Neil Gaiman is Why I’m Not a Sheep Herder (Yet)

Everything I’ve learned about writing – that I didn’t learn from fanfic – came from other authors. From their books – yes, obviously – but also from their blogs and from anecdotes and from every little scrap of info and advice they’ve so helpfully shared. Because that’s the beautiful thing about writers & authors – they are, for the most part, more than willing to be kind, to be helpful, and to share what worked for them.

And while my writing education is made up from so many little nuggets gleaned from so many little places that I can’t even begin to tease them all apart, one particular piece of writing advice has stuck out and with me over the years. And that one is from my pal* Neil Gaiman.

In particular, it was this pep talk he gave for National Novel Writing Month one year. In it, he talks about writing a draft of one of his novels and becoming so frustrated with his progress that he called his agent:

I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

And I read that and I thought: I know that feeling.

And I thought: I know that feeling very very well.

And I thought: if even Neil freaking Gaiman gets hung up like that, maybe I have a chance.

Since reading that particular anecdote of his, I’ve seen this phenomenon everywhere – with myself and with other writers. There’s always a point where we don’t believe we can do this writing thing, where we can’t see how the plot will resolve, where we’re just so tangled in the individual words that it all seems pointless, where it seems financially and mentally more assured to burn our harddrives, fake our deaths, and take up sheep farming in Wyoming instead of writing.

When I reach That Point in my own drafts, I revisit this quote. I re-read it and take it to heart once more, reminded that this, too, is just a part of the process.

And then I return to the business of putting down one word after another. Because I really wouldn’t be happier anywhere else. Yeah, not even sheep farming in Wyoming.

*We’re not actually pals. I’ve never met him, but he seems amazingly lovely. 

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K.A. Doore writes fantasy – mostly second world, mostly novels – with a touch of horror and a ton of adventure. Now she lives in Michigan with her one (1) small human and one (1) wife, but it's been a long road across the U.S. and back again to get here. Her debut The Perfect Assassin, is the first book in the Chronicles of Ghadid trilogy and will be published March 2019 by Tor.

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