LBOT Preview: Meet Your Talented Illustrator

Here’s the thing no one tells you about writing books: you spend a fair amount of time feeling kinda clueless.

I realize, you’re not supposed to say that. Writing a book is supposed to be a confident sequence of a-ha moments, that feeling of unstoppable creative momentum some writers like to call “taking dictation from God.” But for me, it can sometimes feel more like walking through a dark forest, bumping my head into trees, hoping to get to the other side. During those times, it’s not like taking dictation from God. More like, from Homer Simpson.

One of the key moments in the head-bumping journey of this new book (The Little Book of Talent, due out in August) happened not so long ago, when I realized that this book needed an illustrator. (In retrospect, hugely obvious, since this is a handbook filled with specific, concrete tips designed to help readers improve their skills/grow their brains. But at the time, not so obvious.)

I found myself magnetically drawn to the work of Mike Rohde. Mike’s work is simple, classic, beautifully clear, and best of all, has this uncanny knack for capturing ideas and turning them into vivid, memorable images.

When I called Mike about The Little Book of Talent, we started with the idea of doing six illustrations. Then it was twelve.  Then twenty. Next thing we knew, Mike was cranking out no fewer than fifty-freaking-two separate drawings for LBOT, one illustration for each of the book’s 52 rules, an Olympic-level performance. For example:

Tip #25: Shrink the Practice Space    Tip #51: Keep Your Big Goals Secret

It turns out that Mike’s knack is not an accident. He’s a pioneer of a new kind of visual notetaking called sketchnotes. You might have seen it on the web, or at conferences. The idea is to replace the old ways of note-taking (words stacked on a page) with a combination of key words and images that capture the larger idea in a more concise, engaging way. Like this:

Or this:

A good sketchnote quickly captures the essence of complicated ideas and relationships, distills them to a simple, memorable form. It works because it leverages the our brain’s natural ways of learning (focused on images and spatial relationships). Best of all, it changes the role of the note-taker from passive transcriber to active decision-maker; creator.

For more, check out Mike’s work here and his flickr collection here. But the big news is that he’s at work on a new book of his own: The Sketchnote Handbook from Peachpit Press, due in October. The idea is to help teach people how to use sketchnoting techniques in their lives, and give them some tools to start.

So now I’m trying this sketchnoting thing myself, in hopes that it helps me get lost less, or at least bump into the right problems more quickly. I’ll let you know how it goes.