The Third Something

143 / Strawberry Fields

The myth of the creative sabbatical.

A photograph of the Thames River in England on a summers day in 2024, by Adam Westbrook

Here will I sit and wait
While to my ear, from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne
With distant cries of reapers in the corn —
All the live murmur of a summer’s day.

The Scholar-Gypsy by Matthew Arnold


I write to you this month from a small green shepherd’s hut in the English countryside. It’s the same place I retreated to back in November to work on my book and I’ve returned to wrap-up the script.

What a difference six months makes! When I was here last, the fire in the corner of my little cabin burned all day and I was wrapped from head to toe as I typed away on my script. Today, as I write to you, the sun is beaming warm and strong through the wooden-framed windows; in the field just beyond, schoolchildren are picking fresh strawberries as hawks swirl overhead searching for rabbits. It’s the kind of summer day England does best: warm in the sun, cool in the shade; the light stretches long into the evening and a short walk away the river glides silently by.

A photograph of the Thames River in England on a summers day in 2024
A photograph of the Thames River in England on a summers day in 2024
A photograph of the Thames River in England on a summers day in 2024

I’ve been here in solitude for five days: a gift to myself to make one last focused blast on the script for my graphic novel. After this, the writing is done. It’s time to draw.

How to take a month sabbatical every year just for your art

Perhaps you dream of taking an extended period of time — a month or more, say, from life, just to focus on your creative passion projects.

If you had a solid block of time, free from the distractions of daily life, you could get so much done!

Well, my friend, I do precisely that. In fact, I see your month and raise you two! Two whole months a year for me and my art. It’s how I’m able to get this graphic novel off the ground.

You can do it too and here’s the kicker: you don’t need to sacrifice your family vacation or take a pay cut — hell, you don’t even need to tell your boss!

It’s very simple. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Get up early every morning and, before you do anything else, sit down at your desk and do your creative work for 30 minutes, without interruption. If it makes more sense for you, these 30 minutes could be at the end of the day, or indeed, in the middle — but they must be sacred.

  2. Do this six days a week — every week. Take a one day shabbat. Once you get started, you’ll find this is easier than you thought. In time, these 30 minutes will be so ingrained into your daily routine you won’t need a reminder.

  3. 30 minutes six days a week is three hours per week and over 52 weeks, this adds up to 156 hours of creative work every year.

  4. 156 hours is the equivalent of 20 eight-hour work days.

  5. Congratulations! You just spent a month of full-time work, making art!

BONUS: if you can stretch 30 minutes a day to an hour (like I do), it’ll be the equivalent of two months.

The myth of the sabbatical

You might scoff and say I’m cheating. You wanted a month of solid, pure, uninterrupted creative work!

Allow me to let you in on a secret that most artists learn the hard way: those month-long sabbaticals we dream of taking: they’re a myth.

The open expanse of time — plus the pressure to do something worthwhile with it — form a paralysing combination. Days slip by and before you know it, you’re half way through your big sabbatical with nothing to show for it. Guilt sets in and guilt begets panic. Show’s over.

I’m not saying you should never take some blocks of time to focus on your creative passions, if you are able. I’m doing that right this moment. But instead of a long sabbatical, it’s a short, focused sprint, with a very specific goal in mind. Alongside a daily practice, these weeks or long-weekends even, act as an accelerant — a powerup — to propel me a little further, a little faster, before I resume normal speed.

But the real work? There’s no fanfare. It’s done quietly and modestly, usually in my pyjamas, in the quiet minutes of the morning, dreaming of summer meadows and strawberry fields.

Until another Sunday soon,

Adam's signature