Neil Gaiman and the “Problems” of Success


Neil Gaiman is coming to speak in my city in the upcoming months. For those of you who don’t know him, he writes very fantastical and interesting stories (Sandman, Stardust, Coraline) and has said a lot about living the creative life. I use one of his metaphors all the time: in his early career, he says he chose to pursue a project if it brought him “closer to the mountain,” with the mountain being the chance to write stories for a living. So, early on, it made sense to take any kind of writing job because it brought him closer to the mountain, but once he’d become more well-known, he needed to be choosier, because some projects were actually not creative and often not even lucrative, so why walk away from the mountain just to take all projects?

He also mentions that sometimes the problems of success are even harder than the problems of failure. I don’t know that I agree (failure is brutal, despite the fact that I want to be the kind of person who is resilient against failure), though he points out that at some point in his career he was answering so much email that he wasn’t getting to do the projects he loves. I can definitely sympathize with such a problem, despite not being a famous author.

2018 finds me at a crossroads: I’m not a famous journalist or a fancy blogger. What I am, however, is a freelance writer who still has a 45-hour-a-week day job, at a time when I’m finally getting more writing work than I can possibly do. I’m having to make the choices of success, the ones where I turn some things down despite the fact that technically, if I did no fun things and never spoke to my husband and lived only to write, I could do them all.

The mountain, for me, isn’t writing stories for a living. It’s more holistic than that: it’s having work in writing that brings me joy and doesn’t overload me with deadline stress. It’s making enough money to feel free and to feel like I’m saving some, but not enough to be a big shot. I have to keep these things in mind even as I am trying to dig a little deeper and find more inspiration to see where this “writing thing” might take me. It is, as always, a balance to figure out.

6 Comments, RSS

  1. Zac January 8, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    Thanks for this, I think I’ll check him out

  2. calista January 8, 2018 @ 3:04 pm

    Neil Gaiman is one of my favorites. My favorite is American Gods. The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Anansi Boys and The Graveyard Book are all wonderful…I’ve loved everything I’ve read of his so far 🙂

  3. twobeus4me January 8, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

    Balance.. Very much – yes. Thanks for this reminder.

  4. mollyandmoo January 8, 2018 @ 4:54 pm

    Good luck on finding balance lovely xx

  5. chrispavesic January 9, 2018 @ 3:45 am

    Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. I try to follow his advice and reach for the “mountain” as well. Good luck on your journey!

  6. WhollyCupcake January 17, 2018 @ 9:54 pm

    one of my favorite authors!

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