“Only You Get to be You” – Thank You Mr Gaiman

Some of you may remember late last year I tweeted a link to a video that I was shown of Neil Gaiman speaking at a youth conference. His wise words and sage advice in that video is something that should not be forgotten, so I decided to make this blog post in reference to it. Please, watch it, and consider his excellent words

The video is here: Neil Gaiman speaking at a youth conference

In the video, Mr Gaiman addresses a question from a young woman who has been discouraged by those around her in pursuing her dreams of becoming a director because “we already have enough artists.” I have put some thought into why people might say that kind of hurtful thing to a vulnerable young talent, and none of the reasons I can think of hold water as anything other than cruel and thoughtless.

Perhaps these people are genuine in their belief, and for some reason have an (undeserved) low opinion of creative people. In that case, they deserve to be ignored, no matter if they are your parent, spouse or the president of a small nation. We need culture, we need artists, we need the light of creativity to blossom in our industrial and bleak modern capitalism. Without it, things would get worse, not better.

Alternatively, and quite often the sad truth in my observations of people in the real world, these discouraging types have had creative dreams of their own that were similarly crushed, which has left a gaping hole in their perceived value to the world. Tall poppy syndrome kicks in, and they will say and do whatever they can to discourage others, so they do not have to live with the knowledge that perhaps they could have been just as great as that kid next door if only they had the courage.

The third possibility is somebody doing creative things hoping to stem the tide of competition, and this is also something I have observed. It is not so common, but sadly it happens. Ignore these people completely.

If one of these is the case with your personal example of the Negative Nancy, you should pity them, then ignore their cruel words and do what is right for you. To be creative takes courage. It takes hard work, and it takes time. However, it has the potential to become the single most rewarding activity in your entire life. Neil Gaiman talks of the idea that only you can change the world in the way you can change it. Why deny yourself that opportunity? Why deny the world the chance to see something that makes it a little better?

It may not be tomorrow, it may not be until your five hundredth project, but down the track, somewhere, you could make a tiny but important contribution to changing the world. Or even better, you might change it all on your own. But if you never try, you will never know. Sure, remain ‘responsible’ in order to pay the bills, but never forget your dreams, and never let go of the artist inside you.

Now some of my fellow writers have probably groaned at this post, and will be muttering about the size of slush piles or the flood of inadequate ebooks. This may be a problem, in business terms. It is a bonus in artistic terms as it releases the the unknown potential of millions who would never have had the chance to grow otherwise. Without the slush piles, you might never find that next grand master. It is a matter of mentoring and genuine artistic spirit within the writing community. Not one of too many people writing. Writing is a gift to all who wish to try it, and it is never our right to remove that gift, because only you get to be you.

Keep your dream alive.