Updated: Nov 9, 2022
What was I thinking?
Why would I even think that this was a good idea?
What kind of maniac decides to write and illustrate a book in a single month!
Yes, me. I am that maniac.
So, we shall dub October of this year "Booktober".
Because that's how I spent my October, writing and illustrating a book.
And it gets even worse, thanks to other work commitments, out of the potential 31 days available to me I only had around 15 days (maybe less, it's all a bit of a haze) to actually get the book made. That includes writing, editing, illustrating and all the little bits at the end to make it ready to publish.
To put this into perspective the average children's book takes between 3 and 6 months just to illustrate.
So, we have established that this was not my brightest idea and for the most part that's why I haven't really announced my intentions on here or even mentioned it in passing.
I started work on the book officially on October the 7th and at that point I genuinely thought that what I had set out to do was impossible. Thanks to various things going on I found myself starting late and my potential 4 weeks was already down to 3 and a bit minus my other work commitments.
And then I decided to write the whole thing in rhyme.
If you haven't guessed by this point, this blog is just going to meander through the process of actually getting all of this done in what can only be described as a "snug" timescale.
Now, we have the challenge we should get onto how it was achieved right?
Not quite - I got so caught up with the horrible mounting nightmare of what I was setting myself up for that I completely forgot to mention why I would even want to try it.
It kind of comes back to my colouring book.
The Nonsense Pirate Colouring Book (available on Amazon) was something of a big project for me. I'm still at a stage in my illustration career where I'm really just trying to establish myself and as a result, the actual work I get tends to be little bits here and there. Small bits of projects; a book cover here or a bit of scenery there. It's still drawing for money, but I don't always get to stretch myself in the way I want to.
So, I decided to create a colouring book so that I could really push myself creatively. I took a subject I knew little about (pirates) and came up with 25 unique illustrations on that subject and there were no limits on timescale or what I could do on each image. What I ended up with is a collection of highly detailed illustrations that for the most part I am very happy with.
That took me 5 months. Not bad for a side project.
But the question that kept coming back to me after that was, what if I didn't have 5 months?
And we're back to the incredibly fast book.
I kind of had an idea for a Christmas book bobbing around in my head and after doing 2 horror comics in rhyme I wanted to see if I could write a story in a similar format with a more friendly tone. Which starts us on the writing part.
The first thing I did was come up with a very simple plot. The story had to be quite short and not too complex in order to make it easier to draw in the timeframe I had set.
The story primarily involves just one elf searching his house for a sock to wear.
From a writing perspective this provides a fairly straight line to follow and from an illustration perspective I only have to draw one character (always the most time-consuming part). Strangely writing it in rhyme also made the process much easier too. Prose or regular unrhymed writing for me is exactly like those detailed pirate illustrations and I'll get lost in tangents and unnecessary extra bits that will not help me write quickly. Rhyme forced me down a very efficient narrative where any deviation requires extra work to make it fit the rhythm or rhyming scheme so usually those deviations are abandoned quickly. It makes for a much leaner process.
In total the writing part took around 8-10 hours, including a bit of editing. Nice and quick.
Well, not quite.
It was at this point that I realised that I was an idiot.
Because while it only took 8-10 hours to write the story, this actually took place over 2 days. And worse, the first day was the 7th of October and the second day was on the 11th of October.
For some insane reason I had completely overlooked all the other things that would use up my time in the month of October and once I had taken that into account then things were starting to look decidedly difficult. Thanks to other commitments I would only have maybe 3 days out of every seven to work on my superfast book.
Time to start the drawing stuff bit I guess....
Okay, so this was turning into a bit of a disaster and thanks to the Christmas theme of the book the deadline I had set myself was pretty rigid. Time to adapt and find a faster way of getting all of my illustrations done (about 30 in total) in 10 or so days.
So, the first thing I had to do was a little bit of evaluation on my art style and how I produce it. Traditionally I favour detailed drawings and I work in three stages; first I produce a pencil drawing, then I ink it (all on paper), then I scan it and colour it digitally. I had time for none of that.
So, I designed a more streamlined version. For this book I would produce the drawing digitally (I am not a fan of drawing digitally) so I could skip a lot of the early stages and be all prepped for colouring immediately. I also stripped out a lot of the detail I like to put into my artwork. I love detail but a simpler cartoony style is far more efficient, and I really could only afford a few hours per illustration.
At this point I had some serious doubts about whether I could actually pull this off and if the end product would be something I would even be comfortable sharing.
But this wouldn't be fun if it was easy, eh? (If this had audio you could likely hear me sobbing into my keyboard).
I completed the first 2 full colour illustrations with no real problems over the course of a day. Sadly 2 illustrations in one day was not fast enough. If I continued at that rate I would have likely only had half of them finished by my deadline.
So, another quick rethink was needed.
I don't know if I can adequately convey the actual level of continuous stress that I experienced throughout October but if you can, imagine being 3 minutes away from a train station 2 minutes before the last train departs. You might be able to make it, but almost certainly not.
And, like the fool I am, I did this all to myself in the name of an experiment.
Okay, so, I started doing each full illustration one at a time. You decide what to draw, you draw it and then you colour it. It's simple and it feels efficient when you read it. In reality though you are jumping between modes of thinking, and it slows you down. One minute you're doing line art, then you're colouring and then you're trying to think of how to compose your next drawing. There's a vital transitional pause between each stage.
In order to maximise my productivity, I looked to factories as inspiration.
I reorganised my work, so I did all of the compositions and line art first in one stage and then all of my colouring in one go afterwards. This allowed me to get into a groove for each stage, essentially turning myself into a one-man production line. By doing this I was still on a tight deadline, but I was getting things done faster.
It also gave me the chance to get everything planned out early and at a point where errors can be easily rectified. Get a detail wrong in a line drawing and you can easily fix it; that's harder for a full colour image.
There're also a few sneaky tricks you can pull if you have a mind to.
See that grandfather clock in the drawing?
That features in two pages. I have to draw and colour that twice!
Or do I?
A quick cut and paste in photoshop and I've saved myself some time and effort. I couldn't have done that on a piece of paper (which is why I drew it all digitally).
So where does this leave us?
Well, with a couple of days to spare I managed to complete the whole thing. The book from conception to final product took under 15 days of actual work, and that includes assembling it in Adobe Illustrator for publication.
As I write this, I am waiting for my draft copy from KDP and if all goes well it could be available from Amazon within the next week or so.
So, the experiment was a success then?
It sort of was. I mean, I finished the book in a stupid amount of time, and I really pushed myself in ways I hadn't even thought I could. And I am aware of some of the practices I developed mean that in future I will be capable of much faster and more efficient artwork production when I need to.
But I wouldn't ever necessarily want to do this again.
I'll admit that when I started I kind of had the idea that I could use what I learn to maybe set up a one-man production line of books throughout the year. Maybe churn out 10 or 12 books every year to give myself a solid base of self-published books in a few years' time, while developing my skills.
But I really missed spending that time I use to make all those fun little details, exploring compositions and just enjoying the process of exploring the illustration I'm making.
There's no time to smell the roses so to speak.
Listen, I'm not saying it was a miserable experience. I love making things and making this book was fun and it was challenging, and it was a learning experience.
I thoroughly recommend giving it a go.
A one-month book challenge is something I think is a great way to start and finish a project. That doesn't sound like it means anything, but I think the hardest thing about making your own stuff is either starting something (looking at you writer's block people) and or finishing something (how many half-finished drawings do the artists amongst you have).
The timescale involved means you are constantly under pressure to finish and there is no time to have self-doubts or worry if it's not good enough. It will fly by, and you can get it done, I just proved that.
You will have to write, and you will have to draw, and it distils your skills down to their most primal and basic level.
For my part, I had started to worry that I was too slow an artist before I did this. That me drawing or writing something was a process that took time, and I had no choice in that. If I wanted to make a book, then I had better set a year or so aside to get it done. I felt that I was trapped like that.
But completing this challenge, one book in one month, revealed to me that I was an idiot.
I was wrong.
I choose how long a project takes and I choose to sometimes take three days getting a piece of line art just right and sometimes I choose to take a month to draw a whole book of illustrations.
I am not slow; I am not fast.
My illustrations take exactly as long as I want them to take, and I always had that freedom.
So, I wouldn't necessarily write and illustrate a book in one month again, but I am really glad I did it at least once.
Enjoy your day, and keep creating!