Bill Watterson created one of the most consistently enjoyable comic strips in history with Calvin and Hobbes. He's known as a bit of recluse, but his comic and his ideas had a big impact on its readers. Let's take a look at a few of his tips, explored both in the comic and outside of it.
Enjoy Your Work
It's not strange to hear that Bill Watterson suggests that you enjoy your work. After all, when he stopped enjoying making comics, he left them. But Watterson outlines what it means to enjoy what you're doing and it might not be as obvious as you think.
In his 1990 Kenyon College commencement speech (the above picture is an illustrated version of the speech from cartoonist Gavin Aung Than), Watterson lays out his thoughts about why (and how) to enjoy your work:
You may be surprised to find how quickly daily routine and the demands of "just getting by" absorb your waking hours. You may be surprised matters of habit rather than thought and inquiry. You may be surprised to find how quickly you start to see your life in terms of other people's expectations rather than issues.
A REAL job is a job you hate. I designed car ads and grocery ads in the windowless basement of a convenience store, and I hated every single minute of the 4-1/2 million minutes I worked there. My fellow prisoners at work were basically concerned about how to punch the time clock at the perfect second where they would earn another 20 cents without doing any work for it. … It was a rude shock to see just how empty and robotic life can be when you don't care about what you're doing, and the only reason you're there is to pay the bills...
I tell you all this because it's worth recognising that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along. It's a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you'll probably take a few.
Sure, we can't all just do work we love all the time, but it's also just about enjoying your job and the journey you're on. Sometimes, you can enjoy a job you don't love, or deal with a crappy boss. Other times, it's time to leave a junk job and embark on something new if you want to remain creative and happy.
Create For Yourself
Watterson's also quick to point out that when you're creating something, you need to know who you're doing it for. In the documentary, Stripped, Watterson is straightforward about who he was making Calvin and Hobbes for:
Quite honestly, I tried to forget that there was an audience. I wanted to keep the strip feeling small and intimate as I did it, so my goal was just to make my wife laugh. After that, I'd put it out, and the public can take it or leave it.
Sometimes audience matters, but it really can hinder you and your creative vision if you're constantly thinking about them when you're creating something new. Watterson didn't, and the end result was a comic that felt as small and intimate as he wanted.
Let Your Mind Wander
Returning to his Kenyon College speech, we get another important thougt about creativity from Watterson: let your mind wander. He explains:
It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I've learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it's how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.
If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I've found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I've had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness...
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you'll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
Relaxation, boredom and letting your mind wander are all the supposed enemies of productivity. But as we've pointed out time and again, boredom and daydreaming are required if you want to make something interesting. That means giving yourself time to let your mind wander.
Don't Force Creativity
We like to think that we can live in a world where we don't procrastinate, but when you're producing new work daily, that's simply not possible. As Watterson demonstrates in the Calvin and Hobbes strip above, while you can't always force creative moments, sometimes a little crunch is a good thing.