Writer’s Room: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Secret Freelancer Knowledge’

Gaiman_MakeGoodArtOne day we’ll get to a world where all writers make their living by delivering killer commencement speeches and then publishing said talks as nifty little standalone editions that might be considered self-help-y where it not for the name attached. Case in point: Neil Gaiman.

Last May, Gaiman gave the commencement address at Philadelphia’s The University of the Arts. He was everything one could hope for: wistful, self-deprecating, helpful, and occasionally inspirational. He also understood that what all those soon-to-graduate artists wanted is help and advice that would tell them: How Do I Do What It Is That I Want To Do?

A few notes from Gaiman’s speech where he lays out the attractions and trials of the freelance life, along with some “secret freelancer knowledge”:

  • 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.
  • And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.
  • People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

Full transcript here.

The speech is going to be published this May in an edition designed by Chip Kidd.

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2 thoughts on “Writer’s Room: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Secret Freelancer Knowledge’

  1. My guess is that you have to put out a whole ocean full of messages in a bottle before you get your first reply, or piece of real honest-to-goodness appreciation or offer of work as a freelance…..and if that’s not bad enough there are zillions of others, all on their own desert islands, who are doing the same thing…..but it’s worth it in the end…..

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