Organizing Your Art Book Ideas - Analog Style!
You may have one clear idea or several ideas for a book. If it's several, you can start by asking yourself why it is you'd like to write a book. Getting clear on this can be very helpful. Once you are clear on your motivation, it’s easier to move onto the next phase: Organizing your thoughts around content into a structured outline—a plan for how the book will flow. Whether you plan to self-publish or put together a nice proposal for a publisher, creating an outline is a step you do not want to try and skip. Even if you feel your ideas are already fairly organized in your head, don’t begin writing a book without a sense of how the book will be as a whole. The initial outline you create need not be written in stone (in my experience, content typically shifts a bit as it actually comes to life), but it will make your job of writing about a gazillion times easier in the long run and will save you from wasting precious time.
Start by Letting Go
So how to start? It can feel overwhelming right? One trick that tends to work really well at calming down your brain is a good old fashioned brain dump. Try the format of a writing a letter to yourself, but write as if you’re writing to a close friend, sharing your thoughts about all of your ideas, hopes, dreams. Don't worry about making this too coherent, and certainly don't worry about spelling, punctuation, etc. Just write as if you're chatting over coffee or wine, spilling out and letting loose all of your inspiration, your concerns, your questions and the things you know you want to include in your amazing book. I recommend finishing this letter and then taking a break and doing something completely unrelated for a few hours or even leaving things to gel overnight. You may decide to return to this piece of writing to jog your memory or you may never look at it again—either is fine. Its purpose was to subconsciously begin organizing things in your brain. Get out some fresh paper and proceed to the following questions.
Ask Some Helpful Questions
Now it's time to approach the idea of getting some specific things about your book nailed down. The answers to these questions can inform the planning of your content and are very helpful in getting things to start falling into place.
• What issue does my book solve for the reader? How will his/her life be improved?
(And please don't sell yourself short here, or trivialize what you offer.) Think of this as the book's mission statement. It can come in handy down the road if/when you're not sure a piece of content belongs or not.
• What should he/she be able to do when finished with the book?
The answer to this is powerful and at some point you'll be using this answer to sell the book.
• Will he/she need any experience in any area before getting started?
The biggest audience will always be at the beginner stage. This doesn't mean, of course, that you can't publish something geared more to an intermediate or even advanced level. Some people will be grateful for that, too; just know that the percentage of newbies will most likely be larger. If you are aiming your content at the beginner, keep this in mind and refrain from worrying about something being too basic/easy/obvious. It's always better to include more information than not enough.
• What hurdles might a reader encounter while working through the book?
How will you address those issues in your book to ensure greater self-confidence and success for the reader? Include a "Basic Techniques" section up front; perhaps a "Trouble-Shooting Guide" in the back; maybe "Helpful Hints" sprinkled throughout?
• Are there topics I’d like to include even if I don’t know all there is to know about them just yet?
As the saying goes, we all teach what we want to learn. Chances are that while you know a whole lot about the book you're aiming to write, as you get into the thick of it, you're going to come up against things you don't know. This is actually a beautiful (and fun) part of the adventure! If, at the get-go, there are already some things you know you need to learn more about, simply make a note so you'll remember to plan accordingly. And if you don't discover what you don't know until you're well into the content creation, that's OK. Remain open and flexible and your reader will only benefit from your experience.
Begin Your Outline
You're warmed up now and hopefully you are starting to feel like you're getting your head around the general description of your book and you may even be feeling more excitement than overwhelm! For some people, the term outline has an almost intimidating academic ring to it. But really, this is simply the Table of Contents for you book and is nothing to be afraid of!
I find it easiest to work from the biggest concepts (parts, sections or chapters) down to the smaller concepts (projects, exercises, sidebars). Also, there are a few elements of an art/creativity book that tend to be somewhat standard: Introduction, Conclusion/Summary (less common), Index, Resources and About the Author. An outline can get as detailed as you like, but it need not be detailed up front. Here are two examples of a very simple outline, followed by a more detailed version.
Chapter 1: Basic Brushstrokes
Chapter 2: Landscapes
Chapter 3: Still Lifes
About the Author
Using This Book
Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter 1: Basic Brushstrokes
Chapter 2: Landscapes
- Sunrise on the Beach
- Storm at Sea
- Small Town
- Metropolis at Night
- Sonoran Beauty
- Saguaros at Play
Chapter 3: Still Lifes
- Grandmother's Peonies
- A Single Rose
- Kitchen Counter
- Collection of Bells
- Shells in the Sand
- Dried Orange Slices
- Online Supplies
- Further Reading
- Inspiring Websites
About the Author
When it comes to actually getting started on creating your outline, there are probably as many ways to go about it as there are ways to write a book. I'll share with you below a two-part process that you can easily adapt to suit your own working style. It starts with list-making and then incorporates index cards.
Simply begin by listing the elements you believe you want to include. You could do this in columns if you like for multiple lists (Chapters, Projects, Miscellaneous) or really just in one big list if you feel overwhelmed about trying to organize things just yet. Once you've listed everything you can think of, start studying the list to see if anything stands out as obviously being a project/technique, a sidebar, a chapter/section or even a subsection. Add these notes to the list or use a coding system—colors or marks. Now get out a stack of index cards.
Index cards are great because you can easily move them around and rearrange them. Working through the list(s) you created, begin writing one element on each card, including what type of content it is (chapter, sidebar, project, resource, etc.). Working on a flat surface—table or bulletin board—begin arranging your cards in a logical way. You could create columns if you like, with chapter cards at the top of each column and what's in the chapter stacked in a list below. Once everything is divided into chapters/sections, decide the order of the chapters, thinking in terms of building on what the reader will learn in a progressive way if possible.
While chapters need not be identically the same in length, try not to have things too unbalanced. If you end up with say, six projects in each of three chapters but then only two in a seventh chapter, consider either eliminating the lean chapter and putting its contents in a different chapter if possible, or adding content to the chapter to make it more balanced with the rest.
Once you feel good about how the content is arranged, you can type things up in an actual outline such as the examples above.
Congrats on formulating your art book's outline! With a much clearer picture of what your book will be about and its overall mission, it's time to think about three things you're likely going to want to have ready moving forward: Title, Unique Selling Point and Short/Long Description.
Tentative title: Consider this a working title and try not to get too attached to anything because titles nearly always change from their first version—sometimes dramatically so, other times just slightly. Even though what you come up with will probably not end up being the "real" title, you're going to want to be able to call it something as you're talking about your production of it and/or pitching it to a publisher.
Unique Selling Point: Be clear on how your book differs from what's already out there.
Description: You're going to be asked what your book is about long before you're done writing it. Be prepared to answer this question with both a single-sentence summary as well as a short paragraph.
As always, let me know if I can help in any way. I offer consulting calls as well as coaching and I'd love to support you with as much or little as you need. xo