The Third Something

090 / Don't Make Work Out Of Things You Enjoy

Some thoughts on creativity and work, plus an important announcement about the future of this newsletter.

A photo of some worn down pencils and Adam Westbrook’s sketchbook

Someone once said “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

They were lying.

I recently received an email from long-time Third Something reader Hugo with a great story, which he has kindly agreed to let me share with you.

“Last week I was working on this one page comic. A bit complex in layout and everything, quite the puzzle, where does the lettering go? How do I best guide the reader’s eye? etc. This is always the fun part for me, working through the layouts and seeing how to make it fit.So I finally worked it out in rough and sighed (quite dramatically) to my wife: “the bad news is that now I’m going to have to actually DRAW all of it."
It was a bit of a joke, but without blinking she said: “then don’t."
Sorry what?
“If this is the part you enjoy, and the other part isn’t, why don’t you just leave it at that?"
I have to say man, my mind was a bit blown. I never considered just doing a layout and not actually finishing and publish it on Instagram (or wherever). I’ve been pondering her comment ever since…”

Hugo’s experience chimes with something I have been thinking about.

It seems there’s an insidious undercurrent that can catch any swimmer who ventures into creative waters.

It begins when you discover a new creative hobby. It gives you great satisfaction so you keep doing it. You pick it up whenever you feel like it, put it down with no pressure; but you feel drawn to doing it more. The more you practice the more you want to improve. So you begin to read books, watch YouTube videos, maybe take some professional classes.

At some point someone says “you should do this as your job!”

Cut to one year later and you’re a jobbing freelancer, writing music or creating illustrations for clients. And the thing you did for fun, well it’s now work. You have to do it for eight hours a day, whether you feel like it or not.

That’s not to say professional creatives don’t enjoy their work - I’m sure almost all do. And the smart ones aren’t working nine-to-five either.

But they do have a requirement to produce something every day, regardless of how those mercurial creative muses are feeling. And now that it’s work — cue capitalism! Be productive, improve, compete.

I think Hugo’s wife is onto something.

So I’d like to propose this as a rule-of-thumb for creative folk: try not to make work out of things you enjoy.

If you have a creative act that brings you joy - protect it.

At the smallest level, this is noticing when you’re not in the mood to write, draw or sing and giving yourself permission to come back to it another time. Nothing makes art feel more like work than forcing yourself to do it.

An announcement about this newsletter

All of which feels like a good way to say that the weekly rhythm of this newsletter has made it start to feel a little bit too much like work.

In some weeks I have found myself not in the mood to write on a Sunday morning, but persisted anyway — and I’m sure that’s showing up in the letters themselves.

I really don’t want this to become a part of my life that I feel resentful towards, so I have decided to dial back the frequency starting this week.

Future letters will still arrive on Sundays and I intend on writing to you once a month at the very least.

The trade-off is that when I do write, I will be sharing something I am really excited about and will have been thinking over for weeks. The letters will be a bit longer, better written with more illustrations.

You are still welcome to write to me anytime. Throughout the last 90 weeks (!) The Third Something has been a real source of pleasure, comfort and sometimes even support that I am very grateful for.

Thank you.

Until another Sunday soon,

Adam's signature