I’m guessing authors like John Grisham probably stopped bragging, “I wrote a book” after getting published the second or third time. For an accomplished writer such as he, writing bestsellers is probably as easy as breathing. But maybe I’m wrong and after a few dozen books Mr. Grisham still gets nervous every time he puts his work out there. Either way, after writing my first book, I love to tell people, “I wrote a book!”
To be more exact, I wrote, illustrated and self-published a junior novel entitled, Drake and His Magical Drawings. Some might cry foul to such a claim. Can someone really claim they “wrote” a book if it’s not officially vetted by a publishing house? Heck yes, they can!
So why did I write a junior novel and why did I choose to self-publish? Pull up a seat and I’ll explain why I bothered to venture into something I knew hardly anything about.
1) A Creative Challenge
When I first had the idea to write a book, it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but I also hadn’t had a lot of writing experience.
If you know me, then you know I keep busy with a lot of creative projects. Growing up, I constantly was drawing and coloring. When I discovered Photoshop and graphic design in high school, I was constantly designing.
So it’s no surprise that I find writing as an effective creative outlet. I love telling stories visually through art and design, but I also find it a fulfilling challenge to tell a story through the written word. In my work as a designer and marketer, I have had to make up all kinds of copywriting for websites, ads, flyers and more. Crafting words in the right way to capture emotion is fun and satisfying.
I’ve always loved creative writing in school. I never did much with that until my late 20s when I started to develop an idea for a movie about the 1871 Chicago fire. My plan was to write a screenplay and I had gotten as far as writing a detailed outline and very rough beginnings of the screenplay. I even bought a couple books on how to write movies. It was hard.
Eventually, I realized that few people would actually get to hear my story unless it was made into a movie. To do that I’d need to send out countless pitch letters to studios and agents. I didn’t have the fortitude for all that so I gave up.
A few years later, I thought of another idea for a movie and started a short outline for that too, but soon gave up for the same reasons as the first attempt.
One night as I laid in bed trying to sleep, I started thinking about this desire to write and tell a story and it occurred to me that I don’t need to write a movie. I thought, “I can write a book and self-publish so people can read it right away!”
Once this possibility opened, my mind began to explore book ideas. The creative challenge was officially on. So reason number one for why I wrote Drake and His Magical Drawings was I wanted to take the creative challenge of writing a full-length story and easily share it with others.
2) Needs to Be (Mostly) Easy
Since I am not a veteran author, I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. If I was going to write a fictional book, it had to be somewhat easy to write. So I decided the book had to be at a children’s reading level. In the end, it was decided that the book would be for 2nd to 4th-grade readers.
While I kept the level of reading simple, I was unsure about the length. I didn’t want my first book to be a mammoth to re-read and edit over and over again. When I got closer to finishing the story, I started to doubt if the book would be long enough. To give me a guideline, I found my son’s copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and counted the number of words on a page, then multiplied that by the total number of pages. In that book, a page with no illustrations has about 150 words. At 217 pages, that's about 32,000 words total. Drake and His Magical Drawings ended up with almost 14,000 words at 133 pages. I didn't even get close to my goal, but I was happy with the concise length of telling my story.
The second reason I could write my book was that it would have to be easy to wordsmith. Okay, it was not easy. Did I say already, it took nearly four years to finish? I chipped away at it with sometimes months passing before getting back to it. If it were that easy, I would have gotten done sooner. The majority of my doubts to finish were in my writing abilities.
3) Write From Experience
Once I knew I wanted to write a fictional book, I had to decide what it would be about. I knew right away that it needed to be about something I was familiar with. They say you should write about your own life. Well, my life doesn’t have any amazing stories, but we always have plenty of experience to pull from if we think about it hard enough.
I soon decided it would have something to do with drawing. I had a lot of experience with drawing and wanted to use that somehow.
Growing up I loved to draw. As far back as I can remember I was impressing adults and classmates with my drawings. In middle school, I met Justin who also loved to draw. We spent a lot of time doodling and exchanging drawings. We also had this thing where we would take requests from classmates. Usually, it was the girls that would ask for drawings of flowers or some cute animal. This is exactly what Drake experiences in the book.
Because I was known for my artistic abilities, I felt sometimes overworked on class projects. I’d feel pressured as people would expect me to make something amazing. Or it felt like kids only wanted me in their group because I would handle all the crafty stuff for them. Drake experiences the same feelings in the book.
Drake is a little insecure. Maybe a lot. That’s me. I wanted to write about someone that was like me, but despite his insecurities, he takes charge and saves the day. Because I could relate to Drake, it made writing his story so much easier and fun.
My third reason for writing the book was to write about something I was familiar with.
4) Drawing at the Center of the Story
In my previous reason, I explained how I wanted to pull from my own experiences as an insecure kid who drew a lot. In combination with that, I knew I wanted to tell a story that would inspire kids to draw.
These days with Minecraft, Fortnite, touchscreens, game controllers and texting, you don’t often hear much about kids who spend hours drawing or working on art.
I believe there’s a permanent foundation set in place when kids learn early and often how to use the basic tools of paper and pencil. While Minecraft can bring about an endless stream of creativity, the fundamentals for lifelong creativity is starting with the basics found in the physical world.
Kids stop too early in their growth using crayons, paints, markers, glue and all the hands-on crafting materials.
I wanted my book to remind kids that drawing is fun. I hope Drake’s experiences with drawing inspire even just a few to push a pencil or pen a little more often than they would have.
Like with most creative pursuits, drawing or art, in general, is assumed by many as some discipline meant for the DaVinci’s of the world. Yes, one's artistic abilities can come naturally, but they can also be learned. But that’s not even the point. The purpose of drawing is in the act of doing it. Drawing is an act of self-discovery and reflection. The fact that it takes time and concentration allows your mind to pause from distractions and breath. Drawing or art is therapeutic.
My fourth reason for writing a book was to inspire others to get creative and remind them that pencil and paper remain the foundation of our human imagination.
5) Let There be Magic
In my brainstorming for book ideas, I knew it needed to be about drawing, but I also wanted there to be magic for one simple reason: I LOVE HARRY POTTER.
J.K. Rowling created an incredible world — a world filled with magic. There’s very little that makes me happier than sitting in my living room wrapped in a blanket watching any of the Harry Potter movies.
What amazes me the most about the Harry Potter story, or more specifically the movies, is that they are timeless. While there are witches, wizards, goblins and cauldrons, Harry Potter is not a Halloween story to me. I can watch or read it on Christmas Day as much as I could in the month of October.
I also find the magic in Harry Potter fascinating. It’s not dark or creepy to me. It’s not the kind of paranormal activity that involves ouija boards. It’s not cheesy pull-a-bunny-out-of-a-hat magic either. Rowling writes about the magic as if she’s describing something we all would have imagined as kids, but grew out of. So in that way, the magical places, creatures and things in the world of Harry Potter all seem strangely familiar, like we had once thought of it ourselves.
I wanted the magic in my book to be a playful kind but rooted in guidelines, governing councils and mentors. And, I wanted a special name for whoever possessed this special type of magic--Imagos. Imago is the Latin word for "image". I think as you read the book you'll see why "image" is so appropriate.
With magic as a pre-requisite in my story, I eventually came to the idea of Drake, a sixth-grader that finds himself possessing a magical drawing power.
So those are the reasons why I started and eventually finished writing a junior novel. I wanted to take on another creative challenge of telling a story through words and illustrations. I wanted to self-publish it so I wouldn't have to wait for permission to share my own work. I wanted to tell a story that incorporated my own experiences. I wanted that story to share the joy of drawing. And I wanted that story to be filled with magic.
As the idea began to form and the story grew, that only fueled my desire to finish it. Besides this desire to see this story through, I was motivated to finish for a deeper reason. That was to show my own kids that you can take creative risks. You can do something you are not sure you know how to do. You can finish what you start.
If you haven't read my book or think your kids might enjoy it, you can buy it from my website for $5, plus $5 shipping. I've gotten feedback from all ages, including a 90-year-old family member who called it "ageless." Buy Drake and His Magical Drawings