Last night I saw the new Neil Gaiman documentary, Dream Dangerously, at Changing Hands (thank you, Changing Hands!).
I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, and I already have tickets to see him live at the Mesa Arts Center next April. I absolutely love Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk is one of the best funny kids’ books ever written. And I’ve read American Gods three times, including the audio version by Lenny Henry which is one of the best audio book performances there is.
This documentary follows the author on his last-ever book signing tour, with side journeys to talk to other people, including Terry Pratchett, and visit his childhood home and so on.
The film is full of goodies for writers. Here are some that stuck out for me:
- Be nice. Even with a thousand people lined up at a signing, he took the time to make each interaction personal. And he didn’t go home until every book was signed, even though it meant icing his hand and elbow afterwards. He said book signing lines are really thank you lines – people want to thank you for writing things that changed their lives, but you can’t call it a thank you line, which would be presumptuous. One of his early editors commented that he was a pest, but a nice pest, when he was trying to get his first stuff published.
- Keep your eye on what you really want. He was offered a high paying editor job when he had young kids at home, but realized it would take him in the wrong direction. The mountain he wanted to climb was writing fiction, so he turned the job down.
- You can’t write all the time. You have to get out into the world and see people, or you’ll run out of things to write about. Sometimes it seems like you’re only half living your life because a quarter of you is observing, like “oh, this is how it feels to have your heart broken.”
- Stories are important. He said this turns out to be the theme of everything he writes. Stories are how we make sense of the world, and how we come together as people.
- Make it like playing. He writes the first draft in longhand, with a fountain pen, in a notebook (it looks like a Moleskine), using a different color of ink every day so he can see how much he did. He said this is to fool himself into thinking it’s not important, he’s just messing around, and if it’s no good it doesn’t matter.
- Use your daydreams. A kid asked him where his ideas come from, and he said they come from daydreams. Like, if a goldfish is bitten by a werewolf, what happens, and how does it get back into the bowl when it turns back into a goldfish?
- Make good art. There’s a clip in the film from that college graduation he spoke at a few years ago. When things get tough, make good art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plWexCID-kA