Neil Gaiman Gives Graduates 10 Essential Tips for Working in the Arts

Neil Gaiman, con­sid­ered one of the top ten liv­ing post-mod­ern writ­ers, nev­er went to col­lege. He nei­ther start­ed nor fin­ished his advanced stud­ies, but rather put him­self into the world and start­ed writ­ing. And write he did. He’s now the New York Times best­selling author of the nov­els Nev­er­where, Star­dust, and Amer­i­can Gods, among oth­ers, and he’s also the win­ner of the 2009 New­bery Medal and 2010 Carnegie Medal in Lit­er­a­ture. (We have gath­ered free ver­sions of Gaiman’s writ­ing in audio & text here.) This week­end, Gaiman spoke at The Uni­ver­si­ty of the Arts in Philadel­phia and told the grad­u­at­ing class all the things he wish he knew at their age. The talk runs 19 min­utes. The dis­tilled ver­sion appears below.

  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t lis­ten to any­one who says there are rules and lim­its.
  2. If you know your call­ing, go there. Stay on track. Keep mov­ing towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sac­ri­fice.
  3. Learn to accept fail­ure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll prob­a­bly feel like a fraud. It’s nor­mal.
  4. Make mis­takes, glo­ri­ous and fan­tas­tic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and try­ing things.
  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.
  6. Make your own art, mean­ing the art that reflects your indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and per­son­al vision.
  7. Now a prac­ti­cal tip. You get free­lance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on dead­line. Actu­al­ly you don’t need all three. Just two.
  8. Enjoy the ride, don’t fret the whole way. Stephen King gave that piece of advice to Neil years ago.
  9. Be wise and accom­plish things in your career. If you have prob­lems get­ting start­ed, pre­tend you’re some­one who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.
  10. Leave the world more inter­est­ing than it was before.

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