The 9 Milestones Of A Pictures Book And The Optimum Times To Complete Them

“Completing a book is like a marathon, it can’t be done in 2 days. Could you give us some numbers on how long did it take you?“, Klaus asked at the book launch party during the Q&A. 

Q&A round during the book launch of “Zerus gets a Virus”

The audience didn’t see my answer coming and found it surprising.

So, I’d like to elaborate on it, listing the milestones I reached while “running this marathon” and how I found the optimum times to complete each of them.


List Of Milestones

#1. RESEARCH (Dynamic)

Once I decide what the book is going to be about, I start by doing some research on it. I read books on the topic or browse the Internet. It’s a very structured, rational task. My focus is on collecting data. And I take notes and make diagrams on my notebook.

I even try to forget that I’m writing a book! 

Then, I move away for some days, letting this new information find its place in the back of my mind. I don’t want the research and technical details to become the main driver of the story but they still need to be there.

#2. KICKSTART (Creative)

After a short break, I jump into my journal and I do morning pages for a couple of daysThe story is born in them. I write, and write, and write, until there’s a moment in which I can’t really see what’s coming.

And suddenly, my subconscious is driving!

Unexpected things start to happen, coming in many different forms: words, images, bubble thoughts… By the end of this milestone, I’m not looking for a script, nor a storyboard. Instead, I’m looking for the feeling of the story. I call it the “kickstart”.

Sketches in journal during morning pages (“kickstart”)

#3. STORYBOARD (Creative)

Next, I work on the storyboard. It needs to comes before the script, since I like to see that the story supports itself without words. I still haven’t used the iPad; this work is done with pen and paper.

Storyboard done with pen and paper

#4. ROUGH SKETCHES (Creative, Dynamic)

Then, I take the storyboard into the iPad.

The digital work starts. 

I go through a first round of sketches for the whole book, already using the files that will go to the press. I focus on the structure of the page, the position of the characters and the text.

Rough sketches using thick pencil brush 64px

It’s time for a first print out, the rough sketches mini-book.

Experiencing the story as a book is important. And so, I print a couple of them to share with some readers and ask them for feedback. I’m especially interested in whether they can follow the story without words and if they come up with extra details to make it more juicy.

#5. COLOR STUDIES (Creative, Reflective)

While I wait for readers’ feedback, I start doing color studies.

Rough sketches are a great way to study the lighting along the book, which scenes are brighter or darker. By studying the color, I now can select the tones and values, using a color palette that I already defined for Zerus & Ona.

Color studies using customised acrylic brushes

It’s time for a second print out, the color studies mini-book.

Rough sketches mini-book (left) and color studies mini-book (right)

#6. WRITING THE SCRIPT (Creative, Dynamic)

I already reached the milestones that make writing the script a more directed task. It’s based on that first feeling of the story, the storyboard and the two mini-books.

Writing the script starts on my journal, using again morning pages. Later on, at some point along this milestone, I move my notes into the iPad and start typing the story.

 Writing the script in Scrivener for iPad

#7. EDITING THE SCRIPT (Expressive)

I share the script, storyboard and sketches with my editor, Esther Chilton. We do some work on it together, before she does a couple of rounds on the text by herself and comes up with ideas. I still haven’t put much effort on the final illustrations, so it’s easy to integrate anything that she suggests. 

#8. FINE SKETCHES (Dynamic)

While the editor is working on the text, I move into the last round of sketches.

This milestone requires more structure and logical thinking than any of the previous ones. I also check on the research that I did in the beginning of the process to include more layers of details into the story, either in the illustrations or as part of the parent guide at the end of the book.

Fine sketches, including extra details from initial research, reader’s feedback and editor, using a pencil brush 32px

#9. FINAL ART (Reflective, Dynamic, Expressive, Creative)

Once the previous milestones are reached, painting and drawing the final illustrations becomes a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.

I like to block time in my agenda to be able to complete this milestone non-stop from start to finish, immersing myself in the story during this last phase.

Final illustrations ready for the press using customised acrylic brushes for the painting and a fine pencil brush (16px) for the line work

Optimum Time To Complete Each Milestone

Now, here’s the part that the audience didn’t see coming.

I can’t tell the numbers of days, or weeks, that it took me to complete this book”, I told Klaus, “because I don’t work in a linear way. Instead, I plan and reach milestones in a cyclical way, following my menstrual cycle.”

Along the process of writing this book, I came across the work of Miranda Gray and her book The Optimized Woman. I read that my cycle moves around four different phases, each of them being an Optimum Time for particular abilities and actions.

“If we view ourselves as a consistent being, […] what meets our needs one week should equally meet them the following week. However, when we come to terms with our cyclic nature we suddenly realize that this expectation doesn’t work for us. […] just as we have different abilities and ways of perceiving in each of the phases we also have different needs to express and to meet.”

Miranda Gray
The cycle phases and Optimum Times (top), the active/passive cycle (bottom left), the conscious/subconscious cycle (bottom right) from The Optimized Woman by Miranda Gray.

I was hooked.

After some weeks reading all I could find, I was still geeking out on the menstrual cycle and how to apply it to my work with Zerus & Ona. You might have noticed the words Reflective, Dynamic, Expressive and Creative next to each milestone listed above. Those are the phases or the Optimum Times around my cycle in which to focus on them.

Working with my cycle not only as a productivity tool, but also as a means to happiness and fulfilment around my work, turned out to be the most important learning.

And so, I told Klaus, “I can’t tell the number of weeks, or months, that it took me. But, I can tell the number of cycles. It took me 5 cycles to complete this book.

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