What Can Only You Do?

Creating graphic sidebars for my manuscript

“Do something to make your work unique.” That’s the advice that we writers hear time and time again. Maybe you’ve heard it worded a little differently. “Why are you the only writer who could write this particular manuscript?”

Not to worry. I’m a nonfiction writer. I dive into the research and will pull up a scientific journal article for one short paragraph. I point that out because it was brought to my attention that not every nonfiction author is willing to do that. I actually heard someone say in a workshop that she only uses sources from which she can pull a lot of information.

I’m not going to say that isn’t wonderful when it happens. But let’s be realistic. If someone else has already written several spreads in your picture book or a full chapter in your book for older readers, then your work isn’t unique. It just isn’t.

Still, I know I’m not the only one who can do rock solid research using a large number of sources for a single manuscript. But how many of you researchers out there also draw? Earlier in the year when I took the graphic novel class with Melanie Faith, I rediscovered my love of line art.

So as I started working on the first manuscript for Wild Cities, I was wondering about how I could make it uniquely mine. Easy peasy, I thought. I’ll do a graphic sidebar for each chapter. I’ve attempted the sidebar for chapter one twice and it is just sad. Mostly because I’ve been trying to take short cuts.

Hmm. If I won’t do them with my research, I need to quit thinking like that for these graphic sidebars. I know what I need to do now for chapter one but decided to tackle chapter two. You can see my efforts in the photo at the top of this column. That’s my map on the far left. I’ve inked the land masses and penciled in the rest.

Three maps printed out to provide the data needed to draw one map. That seems to be about right. After all, this graphic sidebar looks pretty good if I do say so myself. I’ll finishing inking it today. That will be one down and seven more to go.


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