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Howard Needed A New Hobby

November 14, 2014

Hey Sandra, I think I’ll take up doodling.
– Howard Tayler circa 2000

Howard is a brilliant success by any measure. He’s a world famous cartoonist. Creator of the award winning web comic Schlock Mercenary. He and his friends won a Hugo for the Writing Excuses podcast. Since June of 2000 (Can You Be Funny Everyday…For Thirteen Years?) he’s drawn his comic and given it away for free on the Internet every day. For the past 10 years he’s done it full time.

But, ten years ago, Howard had a problem. He had launched his cartooning career after walking away from a very successful position in corporate IT. Prior to the big leap Howard was spending 40 hours per week, writing, drawing, inking, coloring and uploading his comic every day. That was in addition to 40-60 hours per week at a regular job.

By quitting the corporate gig and cartooning full time he had the ultimate job right?

If you make your advocation your vocation you never have to work another day in your life.

But, Howard soon discovered a problem. If you make your hobby your job, rather than always indulging in your hobby, you actually find that you are now always working.

It’s called the Overjustification Hypothesis.

It’s the idea that when you get paid to do something that you used to do for free, it changes your attitude about the activity. The authors of the book Influencer discuss the concept in light of trying to get people to do things. If you want your child to enjoy reading so you start paying her for each book she reads, the motivation changes from intrinsic to mercenary. Soon she will only read if she knows she is getting paid.

Adults are the same way. Even when we are motivating ourselves, when a financial incentive enters the picture, we think about the task differently. Howard found that while he still enjoyed his work, it was no longer a diversion. He needed something where he could go play.


Howard decided to start painting miniatures. With his eye for color and costumes, he’s very good at it. I follow his comic, but I haven’t been into miniatures since I was a kid. I have no appreciate for the art.

(Photo Credit: Howard Tayler used with permission)

Here’s the second problem that my friend Howard ran into. Should he sell his miniatures?

There are tens of thousands of people who read Schlock Mercenary, listen to Writing Excuses and pretty much scoop up everything that Howard produces around either one. You can buy books, calendars, t-shirts, hats, challenge coins, and any number of assorted Schlock items. You can buy Writing excuses CD’s that are broken up into brief 15 minute podcasts. In the words of the podcasters, “. . . because you’re in a hurry, and we aren’t that smart.”

So, there is a ready market for Howard Tayler painted miniatures. Why not sell them? I mean, he’s going to paint them anyway, why not get a few bucks for the effort?

Because then he’d have to go get another hobby. If miniatures become part of his inventory, then he’s right back where he was when he started doing Schlock full-time.

I don’t know a lot of artists. I know a bunch of writers and maybe a painter or two, but it’s not a universe I circulate in very much. So, I don’t know if all artists need a hobby separate from their profession. As a writer, I find I do. Mine is music. I’m not particularly good at song writing, but when I have a lot of writing to do, a musical break helps me refocus. I’m not a famous enough writer to do it full time, so in a sense writing is the hobby I go to when the IT job calls for a break.

I do know that Howard doesn’t sell his painted miniatures. I don’t think he can afford to.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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  1. That’s spot on for a lot of us. I used to fix radios for a hobby, but once word got around people were either asking me to fix their radios or to buy ones I’d already fixed. It was no longer “my” hobby because I was fulfilling someone else’s wishes. I was no longer doing it for fun, and the pay was pathetic.

    I’m glad Howard has found a fun direction for his creativity firehose, one that other people can’t try to redirect.

    • I didn’t realize it had a name (Overjustification Hypothesis) until I read Influencer. It made perfect sense at that point.

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