Visual by William Willis
This interview is part of a series that focuses on creators who live at the intersection of writing and art. The goal is to provide inspiration and practical tips for anyone looking to add more visuals to their work.
I first found the visuals of William Willis (aka Coach Willis) when he volunteered to go on “the hot seat” of a newsletter mastermind group I’m part of. This means that he was volunteering his work to be open to any and all feedback from the group (a brave soul indeed).
What stood out to me immediately was the fact that William pairs each of his short, daily essays with an original simple visual. I found the flat designs to work really well with the inspirational and thoughtful writing.
Of course I was immediately curious about his creative process and the reasoning behind his format. I reached out to express my curiosity and William delivered some great responses that I’ll share below.
Tell us about the creative projects you work on.
I publish 1 sketch + 1 quote + 1 essay each weekday on a specific topic to challenge and inspire people at Adventures In Life. The purpose of this newsletter and blog is to help people find meaning and reach their aspirations one small step at a time. I’m translating some of them into YouTube videos here.
I’m also working on a book of sketches, quotes and essays about Stoicism. I hope to produce others in a series about meaning, motivation, continuous improvement and other topics I write about.
What went into the decision to start including original visuals with each edition of your newsletter?
The visuals came first. I sketched them on an iPad initially, but discovered Jack Butcher about a month in. I was fascinated by the simplicity of his visuals, so I started experimenting with a simpler form of my own in Figma. That was the ticket.
I did something similar soon after with writing. I was initially focused on long-form articles, but after joining Ship 30 for 30 early this year, I found writing and publishing about 300 words a day (now weekday) worked better for me.
Simplifying and taking smaller steps has resulted in well over 100 essays and slightly more visuals. I’ve been prolific so far this year!
How do you come up with ideas for your visuals? Do they come before or after you finish writing?
These days I write the essay first. As part of writing, I select up to a handful of quotes to help illustrate the topic. One of those quotes ends up being headlined. I then create the visual based on the headline quote.
What tools do you like to use for creation and publishing?
I use Figma to create visuals. I use Obsidian to write and link my essays with my notes. I use Notion to track my workflow, statistics and a record of both what I publish and where I publish it.
Is there one image you are particularly proud of?
This is a tough one! I would choose the one included in this essay.
It is paired with a fantastic Emily Dickinson quote and represents living in the moment.
What advice would you give anyone who wants to build an audience using visuals?
Don’t focus on building an audience initially. Find your medium for visuals. Mine is vector drawings with Figma, but yours may be sketching with a pencil. Then practice consistently and deliberately visualizing things that inspire you. Once you’ve developed consistent output and enjoy the work, then you can start thinking about distribution and engagement.
I have a strong opinion about what I choose to visualize. I focus on what I am interested in, not what I think an audience wants. The right people will be attracted to what you enjoy. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It will only result in work you don’t enjoy.
Are there any creators who work at the intersection of writing and art that inspire and motivate you?
Deepu Asok (@Deepuasok): I love his writing and visuals. Very talented and inspiring! He is working on a book called The Process Is the Product that I can’t wait to get my hands on. I’m certain it will contain some of his great visuals.
Craig Burgess (@craigburgess): Craig doesn’t toe the conventional wisdom line. He is an inspiration to me with visuals and is a great writer. His recently released book called The Magic Visual is fantastic.
Janis Ozolins (@OzolinsJanis): He sticks to visuals, but they are so amazing I had to mention him.
I hope I’m not forgetting anyone. I want to engage with more people who write about and visualize ideas. It is difficult to do both consistently.
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