Rob Sanders is a teacher who writes, and a writer who teaches. He does not work as a telephone sales rep, a loading dock worker, a trophy engraver, or an editor. But he used to. Rob is not a cowboy, a ballerina, an alien, or a temper-tantrum-throwing toddler. But he writes about them. Rob is a picture book author, a writing teacher, a sometimes blogger, and a dog lover. He worked for fifteen years in religious educational publishing as a writer, editor, editorial manager, and product designer.
These days he teaches elementary kids about books and words and reading and writing, and writes books for those same kids.
How did it feel to release PRIDE out into the world?
Releasing PRIDE: THE STORY OF HARVEY MILK AND THE RAINBOW FLAG into the world has been different than any of my other picture books. This is my first nonfiction picture book, but beyond that, this book has special meaning to me. This book freed me to be 100% my full, authentic self on the page.
“I’m using my writing to make my voice—and the voices of the LGBTQ+ community—heard.”
What was one of the most surprising things you learned working on PRIDE? About yourself? About your writing?
Through the process of writing PRIDE (and other LGBTQ-themed nonfiction books and manuscripts), I’ve discovered people and events that contribute to my identity and the identity of my community. I’ve also discovered a legion of allies--and a bit of hate and resistance.
A quote from Harvey Milk has become the theme of my writing: “Rights are won by those who make their voices heard.” I’m using my writing to make my voice—and the voices of the LGBTQ+ community—heard.
What project are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak preview or any details?
As a picture book writer, I always have multiple projects in the works at any given time. My agent is currently shopping around three nonfiction titles, and I just showed one of my editors two other nonfiction works-in-progress. I also have three or four fiction pieces out in the world right now, and I’m receiving input from editors, revising on spec, and so on.
My current nonfiction project is a collection of poems and mini-biographies of LGBTQ pioneers. The research is a bit daunting, but the creative opportunities are boundless.
What challenges or fears do you face in your writing routine and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?
Fear? What’s that? Just kidding, of course.
For me, my biggest fear is the next sell. I’ve heard other authors talk about this, too. Just because you’ve sold one, or two, or ten books, doesn’t mean you’re going to sell the next one.
Finding new inspiration, following your writing muse to the next idea, raising the level and quality of your writing, discovering an editor who connects with your work, those challenges are always present. How do I overcome all that? After I come out from hiding under the covers, I get up and start writing. That’s the real superpower of a writer. Put your butt in the chair and write. That’s really all I—or any writer—can do.
“If others are like me, they spend way too much time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and talking about writing.”
If you could go back 10 years and give your future writing-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I’d go back more than 10 years. I started my picture book writing 10 years ago when I turned 50. While I’m thrilled with what’s happened since then, I wish I’d started earlier.
I would tell my 20-year-old self, “Start NOW!” If others are like me, they spend way too much time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and talking about writing. We need to spend time writing, and sending our writing out to agents and editors. Bottomline—I’d tell myself to start earlier.
What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?
My advice to those seeking out editorial services or the next workshop or conference to attend is to determine what you need as a writer right now, at this moment.
Ask yourself, “What’s the next story hurdle I must overcome? What’s the next part of my writing I need to develop? What is holding me back?” Then go looking for the conference or service that will meet that need.
Be proactive. Advocate for yourself. Ask conference planners or those providing services how what they are offering will meet your needs. If a particular event or service doesn’t seem right, move on. Keep looking. Don’t settle.
What advice do you have for writers who are juggling work, their personal lives/careers, and writing?
My schedule doesn’t allow me to block out hours of writing time each day. I have to write in-between—in between a day of work and responsibilities at home, in between classes, in between errands, meetings, and appointments, and so on. I have to maximize the time I have.
I recommend, keeping a list of what you’re working on and what needs your attention. Squeeze out every minute you can. When you do have those minutes (or hours) to write, devote yourself fully to that process. One other thing I recommend is to not to get stuck on one project. The more you write, the better you become. Experiment with genre, format, POV, and more.
"One other thing I recommend is to not to get stuck on one project. The more you write, the better you become."
What does your dream writing retreat or workshop look like?
The things I like to do most in workshops, retreats, and conferences are to analyze mentor texts; participate in well-crafted, purposeful writing exercises; and apply what I’m learning to my writing through revision. I’m not a sit-and-get kind of person. I don’t want to listen to a lecture. I want an instructor to take his or her knowledge and bring it to life in concrete, practical ways that moves my writing to a higher level.
How has working with Lorin or having her as an instructor benefitted your work?
Lorin has critiqued a couple of my middle grade WIPs. She always gives me detailed, deep input that causes me to think, question, and wrestle with my writing. In the end, of course, every bit of her feedback strengthens my writing. Lorin and I frequently bat around ideas for future projects and she always has new insights and can help me dig deeper into concepts. She's a master at asking probing questions.
In particular, Lorin helps me think more deeply about my characters, what motivates them, and how I can make them active participants rather than passive observers in their worlds. That comes more easily to me in picture books than in novels. I appreciate Lorin's continued guidance and her patience as I take one step after another in the revision process.
What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?
Instead of hobbies and interests that feed my writing, let me tell you a bit about my process for finding inspiration and ideas for writing.
My fiction writing is fed by kids. Things I hear kids say, Youtube videos, and universal childhood experiences inspire my fiction writing.
My nonfiction writing is inspired mostly by reading and research. Often when reading a biography, I’ll discover a lesser-known person who interests me. When watching the History Channel, I might be inspired by a minor event that was part of a larger story.
I’m also inspired by old photographs, recordings, and news footage, and upcoming anniversaries often hold the potential for a story which inspires me.
In other words, I always have my eyes and ears open for a new story idea.
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