WikiMedia Commons / Kyle Cassidy
WikiMedia Commons / Kyle Cassidy

11 Neil Gaiman Quotes on Writing

WikiMedia Commons / Kyle Cassidy
WikiMedia Commons / Kyle Cassidy

Neil Gaiman is a prolific author spanning genres — he has hits in the worlds of comics, young adult fiction, grownup fiction, television, film, and even nonfiction (I particularly enjoyed Don't Panic, his Douglas Adams/HHGTTG companion). Here, eleven quotes from Gaiman on writing.

1. On Nightmares

In an NPR feature, Gaiman discussed the stop-motion animated film Alice by Jan Svankmajer. In that interview, he made an important point for writers of stories for kids:

Kids are so much braver than adults, sometimes, and so much less easily disturbed. Kids will make their nightmares up out of anything, and the important thing in fiction, if you're giving them nightmares, is to demonstrate that nightmares are beatable.

Gaiman signing "Anansi Boys" / Flickr User Jutta

2. On Learning to Write as Adventure

From his now-famous 2012 commencement address at The University of the Arts:

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

Gaiman and His Wife Amanda Palmer / Getty Images

3. On Freelancing

More from the same commencement address:

When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.

4. On "Impostor Syndrome"

One more nugget from that commencement address:

The problems of failure are hard.

The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more.

5. On Rejection

When asked about rejection on Tumblr, Gaiman replied:

First I got really grumpy, and then got very determined to write things that were so good that not even the stupidest most irritating gatekeeper alive could reject them.

Gaiman at the "Coraline" Premiere / Getty Images

6. On Smeagol/Gollum Slash Fiction

A fan wrote in to ask Gaiman whether he read fan fiction, what his favorite fan fiction was, and also what his opinion was on the usefulness of writing fan fiction. In other words, "Please tell me that fan fiction is good."

Gaiman's response is below, emphasis added to the portion in which he writes sample Smeagol/Gollum slash fiction. (For those who have forgotten their Lord of the Rings details, Smeagol was Gollum's Hobbit name and represents a second self in Gollum's subterranean monologues. And Wikipedia will educate you about slash fiction if you need a hand there.)

Er, no, I don't read fanfiction.

I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you're writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you're writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you're still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.

(I just made that up. I imagine it would go something like: "Oh, the preciouss, we takes it our handssses and we rubs it and touchess it,, Smeagol musst not touch the preciousss, the master said only he can touch the precioussss.... bad masster, he doess not know the precious like we does, no, gollum, and we wants it, we wants it hard in our handses, yesss..." etc etc)

(Thanks to reader Cat Schaefer Pedini for pointing me to this gem.)

7. His New Year's Wish

At 10:08pm on December 31, 2012, Gaiman posted his New Year's Wish (emphasis added):

It's a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we're faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it's joy we're looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

(Thanks to reader Joseph Palreiro for posting this one!)

Gaiman accepts the Vonnegut Award / Flickr User dtd72

8. On Public Speaking

Writers are often called upon to speak in public. Gaiman recently posted six tips for speaking in public, but I'll just give you the first:

Mean it. Whatever you have to say, mean it.

Read the rest for helpful advice, especially the second point. I like to wing it, pseudo-bravely and joyously (see above).

9. Why You Shouldn't Do Creative Work Solely for Money

In an NPR interview promoting the book adaptation of his aforementioned commencement speech, Gaiman explained why doing creative projects just for money isn't worth it:

Whenever I did something where the only reason for doing it was money — and this was a lesson that I learned beginning with being a 23-year-old author hired to write a book about Duran Duran — that whenever I did something and the only reason for doing it was the money, normally something would go terribly wrong. And I normally wouldn't get the money and then I wouldn't have anything. Whereas, whenever I did anything where what prompted my doing it was being interested, being excited, caring, thinking this is going to be fun, even if things went wrong and I didn't get the money, I had something I was proud of. ...

It's something that, you know, I forget. Sometimes somebody waves a paycheck and I go, 'I don't really have any reason for doing it, I'm not interested. But, yes, what amazing money, how can I say no?' And then I do it, and then I regret it. And you can almost feel the universe itself sighing, like, 'Why doesn't he learn this one?'

Gaiman, Claire Danes, Charlie Cox at the "Stardust" Premiere / Getty Images

10. On Kidnapping His Favorite Authors

Here's a snippet from a CNN interview in 2001.

"When you're 11, walking home from school through this strange little English landscape, running these weird, wonderful things through your head ... well, now this is one of those 'I've never told anybody this before' things," Gaiman says conspiratorially, "but here we go:

"My worst fantasy was a really cool one. I got to kidnap all of the authors whose work I liked, living and dead — I got to go 'round and round up G.K. Chesterton and Geoffrey Chaucer and all of these guys. Then I got to lock them in an enormous castle and make them collaborate on these huge-plot books. And I would tell them what the plots were.

"I was about 10 years old. And I plotted this 12-volume giant epic about these people going off to collect these rocks from all over the universe.

"As daydreams go, it says an awful lot about me as a young man: I wasn't confident enough about my ability to come up with stories. I was coming up with this huge, intricate story in order to justify in my daydreams of creating stories."

Gaiman and Palmer perform at SPIN's Liner Notes / Flickr User Zoe

11. On What Constitutes a Good Day

The original source of this one appears to be lost to history, but so it goes:

Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.

More Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has an astonishingly comprehensive online presence. To get your fix, follow his very official Tumblr, his journal, his Twitter, and if you just like quotes, the fan Twitter account @GaimanQuotes is worth a shot. I'm also impressed by the fan-maintained Neil Gaiman Visual Bibliography, a comprehensive guide to basically everything he's ever put to paper.

Gaiman also has a lot of book releases this year. Just out this month are the book Make Good Art based on his commencement speech, plus the (free) short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties. In June we can look forward to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The man is prolific, generous, and a damn fine writer — thank you, Mr. Gaiman.

Getty Images
11 Incredible Stephen Hawking Quotes
Getty Images
Getty Images

When Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at age 21, doctors thought he'd only survive a few more years. But the theoretical physicist defied the odds: Hawking, who passed away yesterday, lived to be 76. Here are 11 quotes from the director of research and founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time


"At school, I was never more than about halfway up the class. It was a very bright class. My classwork was very untidy, and my handwriting was the despair of my teachers. But my classmates gave me the nickname Einstein, so presumably they saw signs of something better. When I was twelve, one of my friends bet another friend a bag of sweets that I would never come to anything. I don't know if this bet was ever settled, and if so, which way it was decided."

— From the lecture "My Brief History," 2010


"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010


“I wouldn’t compare it to sex, but it lasts longer.”

— From a lecture at Arizona State University, April 2011


"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well. In my opinion, one should concentrate on activities in which one's physical disability will not present a serious handicap. I am afraid that Olympic Games for the disabled do not appeal to me, but it is easy for me to say that because I never liked athletics anyway. On the other hand, science is a very good area for disabled people because it goes on mainly in the mind. Of course, most kinds of experimental work are probably ruled out for most such people, but theoretical work is almost ideal. My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in. I have managed, however, only because of the large amount of help I have received from my wife, children, colleagues and students. I find that people in general are very ready to help, but you should encourage them to feel that their efforts to aid you are worthwhile by doing as well as you possibly can."

— From "Handicapped People and Science," Science Digest 92, No. 9, September 1984


"I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy."

— To The New York Times, May 2011


"I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."

— From Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays


"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010


"Next time someone complains that you have made a mistake, tell him that may be a good thing. Because without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist."

— From Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, 2010

9. On HIS I.Q.

"I have no idea. People who boast about their I.Q. are losers."

— To The New York Times, December 2004


“They are a complete mystery.”

— To New Scientist, January 2012


"One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away."

— To Diane Sawyer/ABC News, June 2010

Evan Agostini, Getty Images
15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
Evan Agostini, Getty Images
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Judy Blume was the queen of the YA novel before the concept even existed, inspiring generations of passionate fans—and a fair share of dissenters—in her nearly 50-year career. Here are just a few of our favorite thoughts about books, writing, and life from the iconic author, who turns 80 years old today.


“I’ll tell you what I make of that—that censors, those who want to censor, they don’t come after books until they know that kids really like them, and once kids like a book, it’s like, ‘There must be something wrong with this book, because why do the kids like it.’ You look at the banned books and you’ll see that they’re popular books with kids.”

— From a 2012 interview with PBS


“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

— From Blume's official website


“Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


"Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring. When I talk to kids and they say, 'How do you become a writer?', well, I don't know that you become a writer: you just are. I always had stories, they were always there inside my head."

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


"Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.”

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


“I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'”

— From an interview with January Magazine


"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in—the first couple of times, anyway—and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going."

— From a 2011 interview with NPR


“[My husband] George and I listened … to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCRW


“I like it. It’s a tremendous—I don’t want to say waste of time, but it also … what can I say? I enjoy reading the people I follow and discovering new people. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of laughs from it. And it connects you; it’s nice.”

— From a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair


“Whatever gets them excited about reading is good! If you want them to read my books don't tell them so. Maybe just leave around a paperback with a new cover and say, 'I'm not sure you're ready for that.'"

— From a 2013 Reddit AMA


“I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCR


“I’m phobic about thunderstorms. Writing is incredibly hard for me. I’m not the world’s best mother, though kids always assume I must be. And I love a good cupcake. (I know, that makes four things, but I’m hungry and wishing I had that cupcake.)”

— From a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine


"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, 'Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is.' No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

— From a 2018 interview with NPR


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