Neil Gaiman: The Interview I’ve Waited 20 Years To Do – The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • Neil writes first drafts using a fountain pen in a Leuchtturm Notebook
  • “Nobody was ever meant to read your first draft”
  • The most important rule Neil follows when writing:
    • “You can sit here and write or you can sit here and do nothing, but you can’t sit here and do anything else”
  • Find a writing routine and fully embrace it
  • A great piece of writing advice:
    • “Anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page…because there’s nothing there to fix”
  • Based on this comment from Tim about Neil’s work, you should probably read a few of his books:
    • “Your work has had quite an impact. It helped me through some very tough times. It was able to transport me, delight me, shock me, scare me, and take me through a whole range of emotions I didn’t, at the time, even know I had access to.”

Books Mentioned

Intro

Neil’s Writing Routine

  • This is where Neil does a lot of his writing
  • Most of the time, Neil writes first drafts in fountain pen
  • Neil used to write in a Moleskin Notebook until they dropped their paper quality (his pen would bleed through)
    • He now uses a Leuchtturm Notebook
      • “They’re just like Moleskins, but the Porsche of Moleskins”
  • A good point – “Nobody was ever meant to read your first draft”
    • For his second drafts, Neil will type up/edit the first draft onto a computer
  • Neil wrote Coraline by writing 50 words per night before bed
  • Neil used to work on multiple books at once, but finds it much more preferable to work on one book at a time now

Writing Advice and Rules

  • Neil’s biggest rule when writing –“You can sit here and write or you can sit here and do nothing, but you can’t sit here and do anything else”
    • “Writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while”
  • “Anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page…because there’s nothing there to fix”
  • “I like writing things that nobody’s waiting for. It’s much more stressful writing things that people actually are waiting for and that people care about.”
  • “What I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you do the same day over and over again”
    • Find a writing routine and embrace it
      • When Neil wrote The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he rented a house in Florida and would wake up, go for a jog, come back home and do yoga, head to a cafe, order a green tea, and then write the day away
  • But be aware of the change
    • “The biggest problem we run into is going, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m like, this is how I function,’ while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore.”
      • Sure, you may prefer doing your work late into the night now, but pay attention – people’s natural working time preferences tend to shift as they age
  • You get fiction writing ideas when you ask yourself simple questions
    • “What if I woke up with wings?”
    • “What if telephones started taking to each other?

The Story of The Graveyard Book

  • Neil tried writing the book for years, but kept stopping after realizing –  “the story was a better idea than I was a writer”
    • He kept coming back to it…and just couldn’t make it work
    • Eventually, he decided to start again by writing a chapter in the middle of the book, and sure enough….it worked

The Story of Good Omens

  • When writing this book with Terry Pratchett, Neil had quite the schedule
  • Terry has since passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease, and as a last wish, Neil is in the process of turning the book into a TV series – due out in May
    • “And if the upcoming “Good Omen” series is good, which I believe it is, a lot of what makes it good…. is I wasn’t prepared to compromise on it”
      • Every step of the way, Neil kept Terry’s approval in the back of his mind and stuck true to the original writing
    • Check out the trailer 

What Neil Learned from Terry Pratchett Before He Passed Away

  • “The biggest thing that I learned from Terry Pratchett was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens… you might know what happens next, but you don’t know what happens after that, but it’s okay because you’re a grown-up and you will figure it out”
    • When writing, you don’t have to know what happens next – be a gardener as opposed to an architect
      • Aim to make something beautiful, but at the end of the day, allow for accidents and randomness to take course
  • Terry passed away from Alzheimer’s 

The Impact of Neil’s Work on Tim’s Life

  • On Neil Gaiman’s work, Tim says – “It has had quite an impact. It helped me through some very tough times. It was able to transport me, delight me, shock me, scare me, and take me through a whole range of emotions I didn’t, at the time, even know I had access to.”

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These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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