Neil Gaiman's six tips on being creative and successful

Continuing my series of inspirational videos from the likes of John Cleese and Aaron Draplin.  Legendary comic writer and author Neil Gaiman shares his wisdom on everything he wishes he had known, a few things looking back he did know and the best piece of advice he got but failed to follow. His advise applies to all those working in the arts from photographers to designers and visual artists to writers and poets. As usual I have highlighted the key points below.


  • When you start out in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great! People who know what they are doing know the rules, they know what is possible and impossible. It is easier to do something if you don't know it is impossible. Push the boundaries. [37 Signals wrote a post inspired by this point earlier this week]
  • If you have an idea of what you have to make, what you were put here to do, Go Do That. Normally you feel you have to do things before you can get to where you want to be. You have to balance your goals with feeding yourself. This can't always be avoided but Neil advices you imagine where you want to be as a mountain. As long as you keep walking towards the mountain you will be okay. If you are ever unsure about doing something, ask yourself, are you walking towards or away from the mountain? Say no to things that are leading you away from the mountain.
  • When you start out you have to deal with failure and be thick skinned about the fact some projects wont last as long as you hoped. It is like sending out a message in a bottles and hoping it will be found. In reality you have to put out 100s of messages for one to be returned. You want everything to happen and happen now and sometimes they don't. Make good art and keep persisting.
  • Don't do art just for the money. If you do work for little or no money, at least you still have the work. Nothing Neil ever did, just for the money, ever worked out well. Things he has done because he was excited to see them exist in reality have never let him down and he has no regrets for creating any of them.
  • Problems of failure can be difficult, problems of success even greater. You tend to feel like an imposter and any minute now you might get discovered. You get to a point where you stop saying yes to everything as bottles thrown in ocean are coming back and you have to start saying no. The world conspires to stop you doing what you do, because you are successfull. Neil became a professional emailer and writer as a hobby. He decided to reply to fewer emails.
  • Make mistakes, it means you are doing something. Sometimes you make serindipidous discoveries from these mistakes. Whatever you do you have one thing that is unique. The ability to make art. It is a life saver that gets you through good and bad. When things get tough. Make good artSomeone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before?Make good art. Still make good art.
  • Do what only you can do, when we are starting out all we can do is copy. What you have that no one else has is you. You mind, voice, story. Do as only you can. When you feel you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much about yourself you are probably starting to get it right.You don't know what will become a success. Often things you think will be a complete failure are a big success and vice versa.
  • Get work however you can get work. You keep working because your work is good, you are easy to get on with and get it in on time. People will tolerate 2 out of the 3. So your work can suck if you are pleasant to get on with and get it in on time.
  • Steven King once advised  at the height of his success, with a popular comic and his novel with Terry Pratchit, "This is really great, you should enjoy it". Instead he worried about it, next idea, story etc. and didn't stop and think: this is really fun. He had an amazing ride and missed part of it. Enjoy the ride as it takes you to amazing and unexpected places. This is the best advice he was ever given but never followed.
  • There is luck and it helps! We are in transitional world right now. The models which allowed creatives to put work into the world and put a roof over their head are changing. No one knows what the landscape will look like, even two years from now. Distribution chanels are in flux. On the one hand this is intimidating but also immensly liberating. Gate keepers are leaving the gates. Be as creative as you need to be. Youtube can give you a bigger audience then television ever did.

Neil sums it up with a great final line:

"Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art."

View more inspirational videos here.

(via Brain Pickings)