It’s no secret that Neil Gaiman is a master wordsmith. His advice on writing and living flows like a novel. Each word rings true and fits into the web of his narrative perfectly, and it’s easy to assume that his life must actually be like a novel, that he is a magical being who breathes books to life and never makes errors. Of course, none of that is true. Gaiman’s remarks are humble, honest, and realistic. The insights he has gained over a storied career, however, may just help you write your own novel and make your life a little more magical.
Don’t Wait for Inspiration
Everyone wants to write like they do in the movies. Inspiration strikes, and reams of beautiful, fully fleshed-out and edited narrative just pours out. But just like passionate declarations in the rain, this is as uncommon as it is impractical. Full time writers are full time writers because they put the necessary time into their projects. They don’t sit staring into oblivion. They set goals, put their fingers on the keyboard, and put something – anything – down on paper. Gaiman encourages writers to write:
“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.”
Writing can be fun, but it’s also work. You may not feel particularly inspired, happy, beautiful, or awed as you grind your way through your daily goal, but you know what you will be? Productive. It takes years to master a craft. Years of seeking inspiration make you desperate. Years of writing make you a writer.
Don’t Even Try to Be Perfect, Especially the First Time Through
No one likes editing, but it is part of the writing process for a reason. If you expect immediate perfection from your work, you will almost always be disappointed. First drafts are rough. They earned the name ‘rough draft’ for more than just their raggedy plot structures and characters who disappear halfway through the narrative. Gaiman has some powerful advice for those of us who have particularly epic struggles overcoming initial perfectionism.
“One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft.”
Finishing a first draft, no matter how many holes and frayed edges it has, is something to celebrate. You’ll have lots of time to work with it in editing. What you see now as problems are simply traffic signs moving you through to the next stage of your story’s evolution.
Be Kind and Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
As the last point suggests, you’re going to mess up. This is not a reflection of your value as a human being or a writer. If you compare your first novel with one of Neil Gaiman’s masterpieces, you’ll probably feel terrible. That’s why perspective is so important for writers at any stage in their career.
“Write more. And remember that everyone who writes anything good wrote a lot of bad stuff first. You are learning, be kind to yourself, just as you would be kind to anyone learning to do something hard, like juggling or ballroom dancing or surgery.”
Gaiman’s many award acceptance speeches, commemorations, and editorials (of which there are literally enough to fill a book) leave us feeling empowered. There’s no escaping reality, but there’s more magic in the everyday grind than you might have realized. Gaiman reminds us to love, have patience, and work hard. Of all the advice Gaiman has ever offered budding writers, however, this is the most important:
“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”