook steal your productivity. So whenever I think "oh geez, I haven't been on Facebook in a week" I tell myself if staying away from social media is good enough for David Small then its good enough for me. If you can balance social media with work then by all means, garner the likes. But all the Facebook friends and Twitter followers in the world don't make up for focused time to hone your craft.

DO set deadlines. Submit and move on. As much as you work, as much as you want your story to be perfect, its never going to be published if no one ever sees it. Perfect or not, finished or not, set a schedule for yourself to be "done enough" and send it out.

DO give yourself time off. Regular, planned time to NOT eat, sleep, and breath children's books is just as important as working anywhere, everywhere, and all the time. We have to rest our muse. Your creative life is not balanced if there is not some time allotted for goofing off.

Plan your month picture book makers and good luck!

Mary Reaves Uhles has created illustrations for numerous books and magazines. Her books include THE LITTLE KID'S TABLE by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle (Sleeping Bear 2015); KOOKY CRUMBS by J. Patrick Lewis (Kane Miller 2016); and BEYOND THE GRAVE by Dottie Enderle (ABDO Magic Wagon Press 2013). Mary has twice been awarded the Grand Prize for Illustration from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference and her piece, EAT was a finalist in the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair Gallery. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life. A PAL member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Since creating characters and stories is her favorite thing in the world (even more than mocha fudge ice cream) she feels mighty lucky to do it every day in her hilltop studio.

Follow Mary:


Make a to-do list of everything you have left to do for Smart Dummies. Use Mary's information and this post  to make goals for each week.



Mary is offering a Portfolio Review to one lucky winner! You must comment below and complete your Dummy in order to win this prize.

Edit: You also need an online portfolio to win this prize. 


  1. Great advice Mary! Ils hard to carte out time, and screen Time tends to suck me in.

  2. What wonderful and practical advice, thank you Mary! I especially liked the part about figuring out your most productive time of the day and bringing projects with you everywhere. When I signed up for this challenge, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to complete a full dummy, but now I am inspired to give it a real push. And the prospect of winning a portfolio review from you gives me an added incentive. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for the much needed and helpful organizational tips!

  4. Thank-you Mary! I absolutely agree with you that social media is such a time suck. I need to get better at shutting it out!

  5. WOW- this is sooo needed, needed, needed and what a valuable post. Besides being one of my fave artists, Mary Reaves Uhles thank you for such an honest and straight forward post!

  6. I love your organization ideas.. I also need to step back from Facebook. Thanks, Deirdre

  7. Thanks for the excellent advice!

  8. Submit it and move on is excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this with us!

  9. Mary,
    I am very grateful for the offer. I do have a story portfolio online and I'm serious about publishing my dummy, so I'm entering here. Thank you so much.

    1. And I can definitely use your advice. I already have lists everywhere and I even stick them with post-it. They have new post-its that allow you to wrap around things. I homeschool, so I have only little bursts of time to work like 15 minutes at a time so I understand how your days go by. And it's hard to have a presence on Twitter too. I think being "zen" in important. Your mind needs to be tuned in to your goals and be able to relax enough to function quickly.

  10. Thank you so much Mary for this wonderful post! If there is one thing I need it's better time management. This is a post I'll come back to often when I find myself not so organized (which happens more then I like).

  11. Thank you so much Mary for this wonderful post! If there is one thing I need it's better time management. This is a post I'll come back to often when I find myself not so organized (which happens more then I like).

  12. How fun to read everyone's posts! I'm glad it was helpful and I LOVE that Dani made a challenge of making a to-do list;)

  13. What great self-discipline you have! Thanks for the encouragement for all of us to put our work first. I don't have a portfolio for you to review, just wanted to leave a comment!

  14. Thank you ! I'm going to print it out and keep it in my files.

  15. Thank for your your post. It's helpful to follow.

  16. I really struggle with bad time management skills and this makes me feel a little better!
    I have four PB dummies and would love to have one critiqued!

  17. Excellent! I really need to work on my portfolio but the excuses are in too large of a pile for me to get around!

  18. Mary, may we see your portfolio online?

    1. Mary's portfolio is here:

      Mary also just did an awesome post for Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo: