We look at six writing lessons from Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. In this post, writers can learn about his creativity and genius.
Stories about people and their pets are popular. Just picture Garfield (and John), Tigger (and Christopher Robin), and Calvin & Hobbes.
About Bill Watterson
Bill Watterson was born on 5 July 1958. He created the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip in 1985. It was a daily feature that was syndicated to more than 2, 400 newspapers. More than 45 million Calvin and Hobbes books have been sold.
Watterson has given few interviews after his retirement. He has published rare cameos since then, like a poster he created for the documentary ‘Stripped’ in 2014.
How did he remain creative?
Consider these six great lessons for writers from Bill Watterson.
6 Writing Lessons From Bill Watterson
1. Exercise Mental Playfulness
‘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.’ – ‘Some Thoughts on the Real World By One Who Glimpsed It & Fled’ during his 1990 Kenyon College address
Rushed, panicked creativity limits you. It could even result in writer’s block that lasts for months.
Creativity for Watterson meant seeing new things.
Read new genres, discover new skills, and browse for things you haven’t explored. Everything you learn could be a whole new idea.
2. Exercise Daily Creativity
‘My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.’ – ‘Some Thoughts on the Real World By One Who Glimpsed It & Fled’ during his 1990 Kenyon College address
Ideas are necessary. Productive ideas were Watterson’s literal bread-and-butter income. Talk about pressure!
Creativity becomes your business as a writer or artist.
3. Push Boundaries
‘As Calvin and Hobbes went on, the writing pushed the drawings into greater complexity. One of the jokes I really like is that the fantasies are drawn more realistically than reality, since that says a lot about what’s going on in Calvin’s head.’ – Anniston Star
Fiction goes where the writer tells it to.
Writers can often forget their own abilities, but remember that you are in control of the story. Drive the narrative. You can do anything you like.
Watterson attributed his success to his writing pushing the visual aspects of the cartoon into new places.
4. Don’t Be The Bad Writing In The World
‘The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity.’ – From Calvin and Hobbes, published 1993
Watterson was being sarcastic when he attributed the following quote to his characters. The purpose of writing is good writing.
Bad writing is everywhere. It can be grammatically incorrect, or just not well-researched. Make sure that your own writing isn’t, well, that. Writers have a responsibility to create excellent writing.
5. Create Art For Art’s Sake
‘Really, I don’t understand it, since I never set out to make Calvin and Hobbes a popular strip. I just draw it for myself.’ – The Cartoon Journal, published 1989
‘Art for art’s sake’ is a true saying. This is what Watterson meant with this quotation.
Creation can be limited when writing or creativity gets forced. Enjoy what you create. This way, writing will never feel like a chore or tedious task.
Even though Calvin and Hobbes has millions of fans, Watterson always insisted that the ideas were created for his own enjoyment first.
6. Write Honestly
‘I just tried to write honestly, and I tried to make this little world fun to look at, so people would take the time to read it. That was the full extent of my concern.’ – The Mary Sue, Bill Watterson Interview
Excellent writers pay attention. Learn how to use everything you see, read, and experience. All of these things can become ‘something’ for your future work. It is how creativity works.
Write with honest experience. The results grab the reader so much more. Watterson never obsessed over his ideas. He used his own life experience and observations.
The Last Word: More About Bill
It could take years of reading to get through the whole series. That’s if you started now. (Archives for Calvin & Hobbes are available at GO Comics.)
Bill Watterson’s work has a lot to teach. Daily creativity, protecting his ideas, and dedication made his characters famous.
What could the same dedication mean for you?
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
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