Last week I wrote about my epic nerd weekend and how fun Wondercon was. I mentioned that I kicked off the weekend on Thursday night by going to hear Neil Gaiman speak at our local performing arts center and he did not disappoint.
Wow, Neil Gaiman. What can I write that hasn’t been written a million times over already? Besides being a brilliant writer he is an all-around fascinating person to listen to. He is witty, engaging, humble and truly goes out of his way to connect with his fans. He even made Time magazines list of top 100 most influential people in the world in 2013. Just a glimpse into how his mind works is well worth the price of the ticket. I owe a lot to Neil Gaiman and he does hold a special place in my heart and fandom (as he does for so many geeks out there.)
Growing up, most of my comic reading was spent on superhero’s starting with G.I. Joe, Uncanny X-men, Wolverine and other miscellaneous comics. As I got older (yes in the 90’s) two writers came along and changed my view of comics forever. One was Warren Ellis with Transmetropolitan the other, naturally, was Neil Gaiman with his Sandman series. After reading those works my mind was blown. They revealed whole new worlds of what a graphic novel could be, the potential they have. I was amazed at the new and refreshing creative avenues that were made possible by their writing. They inspired me in a way few writers have ever done and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
I was fortunate enough to get to hear him speak at San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago and it still ranks as one of my favorite con memories so when I heard he was coming to the OC to speak I jumped at the chance to go (with two of my best buds).
Neil read a great excerpt from his new book on Norse mythology and it was a blast to listen to. When he reads his works out loud you can see the way his mind works. How his humor comes out and his command of voice brings his stories to life. He also read some poems and a few other short stories he had written including Click Clack the Rattlebag (another great one). In between readings he would answer questions from audience members written on index cards. (Fortunately, since they were preselected on cards he could weed out the lame questions and stick to the good stuff.)
One great question was “what advice do you have for inspiring writers,” to which he gave this great response (and I paraphrase here). He said don’t be an aspiring writer, be an actual writer. That aspiring writers often break the number one rule of writing: they don’t write. He also said they break the number two rule of writing as well: they don’t finish what they start. He explained aspiring writers love starting projects but hate finishing them (guilty as charged). If you are going to be a writer then do it. Find a way to get it out there and eventually something will stick but you have to write and finish what you start.
Another great question was “when did you know you wanted to be a writer?” He answered that he could not pick one defining moment that he decided to be a writer but if had to pick a moment it would be this one. One night, when he was twenty-one, he was lying in bed and thought that maybe, just maybe, he should give writing a serious try. He went on to explain that at that moment he had a horrifying thought. He felt a sense of fear that one day, when he was seventy or eighty, he would be lying on his death bed and wondering what would have happened if he had never given writing a try. What stories would be left untold? What sense of loss and failure would he have if he never wrote? Fortunately for all of us, he took heed of those fears and began writing, and the literary world hasn’t been the same since.
Overall, it was incredibly inspiring and a badly needed kick in the pants for this (no longer aspiring) writer, and for that I am also grateful. Thanks Neil for all you’ve done and will do. Thanks for opening this writers eye and inspiring me to new heights of creativity I never thought possible. I look forward to hearing you speak again one day. Oh, and I would love to meet you in person!
His new TV show based on his best-selling book American Gods premiers on Starz on April 30th.
You can follow Jefferson @nerdsinrecovery.
You can follow Neil @neilhimself.