Something inspiring from Neil Gaiman

Whether you’re starting out, at whatever age, this 2012 speech from Neil Gaiman fills the heart, and may make you laugh a little.

The message that’s easy to forget in a life of worrying how others will judge you – is be honest and do what is in you, take a chance. Your naked soul exposed may give heart to someone who feels the same but is afraid.


Does mood affect your writing?

Do you write differently depending on your mood? Will a low mood produce sombre stories or can you rise above how you feel and write comedy in the depths of sadness, or tragedy in the heights of joy?

Common wisdom goes that if you approach your craft professionally mood should not be a factor. ‘Check your self at the door. What you write is not about you, it is about the writing.’

Me, I am often profoundly affected by how I feel when I write. Maybe it’s because I’m a relative newcomer. With time it could change. I don’t think so but it might. It seems that who you are and how you react to the world around you affects how you write.

How do get in the mood to write? Do you sit down, take a breath and begin? Do you listen to some music first? Do you read back a few pages or more to get ‘in the zone’ then start?

For me, it varies. Most often it’s music. I can’t write with music on but if I listen to music before writing it ‘primes’ me for the mood I want. Recently I was feeling a little tired but good and raring to go. Then I listened to Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie No.1, a low-key piano piece, and my mood dropped, within seconds, through the floor. I felt down, sad. And I couldn’t face writing the brighter piece of fiction I had prepared to begin on. Sure, I can have extreme reactions to certain music, up or down, but there are times when a piece of music takes you completely out of the space you were in moments before.

Music can be a cleanser. You’ve had a difficult day but you play something and you feel a little better. Does this happen to you? Do you use music this way? Or do you have some other activity like walking, running, reading a favourite poem, or chatting to a friend?

Some people say that they can write with kids shouting all around them. Others can write with bombs dropping nearby. Some need quiet.

I am one of those who needs quiet, to begin at least. Once I begin and the story has me, when it is using me to tell itself, then I am hard to disturb. But that starting point, those first moments, are crucial to crossing from the world around me into the fiction world where stories live to be borne forth by the writer’s hands. Like moving from wakefulness into sleep, going from this world into the writing world can be difficult or easy. It so often depends on how you feel right before.

Writing is so often an isolated process it must vary with every personality, influence, or issue.

Are you the cool pragmatist who can treat the process of writing as work, creative work but work even so? Or are you one who desires or needs certain conditions?

Does mood affect your writing?

Struggling – with what though?

Here it is. There is a piece of fiction I have committed myself to write. I struggle. Yes, I know, every writer struggles, that’s what it is to be a writer. But why struggle?

This particular piece of writing I refer to is a short piece of fiction. The brief in the beginning is to produce a first draft to be reviewed by peers with a view, following peer review and critique, to polishing and finally having it published, with luck, in an anthology.

What is a first draft for?

The common wisdom seems to be that a first draft is an outpouring of ideas into something of a beginning-to-end narrative, without too much analysis and over-judgement. Just get it down, and as they say in the film industry, fix it in post – in the case of writing, ‘post’ is the second and subsequent drafts.

Then why struggle with it?

Everyone is different. Some will plough through with a plan and when the piece is done, throw it out to whomever will review it, then do whatever is needed to redeem it, phoenix-like, from the ashes of its own funeral pyre.

Others, and I am one of these, want to have it sufficiently polished to be less of an embarrassment when it is read. Something like when you’re a teenager and you throw on some clothes and your mother stops you and says, “You’re not going out in that are you?”. Or when you engage a cleaner for a particular day then spend the entire day before tidying up because you don’t want the cleaner to think you’re untidy.

Which is better?

In theory, the first I suppose, but life is not theory, life is messy and minds, especially the minds of certain writers – my hand is up for this – struggle with a sort of need for perfection.

You can read all about how other, very accomplished, writers go through many drafts before their work reaches a point at which they feel comfortable to set it free. You know, no not kind of but you know, that if you are a halfway decent writer you should be able to nail it on the first draft. And you know you’re wrong in thinking it. But, it doesn’t stop you thinking it.

What is the solution? Is there a solution?

I don’t believe there is one solution at all. Because everyone is different and has a different way of working and thinking,¬†you just need to find the way that works best for you. I can only speak for me.

This is about first drafts though.

If the purpose of a peer-driven critique is to find holes then, with a first draft, holes the size of a harbour tunnel will be found and highlighted. But isn’t that a good thing? Perhaps it goes back to the basic insecurity that most writers feel. “What is they think this is the best I can do?” “What if they think I’m no good at this?” “What if the others did much better than me?”

What is my solution?

The first draft I have finished is rough. If it was a diamond you would have your work cut out to see it shine in the end. But shine it will, the part of me that isn’t shouting “stop fooling yourself” knows that it will shine in the end.

So, this is my plan, this is the mechanics of the thing.

I know the story is roughly what it will eventually be. I will print it out, read it through, makes notes on the paper, then fix the most embarrassing bits, and submit it for the critique to come.

As it is a critique between peers we will all be bringing our hopes and insecurities, carefully masked behind smiles and pleasant banter, while all the while we may all be quaking and hoping the knives do not cut too deeply into the beloved offspring that our imaginations have produced.

Is it always like this? I don’t know, this is my first go at this.

Like anything in life, what happens will happen. It’s a first draft after all.