Neil Gaiman is perhaps one of my favorite authors of all time. He’s written fiction and non-fiction, graphic novels, films, and even audio theatre. It’s not just his written work that is unparalleled. His words during interviews and talks are filled with huge nuggets of wisdom–for you to grab, think, and apply to your life.
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
1. Make Good Art
“Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”
This means, if you are good at something–it could be anything at all, then do it–on the good days and even on the bad ones. Especially if you are feeling vulnerable.
Not so long ago, I lost my best friend unexpectedly. I was sad, hurt, enraged. And all I could do was to write. I would write down everything I felt, wanted to talk about and was angry about. It was in those moments that I discovered that I could actually write.
It’s only in the darkest moments that you realize that you are worth a lot more than you give yourself credit for.
So, go and make good art.
2. You may have to put out a hundred things for every bottle
In his book The View from the Cheap Seats, Gaiman writes:
“A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
Rejection is disheartening, saddening and crushing in unexpected ways. It’s like trying to swallow a big, bitter pill that’s trying to choke you. Because all we see is the pill. We fail to see beyond that–we fail to see that unless we don’t swallow the pill, we are not going to heal.
When I was young, my best friend would push me to go to a nearby café to ask for a free coffee. Delusional, I would think. But she would push me regardless. Eventually, I would find myself pushing the front doors and would politely ask for a free coffee, which I would be denied, each time. Instead, I would be handed a coupon, which I would pocket and never throw away.
After a couple of years of religiously following my best friend’s absurd demand, something strange happened. At my hundredth and first attempt, the cashier gave in and handed me a small cup of free coffee.
Gaiman’s words came back to me–collect all those empty bottles. A few hundred is all you need.
3. Fake it until you make it
In his novel Make Good Art that was inspired by his speech, Gaiman writes:
“And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave as they would.”
This is my favorite Gaiman quote of all time.
When I entered college for the first time, the classes felt terrible. I could not understand most of it, while everybody else in my class was able to make color-coded notes, would ask insane doubts in the class, and would nod at every word coming out of the teacher’s mouth.
I felt dumb. I could feel the imposter syndrome kicking in within days of enrolling in college. I wanted to give up. But I didn’t.
And now, five years later, with a Master’s degree and being the salutatorian of the batch, I think I am eligible to say this. Everybody is faking at everything they do–by saying how smart they are and how they know so much better than everybody else.
When outside of the comfort zone, it feels so easy to bail before even trying. So every time you feel like giving up, try faking that you understand everything–that you know it better than you actually do.
And then go home and work harder than anybody else.
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