I have been a Neil Gaiman fan for years. He recently gave an address to the University of the Arts graduating class. While nothing he said is stunningly new, it is still fun to hear Gaiman’s version of thoughts that have been around for a long time. My paraphrasing of some of Gaiman’s thoughts is no doubt inaccurate, but I will do it regardless. Using the first rule below, I am safe.
Make mistakes. We know this, but it bears repeating that the most successful of artists, of writers, make mistakes all the time. The point is, don’t sweat it. Mistakes are good. Make lots of them. If you make a lot of mistakes, you are doing your art. Remember the 10,000 hour rule.
Bottles in the ocean. I like this one. Write even if your audience is only a potential one person on the other side of the ocean. Send out bottle after bottle after bottle. Someone, somewhere, may find it. The more bottles you send out, the more will be found. (Hmm, sounds like more of those 10,000 hours.)
Write for yourself, not for money. Yeah, trite and cliché, but the anecdote that Gaiman gave was ultimately, when he wrote for money and it fell through he felt bad about it. If you write for yourself, if the money falls through, you still have something.
When things get tough: make good art. This is not so much write about those tough times, it is don’t let those tough times slow you down. Tough times should be when you make good art.
Your vision. Not someone else’s. This is also old and related to write for yourself, not money. Even when writing for yourself, make sure it is your vision. Not someone else’s. Not your editor’s (but listen to your editor and s/he may help you find your vision).
People get hired. However you get work. You KEEP working by doing good work. A bit of an acknowledgment that FINDING work is hard. Keeping work is easier. Do good work. Do it on time. Be nice to work with. If you do two out of three really well, you will probably continue working. I like that, as I can only handle two out of the three at any given time. I wonder if he meant I can switch which two I concentrate on all the time? Hmmm.
Luck is good. This is a whole separate blog someday. Luck is important. It is not something to ignore, it is important. Take advantage of it.
Things are changing: no one knows what is going to happen two years from now. There are no rules. The good news, bad news scenario. Bottom line, don’t focus on the rules, because they are changing. He was talking about distribution systems and payment. Don’t get too wrapped up in it, or you will get paralyzed.
Enjoy it. When things go well, big or small, ENJOY IT. It is actually hard to do sometimes, but do it!