Gretchen Rubin

Revealed! Some of My Favorite Illustrations from the Book “Outer Order, Inner Calm.”

Revealed! Some of My Favorite Illustrations from the Book “Outer Order, Inner Calm.”

With each book I write, I think, "I'll never have as much fun writing a book again." And then I love the next book project even more.

Many aspects of writing Outer Order, Inner Calm made it particularly enjoyable.

In it, I use a very accessible, concise approach. This book is meant to be read quickly, to get you fired up to clear clutter. I was inspired by a book whose structure I've always admired: Michael Pollan's Food Rules. I'd always wanted to write a book like that—and I did!

I also loved the opportunity to include illustrations. The strange, dreamlike book Profane Waste is my writing presented with the photographs of artist Dana Hoey. In my book Happier at Home, I included some of my own photographs of my home. I've always wanted to explore visual possibilities again.

For Outer Order, Inner Calm, illustrations seemed right. I love the beautiful, highly distinctive work of British cartoonist and illustrator Jon McNaught, and he did a terrific job of adding an additional layer of visual interest and engagement to the book.

I was really lucky that Jon was interested in taking on this project. He's got a real cult following and is a very successful graphic novelist, and he often creates the covers for the London Review of Books. You can see his work on Instagram here.

For instance, I got a huge kick out of this illustration—can you guess why? Jon decorated the mug with the bluebird featured on the cover of The Happiness Project. I often incorporate that bird into various designs, and the bluebird of happiness is my personal symbol. I'm not sure how many readers will notice this insider reference, but I enjoy it!

Some illustrations proved to be a challenge. For instance, one tip suggests that you might "Create a seasonal photo gallery" with a collection of themed photos that are displayed only for a short season. In my family, we have a Halloween display (Halloween costumes over the years) and a Valentine's Day display (our annual Valentine's Day cards).

The first version of the illustration showed an array of many different kinds of photos. And the photos were hung on the wall. It took a couple of iterations to get to a visual representation of a "seasonal photo gallery."

It also took us a few tries to get the right illustration for the "travel tidy-up." The first attempt showed an unpacked overnight carry-on bag, but I meant that you'd go through your backpack, purse, or briefcase while you were waiting to board.

I was particularly focused on the final illustration—both because it came at the end of the body of the book, and because the last tip is my very favorite. I won't reveal it here—spoiler!—but it makes me choke up with emotion every time I read it.

The idea is powerful, but...how to convey it in an illustration? Without being overly mawkish or clichéd? It was a very tough challenge. When you look at the book, see what you think. I think Jon hit exactly the right note.

As a writer, I want to push myself with every book: to write more clearly and more beautifully, to think more deeply, and to take advantage of all the possibilities of the form.

This playful little book taught me a lot.

Thank you to everyone who has preordered the book. Be sure to claim your pre-order bonus here.

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