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Delivered with a display of abstracted and theatrical gravitas, his speech staged itself in noble fashion, puttering out with proper pauses and plenty of sincere expression. I'm unclear as to what "honesty" actually meant in the context of reinventing his writing life, unless he meant that projecting himself into a first person narrator was an act of honesty? Overall though, I would not recommend this to anyone. Just not enough substance. Course, if you're a big Gaiman fan you might marvel at his lordship's demeanor. 
 
- Michael

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Agreed Michael. Even as a big fan of Gaiman, this sounded like a whole lot of feel-good inspiration and nothing more. Being "honest" with yourself is generally good advice for life and finding your way through the world, but nothing he said explains how to be a better writer. If "honesty" was all Gaiman needed to push him into publication, then he was already a terrific writer who knew how to craft a story. It wasn't a missing fundamental.

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I think the title of this clip is what throws you off because it uses the words "writing advice." Like Michael and Joe said, there isn't much writing advice substance to it. This clip isn't going to give you advice about the craft, but rather it's advice on an emotional level. What Neil Gaiman actually says is that this is how he "took his darkest period and turned it around." I always appreciate when famous authors allow themselves to be vulnerable and let people know what they went through in their early days, which is exactly what he does.

I also think his use of the word "honest" to describe the main characteristic that writers should have would have made more sense if he'd used the word "authentic." He talked about how his work got rejected multiple times in the beginning and he realized that he was worried about judgement and letting people in to see who he really was. I can relate to this, especially in writing and I think most people are afraid to put themselves out there for fear of the criticism that may come their way. He also admitted that he could have mimicked the style of other writers that were popular and probably done it well, but then he never would have created his own authentic voice and style in his writing.

All in all, I don't think you should watch this if you're looking for "how-to" type of advice because there isn't any. However, I still think it's worth the watch if you've ever struggled with your own sense of self as a writer, or have yet to find your own voice in your writing. It just may help for you to know that you're not alone. 

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I agree with Michael, this was distractingly theatrical. Kind of ponderous and self-important, to be honest.

I think telling writers to be "honest" is the same as saying that they need to find their "voice," which is a true statement but not altogether useful for the writer learning their craft. Those sort of meta-skills just come from repetition, practice, and listening to feedback, and isn't something one can just wake up and start doing.

The one useful piece of advice in here is to read like a writer, not like a reader. I agree with that, where if you're serious about the writing craft you should be picking apart the stories you enjoy (or don't!) to understand what makes them tick. I certainly understand the temptation to just fall into novels the way I used to, but it takes that extra bit of mental effort to dig beneath the surface and see the puzzle pieces that make a story successful.

Also, I do love the quote that to be a writer, you must do the equivalent of walking down the street naked. It's not useful for craft advice, but I've found that the more I write, the more of myself I put into my books which can be uncomfortable. I think King also said something along the lines that "if you want to be a writer, your days in polite society are numbered," which feels like much the same sentiment. Basically, it's writing fearlessly and truthfully about the world, telling stories about humans as they actually are. This is true for any genre, where the story dressings and world-building depend on the people being believable and relatable. I suppose that could be called being honest.

In the end, perhaps it was Gaiman finding his voice and being authentic, as Kara says, that made him successful. But maybe it was that he just got better over time and learned the skills to convey realistic stories.

 

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This video spoke to me and I recommend taking five minutes to watch it. But understand, this won’t provide how-to-advice. It is about Neil Gaiman’s personal journey and “darkest period.” Like Kara, I also appreciate when a successful author opens up about their struggles.  

Gaiman says the most important lesson he learned was to “be honest” in a way that made him feel vulnerable. Easier said than done. Right? Audrey is completely correct that advising a writer to be honest is “…a true statement but not altogether useful for the writer learning their craft.” 

Boy do I hear that. And, yet… 

As a television reporter, I needed to learn to act “natural.” Acting natural required years of voice lessons, critique sessions. On and on. But, at some point, I also needed to be brave enough to find my own style. Something I’m not sure I actually accomplished on television but am reaching for in writing. That’s why I like this video. It’s a reminder to digest as many lessons as possible. But then, discern what resonates as truth and grab it. 

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