Neil Gaiman: Art Matters and Other Insights for Writers

“We have an obligation not to bore our readers.”-Neil Gaiman

Last week I was talking with my daughter and asked if she’d ever read Neil Gaiman. She replied that she’s heard a lot about him and has been intending to, but hadn’t. Which was precisely where I was at, until last week. I’d just finished reading Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World. And then I read it a second time.

It’s actually a very short book and I listened to the audiobook version. But it’s got many great thoughts to savor, which is why I gave it a second read, and will even listen to it again before returning it to the library.

Or as one Amazon reviewer succinctly put it, “This is a book that you can read quickly and yet spend a lifetime thinking about.”

(EdNote: The printed version is illustrated with four-color artwork by Chris Riddell.)

One of the things Gaiman said that rang true with me from my lifetime of freelance writing was the following bit of advice for writers.

There are three things necessary to make it as a writer. First, the ability to make good art. That is, be a good writer. Second, be easy to get a long with. And third, always meet deadlines.

I can’t say enough about the importance of meeting deadlines. Nor the basic requirement of honing your skills, constantly applying yourself to improve. And I know one writer who lost a potentially big deal by losing his temper before the contract was signed. Alas.

The book isn’t just for writers. In one portion of the book he makes an impassioned plea on the importance for children of reading. He shares how he grew up in the library and the difference it made for him.

He insists that its not what they read but they simply fall in love with reading. When people enjoy reading they will find their way through the vast world of books. Efforts to direct them to what we think they should read can backfire and be de-motivational.

After reading Art Matters I half wanted to see if I could find him somewhere and meet to talk about writing. Here are some Neil Gaiman excerpts that I resonated with from the Wiki Quotes page dedicated to this contemporary writer.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.” — Neil Gaiman

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
Neil Gaiman

Insider Look at the Writing Life
“Writers may be solitary but they also tend to flock together: they like being solitary together. I knew a lot of writers in London and many of them were award-winning writers and many of them were award-winning, respectable writers. And the trouble with being an award-winning, respectable writer is that you probably are not making a living. If you write one well-reviewed, well-respected, not bad selling, but not a bestseller list book every three years, which you sell for a whopping 30,000 pounds, that’s still going to average out to 10,000 pounds a year and you will make more managing a McDonald’s. With overtime you’d probably make more working in a McDonald’s. So there were incredibly well-respected, award-winning senior writers who, to make ends meet, were writing film novelizations and TV novelizations under pen names that they were desperately embarrassed about and didn’t want anybody to know about.” — Neil Gaiman

“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”
Neil Gaiman

“Chesterton and Tolkien and Lewis were, as I’ve said, not the only writers I read between the ages of six and thirteen, but they were the authors I read over and over again; each of them played a part in building me. Without them, I cannot imagine that I would have become a writer, and certainly not a writer of fantastic fiction. I would not have understood that the best way to show people true things is from a direction that they had not imagined the truth coming, nor that the majesty and the magic of belief and dreams could be a vital part of life and of writing. And without those three writers, I would not be here today. And nor, of course, would any of you. I thank you.”
— “Mythcon 35 Guest of Honor Speech”, in Mythprint (October 2004)

“Make good art.” — Neil Gaiman

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store