Publishing a book in your 20’s: Creative Block by Gemma Lawrence

Today, twenty-two year old Gemma Lawrence has published her first book, Creative Block. Not only is she incredibly young, Gemma has also illustrated and written every page of this beautiful book.

Creative Block is a book set to help individuals get out of a rut and get those creative juices flowing. Focussing on the creative process and theory, it is filled with over 100 tasks to get your head into a conceptual and creative space, encouraging experimentation and playfulness in art.

Here, Gemma shares her journey from original concept to getting published. I guess all that’s left to say is Happy Publishing-Day Gemma!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your life. 

Gemma Lawrence first book

Well, I’m Suffolk born and raised, but have since lived in Brighton, London, and now Bristol. So I have a bit of a varied background! I’ve always loved art, and for as long as I can remember, creativity has been my greatest love in life. I graduated from the University of Brighton with a Fine Art degree, and went straight into the graphics industry – after working there for some time, I have since re-trained and am working as an art and design teacher.

Congratulations on publishing your very first book! How are you feeling now the book is physically out?

Thank you! It feels surreal to be completely honest – I designed and wrote it over the last year with a lot of it being during the work-from-home months, so it’s kind of been a bit of a secret! However, even since seeing and holding the real thing… I still can’t quite believe it.

What inspired you to create a book?

creative block illustration

I had been working voluntarily at a kid’s art club back in London, and was trying to think of ways to encourage them to associate colours with emotions. This train of thought developed into maybe creating a zine of tasks – which I’d just leave about in cafes and the like.

I was also working in a creative studio at the time, and a lot of our briefs required a great deal of creativity and being as conceptual as possible – leaving me often wishing for some prompts or a little book I could just refer to when I was struggling. Combining the two ideas, and realising I had more ideas than would really suit a zine, Creative Block was born.

You’ve illustrated and written every single aspect of the book. How did you find doing both the artwork and writing for it?

I actually really enjoyed it. I love being part of every aspect of a creative process, and tend to break it down into stages. I very much did this with the book – first I researched the tasks and wrote them, and each weekend I’d create the graphics for them. It was fun to turn my own words into images – I’m a visual person anyway, so actually found illustrating and designing the book the best way to truly convey my ideas.

How did you go about getting your book published?

creative block book

Once I realised I’d gone a bit overboard with the task-list for a zine, I started to wonder whether to approach publishers and see about making a publication instead. I’d always dreamed of writing a book, and I love anything tactile – bizarre for a digital designer, I know.

I researched publishers of books I already owned and loved, as well as scouring online book stores and blogs for books that suited the concept of mine, and submitted to the publishers.

I got many rejections – I don’t want to give the impression that this was a breeze in any way, as it really wasn’t – but in November 2019 BIS Publishers got back and said they were interested.

From there, I sent over a bit of a mood board for how I wanted the book to look, and the rest really is history! They’ve been brilliant through the whole process, and put up with my silly questions – as has our mutual friend Becca, who’s talked me through more terms and emails than she ever really signed up for! But I’m super grateful, as a real novice to publishing!

It’s very rare for young people to write a book, it feels as though it’s something on everyone’s list to do eventually. What would you say to young people that are dreaming of writing a book?

book illustration creative block

Go. For. It. I’d honestly have myself down as the least likely person to be published – but here we are. If you have an idea for a book, pursue it. Why not?

I think if you have the passion and drive, you find the time to do it. And it’s the best feeling in the world when another person genuinely supports your ideas too. Send emails, reach out to people, pitch yourself. You’ll be very lucky to get a yes straight away – but believe in yourself and be persistent. And have a mood board ready! It’s always good to know exactly what’s going on inside your head when you’re explaining an idea. Visuals & notes are key.

How does it feel to have written and published your first book in your early twenties? 

It feels great, and it feels like the ball has started rolling for more projects. I just love making, so in a way it feels like part of the overall creative process for me. 

I just hope it helps people – I hope they get genuinely inspired. As a teacher now, it’s my greatest joy and responsibility in life that people really want to get creative and think up amazing ideas! Anyone can do it. So I hope the book provides that.

What advice would you have for anyone looking to create and publish a book?

creative block prompt

Get your ideas down and really flesh them out, just so that when you pitch them, you know exactly what you’re after and the publishers can maybe even collaborate with you on your ideas. It’s so important you both love the book equally. Research the market and figure out what makes yours different, stand out! Never been afraid to approach people either – you’ll send hundreds of emails, I know I did, and I know I’m not the first! Check out the indie publishers too, and do your research on who will genuinely adore your idea. 

Oh, and take your time on the front cover – it’s as much of a process as the insides are! Ask around in book shops and get them to pick out of some options – as this is what they’ll do when they receive the catalogs! 

What’s next for you? 

I’m hoping to get together some workshops (both in person and online) for the book and I’d love to do some guerilla marketing – maybe some daily creativity posters or something? I love little free things people can keep and actually do something with.

In the meantime, I’m teaching full time – and I’m really enjoying it. Writing the book really helped prepare me to encourage others to think outside the box and challenge their ideas!

I’d also love to do a kid’s version of Creative Block… it was the kids club, after all, that part-inspired the whole thing. And there’s nothing wrong with playing through creativity either.

Read more interviews here.

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