1/30/2015 4:55:55 PM
In which we learn about writing from Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman gives the best advice for aspiring writers and creative types.
We’ve chosen two of our favourite pieces of wisdom.
Links and transcripts below.
First, at the CT Youth Forum.
I want to be a director, but I’ve been told that there’s enough artists in the world and that’s not something I should pursue.
Saying that we have enough artists is like saying We have enough scientists, we have enough designers, we have enough politicians—we have enough politicians. But, you know, nobody gets to be you, except you. Nobody has your point of view, except you. Nobody gets to bring to the world the things that you get to bring to the world—uniquely get to bring to the world, except you.
So saying There are enough writers out there, enough directors out there, enough people with points of view—well yeah there are but none of them are you, and none of those people are gonna make the art that you will make, none of them will change people, and change the world in the way that you could change it.
So, if you believe somebody who says No, no, we’ve got enough of those, then all it means is you’re giving up your chance to change the world in the way that only you could change it.
Second, on the Nerdist podcast.
(Chris Hardwick asks Neil if he has any advice for creators at 1:04:01)
We have a lot of people who are writers or creators who listen to the podcast. Is there any way to sort of encapsulate a little bit of your writing process or is there something that you learned or things that you think are important… Do you write every day or do you just write when you’re inspired? What have you learned?
Well if you only 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, and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not inspired, and you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next. The process of writing can be magical. There are times when you step out of an upper floor window and you just walk across thin air, and it’s absolute and utter happiness. Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another. It’s like out in peak district in England, and up in Scotland, there are people who make dry stone walls, and they’ve been making dry stone walls for generations, and the way they make these dry stone walls is they have lots and lots of rocks, and they put one down and they put another one down that fits, and they put another one down that fits, and they put another and they know how to do it, and somehow they create these walls that are absolutely stable, just by putting one rock down after another, and eventually you have a wall, and that’s how you make a novel: you put one word after another and then you repeat. So when people come to me and they say I want to be a writer, what should I do? And I say You have to write. And sometimes they say Well I’m already doing that. What else should I do? And I say You have to finish things because that’s where you learn from. You learn by finishing things. There’s other advice. There’s so much advice you can give young writers, particular young writers who want to work within a certain genre, because you can say Look, read within that genre to understand what people are doing, but then go and read outside your comfort zone. If you love a certain kind of movie and you want to make Hollywood action thrillers, go watch other kinds of movies. Watch documentaries. Watch arty foreign films. Go see the other stuff. Find everything you can. If you like books and you like Fantasy and you want to be the next Tolkien. Don’t read big Tolkien-esque fantasies. Tolkien didn’t read big Tolkien-esque fantasies he read books on Finnish Theology. You go and you read outside your comfort zone. Go and learn stuff. Get primary sources. And then, the most important thing, for anyone once they get any kind of quality, at the point where you’re ready to write and you can write is: tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories other people can tell, because any starting writer will—you always start out with other people’s voices. You’ve been reading other people for years, you’re going to tell the kinds of things you’ve been doing but as quickly as you can: start telling the stories only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers then you, there will always be smarter writers than you, there will always be people that are much better at doing this or doing that, but you are the only you. You know, Tarantino is—you can criticise everything that Quentin does, but nobody writes Tarantino stuff like Tarantino; he is the best Tarantino writer there is, and that was actually the thing that people responded to. They go this is an individual writing with his own point of view.
I think that’s excellent advice for any creative endeavour, you know I think Bill Hicks said a version of Work on your own voice, because then you’ve cornered that market.
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