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January 16, 2020
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January 30, 2020

Five Things I Learned from Neil Gaiman

Lifted from his Twitter @neilhimself.

This is the beginning of a new series of blog posts. I have learned much from many people and from numerous personal experiences over the years that I would like to share. Trial and error is a proven method of learning, but in many cases, it is like reinventing the wheel. If knowledge is cumulative, then learning from others would seem to be worthwhile. In these posts, I will state succinctly in italics what I learned and then add my own observations below each point.

My first individual is Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is not only a good writer but a good successful writer. His thinking is always refreshing and useful.

According to Neil Gaiman:

  1. Success depends on getting only two out of three elements of your work right. The three are: do good work, be easy to get along with, deliver on time.

I considered this rather carefully and discovered that Neil was quite correct when put to the test. It worked for me. That being said, it takes time to get good at something. In the beginning one has to muddle through. On the other hand, there are those who are gifted. Good work seems to streak like lightning from their fingertips. I’ve met more than a few, but not all of them succeed, even with such an advantage. Just because a person is gifted does not necessarily mean that their lives are any easier than our own. In fact, often they are harder. Those around the gifted get jealous, or glom on to their coattails to get a free ride. I’ve known more than one gifted individual who never understood their gift, or gave it the required attention. The gift made life too easy and therefore was deemed not valuable. Not all of us do good work naturally, but one can take a stab at success by being personable and delivering on time as one develops expertise.

  1. If you are not successful, then saying yes is a good idea. If you are successful, you have to learn to say no.

Achieving success and remaining successful are not the same. The former requires learning how. The latter depends on recognizing and maintaining what brought it about. This can be thrown sideways if one hasn’t a clue as to how one got there in the first place. Time can also play tricks on both the viewer and the artist. An artist is a star-like figure, and like a star, what the audience or reader sees was created long before the moment of appreciation. Provided one knows the path one took, continued success means learning to say no to the distractions (often in the guise of ‘opportunities’) that one’s success inevitably brings about. It is a paradox.

  1. Finish what you start.

For writers in particular, it is easy to simply open a new document and start something else rather than bear down and complete the work that’s begun. Failure to complete is the first step on the way to a creative drought.

  1. Listen to your people (characters).

If you are a writer, this concept is easier to understand. The characters one creates often have minds of their own. They go off-plot on a regular basis. One can corral them and make them toe the line, but that can have a debilitating effect on the creative process. For myself, it is one of the best ways to lose the enthusiasm and exhilaration that the act of writing gives me. I’m quite sure this applies more broadly as well. We all have creative spirits. The quickest way to turn off the tap of inspiration is to say no to them.

  1. Create great art.

This was the holy grail for me. It may be the answer to everything. Whatever one is confronted with (be it good, bad, or indifferent) meeting it by creating your own great art is the best possible response.

Thank you, Neil.


Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ commencement speech at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

MasterClass: Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling


  1. craig says:

    Hi Ivan,

    A very good source for inspiration. Thanks for sharing.

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