Bestselling author Neil Gaiman has long been one of the top writers in modern comics, as well as writing books for readers of all ages. He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers, and is a prolific creator of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama. He says he owes it all to reading the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook as a young man.
Why do you write?
I don’t think I have any other skills, and it’s too late now to find out.
What other novelists do admire?
Peter Straub. Jonathan Carroll. Diana Wynne Jones. Michael Chabon. Ramsey Campbell. Daniel Pinkwater. Poppy Z Brite. Robert Nye…. you know, I could keep typing for weeks on this one.
When did you first know you’d be a successful writer?
It depends on how you define success. I’m not sure there’s been much difference between the joy from the first time I got a cheque for something I wrote (for £80, from SHE magazine) and the joy on the first time I had a number one New York Times Bestseller… and in the meantime I’ve brought up a family, and fed them, using only words.
Do you have an agent? If so, how have they helped?
I’ve got Merrilee Heifetz in New York, at an agency called Writers House. She sold the US rights to a book I’d written – Don’t Panic! The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion – on behalf of the UK publisher for a lot more money than any of us were expecting. So when I was in New York for DC Comics, I had lunch with Merrilee, to say thank you, and by the end of the meal I had an agent. She’s been a wonder, and a marvel, and a very good thing. When the time came for me to get a proper book contract, she went out and did a three book deal for me that was everything I wanted it to be, and she’s been the voice of sanity and reason ever since.
Describe a working day. How do you write?
If I’m writing a novel, I’ll probably get up in the morning, do email, perhaps blog, deal with emergencies, and then be off novel-writing around 1.00pm and stop around 6.00pm. And I’ll be writing in longhand, a safe distance from my computer. If I’m not writing a novel, there is no schedule, and scripts and introductions and whatnot can find themselves being written at any time and on anything.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
I get stuck on things. And I get lazy. And I get tired. But I don’t believe in “writer’s block”. I try and deal with getting stuck by having more than one thing to work on at a time. And by knowing that even a hundred bad words that didn’t exist before is forward progress.
Have you ever received a rejection from an agent or a publisher?
These days it’s more the reverse – I worry that things that perhaps should be rejected get accepted because that means my name goes on the cover of a book. The last time I had a short story rejected, I read it over, decided I liked it and there wasn’t anything actually wrong with it, so retyped the cover sheet, waited a couple of weeks and sent it back with “I hope you like the rewrite” on it, and the editor cheerfully bought it. But that was a long time ago, when there were typewriters – these days I would print it out in a different font.
What’s your advice to an aspiring novelist?
Write. Finish things. Get them published. Write something else while you’re waiting for someone to publish the first thing…