Have you ever purchased an art instruction book, brought it home, flipped through it admiring all the pretty pictures, then set it down to “read thoroughly… later”?
I’ve done that more times than I care to admit. Here’s my reading pattern:
If a book is 90% words with very few illustrations (say, a novel with a tiny drawing at the beginning of each chapter), I barely look at the drawings.
If a book is 90% illustrations with detailed text, I barely look at the words.
So here’s my current challenge: if I’m writing a book that offers both words and pictures, how do I make both elements equally interesting, inspiring, worthy of the reader’s time?
My next book is an illustrated memoir. I decided to consult professional graphic designers to explore this text/image balance issue. I visited a great website called Reedsy, a multiple-service resource for authors and publishers. I requested five quotes on the layout I’m considering, and as a result, started rethinking everything.
The potential design expense is impressive, so I dove down the rabbit hole of self-publishing software, to learn to do all the layout work myself (in my “spare time”!). I can’t learn software and write simultaneously, so what should I do first?
SCREECH (the sound of brakes squealing in my head…)
Wait a minute, did you say, “Should”? Big red flag!
“You’re writing this book for joy,” I said to my captive audience, me. “You enjoy writing. You’re sharing pictures from your sketchbooks because they’ll let the reader travel through time with you, to sit next to you as you observe, and sketch, and chat while checking out the people and squirrels and traffic in front of you. This is meant to be exciting, not an obligation!”
As William Zinsser says, “Given a choice between two projects—one that you feel you ought to write and one that sounds like fun—go for the one you’ll enjoy working on. It will show in your writing. The reader should always think that the writer is feeling good.” (Writing About Your Life, William Zinsser pg. 48)
So I set aside all the software ideas and wrote quick thank-you notes to those lovely graphic designers. Then I created a simple working document, the same design I used for planning “Look at That!” in the summer of 2020. I’m using my old buddy, Microsoft Word.
If you would like to write a little book, just for yourself, here’s one way to approach it:
1- Open a new document in MS Word.
2- Go to the Layout tab.
3- Click on Landscape orientation, then click 2 column.
4- Whenever you want to insert an illustration, go to Insert text box —-> draw text box
5- After the box is created, go back to Insert—> Pictures—> from this device, and drop in the picture you like.
6- Then play with the size and shape of the box, and move it around until you like it. If you want to get really fancy, you can have the text flow around the text box.
I print each page after I’ve finished a good “first edit,” fold it in half so the text is on the outside, punch three holes in the “binding” edge, then clip them into an A5 looseleaf notebook.
Viola! This way, I can watch my book grow using actual paper, not just virtual screens. Just think, you too can create a booklet called “My Sketchbook Greatest Hits” for your own pleasure, or to share with close friends and family.
Of course, there are more sophisticated ways of creating a finished product at Staples or at an online printer, and I will surely do that once I’m closer to the finish line. If for now you just want to write and would love to watch it grow, this is my quaint way to enjoy the process.
When I’m done, I’ll have a single copy of a book that I will probably publish. In the meantime, all I can think of is, “This is going to be fun!”
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Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.