Recently I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (fascinating, btw). And, being the writer (*ahem*), nerd, that I am, I started by reading the forward to the book, which Gaiman had written for its 10th anniversary.
Gaiman talks about the unexpected, difficult, and delightful process of writing the book. As I’m currently in the middle of drafting a book that frequently seems too big for me, his comments were timely, and inspiring.
Of this novel (which received much critical acclaim), he writes:
I was always aware of how very far short it fell of the beautiful, golden, gleaming, perfect book I had in my head, but even so, it made me happy.
Of novels in general, he adds:
A novel can best be defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.
Central to both these observations is the idea of imperfection: Nothing we write is going to be as perfect as we hope. (I mean, seriously, if an author as talented as Gaiman struggles with the gap between his ideal and reality, there’s not much hope for the rest of us!)
But I think this imperfection is a good thing. It means, among other things, that we shouldn’t lose faith in ourselves or our manuscripts just because we struggle with something to hard or too complex or too whatever. That kind of struggle is normal.
It also means that there’s always room to improve–which, for me at least, is an encouraging thought.
When we reach a point at which we know what we’re doing as writers, we reach a point where we risk stagnation.
Gaiman also shares this profound observation, from writer Gene Wolff:
“You never learn how to write a novel,” he told me, “You only learn to write the novel you’re on.”
So, to those of us still struggling to learn how to write the novel we’re on, here’s to imperfection. Here’s to working hard, to reaching toward our vision–but also, at the end of the day, simply trying to write something that makes us happy, warts and all.
6 thoughts on “Neil Gaiman and Imperfection”
I love this post, and I have forwarded it to a friend who really needed to hear this message today. Thanks. 🙂
Oh, I'm so glad it was helpful!
Words of wisdom, truly. I've had short stories published and the only reason I sent them off was because the deadline was looming and it was time to stop picking at it.
Great post! Good reminder. I love American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
Man, were you tuned in to me or what?!? Love this. I have American Gods sitting at my house – need to break it out and read soon!
Ann Patchett wrote a kindle single about writing called Te Getaway Car that is about this. She likens “the idea” to a beautiful, magical, ethereal butterfly that exists in your head and then writing is when you kill it and stomp in it and flatten it to pin it on a page.
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