From our friends at Mental Floss. Check out their full post here.
Neil Gaiman is a prolific author spanning genres — he has hits in the worlds of comics, young adult fiction, grownup fiction, television, film, and even nonfiction (I particularly enjoyed Don’t Panic, his Douglas Adams/HHGTTG companion). Here, are a few quotes from Gaiman on writing.
1. On Nightmares
In an NPR feature, Gaiman discussed the stop-motion animated film Alice by Jan Svankmajer. In that interview, he made an important point for writers of stories for kids:
Kids are so much braver than adults, sometimes, and so much less easily disturbed. Kids will make their nightmares up out of anything, and the important thing in fiction, if you’re giving them nightmares, is to demonstrate that nightmares are beatable.
2. On Learning to Write as Adventure
From his now-famous 2012 commencement address at The University of the Arts:
I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.
3. On Freelancing
More from the same commencement address:
When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.
4. On Rejection
When asked about rejection on Tumblr, Gaiman replied:
First I got really grumpy, and then got very determined to write things that were so good that not even the stupidest most irritating gatekeeper alive could reject them.
5. On Smeagol/Gollum Slash Fiction
A fan wrote in to ask Gaiman whether he read fan fiction, what his favorite fan fiction was, and also what his opinion was on the usefulness of writing fan fiction. In other words, “Please tell me that fan fiction is good.”
Gaiman’s response is below, emphasis added to the portion in which he writes sample Smeagol/Gollum slash fiction. (For those who have forgotten their Lord of the Rings details, Smeagol was Gollum’s Hobbit name and represents a second self in Gollum’s subterranean monologues. And Wikipedia will educate you about slash fiction if you need a hand there.)
Er, no, I don’t read fanfiction.
I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.
(I just made that up. I imagine it would go something like: “Oh, the preciouss, we takes it our handssses and we rubs it and touchess it, gollum….no, Smeagol musst not touch the preciousss, the master said only he can touch the precioussss…. bad masster, he doess not know the precious like we does, no, gollum, and we wants it, we wants it hard in our handses, yesss…” etc etc)
(Thanks to reader Cat Schaefer Pedini for pointing me to this gem.)
6. Why You Shouldn’t Do Creative Work Solely for Money
Whenever I did something where the only reason for doing it was money — and this was a lesson that I learned beginning with being a 23-year-old author hired to write a book about Duran Duran — that whenever I did something and the only reason for doing it was the money, normally something would go terribly wrong. And I normally wouldn’t get the money and then I wouldn’t have anything. Whereas, whenever I did anything where what prompted my doing it was being interested, being excited, caring, thinking this is going to be fun, even if things went wrong and I didn’t get the money, I had something I was proud of. …
It’s something that, you know, I forget. Sometimes somebody waves a paycheck and I go, ‘I don’t really have any reason for doing it, I’m not interested. But, yes, what amazing money, how can I say no?’ And then I do it, and then I regret it. And you can almost feel the universe itself sighing, like, ‘Why doesn’t he learn this one?’
Neil Gaiman has an astonishingly comprehensive online presence. To get your fix, follow his very official Tumblr, his journal, his Twitter, and if you just like quotes, the fan Twitter account @GaimanQuotes is worth a shot. I’m also impressed by the fan-maintained Neil Gaiman Visual Bibliography, a comprehensive guide to basically everything he’s ever put to paper.
Gaiman also has a lot of book releases this year. Just out this month are the book Make Good Art based on his commencement speech, plus the (free) short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties. In June we can look forward to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The man is prolific, generous, and a damn fine writer — thank you, Mr. Gaiman.