I took my daughter and stepson to see one of my favorite authors a couple of days ago. Neil Gaiman also happens to be one of their favorite authors, having penned a favorite story, Coraline, they both share a love for. Considering that most of my favorite authors have passed away, this was a rare treat for all of us, and we did not come away disappointed.
Mr. Gaiman came out and was immediately charming and witty, which is not something all authors are, prompting my stepson to observe that if the whole book thing doesn’t work out, he can succeed as a comedian. I don’t expect authors to be good at anything but writing, and it’s always a nice surprise when they are. It’s also nice when anyone can so immediately grab the attention of a 14-year old teenage boy who spends most of his time buried in video games, YouTube, SnapChat, or some other online endeavor. That itself was worth the price of admission.
Mr. Gaiman performed several readings of various works, all of which were read and enunciated with a quality I am seldom used to hearing from an author, and all of which were incredibly engaging. Even works which I had already read were brought to life with a color I had not found in my own reading. The fact that my 17-year old daughter could be brought nearly to tears by a short story was again worth its weight in gold.
Having said all of that, the most interesting part of the evening, and why I am writing this, were the audience members’ questions Mr. Gaiman answered between readings of his myriad colorful works. Questions ranging from opinions on other authors, to what he thought of Americans (Mr. Gaiman is British by birth), to what he thought of being “a nerd-girl’s dream man.” It was his answer to the much-hackneyed question of what advice he would give to aspiring authors, however, which was the most prescient.
With a brief pause and a bit of a rueful chuckle, his advice to aspiring authors was to “stop aspiring.” He went on to elaborate, “write something.” It is simple advice, and possibly disappointing to those looking for some secret sauce to help them understand why they have not yet succeeded as writers, and yet more dead-on and honest than the usual advice-filled articles on the subject.
“Just write” might be the go-to explanation for any number of endeavors from fiction, to non-fiction, or even to software development. How many of us, the “aspiring” writers of the world, spend an inordinate amount of our time trying to figure out the secret to success, all the while postponing the one thing that might get us where we so longingly desire to go. Writers of fiction need to write, writers of non-fiction need to write, and developers of software–writers in our own right–need to write.
Procrastination seems to be the birthright of every sort of creative person. We are often content, too content, to live within our own minds, dreaming of the things we will write, the things we will create, the wonders we will bring forth to an adoring world. And yet, to an outsider–everyone who is not us–we have not done anything. We are the dreamers, the weavers of tales, the creators of things, the makers of the worlds that live only within our own thoughts.
I am as guilty of this as anyone, and just as capable of hiding this truth from myself. I can write entire articles in my head, concoct software from whole cloth that will change the world, and somehow be content in the knowledge that “I could” even if I do not. That might satisfy us on a superficial level, but I think that deep down we all know the truth: that we have done nothing. Creating a thing, and subjecting it to the criticism of the light of day and the vagaries of the human condition takes an immense amount of courage, and it is often easier to keep our creations as pristine and unmolested successes, if only in our own mind.
Ultimately, however, as we grow up we must put aside childish things, and that means accepting the fact that we must complete something. We must take what is in our heads, commit it to its proper form, and let come what may. It may be good, or it may be bad, but it is better for having seen the light than anything not given form but in the world within our own head. Mr. Gaiman may be more creative than some, and less creative than others, but he has learned the one thing that many of us have forgotten, or never learned: that we must stop aspiring if we want to see our dreams realized. This article, for instance, could have continued to float gently around the aether of my mind, but I stopped aspiring and I wrote something, and that was the whole point.