Three Book Ideas

It’s time to start writing this book already! Here are 3 possible starting points.

I’ve been treating this blog as though it’s the whole point, but really, it’s just a tool for working out what my book will be about! What is the book going to be about? What topics are closest to me? What comes out when I just write? What are my recurring themes and ideas? Which ones resonate most with my audience?

Today, in my paper journal, I thought through some of the possibilities for my book. It’s time to start focusing on a topic and finding my message from there. After listing some of the ideas and topics that come up a lot in my writing, I realized that they can really be organized into three overall buckets: Style, Process, and Mindset.

Style is something I have thought about constantly since my early days of developing as a designer and illustrator. It’s something that I know many others think about as they do the same. While many pros scoff at the idea of “finding” or “having” a style, I believe every artist thinks deeply about it. Style is an existential question for artists. Some emerge convinced it doesn’t matter, that they won’t worry about style, but on other things, like concept or technical aspects. Others think style is of utmost importance work to develop theirs very deliberately. I like that style is a bit of a lightning rod, that people have opinions and deep feelings about it, regardless of which approach they take. It makes it more fun to write about—and certainly one more likely to be popular. But mostly, my thoughts on style (and I have a lot of them) have emerged from my own deep questions about it. Many of my Skillshare classes are about these deep questions, including Drawing Toward Illustration, Sweet Spots, Odd Bodies, and of course, The Style Class. Perhaps my book can be a more focused synthesis of my style-related ideas found in these classes. One of my unifying ideas around style is in how it is more a problem solving tool, and less a means of “self expression”.

As I talk about in The Style Class: “We tend to think of style as being primarily a means of self-expression for an artist and exaltations of identity. But style is a tool we can either adapt to the visual problems that come our way or one which we can bend these problems around. For me, thinking of style as a problem-solving tool takes the pressure off any one of my styles or illustrations to express the totality of who I am as an artist or human.”

Style-related topics include:

  • Concept vs. Style
  • Drawing style vs. Illustration style
  • Inspiration vs. Imitation
  • Stylization vs. Realism
  • Style as a problem solving tool
  • Finding your style
  • Factors that go into one’s style

The Creative Process is another topic that is dear to me. Developing a systematic approach to creativity has been one of the biggest breakthroughs for me as a creative. I think it’s something most designers and illustrators strive for. When we have to be creative on demand, for paying clients, it makes a lot of sense that we have a tried and true way of getting from brief to ideas to final artwork. One of the biggest sticking points for creatives is not knowing how to come up with ideas, or feeling like any of them are good enough to push through and develop. Another sticking point is feeling like a creative job is too big, too impossible. We feel incapable of doing hard things, so we avoid doing them at all. The process for me breaks down impossible-seeming things into smaller, more possible-seeming parts. I don’t worry about tasks that are two or 3 steps beyond where I’m at. I just focus on the task at hand. With experience, I know that I will get through each task, and I know better than to try to skip to the next before I’m done with the former. I’ve written about my process before, and have even touched on the fact that I have a funny name for it: BRDSFD (Bird’s Food). Each letter stands for a different stage in the process. You can read more about these in my post, Where Do Ideas Come From? (or watch my YouTube video about it).

The bigger point here is that the process contextualizes struggle. Creative work is hard. Ideas don’t “just come”. There is always the experience of starting out, not really knowing what to do, and often feeling strong doubts, not only about whether you’ll find ideas in one instance, but about whether you’re creative at all. These struggles are easier to enter into and navigate when you know your way around them. They’re less intimidating when you know what to expect. When you’re encountering a difficulty in the creative process, but you were expecting it all along (and have a history of overcoming it), you accept it more, and freak out less. Contextualized struggle could be the organizing principle of a book about process.

Process-related topics include:

  • Defining the problem that you must solve (Knowing what your job is)
  • Knowing what to share with clients, when
  • Navigating endless options
  • Knowing when you have good ideas
  • The creative process in client work vs. In personal work
  • The Eureka! moment vs. Iteration

Behind all the hands-on stuff, which I think Style and Process are really about, there is the more abstract notion of mindset. By mindset, I mean something like guiding principles.What principles or ideas drive us in our work, perhaps at a more existential or personal level? When we take for granted that our work must be good (when we assume that making good work is a necessary starting point for all creative professionals), what else determines our success as artists for a living?

Artists struggle with self-doubt. We often feel undermined by clients who don’t respect them or pay them enough. We envy those around us, who seem to have found their voice or style, while struggle to find our own. We constantly feel inadequate under the pressures of social media. We compete with one another, envying the success of others. We worry that others will steal our ideas and style. We get lost in the process, experience much anxiety about so much, all the while, forgetting the joy that inspired us into a life of creativity in the first place.

A book about mindset would be about navigating a creative career without succumbing to negative forces from outside and within. In this book, I would share the guiding principles that have gotten me through some of the hardest struggles of my career.

Mindset-related topics include:

  • Enemies of creativity (self-doubt, envy, fear, etc.)
  • How to feel more empowered as a professional creative (when working with clients)
  • Keeping in touch with the Joy that got us here in the first place
  • Dealing with social media demons
  • Prioritizing vulnerability and originality over being safer and more “on trend”.
  • Cultivating a stronger work ethic
  • Starting out as an illustrator
  • Feeling like you’re starting too late (late bloomers)

In a previous post, I started thinking about 2 possible directions for the book. This was not about the topic but about the overall approach. Do I go deep on one topic, or do I write more broadly on a set of overarching principles?

A book about style or process lend themselves well to a format that goes deep. The book about mindset of course would end up being more broad. So perhaps the answer to the question of going deep vs. broad will be answered naturally depending on the topic I choose.

In today’s post, I’m talking about approach, but focus. I think if my book is going to have a focus, it’s going to fall mostly under one of these three buckets, or categories. I think I have a lot to say about each of these, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to try to cram all of it into one book. Maybe there can be three books.

Today, I’m challenged to simply pick an overall topic, and then to commit to fleshing out my book from there. Do I know yet how the book will be structured? No. I think that will come naturally from what I write moving forward. I was hoping I could have some kind of “big idea”, like how popular TED talks are based on one single idea, or how some of my favourite books, like Keep Going and The War of Art are basically book formats of keynote lectures. That’s not to say the book won’t have a big idea: in fact, this will only become more of a possibility as I commit to writing more on this topic.

The next step is to actually start writing. And that is going to be hard, because it means actually having a goal and holding myself accountable to it. It will also be hard because, I’m sad to say, I can’t write all that here on a blog. I will continue to write here. It will be good to surface each day with something to share, whether or not it’s related to my actual book. But the hardest part will be that I will also have to add to my day some time to write the book, not just write on my blog. I will have to see whether I can balance doing both, or if I will have to reduce my “public” writing hours a bit, perhaps to once a week for a time. Maybe I can do a weekly summary or update. I hope I can keep writing here in addition to writing the book, but we’ll see what’s possible soon enough.

If you are following along, thank you for reading. I always appreciate knowing someone is reading what I’m writing. As always, if you want to weigh in on any of these topics, or can share with me what about my writing has been resonating with you, I would love to know. I know that commenting here on Medium is not straightforward if you don’t have an account. In which case, you are more than welcome to get in touch on Twitter, by e-mail, or even DM me on Instagram. I do read all messages and respond to as many as I am able. Thank you!

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

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