Words of wisdom

28 Dec

From the deepest depths of the archives of Neil Gaiman’s blog comes…your inspirational thought for the day. Or at least, your dose of reality. Meanwhile, I shall go write. Enjoy.

I got a question for you, how do you become friends with what you’ve written? Perfectionism is hard to overcome, well for me anyway, and I always see the flaws, the clumsyness and that sort of thing. Even when people who I trust in having an as objective opinion as possible say that they like it I don’t trust them. Not because I lack self-confidence, there are things I’ve written that I genuinly love, it’s just…When you see the flaws in something it’s hard to love it, if it’s your own work. I’m fine with it in other peoples work. So, am I making sense? Do you have this problem? And is there anything I can do to make it go away?

Well, it’s hard to be a fan of your own work (I’m not a fan of my writing). You’ll always see how far it was from what you had in mind when you sat down to write. (The only thing that seems to fix that is time. But time still won’t make you a fan of what you’ve written, and when it does — when you find yourself laughing at a joke you’ve forgotten that you wrote a long time ago — it normally just makes you worry that you used to have it but you probably don’t any more.)

If people you trust say they like it, they probably like it, but that doesn’t make you respect them any the more or like the story. (It’s one reason that editors buying stories is so important for beginning writers. Anyone can say they like it, but sending a cheque and then printing the story — that’s love.)

Also, once it’s written, the writer is just one more person with an opinion about the work. It’s certainly an informed opinion, but that doesn’t make your opinion more right than anyone else’s, I’m afraid, whether they like it or they don’t.

It’s best make art and not to worry. I’ll take the satisfaction of having built something that did what I hoped it would do over being in love with my own voice any day. It’s safer. Make good art that says sort of what you set out to say and then, when it’s good enough for jazz, go on to the next thing.


Posted by on December 28, 2007 in Uncategorized


11 responses to “Words of wisdom

  1. Shadow Ferret

    December 28, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Wow. He’s not a fan of his own work?

    It’s always nice to read things like that from successful writers. It makes me feel less isolated and alone in my own feelings about my work. Like that comment by Asimov you posted a while back about … being unable to be a judge of good or bad writing.

    I mean, you and I and Kristine and Lori and Carrie and Mary and TJ and Arachne can all sit down and have these discussions, share our own thoughts about how we feel less than satisfied about our own work, but none of us are successful, none of us are NAMES, we’re all pretty much at the same rung of the ladder … we’re all looking up at the Gaimans and Asimovs.

    Not to say that all of your views aren’t valuable to me, they are, but to hear an honest to goodness successful and damned fine writer say it. Well, that has clout behind it.

    Know what I mean?

  2. Pete Tzinski

    December 28, 2007 at 11:52 am

    I know exactly what you mean, Ed. I have quite a lot of commentary like that saved up around the house. For example, it’s legendary how uncomfortable and miserable Douglas Adams was in the process of writing fiction. He was NOT a fan of his own work either. There are lots of authors who aren’t. We could probably find lists and lists.

    The important thing to realize — and I realized it when I met Neil Gaiman — is that money and fame and really, really stunning writing only counts for so much. At the end of the day, they’re just writers, just like us. It’s like one of those weird realization moments you have when you meet a famous actor, or a famous musician and you realize that you’re actually taller than they are. Maybe this is specific to me. People I haven’t known personally, and especially celebrities, I always assume are physically taller than me. This probably says something about me.

  3. Shadow Ferret

    December 28, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    I’ve never met anyone famous. They’re all taller than me. Skinnier. Younger. Better looking. Smarter. Suaver. More dashing.

    Not sure I’d know what to say if I ever met someone famous, especially a writer of Neil Gaiman’s caliber. I think I’d say, “You’re Neil Gaiman.”


    “Neil Gaiman.”


    “You’re, you’re Neil Gaiman.”


  4. tjwriter

    December 28, 2007 at 12:37 pm


    I’ve never told you about the dream you were in, have I? I had this dream that I was at some backwoods writing retreat, way off in the boonies. Cars and chicken coups filled the yard, etc. Inside was Neil Gaimam. Thinking of you, I had him sign the only thing handy, a white flip flop off of my foot, so I could give it you.

    Oh, and some crazy jealous lady was trying to kill me. It was an interesting dream.

  5. mymidnightmuse

    December 28, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Indeed, I do love it when I can read some famous, and more importantly some author I adore, express the same doubts and fears that I have when I’m writing. It makes them more human, and it makes me feel less distant from success. Like, okay, if I feel this way that must mean I still suck – but if Mr. Famous Author feels that way still, after all these years of publishing stardom, then maybe I’m normal. Maybe I’ll be okay. Maybe feeling this way doesn’t mean I’m never going to make it, but rather that I’m just around the corner of Making It and Being There.

    I’ve met actors – most of them didn’t live up to what I was expecting, and one (being an “action” star) surprised me by being very small and skinny in real life. But another surprised me. After interviewing him, I went into a cafe for coffee and to watch them film a scene, and this actor came in to kill time and we started chatting about what makes good writing. Frankly it surprised me that an actor hired for his looks could hold an intelligent conversation about good quality writing. 😀

  6. Shadow Ferret

    December 29, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I found this on Brian Keene’s blog, he talks about how we bleed for our work.

    Brian Keene

  7. Soccer Mom

    December 31, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    My favoritest peptalk during NaNoWriMo came from Neil Gaiman (and yes I saved the email). He talked about hating his books two thirds of the way through and deciding that it was broken and garbage and unfixable. Whew. Just knowing that he feels that way made plowing through the end of my book better. My brain kept telling me it was crap, but I focused on Neil. I’ll post some of it on my blog. I think the link is still there on the NaNo site.

  8. tjwriter

    December 31, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I think it’s a relief to many writers to feel normal, just like the other successful writers. Most of my confidence issues are only in my head. I’ve learned that lesson time and again, so perhaps it doesn’t bother me so much. There are days where I think this thing is great and days where I am certain I am a hack. Regardless, I just keep on going because the alternative is to not write at all. And then I could just feel like I suck at something else some days instead.

  9. Shadow Ferret

    December 31, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Neil Gaiman emails Soccermom?

  10. mymidnightmuse

    December 31, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    He emailed all of us who signed up for Nano – even those of us who promptly forgot we’d signed up for Nano because we were more involved with the Great Tea Debacle 😀

  11. Pete Tzinski

    January 1, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Truthfully, I signed up for NaNo FOR that e-mail. I have it saved too. He talks about his dislike of his own writing in other places, too. I should post more of it… 🙂


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