Progress Report (6 May 2021)

I Wrote My First Outline!

This is just a quick check-in about progress on the book. I spent this morning’s writing time taking my first stab at a rough book outline. I’m pleased to say it went well.

When I sat down this morning, I had the same thought I have most mornings these days: when am I actually going to start writing this book? Not just posting these posts, not just thinking about writing. Not just writing about writing. When am I going to step into the actual process of writing this book, for real!?

I grabbed my copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and started to flip through the pages again. I hadn’t thought of the book since I devoured the first few hundred pages a couple of months ago. I didn’t really read anything; I just sort of skimmed through the table of contents and some of the appendices. I don’t know, but just holding the book in my hands made the project of writing a book seem more real to me again. I put the book down and started to write in my plain paper, hard cover Moleskine journal.

Nine pages and about an hour later, I had my first rough outline, plus some added clarity on the book topic, format, and overarching message. Here’s a summary of what I developed today:

There is a lot of talk about finding our style as illustrators, but not a ton about finding your creative process. I think the two are more analogous than you might think. Finding your style is about finding your voice, about discovering your unique way of making art, especially in how it presents on the surface. Finding your style or voice (they mostly mean the same thing) is about knowing who you are and what your perspective is and bringing that to your professional work, reliably, confidently. It becomes your brand, the thing people know you by. Finding your process is about discovering how you channel your voice, how you use it to solve creative problems, reliably, for paying customers (a.k.a. clients). Having a consistent process is about knowing how you set each project up for success, and knowing how to navigate through the ups and downs of producing creative results on demand. Your style is about what your work looks like; your process is about how that work gets made. Both have the same key ingredients: consistency and authority.

This may seem more obvious with style, where your style is clearly unique to you, which makes you the natural authority on it. And because you have a style, your work has a consistency to it that both you and your client can rely on. With process, you must also be the authority—you must be the clear authority and guide through the creative process. You are being hired not just to “work your creative magic” but to lead the client through the various stages of going from initial brief to final artwork. The more you seem to know your way around your own creative process, the more the client will tend to trust you, and the more creative freedom you will have. Ultimately, you will end up making better work, because you were allowed to do your job without impediment. The consistency element of the creative process should be more obvious. A process is by definition a system, a series of predictable steps you take to produce something. The process of making a pot of coffee is almost always the same. The process of making a pizza is almost always the same. The process of building a house is almost always the same. You always have to start with a plan, and then make initial preparations, gather the raw materials, then move further into the actual making of the thing until you have your desired product. You always move from infinite possibility and chaos to more limited, refined, orderly result. You always move from general to specific.

So that was my overarching discovery, a clue to the essential idea of my book—that of finding your process. The importance finding your process is equal to that of finding your style. The mindset is also similar. In fact, finding your style and finding your process are almost inseparable, and lead to the same final result: your best work, which allows your voice to shine through the most.

The outline from today’s session is a whole other thing. I have tons of notes (9 pages in my notebook, remember!).The gist is that I have a start to the structure of my book. I’m getting a feeling for what the chapters and sections might look like. I’m even getting a better sense of how the book will read. I was always envisioning “a book you could read on the bus”, meaning something more like a meditation than a how-to. However, if today’s outline is any indication of what my final book will actually be like, I think it will be a little of both. A book about process demands to be practical and offer guidance on how to move through the system it proposes, right? At the same time, process is not just following directions. There is an art to the process of making art. (Actually, to me, I believe art is more in the process than any one product. Art is a verb, not a noun). So, naturally, mindset and some light “philosophy” must be intertwined through the book.

So what does my rough outline look like? It goes something like this:

Part 1: Introduction

  • Intro (My Backstory)
  • Overview of The Book
  • Where to Begin?

Part 2: The Process

  • The Brief
  • Research and Discovery
  • Sketches
  • Presenting Sketches (First Client Presentation)
  • Finals
  • Presenting Finals (Second Client Presentation)
  • Delivery of Final Art

Part 3: What’s Next

  • First Thing’s First: Celebrate!
  • Sharing Work
  • Archiving Projects
  • Debriefing Questions

Appendix 1: Resources

  • Various resources mentioned throughout the book
  • Includes links to recommended websites, apps, books, etc that relate to the steps of the process.
  • Links to my inspiration for this book

Appendix 2: Presentations

  • A guide to creating a presentation deck using InDesign
  • Includes aspects of layout, design elements like colours and fonts, and some tips for branding
  • Also includes tips for how to use presentation deck (anything not covered in The Process section of the book
  • I may make a Skillshare class teaching this step by step and offer free access to people who purchase the book (if the platform allows).

Obviously I am leaving out all the meaty details of this book outline for now. I want to get your feedback—I want to write on stage here—but I cannot spill all the beans just yet. But I am excited to finally have something that looks like actually writing a book.

One thing I realized today is how similar this process of writing for the first time is to designing and illustrating for the first time. It’s both helpful and hard that I have to go through this process as a complete beginner. I am able to empathize with my readers because being a beginner now reminds me of being a beginner then. We are beginners together.

One of the hardest things as a beginner, just starting to find your process, is not knowing what your next step is. That’s a huge pain point. I wrote about that in yesterday’s post. So right now, that’s where I am. I wrote my outline, and now what? Based on my experience as an illustrator, I think I need to present my working title and outline to someone I trust, to get a sense of whether it’s resonating or needs more work.

Meanwhile, I also have some following up to do from yesterday’s post, which I called Part One of the story of finding my process. As much as I hate storytelling (or avoid it), I think I need to develop my origin story more, because that’s going to be what hooks people in. We are creatures of story. Where there’s a story, there’s an audience. People don’t want dry facts: they want a sense of purpose. As Simon Sinek says (to paraphrase), “people don’t buy our what, they buy our why.”

Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare.

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