Writing Lessons from Neil Gaiman
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Writing Lessons from Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is next up on the Writing Lessons Series and he is one that I am quite excited to write about. He is an award-winning author and had delved into theater and film as well. If you don’t know about any of his works, American Gods and The ocean at the end of the lane are something you should check out.

Gaiman has a unique way of storytelling that we can all learn something from. Here are a few lessons from him to help you out.

Writing or Nothing

In one of his interviews for the Tim Ferris show, Gaiman explained how he deals with the Writer’s Block by deciding that if he isn’t going to write, he won’t do anything else either.

Gaiman suggested that he gives himself leave to sit idly and procrastinate to his fill. But he can also not doing anything else either. This way he tricks himself into writing because in that situation the brain would love to write. There’s only so much you can do when you are not allowed to do anything?

“I’m allowed to do anything I like, as long as it isn’t anything.
Not allowed to do a crossword, not allowed to read a book, not allowed to phone a friend, not allowed to make a clay model of something.
All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.”

Making art on the bad days

We all have good and bad days. At some point in our lives, we all struggle with mental health, and finding the motivation to work and achieve our goals is by far still a mystery. There is no universal guidebook for getting things done and staying on top of the game but Neil Gaiman isn’t oblivious to that.

In his 2012 Speech at the University of Arts, he exclaimed that creativity is what allows us to make good art. Where it is creative writing, music, or visual art. He suggests that when life gets difficult the artists should not quit making art. It is when things are difficult that they should continue to make more art as it is a way to take your power back.

“Make good art on the good days, and make good art on the bad days.”

Put messages in glass bottles on a desert island

Gaiman famously compared the life of an artist or freelancer to put the message is into glass bottles while stranded on a desert island. He suggests that the best way to go about rejections is to start collecting them. Getting as many rejections as possible because it is in the pursuit of rejections that you will eventually stumble upon acceptance. 

The number of rejections only determine perseverance. That is if you don’t quit. 

“What helps me is coming up with a big number, say, a hundred. And then I imagine that I will get successful on my 100th try. Of course, I will probably make it on my 2nd, or 5th or 50th try, so a 100 is a good number. And then I would start collecting these rejections, knowing that each next rejection moves me closer to success.”

Keep walking towards the mountain

As a writer and in every other field, the greatest struggle is not knowing how you can achieve your goals. We know that as a writer, the goal is to write something people would love to read. But what to write? How to get it published and even long after you have published, how to stay relevant. 

Gaiman’s advice is to simply imagine where you want to be as if it were a mountain. And that to do whatever you can to keep walking towards that mountain. This doesn’t mean the hike would be an easy one. It just means you should focus on the destination and that would lead the way. 

“I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right.”

Fake it till you make it

Again, this is not just advice for writers. This is advice for life. We live in a confusing time where people who are intelligent question themselves every step of the way whereas mediocrity is rewarded. The idea that you have to pretend you are something is not to be taken at face value. Faking it is about convincing yourself so that you don’t become an obstacle in your way. And isn’t that the case most of the time? 

It is not that you are not capable, it is simply that you don’t think you are. 

“Pretend that you’re someone who could do it.”

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