Do You Have the Courage to Create?

Sage Advice From a Master Writer

You’re probably familiar with Neil Gaiman, even if you don’t know his name.

He’s the mind behind some really popular entertainment: American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, and—most recently—Good Omens. All of these shows and movies were books or graphic novels before they made it to the big screen and Neil Gaiman wrote them all (with some help from the late Terry Pratchett for Good Omens).

Not only is Gaiman very, very good at what he does (his books and stories have won 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award, and 2 Mythopoeic Awards, among other awards and nominations), he’s also incredibly prolific. You can look at the alphabetized list of his writings and appearances if you like, but the length of it is staggering.

In addition to the work he gets paid to do, Gaiman also blogs with reasonable regularity and sometimes, those blogs are on the subject of writing.

His guidance can be boiled down largely to this: “Writers are people who write.” That is, if you want to be a writer, you must actually write. But there are some passages that can offer a bit more nuance.

In one post, he says:

It's a weird thing, writing.


Sometimes it's like driving through fog. You can't really see where you're going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you're probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you'll still get where you were going.

And that's hard while you're doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn't exist in that order down on paper, half of what you'd get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.

And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you're doing and where you're going, and you couldn't see or know any of that five minutes before.

And that's magic.

In another, while counseling a writer dealing with writer’s block, he says, “[Y]ou do it all one word at a time.”

When asked about the appropriate number of revisions a work should go through, he writes:

Personally, I think you learn more from finishing things, from seeing them in print, wincing, and then figuring out what you did wrong, than you could ever do from eternally rewriting the same thing.

And then there’s this gem buried at the bottom of an otherwise unremarkable post:

Dear Neil,

I read your site everyday, and STILL I'm not a famous author, what am I doing wrong?


At a guess, either you aren't writing enough, you aren't finishing things, you aren't getting them published, or, if you're doing all of those, you're worrying about the wrong things. Anyway, famousness is probably about as useful for an author as a large, well-appointed hiking backpack would be for a prima ballerina. Honest.

Right. Back to work.

The overarching theme for all of Gaiman’s advice is simply: do the work. Like many worthwhile things in life, writing—or any creative process—isn’t always, or even often, fun while you’re doing it. It’s work and hard work, at that. But it is rewarding.

If you want to be a creator, create.