Wonderful and imaginative, inspiring and well-spoken, these are just a few ways in which you could describe last night’s guest speaker, Neil Gaiman. The College of Communications & Creative Arts held this event, located in Wilson Hall. It began just past 7:00 p.m, and the turnout was fantastic.
Neil Gaiman is a renaissance man of the creative field. Writer of comics, books, and scripts for television (Doctor Who) and film (Beowolf), he also directs and produces, as wells as backs numerous Kickstarter projects, and does work in theater. His novels are countless American Gods, Stardust, and Coraline are a few you may have heard of. One of his most recent work is The Ocean at The End of the Lane, which last night he said was written for Amanda (Musician Amanda Palmer, that is!), because he wanted her to know what his childhood home was like. If you, dear reader, aren’t familiar with Neil’s novels, perhaps you have seen some of his magical worlds come to life in another medium: the big screen. Stardust and Coraline are two of his most notable book-to-screen adaptations. Or perhaps his “Make Good Art” commencement speech from 2012, that went viral on YouTube.
I was in awe of how well Neil Gaiman commanded the room last night. The audience hung on his every word. Part of me thought he purposely took his time when speaking, pausing between every few words, so that we were waiting – waiting for his story, waiting for his genius to fill up the room and seep into our minds. It seemed so effortless, so nonchalant. He was just speaking and sharing - one creative mind to another. Yet we were all so eager to hear his stories, his advice, because he’s a creative person who has “made it” by doing what we all want to do, and strive towards: creating worlds and characters and adventures (- though he says he gets “swept up in the stream of his wife’s adventures,” he writes them plenty wonderful). He has an air about him. When approaching Wilson Hall, I told my friend that we should all call him “Sir Gaiman.” And last night, I felt as though I was in the presence of Creative Royalty.
The applause was thunderous when he walked across the stage, and upon his departure, a standing ovation of the same caliber was given. Sir Gaiman approached the podium holding a stack of note-cards in his hands, and began to speak. The note-cards were questions he was given, that he would answer at the end of our two-hour talk. Before the questions, though, came the lessons and the advice. He said he’d go back and forth between talking and reading. What he read included works of his that he said not many of us would have ever read before, including a short story called “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” that he wrote for Ray Bradbury himself, “Orange,” “Adventure Story,” and two poems, “The Day The Saucers Came” and “In Relig Odrain.” He also gave us excerpts and anecdotes form his own life, including a radio interview with Ira Glass, and how his son telling him he wished he didn’t have a dad, and instead, a goldfish, was inspiration for “The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish,” one children’s book of many he has written.
And then, the advice…
As someone who considers herself a writer, but who doesn’t write as much as she should, I walked away with many things to think about. One such concept was the idea he addressed, of “Writer’s Block.” This came about from a question from that pile of note-cards asking how he dealt with it. Gaiman told us not to call it that – that it’s just that – a concept, an idea created by us writer’s as an excuse. He said that you don’t hear other professions saying they can’t do what it is that they do just because something is “blocked.” No. “Don’t call it that,” he told us. Nothing is blocked; we’re just stuck. And, “if you’re stuck, take a look at the story,” because maybe something went wrong with the plot or the characters, and to just go through it all and find out when it happened. And thirdly, when you think you’re being blocked, you’re still writing, it just might be bad. But tomorrow is another day, and you can look back at what you wrote and alter it. “It’s fixable,” he said.
Another note-card asked what inspired him to become a writer. He said that he’s always been a writer, but the haunting question of “what if?” on his future deathbed floated around his mind when he was in his early twenties, so he got to writing – to see if he could even become a professional writer. That really woke me up. As I previously mentioned, I want to be a writer – the same kind of writer he is. But often I find myself too lazy to write or work through the stuckness, or confident in my writing enough to let it be seen by anyone other than myself – and my mom. I have to change that, though! If I want to make writing my career, I have to get moving. I don’t want to be wondering, “I wonder if I could have been a writer,” on my deathbed. I just want to write and keep writing.
Thank you, Neil Gaiman! You are an inspiration to many – and I’m very glad you took care of your “what ifs.”