With reports from Sam Echavez
All three times bestselling author Neil Gaiman has visited the Philippines, he's been met with a reception worthy of a rock star. Hundreds of people line up for hours for the chance to have some of their books signed. Many of them bring him gifts. Most of them will spend the few seconds they have with him telling him how much his stories have meant to them. And because Neil Gaiman is such a great guy, he stays late into the night, until everyone in the line has had something signed.
He is often referred to by fans as the Dream King, a reference to the title character of his most famous body of work, The Sandman. (Morpheus, or Dream, is the center of the series of graphic novels.) Some of his books, like Stardust and Coraline, have been made into movies. All of his stories, from the seemingly simplest to the wildly fantastical, have a touch of magic to them. In an industry fueled by imagination, his is unparalleled.
Cosmo got to sit down and chat with Neil Gaiman the last time he was in town, and he talked to us about writing (of course). He told us that your imagination is just as limitless as his. You just need to let yourself dream. Read on for the rest of the interview.
On The Importance Of Writing:
I don't think I'd ever tell anybody to write who didn't want to. It's not one of those things where you say, "No, no, no, you really should write; it'll be good for you," like exercising, or something. But I do think that writing, for me, forming things into fiction, is such a wonderful way of getting to know yourself, getting to know the inside of your head, and getting to know, furthermore, how to put things down in writing.
I'm fascinated these days by the growth in fan fiction. You know? The idea that there are all of these places where people can write their own. Good Omens has probably a hundred times as many websites and stories written about Aziraphale and Crowley than we [Gaiman and his Good Omens co-author Terry Pratchett] ever wrote. And I kind of love that. I love that people are getting creative. I know some authors don't, but...(laughs).
But I think the most important thing is it's fun. Writing should be genuinely enjoyable. There's a thing called National Novel-Writing Month, which appears in November, where people just try to write a 50,000-word novel over the course of a month. I think it's a wonderful thing, if only because suddenly you can see how incredibly hard it is, and sometimes you can see how much fun it is.
On Maximizing The Potential Of Your Imagination:
To be honest, I think most people's imaginations don't have limits. Imaginations get limits forced on them.
You know, it's really interesting, with kids. Kids just imagine stuff. They make stuff up. They think up stuff. They daydream. As we get older, we stop daydreaming. As we get older, we stop letting our mind wander, and it's when your mind goes wandering that it comes home with really interesting things that it found on the way.
I think what's most important is just remembering the value of imagining. The knowledge that, if you look around, everything you see was imagined at some time, by somebody. There weren't chairs before somebody imagined, "What if we did this thing? Right now, we're sitting on rocks, but you could make a rock out of wood, it would be lighter, and we could give it legs, it would be even lighter still."
On Drawing Inspiration:
If you pay attention, then you can draw inspiration from anywhere. So much of that is paying attention, to details and to what's going on in your life. People say, "Where do you writers get your ideas?" and I say, "We get them from the same place everybody else does. We just notice when we're having them."
I remember my daughter, my littlest daughter, Maddy, when she was a baby, was crying. I came upstairs, she was sobbing her eyes out. I said, "What's wrong?" And she said, "They came out of the wallpaper!" I said, "I don't think they did. You were having a dream." And she said, "No, I can prove it! I can show you the place in the wallpaper they came out from." And I took that and wound up writing The Wolves in the Walls. I'm sure I can't be the only person who's ever had a kid tell them something weird and strange and interesting, but I was paying attention.
On Dealing With Fame:
I pretend it's not there most of the time. That's my way of dealing with it. I try and act as if it doesn't exist. It's weird. It definitely changes all your equations. Especially because, as a writer, I'm always most comfortable standing on the edge of things, watching and being invisible, or fancying myself invisible. You can't fancy yourself invisible when 200 people are staring at you. It's very strange. And it winds up happening in odd kind of ways and odd kind of things.
My fiancee, Amanda [Palmer, solo artist and lead singer of the Dresden Dolls], there are gigs of hers that I will go to, and then there are gigs that I won't go to. I won't go to her little ninja gigs. And I won't go when she just suddenly decides to play a local bar and do a ukulele ninja gig on the bar top or something. I won't go, because while I love seeing her, I feel so uncomfortable in a bar where people are not staring at her, they're staring at me. I don't want to be there.
On the other hand, I'm also incredibly grateful. Being loved by lots and lots of people that you don't know is a wonderful thing. And getting respect, and more than that, getting to make art and getting to make up the stuff you want to make up, and then having people give you money for it, it's wonderful. And I don't have to change what I do, I don't have to get up in the morning and go, "What would be commercial?" I just do what I want to do, and people say "We really like it." And I'm so grateful.
On Living Your Dreams:
I think I would tell anybody to pursue their passion. I think that if you have a passion for something, those of us who have passions are the lucky ones. There's an old saying, do what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. That's kind of true.
If you're somebody who loves cooking, for God's sake, cook. If you're somebody who loves writing, write, you know? If you love singing, sing. If you love painting, paint. Because there are people out there who have no idea what it is they were put here for.
I look at my kids, and my son Mike discovered computers, fell in love with computers, went to school to study computers, and is now a software engineer at Google, and that's what he does. He knew, from the time he was 14, that he wanted to be doing cool shit with computers, and he does. My next daughter, Holly, was never quite sure. She really didn't have a passion. She wound up going to college, she then did her Master's, spent a while in the film industry, did film production, but it wasn't really that. After she did her Master's, she had a month off so she took a course in hat-making. And suddenly she discovered that the thing that makes her happiest in the whole world is hat-making. And I love that. I love the fact that some people know what their joy is and they go for it. Other people back into it.
On What It Takes To Improve Your Writing:
I think if you're going to improve your writing, first of all, read. Read a lot. Read everything. Read anything you can, and look at how the writers you enjoy do things. Just look at how they put sentences together.
Secondly, don't think about writing. Write. There are so many people who are going to write. Don't be going to write, just write. And finish whatever you're doing. Don't get to that point where you get a page or two into it and go, "This is too bad, this is terrible." Don't do that. Just finish it.
I always find the strangest thing, for me, is, I can have days when I write and I'm convinced everything I've written on that day was absolutely rubbish; that it was pointless, it was bad, it was useless. And then the next day, I'll look at what I did and go, "Oh, it's not that great, but you know, it's fixable." And very often, it doesn't take very much to fix it. I'd remind people that sometimes, you can be your own worst critic and the most important thing often is to finish and do the next thing, because you have a bunch of bad stories and bad writing inside you, and if you get it out on the paper, it won't be inside you anymore and then there'll be good stuff.
With reports from Sam Echavez