Neil Gaiman came to Dallas on the 14th. I’ve read many of his comics and novels over the years, but I had never seen him in person before. He went on stage at the Winspear Opera House, answered some questions from the audience, read some of his stories, and it was fantastic. Every bit of it.
If you ever get a chance to see Neil Gaiman in person, do it. No, really. DO. IT. He’s funny, articulate, and brilliant. His voice strikes me as a not-as-ominous Alan Rickman. Let’s just say that if he had slowly uttered the phrase “Up…to something,” I would have thought Snape was in room. Or at least Snape’s upbeat, more charismatic cousin.
When you’re a relatively unknown author, and you see a famous author speak, this can cause you to question yourself. Will I ever get to a point in my career where thousands of people might come to see me speak? Could my work ever be a uniting factor for people who are otherwise from very different cross-sections of society? Will anyone choose to cosplay a character that I create? And really, when you’re looking around at a sold out show like that, it’s hard not ask yourself Will I ever get to *this* point.
Now, I should point out that I don’t write because I hope to become famous. Far from it; my motivation to be an author stems from a deeply personal need to create and the knowledge that life is short. That’s a tale for another time, though.
This act of questioning yourself can take a negative turn, however, when you encounter someone so wonderfully brilliant like Gaiman. For those who have tried your hand at writing, or aspire to do so, tell me if this sounds familiar:
– Gaaah! I just read something truly awful. I know I can write something better than that!
– Yeah, my ideas are coming to me now! See, I knew I could do better than that drivel.
– That doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not Shakespeare, but I think people will like it. Onward!
– I just don’t know. My pace has slowed down a bit now that I’m past the beginning. I need some inspiration to get those creative juices flowing again.
– Oh God, why did I just read Lord of the Rings again? The guy had a working knowledge of like forty languages. FORTY. And he created a whole bunch of languages on his own. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY I could do something like that.
– (*stares blankly at the computer screen*) Why did I think I could do this, again? My ideas are crap, my words are crap. It’s all crap. Maybe I should’ve let my uncle teach me about fixing cars, instead.
Okay, maybe not the uncle thing. Whether you’re a beginning writer or a pro, chances are you’ve had a moment like this, usually as a result of reading something incredible and feeling humbled by it. This can lead to despair. If you can’t be as good as [Insert your favorite author’s name here], what’s the point?
I learned early on that making comparisons to others is an exercise in futility. To that way lies madness. It’s so easy to become demoralized and fall into that cycle of self-doubt. If this has happened to you, just remember what your ol’ buddy Jack Burton says at a time like this. (And by Jack Burton, I mean me.)
Neil Gaiman isn’t Shakespeare.
That’s not a shot against the guy in a he’s no Jack Kennedy kind of way. No, I mean they are two different people, separated by space and time. One lived in Elizabethan times and the other is alive today. It’s the same to say that Stephen King isn’t J.R.R Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft isn’t Charles V of Spain.
Your very uniqueness is one of the greatest gifts you have as a writer, whether you choose to write or not. You, the reader, are a one-of-a-kind blend of your own thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and experiences. True, none of us will ever be Shakespeare or Neil Gaiman, but that’s because those roles are already taken.
So, if you choose to tell a story, no one can (or will ever) tell it quite like you. And if you are serious and passionate about the work, if you study your craft and pour your heart and soul into it, you have something to contribute to your genre.
I encourage people to write whenever I can. It’s a form of self-expression that, as Stephen King puts it in On Writing, is a form of telepathy. And time-travelling telepathy at that, since time will have passed between when I write these words and when you read them.
Writing is the act of sending our thoughts into the future, like so many messages in a bottle. Yeah, some may be thinly veiled cries for help, but the reasons that brought them about are likely interesting, and worthy of a read.
So for all my writing peeps out there who struggle to find their confidence at times (and this includes me), don’t try to be anyone else but yourself. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else, just focus on the blank page in front of you, and work your magic.
That’s the part that really matters.